This post continues my review of Kathryn Joyce, Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement.
In my last post I summarized Joyce’s book. Here I will offer three criticisms and then try to generalize a bit from her data. In my next post I’ll offer some predictions for the future of the Patriarchy movement. First for the critique:
1. The most obvious problem with this book is the lack of footnotes. I’m sure this is not Joyce’s fault. In today’s publishing world nobody wants to use up the page space that notes require, but in a book like this so heavily dependent upon sources they are vital. Several of her details I wanted to investigate more deeply but cannot because I don’t know where Joyce got her material. It’s especially a shame since Joyce seems to have done such careful research.
2. I mentioned last time that Joyce’s tone is remarkably charitable given her profound ideological disagreement with her subject. This charitable tone breaks down a bit when she leaves her careful, sensitive treatment of women in the movement and deals with the more secularized and moderate scholars seeking to realize some of the natalist goals at the national and international levels. Joyce’s chapters on European discussions of population decline are the worst culprits here, lapsing into occasional flippancy and condescension that weakens the text.
3. The biggest problem with this book is that despite its rich detail it does not raise itself above the level of reportage. Joyce is a journalist, not a scholar, but the book cries out for some context and analysis. Let me offer some examples.
It’s clear throughout the text that Joyce isn’t pleased with the way Patriarchy types are using the term “feminism.” But Joyce never tells us what it ought to mean. She frequently mentions some of the criticisms of feminism offered by Quiverfullers. Here’s one illustrative passage,
For poorer women, the feminist fight for job equality won them no career path but the right to pink-collar labor, as a housekeeper, a waitress, a clerk. The sexual revolution brought them not self-exploration and fulfillment, but rather loosened the social restraints that bound men to the household as husbands and fathers. Even for women who stayed in the home, the incidence of women in the workplace led employers to stop offering a ‘family wage’ that could sustain both parents and children. (p.156)
Readers conversant with recent discussions among feminists themselves will find such arguments familiar. I’m no expert on these topics, but I read The Atlantic and hear similar concerns voiced regularly by women far removed from the world of patriarchal homeschooling. I would have liked to see Joyce engage the veracity of some of these claims and delve into the scholarship on them, but she never does. She just lists them and moves on.
The same is true of her treatment of the European discussion of declining birthrates. One gets the sense that she isn’t happy with all of this attention being placed on birthrate decline, but why? Is it actually happening? Are the conservatives overstating the case? Again, this is not my area of expertise, but quiverfullers are definitely not the only ones worried about this issue. A few years ago I read Norris and Inglehart’s Sacred and Secular: Religion and Politics Worldwide (2004), one of whose arguments was that the world is getting both more secular and more religious at the same time. Why? Because fully modern societies are getting more secular but having fewer children than nations not yet fully modern. If premodern (or anti-modern), religious couples have 6-14 children each and modern, secularized couples have 1-2, the implications are obvious. The question is whether modernization will reduce birthrates in developing nations before premodern populations overwhelm modern countries.
As with feminism, Joyce’s treatment of the Quiverfull movement lacks definitional clarity. She sort of lumps together the homeschool radicals who want to deny women the vote and keep them from college with secular organizations worried about Europe’s low birthrates and Orthodox Jews who are fighting Islam by cranking out Jewish babies. Is this really all the same movement? With regularity she notes that many of her interviewees don’t really use the term “quiverfull” themselves. One wonders if there’s really a movement here or just a mood. How many quiverfull families are there? Where do they tend to be located? Do their children go on to repeat the quiverfull pattern? None of these questions is addressed.
So much for my three critiques. Despite the fact that I wish Joyce had given us more analysis, the richness of her source material allows us to make some broader points. Let me pull some of her subject matter together here to make two points about the Quiverfull movement as she describes it.
1. The most important thing I take away from Joyce’s description is that this movement (granting that it is a movement) is self-consciously anti-modern, and is far more consistently so than most other anti-modern movements of the past 50 years. It is trying to return to what one leader called “older notions of kin and clan” (p.5) and another called “a pre-enlightenment, medieval view of a God-centered world.” (p.27) The culture war is still on, but this time it’s not 1950s-style conservatives against 1970s-style liberals. It’s a battle between those who believe in individual freedom and self-determination and those who understand true freedom to exist only when the entire world lives under obedience to God’s divine commands as revealed in the Bible. This is not Nixon’s Law and Order; it’s John Calvin’s. As Quiverfullers see it, to really get back to a Biblical worldview you must discard the entire enlightenment edifice, including modern science, industrial progress, human rights, democracy, and autonomy.
2. A second frame of reference for understanding the Quiverfull movement is the subculture of American evangelicalism. Quiverfullers are not reacting only against modern secularism. They’re also reacting against what they perceive as the sell-out softness of contemporary American churches. Many of the women who get involved in the Quiverfull life do so, Joyce finds, out of frustration with their evangelical churches, full as they are of divorced people, kids addicted to TV and videogames, rock music worship, and gaudy shows of wealth. Joyce notes at one point the “wholesale adoption of secular pop culture, made over with New Testament lyrics” that typifies so much of the evangelical world. (p.56) Quiverfull leaders offer a full-bodied Christianity that stresses personal holiness and self-sacrifice, a message that clearly resonates with Christians eager for something deeper than they’re getting at the local megachurch. The attraction of Quiverfull is that it casts Christianity as a total lifestyle, a means of transcending the public/private split that has haunted modern people since the 19th century.
In my next post I’ll offer my thoughts on the future of the Quiverfull movement.