On a very funny show from the Beeb called IT Crowd which made its way across the pond not too many years ago. In it two nerdy IT professionals for a company specializing in nobody-knows-what find themselves in ever-odder situations. Being a huge fan of football (soccer), my favorite episode is where the two geeks (named Moss and Roy) discover a website which teaches them how to converse about the week’s football matches in perfect footballing parlance – even providing a “pro-noun-ci-aye-shun go-ide” to allow them to fit in with cockney-speakers in the local pubs. Roy and Moss give it a try and fall in with “real men” who only seem interested in having them along because they are – presumably – fellow Hammers (West Ham United) fans. The story boils over into a crazy ending (which I will not spoil for you) in which the two nerds find themselves “too far down the rabbit hole” of manly posing.
The hilarity of the IT Crowd episode stands in stark contrast to its implications for society: Do we actually know what it means to be a man today? Certainly I am thinking way too deeply about a silly story on a British sitcom, but the evidence is everywhere around us. One example of the sad decline in manliness in our society came to my attention yesterday when Mark Steyn (my favorite columnist) made his usual weekly call in to the Hugh Hewitt Show. While talking about the current fiscal bill making its way through government, Mark mentioned that a great way for states to get money from the federal government is by naming things after their congressmen and senators – it encourages a quid pro quo scenario where the legislator ‘brings home the bacon for his constituents.’ Hugh then pointed out that a few years back (in 2003 to be exact) Kentucky named a highway after Congressman Hal Rogers for that very reason. Normally this would not likely be an issue, but in this case the highway had previously been named after Kentucky pioneer and hero Daniel Boone.
I cite this example of the degradation in manliness, not because it is necessarily about the manliness of Boone over Rogers (quite frankly I do not know anything about Rogers’ manliness or character beyond the fact that he evidently puts himself above Boone), but because it reveals the same thing that Moss and Roy seemed unable to nail down: we have no clue as a society what manliness truly is. Laying aside any specifics about Rep. Rogers’ character versus Boone’s, the former is a legislator whose biggest accomplishment seems to be that he is the longest-serving federal representative from the state of Kentucky (or “Kin-tuck” as they always say in Westerns). Meanwhile, the Governor who approved the change of name of the highway, did so by replacing a true legend with a long-serving legislator. Perhaps we have grown, as a society, to value too little the true accomplishments in life which demonstrate the greatness of men? After all, a Revolutionary War hero who explored and led the settlement of the harsh hills and mountains of Kentucky represents much more staunchly the greatness of men than a man who has dedicated his whole life to sitting in a deliberative body in order to secure more goodies for those who vote for him.
Regardless of what it is to which you attribute the lost definition of manliness in our society – whether a growing feminization of our culture, the lack of father-figures in many young men’s lives, the decrease in interaction with nature or the changing social mores on the reinforcement of self-esteem to the exclusion of all competition (competition being a necessary ingredient in the growth of manliness within a boy) – the problem is easy to see because the effects are so heinous. When we substituteon the platform of heroes legislators, pop artists or actors for explorers, generals and moral reformers, we create a generation who shoot for popularity instead of pride, for money instead of integrity and for unbridled control instead of restrained, empowering leadership.
Manliness, as our culture defines it, seems to be obsessed with extremes that are to be viewed derogatively: aggression, physical brutality, lecherous and lewd behavior, harsh language, thuggish force and a tendency to go walk-about when needed. It is a horrendous product when a young man subscribes to this definition – horrible for the young man, for his family, and for society – and the end state is one of abandon and pain.
We might ask ourselves then, “What are some good examples of true manliness?” And there are many answers that could be given from heroes of the American past: George Washington, Dwight Eisenhower, Calvin Coolidge, Abraham Lincoln, Douglas MacArthur, John Quincy Adams, etc. But the most powerful answers can be found in scripture. Think about:
– Enoch – a man who walked so closely and intimately with God, that God took him before he died
– Noah – a man who took one hundred years of abuse because he built a massive boat hundreds of miles from the sea, just because God told him to do it
– Abraham – a man who trusted God’s promise so much that he was willing to offer the son of the promise as a sacrifice
– Moses – a man who knew his limitations in leadership and yet was the leader God chose to deliver the Law
– Joshua – a man whose hands were stained with the blood of war and yet was so resolutely dedicated to God that he pledged his worship even if he was the only one
– Boaz – a man who cared for the less fortunate because he understood that his things had been given to him by God to begin with
– David – a man who failed over and over but never lost the capability for contrite repentance
– Daniel – a man who never wavered in his faith in spite of hungry lions, dangerous emperors or frightening messages
– Nehemiah – a man who rebuilt Jerusalem in the face of enemies who hated him
– Ezra – a man whom God chose to speak his law to a hard-hearted and hard-headed people
– John the Baptist – a man who lived the roughest life of mere survival but was filled to overflow by his message of good news
– Peter – a man so weak he denied Jesus even with Him looking on and yet so strong that Jesus renamed him “rock”
– John – a man who saw his entire identity as “the apostle whom Jesus loved”
– Luke – a man who left his medical practice to travel with Paul to enable him to spread the gospel
– Paul – a man who endured trials, shipwrecks, floggings, imprisonment, etc. because he could not stop teaching about the Christ
These are all examples of manliness in God’s book. Their intimate walks, steadfast determination, quiet strength, unreserved repentance and pure intentions are the model of true manliness. We, as men, grow closer to God’s ideal by drawing closer to God Himself. That is the powerful lesson of the great men in the Bible. It is not what the world thinks that matters in making a man manly, it is what is revealed in our character when the inevitable ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’ fly into our paths. At those times, what makes a man great is that he turns and stretches his hand to take hold of the outstretched hand of the definitive man, Christ Jesus.
But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of His resurrection and participation in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Paul’s words from Philippians 3:7-12 (NIV)