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Why people are weird about head coverings

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2 minutes to read By instantiating a symbol of a larger spiritual pattern, they hope to instantiate the whole pattern. The Enlightenment didn’t escape magical thinking; it intensified it.

My friend and co-author Michael Foster recently posted about how a heavy emphasis on head coverings tends to be associated with troubled, weak, or immature marriages.

This is not a hard rule, but a pattern he has observed in over twenty years in patriarchal circles. Like him, I have seen a similar pattern.

He suggests the following reasons:

Head-coverings are an external and an easy way to sign to the world that your husband is a leader or that your wife is submissive. That makes them attractive to wear when that hasn’t been or still isn’t the case.

Also, many people see it as a sort of first step in correcting an out of whack marriage. But, as we all know, signs don’t automatically produce what they signify.

Head-coverings, in and of themselves, don’t produce a gentle and quiet spirit in a woman.

And the fact that a man’s wife submits to him by wearing head-coverings doesn’t mean he is leading well elsewhere.

I think this is often true. Michael and I disagree on the significance of head coverings—he is ambivalent on the matter, and holds tentatively to a much narrower application than I do, where prayer and prophecy are supernatural gifts. I think that interpretation is…screwy.

But, I have seen the same problems that he has, with those who make a big deal out of head coverings. The key phrase in his piece is “heavy emphasis.” These are the people who behave in conversation like their operating assumption is:

If only every Christian believed in the necessity of veiling, everything else in the Western Church would fall into place, and proper hierarchy and piety would be restored.

I do not suggest that they really believe this, but they often behave as if something like this is going on in the backs of their minds.

But why?

Here’s my thesis:

They are following the Enlightenment logic of our age, atomizing symbols and abstracting them out to become sole instantiations of a spiritual pattern. Consider a similar pattern of thinking on the other side of the aisle. Think of how complementarians treat the issue of male pastors. Rather than it being one symbol of a larger spiritual pattern that goes all the way down to the bottom of creation, and all the way up to heaven, it gets atomized—it becomes the only thing left of that pattern.

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