Saturday, May 19, 2007

Family and The Odyssey

Yesterday, I was chatting with a friend about the importance of family. From the outset of creation, God established the family. He made Adam and Eve to be the first marriage and He commanded them to procreate (i.e., make a bigger family). God's relationship with us is described in family terms--we are His sons and daughters; Christ is our brother.

When I was reflecting on the biblical view on family, I couldn't help but think how counter-culture this view has become in the West. North Americans and Western Europeans are not having babies, they are marrying much later in life, more are not marrying at all. In a recent study by the Canadian Department of Human Resources and Social Development, Canadians are spending less time with their families and more time on their own. Eating as a family is becoming a novelty reserved for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. Children are being raised by daycare workers and public schools. Spouses pursue divergent careers, hobbies and holidays. The term Family seems to hold only legal and biological significance.

Some would say, who cares? Leave It to Beaver went off the air long ago. Is family important? Ironically, the two founding worldviews of the Western world---classical and Christian---celebrate family as the building blocks of civilization. I have already mentioned briefly the fundamental import of family from Genesis. Similar value is reflected in the "bible" of Classical Greece, The Odyssey.

The term "odyssey" has come to mean, in a colloquial sense, a quest or journey in which one engages on life altering adventures. However, the Odyssey is really a story about a hero's return home--his "nostos". The hero, Odysseus, shuns pleasures of goddesses and wealth, in order to return to his family. He must be a father to his son and a husband to his wife. His journey does not end until Odysseus has returned to his marriage bed. In the epic, Odysseus's return home to his island kingdom of Ithaca restores order and civilization. Odysseus is an absentee father who realizes the importance of family to a meaningful life and a civilized society. If this sounds too much like a Hallmark card synopsis, you need to read the epic poem yourself. Odysseus's return is not a "touchy feely dead-beat-dad redemption story"--it is a profoundly human proclamation of the monumental significance of family to human existence. This concept of "family" became the quintessential social underpinning for the Greek world.

Western civilization needs to return home; we need our odyssey, our nostos.


Barbara said...

by "chatting with a friend" I have to assume you mean my family... How honouring to be mentioned. :-)

Jeremy W. Johnston said...

Yes indeed. The "friend" is none other than the good doctor, your hubby.

I am honoured to have you stop by!