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

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Fear Factor

Last month, Boundless.org addressed a letter by a female reader who had the following to say about her boyfriend:
We met at a church in June, started hanging out more and more, and started dating in September, to cut the story short. He and I are both Christians, and definitely are on the same level when it comes to seriousness about loving, knowing and serving God. He's 31, to my 22, often garnering an "Oh!" from friends and acquaintances, but it isn't a concern inasmuch as I believe we're headed toward marriage, eventually ...

Recently we've talked about having children, and he's confessed that he doesn't think he wants any at all. Like I said, he loves kids, but he's scared of one, raising children in this world (all the mess, violence, trials they'll have to face), and then two, of raising kids that you love so much, only to see them not know Christ.
In response to this, Candice Watters replied, "I don't believe fear is ever a good reason to do anything, even less so for a follower of Christ. Scripture says repeatedly, 'Do not be afraid.'" Candice then quoted several scriptures dealing with fear (You can read them for yourself at the link provided above, if you like.).

I've seen this train of thought before. When men raise some concerns about matrimony or having children, they are occasionally accused of being fearful and then lectured about how Christians aren't supposed to be afraid. It's a rather tidy way of dismissing men without having to delve into any meaningful defense of the things one is expecting men to embrace. It's also a shaming tactic.

The verses that Candice quoted are, in my opinion, taken out of context. Let us take note, dear readers, that the Bible also says:
"A wise man feareth, and departeth from evil; But the fool beareth himself insolently, and is confident" (Prov. 14:16, ASV). Sometimes, fear is good. Or to put it another way: There is a difference between bravery and stupidity.

As it is, quoting Bible passages willy-nilly about "fear," per se, doesn't mean anything. Is Candice, as a woman, afraid of walking alone in a dark parking lot late at night? Will she adjure her fellow sisters sitting in the church pew to not give any thoughts to rapists, muggers and hoodlums in the shadows? What about women who push legalistic "courtship" rules because they are afraid of getting their feelings hurt? Will Candice shoot some verses at these women? I am not counting on it. Note what Candice has to say about the boyfriend mentioned in the correspondence above:
I do think you're right to be concerned about the seeming impasse with your boyfriend over having children. Were it not for this red flag, I'd spend my column cautioning you about your age difference posing a potential hurdle to clear on the way to marriage. (It's certainly not a given deal breaker, but it could cause trouble. As I mention in an upcoming podcast Q&A, I'd encourage you and anyone else dating someone that much older or younger than themselves to get the input and blessing of parents and trusted mentors before proceeding.)
I see. When it's a question of a man hesitating to have children, it's called "fear", but when it's a concern about a woman marrying a man who is nine years older than she is, it's called "caution." To me, this shows why the accusation of "fear" is often so meaningless, being a subjective use of terminology.

I suppose fear is unhealthy when it is based on something that is not true (viz., when it calls into question God's power and wisdom). But just making bald assertions that men have an unhealthy fear of something is unpersuasive. A case must be made if charges are going to be leveled. To Candice's credit, she tries to show why the fear of having children is unwarranted when she cites Genesis 1:28 and Malachi 2:15. The problem is that she is misapplying these scriptures (scriptures I have dealt with elsewhere). It would be nice, for a change, if people of Candice's persuasion would actually deal with the counterarguments that people such as myself raise (Jude 3). However, I wonder if these people have a "fear" of that.

17 comments:

Gerv said...

[In the following, I make no comment on the validity or otherwise of Candace's exegesis. I haven't looked at it.]

Calling any criticism a "shaming tactic" seems just like a way of avoiding dealing with it. Shaming someone may be reasonable if it's something they should be ashamed of. Referencing your link, there are some "Peter Pan" men out there (or do you disagree?) - so if I tell one he should grow up, am I giving him wise advice, or just "using a shaming tactic"? The flip side of the fact that those making such criticisms have to prove them in each individual case, is that you also can't dismiss all criticism of a certain type with "Oh, that's just a shaming tactic". Or is shame never appropriate?

IMO anyone who is living in the West today and is afraid to have kids because of "all the mess, violence, trials they'll have to face" a) hasn't got a grasp of what the Bible says about Christians facing trials, b) hasn't got a grasp of what the Bible says about having children when married, and c) doesn't have a correct sense of global perspective. Go ask a the father of a Christian family in Sudan or North Korea whether someone should be afraid of having children while living in America. He'd laugh at you.

And IMO they should be ashamed of their lack of Biblical understanding and limited vision. If, with all the resources at their disposal, a Western Christian is less well Biblically educated than someone in a country with far fewer resources and far more life-threatening concerns, then that's a shame on us.

Amir Larijani said...

Gerv: Personally, for the record, I have no gripe with what you're saying. Anakin and myself, with respect to modern population/depopulation issues, are not in agreement.

