A blog for Christian men "going their own way."

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Finding Manhood (Part 1: The Present Choices)

[This is the first planned installment of a series on understanding biblical manhood. Those who agree with what is written are permitted and encouraged to reproduce it. No credit or attribution is necessary.]

Today we are told that masculinity is in trouble. We are led to believe that men are adrift without a strong sense of who they are. Our society has come up with several paradigms of manhood, some as a remedy to the supposed identity crises men are facing. What follows is a review of six prominent paradigms. The paradigms listed probably do not exhaust the notions people have about manhood, but understanding them is essential to discerning the difference between those expectations of men that are biblical and those that are worldly.

Playboy Paradigm

Under this paradigm, a man's raison d'etre is to accumulate a large amount of toys and sleep with as many beautiful women as possible. The problem is that a man begins to see his worth in terms of the fun he is able to have and his failure in terms of what he think he is "missing out" on. Sooner or later, we are left with miserable human beings enslaved to an endless quest for the ever elusive thrill to trump all other thrills. We also see people eager to live in a protracted youth free from responsibility and accountability (for instance, anxious Baby-Boomer men who don't have the grace to accept their old age and mortality). In the end, it's all sinful and it betrays men.

Feminist Paradigm

The Feminist Paradigm promises men freedom from restrictive sex roles and expectations, but in reality, it delivers one of the most restrictive and demeaning roles of all to men--the whipping boy. We are supposed to believe that no matter what happens, women always have it worse, that women are basically innocent, and that men are guilty. We are supposed to believe that feminism merely wants equality for both sexes.

The problem is that feminism wants equality for the sexes the way communism wanted equality for workers. In fact, feminism, as we have experienced it for a generation in the West, has historical connections with communism. Feminism takes the concept of class struggle and merely substitutes the concept of struggle between the genders. Individual initiative, personal accountability, merit and all other virtues of a just and free society fall by the wayside as government enforces an equality of outcomes. Identity politics reigns supreme and a totalitarian state simply replaces one class of ruling elites with another. Women of today become the new apparatchiks (or shall we say "apparat-chicks").

Religious feminism is not much better. All it can offer is a tortured exegesis of certain uncomfortable passages (1 Tim. 2:11-15; 1 Cor. 14:34-35; 1 Cor. 11:3) in an attempt to explain away what God has clearly ordained for women. No man who respects God's Word can take feminism seriously other than as a threat to his welfare.

Note: Intersects with the Playboy Paradigm in terms of secularism.

Nice Guy Paradigm

This is the mindset of the man who plays by the rules of the suburbs where matriarchs reign. He has accepted the trek of college, work, marriage, children, work, and retirement as the measure of his worth. He really believes if he works hard enough he will get the pay raise and win the heart of the girl next door. Popular culture, parents, the community, etc. tell him he must jump through certain hoops if he wants to be "successful" or "loved". He dutifully complies. He doesn't think too much about the forces unleashed in society that add to the probability of his failure and humiliation. He is all too trusting and doesn't engage in enough healthy skepticism of the status quo. A good number of men start here before they learn the hard way.

Family-First Paradigm

"Family" is the buzzword of many social reactionaries. We hear of "family" values, foundations and institutions focused on the "family", "family" bookstores, churches that "understand the importance of families", the need for government (with all its interventions and encroachments) to protect "the family" etc. The Family-First Paradigm has many forms. In a milder forms, it is the prevailing spirit of suburban churches where bible studies go hand-in-hand with double lattes, SUVs, white picket fences, L.L. Bean and Pottery Barn Catalogs, voting Republican, etc. In it more extreme forms, it manifests itself in the Marriage Mandate Movement or the Full Quiver Movement. In short, one might say that Gen. 1:28 is the John 3:16 of the family-firsters.

In accordance with the Family-First Paradigm, Christian Men are called to take the Nice Guy Paradigm, pump it up with steroids, and canonize it as a theology. The expectation seems to be that a man must work hard in a dehumanizing office environment, be the primary breadwinner in the household, have at least two children (but preferably three or more), buy lots of consumer goods, and not question his religious leaders and the corporatist welfare/warfare state for which they might be shilling.

Family-firsterism also seems to have the following notions about gender roles: If any thing goes wrong in a man's relationship with women, it is his fault. He is a depraved human being who receives sanctification through the sacrament of marriage (a mystical union with a precious, fragile, female human being for whose choices he must take complete responsibility). His sex drive as a man is the ultimate symbol of his depravity. All real women, of course, do not want sex as much as he does and he must adjust to that (not the other way around).

A particular subset of the Family-First Paradigm merits attention--the Neo-Traditionalists. They exclaim that women have a right to be successful and stand toe-to-toe with men in traditional spheres of male influence (political, economic, and cultural). Yet, when it comes to shouldering the burdens of responsibility men have traditionally borne, neo-traditionalists are all too willing to fall back on earlier sex roles. The result is that women have choices but men only responsibilities. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the insistence by some highly-paid professional women that their husbands make the bigger paycheck. Debbie Maken is a good example of a neo-traditionalist. Her book "Getting Serious about Getting Married" is a convenient patchwork of egalitarian and traditionalist understandings of sex roles. Men are essentially blamed in her book when women end up single due to their own poor choices and unrealistic expectations.

