Harold Finch: (On chess.) “It’s a useful mental exercise. Through the years, many thinkers have been fascinated by it. But I don’t enjoy playing… Because it was a game that was born during a brutal age when life counted for little. Everyone believed that some people were worth more than others. Kings. Pawns. I don’t think that anyone is worth more than anyone else… Chess is just a game. Real people are not pieces. You can’t assign more value to some of them and not others. Not to me. Not to anyone. People are not a thing that you can sacrifice. The lesson is, if anyone who looks on to the world as if it is a game of chess, deserves to lose. “
Queen Isabella once noted that the queen was the weakest piece in the game of chess – only able to move once and only diagonally. She asked her advisers if they thought her that feeble. Their response was to make her one of the most powerful pieces in the game. In the last several centuries, we have seen how queens can rule their nation, go to war, and win the hearts and minds of her subjects just as capably as kings can. But the game of chess also represents a time when people thought that some people had greater value than others, and some people could be sacrificed while others could not. Thankfully, it is only a game.
But Christianity has a problem in that while it teaches that everyone should be equal and should be treated the same, it doesn’t always happen because there are some who believe that the role of women was different and secondary to that of men. They go on to say that men and women are equal, but women are subordinate to men in position.
Position is one of those words that has lots of possible meanings – (1) A situation or set of circumstances, especially one that affects one’s power to act. (2) The state of being placed where one has an advantage over one’s rivals in a competitive situation. (3) A person’s place or rank in relation to others, especially in a competitive situation. And (4) a high rank or social standing. Position doesn’t seem to suggest equality, now does it?
But that’s from our modern point of view. If we’re to argue for the Biblical use of position, we have to understand how that plays out. In those days, the ‘position’ of men was always over women. The ‘position’ of the wealthy was always over the poor. The ‘position’ of the elders was always over the youth. The ‘position’ of the free was always over the ‘position’ of the slaves. The ‘position’ of the citizen was always over the foreigner. The ‘position’ of adults was always over children. Not only that, but they represented concentric circles, the ‘position’ of a free woman was over the enslaved man. The ‘position’ of the citizen woman was over the foreigner woman. In practice, the only thing ‘equal’ was that there were two human beings being compared, everything about their life could be weighed to decide which one was ‘more equal’ than the other. ‘Position’ doesn’t suggest equality, it screams inequality.
‘But …’, as some often argue, ‘just as the son submitted to the father, he is equally God and yet subordinate in position; so are women to be submit to men, as equal persons and yet subordinate in position.’ That is reminiscent of an ancient heresy called the Eternal Subordination of the Son (E.S.S.) it was the one that represented the school of thought of Arianism and is the whole reason why Athanasius fought for the creation of trinitarian doctrine. The Athanasian Creed is named for him and includes this line: “And in this Trinity none is before, or after another; none is greater, or less than another. But the whole three Persons are coeternal, and coequal.” We fail to understand what Jesus meant when he said that “I and the father are one” (John 10:30) when we permanently divide the two we call Jesus something of a liar. After all, how can He and the Father be one, of He is to be subordinate to the Father forever? They must be different people in different positions. But this isn’t so much about the trinity, it’s about men and women and being ‘equal but different’, it’s about position. A subordinate is (1) lower in rank or position, (2) usually a person who is under the authority or control of another within an organization, and (3) as a verb it means to treat or regard as of lesser importance than something else. Like the word ‘position’ there’s an inherent inequality in it.
The ancient world, I think, would have taken it all in stride. Aristotle wrote in Politics book 2 that some men were born to be slaves out of their very nature. He also noted that some people are made slaves, despite having the nature of a free person because they were warriors captured on the field of battle or they were children of slaves who were not necessarily born with the slave nature. Aristotle wrote that husbands had the ‘rule’ of their household, that as masters, they absolute control over their living tools (slaves), that as father’s they have absolute control over their children no matter how old they were, and that as husbands they had absolute control of their wives. Wives, apparently, had the same sort of nature as their husbands, being free citizens, but they lacked the authority of their husbands. Which is why they could ‘borrow’ the authority of their husbands to carry out his wishes when he was away from home – to order the slaves around, to give commands to the servants, and tell the children what to do. Their world could not have conceived of the unprecedented equality that we live in every day. So when Christians aim to live in a ‘Biblical’ way of thinking, they have to accept inequality as a way of life. To do that, they have to commit heresy against the trinity. Athanasius’ solution would be to expel the whole lot of people who would think of Jesus as less than God in any way, shape, or form. But I suspect we can take solace in that such drastic measures are ‘too little, too late’ to be worth the trouble. The best we can do is to understand what we believe and why we believe it – as well as the implications of what those beliefs lead to when taken to their fullest extreme.