Sometimes I read the news today (as with all of the recent racket about Bruce Jenner) and I feel like a Roman Soldier standing atop the beginnings of Hadrian’s Wall. Walking back and forth while on watch I can imagine the sights, sounds and smells of the Roman town south of me – certainly more “British” (if that word can be used properly at all) than Roman, but still civilized. However, to the north lies a vast field of undulating hills which lie nearly empty upon first observation. But somewhere amongst the crags, beyond line of sight, live the Barbarian Pictish clans. As a soldier I know that I must stay alert. Several times before, since I have been in this remote province, I have seen long lines of blue-painted, naked, Pictish warriors suddenly appear across the dale, yelling their curses in one voice before descending in a disorganized rush. I know that it can happen again at any time and the only thing standing between inhuman barbarism and the relative civilization of the town and empire behind me is my spear, my shield and my will.
It seems like the same thing can happen any day now in western civilization. Our culture seems to have peaked many years before now and the latest policies of those in charge are just attempts to maintain borders won by better emperors in better times. We reinforce those borders and pay lip service to their defense while simultaneously hollowing ourselves out by our own decadence. Furthermore, graduating to disdain for the glories of the past, in our hubris we have cultivated an alternative Western story about the source of that glory; attributing it to some sort of tertiary moral like “inclusiveness” or “diversity” while cheapening the real, primary virtues which actually did raise us to our eyrie. Almost like treating a Rolex knock-off bought from a street vendor as more valuable and beautiful than the real thing.
This is why I have no use for most modern talk about what it means to be a man. I’m tired of the clap-trap on manhood spilled by the endless pansies armed with little more than their microphones or few inches of op-ed space; essentially uniformed and disingenuous women and “men” known more for their conformity to the sacred views of the day than for their strength of character, sharp intellect or accomplishments. We seem to have come to a point in our country’s cultural degradation where we embrace an epicurean hedonism – but not even with any platitudinous embrace of pleasure itself being an actual “good.” At least in that case you could look at the degradation as a natural result of the hedonism itself. But what we’re seeing is something uglier and much more insidious, as if hell itself has decided to re-define the concept of manhood, not just the word. We see commentary all the time celebrating the continual expansion of the borders of what is considered “normal”; and we’re even inundated with talking heads saying that this expansion is somehow the virtuous exercise of a caring non-judmentalism in society (as if embracing the self-mutilation of Bruce Jenner so that he can explore some deranged new idea of gender is in any way “caring” to his mental, physical, emotional or spiritual state). Therefore, I can’t seem to bring myself to revel in the emasculation of our culture under some limp-wristed acceptance of the imaginations of twisted minds. Nor can I accept their dystopian dreams as something either honest or laudable. I can’t bring myself to “sign on” or “get on board” with these modern machinations of “manliness” because they aren’t true first of all, and second because it is so obviously a symptom of our ongoing cultural and societal suicide.
I wrote a few months back about the beauty of motherhood and how abortion is Satan’s most complete attack on the purest vision of love humankind can produce. I could have just as easily said that it is Satan’s most complete attack on femininity as well. Likewise, we’re seeing a clear attack on masculinity today; from multiple directions and through multiple depravities. Satan seeks to destabilize all of the structure which God created; structure which was meant to give us some idea of what is right and proper. Satan does this because he knows that propriety – not just social propriety, but natural propriety – reveals God’s design and is a vestige of the purity which we destroyed in the Garden of Eden. Satan’s attack on both womanhood and manhood is an attempt to obfuscate reality and cloud truth. Why? Because he operates better in that swirling, confusing fog. It cloaks his movements like the mists of the Amazon hide the attack of the Anaconda. But Satan’s attacks are much more deadly: destroying soul and mind as well as body.
To even be remotely successful against these attacks we, as Christians, must clear away the confusion by shedding light through the fog and onto the issues – calling things what they are and bringing reason into the discussion. We certainly shouldn’t be enabling hell by parroting the lies of cultural conformists. And yet that’s what I’m hearing from a lot of people (nominally) within Christ’s church. Since when did the body of Christ become an errand-boy with the message of the deceiver?
Not only have I seen and heard defense of Jenner’s actions by several people who call themselves Christians* over the past few weeks, but over the past couple of decades, I’ve heard Christians making arguments about limiting boys’ exposure to anything (e.g. books, movies, stories, games, people) with even the slightest amount of conflict or struggle or adventure or competition. The two things are linked because they both undermine manhood, with the reason they cite being that it encourages the “natural proclivity of boys to violence.” While we certainly shouldn’t pretend that violence for its own sake is a good thing, the real root of the argument is often the same one that that starts us down the road that eventually leads to acceptance of the confusion of Jenner as normal … and perhaps even admirable. Essentially, when pressed, their argument more often than not descends into a dualistic philosophy borrowed by the pitiful orthodoxy of the new false-feminism: that the masculine is necessarily depraved and the feminine is therefore necessarily glorious. They contend that boys should be taught to be more like girls because gentleness and sensitivity is preferable to boyish uncouthness (ironically, mentioning something like that to a feminist or gender-studies professor nowadays would likely get you yelled at for preserving some sort of outdated gender-based generality). Nevertheless this silly argument discounts a number of things which we see evident in scripture and in life generally.
First, the prejudiced dualism of that philosophy’s type is narrow-minded at best and simply irresponsible at worst. Whether feminine or masculine, any trait, action or philosophy taken to an extreme can lead to something potentially harmful to both the individual and society in general. That’s basically what Paul was talking about in 1 Corinthians, right? “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable” (6:12, NAS).