Yet in another sense, the Family-First Paradigm is all neo-traditionalist. Many reactionaries seem to latch on to the norms and customs of bygone generations (invoking the terms "biblical" and "Christian" to give authority to what they believe), while at the same time embracing many aspects of modernity that make the adoption of bygone norms and customs problematic. As a case in point, are we really supposed to believe that traditional divisions of labor between men and women in the 1950s are one and the same as what we find in the nomadic societies of Abraham's day? I get the impression that many family-firsters would answer in the affirmative (at least in those areas that they find convenient to talk about). In the final analysis, one could say that the family-firsters want to read romance novels about the Amish, but not live like them.

Note: The Family-First Paradigm intersects with the Nice Guy Paradigm in terms of naiveté and the Male Feminist Paradigm in terms of a demeaning attitude towards men.

Masculine Christianity Paradigm

Some have called men to renounce a "feminized," "nice guy" approach to Christianity and instead embrace the supposedly "manly" aspects of biblical manhood (a "new masculinity movement" if you will). It's a call for men to be Bible-believin' bad boys--Christian tough guys who take charge. In fact, one might say this philosophy is the Mythopoetic Men's Movement (a la Iron John) baptized into Evangelicalism.

While one might sympathize with the concerns some have with the way masculinity is marginalized in many churches, one still has to ask just what vision of masculinity should men embrace? One writer made an apt observation about the so-called "new masculinity movement":
Imposing qualities we consider masculine on an image of Jesus we consider feminine does not solve the problem. It only gives us a new problem--another culturally shaped Jesus, only masculine this time ...

In the end, the biblical image of Jesus presents a far more radical role model than Jesus the dude. Jesus was gritty, honest, and fearless. Yet his strength was not displayed in his willingness to punch evildoers in the mouth, but in his suffering at the hands of the wicked for their good. Where such strength is found--whether in a man or a woman, a latte-sipping sissy or a muscled mason--there is godly strength. (Brandon O' Brien, A Jesus for Real Men, Christianity Today, April 2008)
In essence, men don't need other men imposing yet another set of arbitrary codes of masculinity. Berating Christian men as "sissies" is arrogant and sinful. Men who want to fight the feminization of the church can do better than engage in the cowardly act of shooting the wounded.

Note: The Masculine Christianity Paradigm can be just as parochial in its demands as the Feminist and Family-First paradigms. Its adherents may present stereotypical views of manhood which please social reactionaries but are not particularly helpful to men as a whole.

Misogynist Paradigm

In response to the mistreatment men have experienced, some men have become so embittered that they have assumed a hostile stance towards women. A word of caution is appropriate here in broaching the subject of "misogyny", however. Feminists and other gynocentrists have misused the word as a smear attack against anyone that questions their philosophies. That said, there are truly men who have a dehumanizing attitude towards the opposite sex. It is a danger that any man angered by anti-male sexism needs to avoid.

Some men say women are "only good for one thing." Others say women all share the same amoral nature. Still others claim that women need to be demoted to second-class citizens or be coerced into submission. Finally, there are those who express elation at the suffering of women. No Christian men who takes the teachings of Christ seriously can embrace these kind of attitudes.

Please note, however, that this is not a call for men to be passive about the misandry they experience or to be overly optimistic about receiving any support from women or society. I acknowledge with great sadness that a great many women and a quite a few of our society's institutions have become the enemies of men. We cannot ignore the evils they are perpetuating; we most vigorously oppose them and shine the harsh light of truth on their deceptions and arrogance. However, religious men need to heed the admonishment of the Apostle Paul to "be angry and yet do not sin" (Eph. 4:26, NASB).


In short, the six paradigms of manhood listed above are unsatisfactory in providing a framework for men to discern what biblical manhood is. They all ultimately fail to meet the most important test all of all: conforming to God's will as revealed in his Word. Religious men need an alternative to the aforementioned choices. The alternative must be rooted in a truly biblical understanding not only of masculinity, but of the humanity of men as well.

[Click here to read the second installment of this series.]


Singlextianman said...

I'm looking forward to carefully parsing out your series.

Anakin Niceguy said...

"I sense a presence I've not felt since ..." - Darth Vader

So, you decided to return. I have found your new blog, my friend. Be careful, I might link to it in my blogroll and force you to go uncover again. ;-)

Singlextianman said...

I think (as I have said before) that you sometimes engage in rhetorical overkill; which was why I asked to be delinked from SS. That, and finding a comment somewhere on the 'net erroneously attributed to me.

....At times this may be necessary to provoke people to think (and at other times, it may reflect what you truly think)....At other times it may create fodder for mischief from people who are looking for a reason to dismiss.

At any rate I hope to engage in an overkill of Grace if I have to press you to clarify something or revisit a question, in particular with regards to that which you call the "He man" approach.

LadyElaine said...

very well said....thank you for clarifying the different archetypes....

patrick kelly said...

"The alternative must be rooted in a truly biblical understanding not only of masculinity, but of the humanity of men as well."

The key is how you discover and apply this today.

Tread lightly and pray hard. If you are surprised where you end up, that is probably a good thing.

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