On the other hand, the larger point that Anakin seems to be making, however, is that there is a double-standard over how this matter is addressed with men, versus how it is addressed with women.

To call it "fear" when men express such reservations--which is a legitimate label--whereas with women it's "concerns", is quite bogus.

On the issue of procreation, I've long contended that God is the one who opens and closes wombs, so I'm all for married people having babies.

I'm also totally for people marrying wisely, as men and women should seek mates who aspire to the challenges of the marital covenant.

For the record: that does not mean that the man needs to make X number of dollars per year, or insist on living in a Y-bedroom house in order to demonstrate "responsibility"; it does, however, mean that the man and woman each display diligence and prudence--or at least a life pattern that converges with it--that is consistent with what we find in Proverbs.

And IMO they should be ashamed of their lack of Biblical understanding and limited vision. If, with all the resources at their disposal, a Western Christian is less well Biblically educated than someone in a country with far fewer resources and far more life-threatening concerns, then that's a shame on us.

No argument here. I would also suggest that part of the problem we have in the West--for which the solution is not an easy one--is that, over the centuries, the Church has devolved into an atmosphere of passivity rather than active learning.

This is a dynamic that Viola and Barna highlight in their book Pagan Chriatianity, and which Murrow sort of addresses--albeit exclusively from a male perspective--in his book Why Men Hate Going to Church.

My point in this is that the atmosphere of passivity--highlighted by Murrow as a complaint of men--is doing women no favors either.

singlextianman said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QNvWU_DUATc&feature=related

Kevin in Manila said...

This is maybe a little off topic, but I'm a little amused that Candice seems so concerned about a nine year age difference.

Elusive Wapiti said...

"He's 31, to my 22, often garnering an "Oh!" from friends and acquaintances,"

I think Watters has it backwards. Where the "oh!" factor comes in isn't with the 31 yo man, it's with the 22 yo woman who is a full 5 years from the age that she'll make the best marital decisions.

How many women-girls know what they're about at age 22? Esp if they went to college? Do any of them have any business making a marriage decision that young?

"I do think you're right to be concerned about the seeming impasse with your boyfriend over having children."

This is actually good advice here. If a woman wants kids, and he doesn't, they're not exactly on the same page, now are they? And Amir's got a great point--Christians who fear having kids because of all the suffering in the world aren't exactly stepping out in faith. Let God open and close wombs. Besides, (and I'm echoing Gerv here) what makes folks think that these times are any more/less suffering than others?

And for the record, there is a 7 year age difference between myself and Mrs Wapiti. The key was I was 34 and a recovering divorcee, and Mrs Wapiti was 27 and 3 years out of college. The maturity that comes with an extra few years beyond college is oh-so-necessary these days.

Watters' objection to the age difference hints at feminist's concern with power dynamics (i.e. young wife older man == more power for the man == oppressed wittle woman).

Tho I doubt that Watters believes this, it does suggest the possibility that Watters has imbibed feminism and doesn't know it.

Amir Larijani said...

Kevin: That's a very good question, especially given that age differences greater than that have plenty of Biblical precedent.

Learner said...

I don't think that 9 years is much of an age difference myself. Though, I can say that most of my female students (most of whom are very close in age to this young lady)would think it a large age difference. Of course, they also think of 27 as "old".

EW,

Given the fact that our (both men and women) cognitive faculties are not fully developed until our mid to later 20s, especially regarding the abstract thought required for decision making, one may wonder at the fact that many important life decisions are made in our early 20s.

Learner said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Triton said...

How many women-girls know what they're about at age 22? Esp if they went to college? Do any of them have any business making a marriage decision that young?

I think this is more environmental than biological. Women a lot younger than that have had successful marriages, and, historically speaking, at higher percentages than our current women's marriages.

If God didn't want women to marry until their mid-20's, then He wouldn't have made them reproductively mature in their teens.

This is maybe a little off topic, but I'm a little amused that Candice seems so concerned about a nine year age difference.

Actually, I'm not surprised at all. I think a lot of this Marriage Mandate stuff is about shaming men not only into marrying, but into marrying women their own age. Remember, there are a lot of 30-something single women out there that seem to be a major force behind this movement.

Learner said...

I think this is more environmental than biological. Women a lot younger than that have had successful marriages, and, historically speaking, at higher percentages than our current women's marriages.

There are biological reasons from a brain development standpoint, but I think the difference today is environmental, or let's say cultural. Historically speaking it was not the young woman making the decision on her own as it is today. Her parents had large influence on her decision. Of course the current view of marriage as something other than a lifetime committment also influences this.

cheese said...

Fear and Faith are opposites.

Ken said...