Second, since when has life NOT been about conflict/struggle/adventure/competition? To simply survive one must work tirelessly – in back-breaking fashion – to bring forth food from the ground. It is conflict on an elemental level, with the product of that conflict not seen until many months later. It is an existence predicated on a competition with nature – harnessing its power and hoping … praying … that the crop won’t fail and that food will be available for one’s family next year. Have we become so removed in western culture from this first-order struggle that we have been afforded the luxury of some misguided form of emasculation couched in the language of self-actualization?
Third, exposing young boys to conflict/struggle/adventure/competition will instill a sense of duty in them from an early age. By hearing stories of chivalry, last stands in battles, cavalry charges, underdog victories and races being finished, the young boy understands that life is not as precious as honor and courage and duty in adverse situations. A young boy must learn that sometimes fighting – even dying – is necessary in order to protect your loved ones, your countrymen, your friends, or truth itself. This sense of duty begins to metastasize in the defense of the defenseless on the playground and then solidifies in the strength of one’s will against its own degradation. It’s a priceless lesson learned by too few boys today.
Fourth, isn’t a big part of life about self-control? A boy who knows the good stories of honor and courage also knows the importance of power held in-check. Stories with struggle and conflict illustrate both power wielded wickedly (through the antagonist) and power wielded righteously (through the protagonist). And, when I say “the good stories”, I mean it completely; not all stories are actually good. The modern story of the anti-hero can be compelling, but it has very little redeeming in its morals. Good can come from broken individuals (look at nearly every story in the Bible), but pure tales of good people meeting evil times, with only the force of their will and their sense of duty, brings self-control to the fore and establishes it in the beautiful, distinguished setting it is meant to occupy in a man’s brain.
Fifth, didn’t Jesus seek out conflict/struggle/adventure/competition during his 33 years of life on earth? Jesus never backed down from any conflict unless it would derail Him from His main goal. His life was adventurous in the extreme: traveling on roads roamed by bandits, communing with Samaritans and tax collectors, touching lepers, speaking truth to power and crossing storm-tossed seas. And He walked toward – not ran away from – struggle: struggles with the Pharisees and Sadducees, struggles with Satan, and struggles with sin on the cross. If we are to follow Christ – calling ourselves Christians – why would we also not emulate Him then as the ultimate man?
Finally, savagery is only ever one generation away. It takes men – not modern-feminist-preferred, mindless eunuchs – to hold off the hordes of barbarians at the gates. Training must begin early. We must teach our young boys to stand in the breach and hold back the relentless waves of darkened ideas as well as the relentless foes that carry them. Boys can only become men when they understand that life comes with responsibility and for every truth there are a hundred perversions of it from the mind of the devil. In fact, it must be understood that there is no difference between savage living and savage thinking – a barbarian can just as easily be dressed in a suit and tie as he can be in a bearskin. Boys coming to manhood must recognize this threat and it is stories of conflict and adventure that illustrate that threat to them.
In making these arguments, I don’t in anyway want to pretend that gentility is somehow of no importance (far from it). Refinement and propriety are necessary elements of the well-rounded man and God certainly didn’t mean for Paul’s fruits of the spirit to only be binding to women. I merely wish to state that manhood is dangerous and wild … and it is necessary that it is so … because LIFE ITSELF is dangerous and wild. Manhood must not be corralled by some misplaced attempt at pacifist “civilization” (incidentally, a pacifist civilization is a possibility … but not for very long). Manhood instead is the check on the cruelty of the Philistine by being the sword which he fears. Manhood is a powerful mix of stalwart faith and empathetic grace. It is glorious courage combined with selfless kindness. A man is potent while still mercifully gentle in his handling of truth. Manhood is alive in adventurous chivalry because a real man thrives in struggle – showing his true steel – by knowing the ultimate prize for which he strives.
Furthermore, it is in seeing the awesome power of God that we witness his beauty and gentleness most fully. You can’t fully appreciate the calmness of the butterfly flitting about over gently swaying wildflowers in a breeze until you’ve seen a car dislodged from the ground and thrown by the same hurricane relentlessly bending the palm trees over which the car sails. You can’t fully know the serenity of a brook gurgling through a meadow until you’ve seen the mighty torrent of flood waters inundate a river valley. Saying that you only appreciate God’s peace and love requires a dangerous neglect of His power and justice.
In the same way, cheapening manhood through misguided ideas of “calming him down” or “civilizing him” is simultaneously an invitation to the barbarian and a weakening of the spine of society. It invites the perpetuation of fatherless homes as weak-kneed sperm-donors run away at the first sign of responsibility. It invites liars into places of power as the idea of true, manly leadership becomes muddied by spinelessness until it is equated with falsity itself. And it invites outside forces, uncouth and unchecked, into the citadel of civilization.
Bruce Jenner may be the topic du jure on the subject of gender today, but the assault on manliness by a society driven before the whips of Satan will not be over when we finally tire as a society of Jenner’s inane contradictions. The battle has been waged since the beginning (Adam’s sacred duty undermined by his unwillingness to exercise it), why would we think it will end before Jesus returns? And so, we must be vigilant and we must teach our sons to understand their responsibility as men. They should seek adventure and be fascinated by conflict and struggle. But they must be taught that the sword must be wielded properly. There is just as much wrong with brutishness as there is with cowardice. Furthermore, we shouldn’t be cowed by cultural pressure to call unstable people “courageous”, unsound philosophy “worthy”, or any lie “truth.” We only cheapen the words by doing so.
Looking over the ramparts of Hadrian’s Wall, I see the Picts re-emerging …
*Please note that I do not want to make this some sort of “salvation issue” (as if one could lose their salvation based on a disagreement with me). But I rather wish to frame this issue in the context of Christ and ask the questions which should be asked by believers in God.