If he is not enthusiastic about having children and she is, then she should STOP SEEING HIM. End of story. It is not her place to try to convince him that his reasons for not being sure about having kids are invalid. She has a conflict of interest.

Christina said...

EW,

Concerning women and their knowing what they want at 22 - /raise hand

Strangely, very little has changed between now and 22 with me...oh...except a stupid decision to sleep with a guy i knew i wanted to marry who had no such clarity (ah..and he was 24...the same age I am now and at the altar...he's 26 dating the girl of his dreams and still doesn't know what he thinks of marriage).

I made dumb and stupid decisions, yeah...but after stupid advice that I had to wade through (like you don't marry your first boyfriend...the LACK of that advice woulda kept me out of my first relationship), I've always known what I wanted in a guy. It was one of those things I prayed about, sharpened, and honed through the years...and little changed from 16 to 22 to 25 in the kinda guy I knew I wanted to marry. Again, first boyfriend wasn't the guy I wanted to marry from the get-go and the decision to date him was due to stupid advice given from an otherwise trust-worthy source and a lack of faith in God's provision when all I wanted to do was hold a boy's hand for the first time.

Oh...and that brings me to Anakin's post...

Amir, I get what your saying, but none of Anakin's post commended Candice's exegesis on fear being a problem - even going so far as saying that her verses were taken "out of context".

Sounded to me like Anakin actually doesn't think fear is a problem - note how he mentions how sometimes fear is good.

And here, I will vehemently disagree with him. Fear is a lack of trust. And in all things, we should trust God. FEAR does not translate into "wise avoidance" on ANY occassion - like avoiding a diamond back rattler != fear. Prudence, yes. Wisdom, yes. Smarts, yes.

Overcorrecting on black ice pavement out of panic is fear.

Screaming and running around like a chicken with your head cut off when T-Rex is gouging a Jeep's tires is fear.

Allowing fear to control your actions, your decisions, your bodily functions - its a lack of trust, pure and simple.

You can wisely avoid marriage without being fearful.

You can wisely choose not to have children without being fearful.

However, when your apprehension admittedly stems from fear, its time for you to question your Trust in the Almighty.

Now, he also had another little point - that he didn't quite elaborate on - but I don't think women are being neglected on the "do not fear" card. We just get it in different areas. And Candice et al do not cease to harangue women for avoiding children out of fear (or have you missed all those children posts?)

Women get an earful when they talk about wanting to be financially independent from their husbands (the SAHM club is known for providing this earful).

Women get an earful when they start talking about not wanting to submit to their husbands. It hasn't happened often because the bible is rather blatant on that one, but Candice and Heather can get a bit uptight on that one, too.

Women also get an earful from the matrons of church when discussing wanting to get married.

When we would do just about anything to catch a husband, that kinda thing is a consequence of FEAR - the lack of trust that God knows what he's doing and will provide in his time.

We get it, you guys just don't see it.

But some women who want to follow God with all their hearts deal with their own fear on a regular basis simply because we honestly have no other option...

One thing is for sure, if you want to be a Godly wife and mother, you HAVE to learn to trust. That whole female submission thing? It smacks of a need to trust. The act of having a baby? It smacks of a need to trust. Staying home to raise your children while relying on the SO to provide? Smacks of trust.

And for you guys? Getting married when your wife could walk out with all your worth? It smacks of trust.

Christina said...

Ken,

Concerning your post prior to mine...

The girl in question had this to say:
One thing really hurt, when in the heat of discussion he asked me, "Why do you want kids so badly? So you can stay at home and not work?" Which made me really think about my reasons for wanting a family, and thinking that maybe I'm selfish to want this so badly.

And if you click on the link in Anakin's most recent post, you'll find this little admonishment from him:
If women agree with Debbie Maken that marriage is a Biblical imperative for most everyone, then on what basis can they use "parity" or "having standards" as an excuse to turn down suitors they don't like and delay marriage?

Ok - so here's a woman who wants to get married. She also wants a family. But she's sitting here struggling cuz here's a man who she could conceive building a life together who has this ONE hang-up.

So her question is, am I being selfish for wanting the family thing so badly?

Is the family thing a big enough reason TO walk away?

Is the this guy who meets every other "standard" (for lack of a better word) worth reasoning with and working towards a solution with?

She seems to think so. Isn't that what you guys want in a girl? Someone who is willing to work in cooperation with you? Someone who is willing to work through differences in your relationship instead of throwing in the towel at the first sign of disagreement?

Her feelings are that his basis for not wanting children are not legitimate reasons - because fear is at the heart of his reasons.

And that IS something he should work on. If he has other reasons that aren't seasoned with fear, than let them work those out and maybe she'll determine then that either she can live with it or not. But right now, there's that shot that if he lays down his fears and trusts in God that they might actually have what it takes to build a family.

And she thinks he's worth the effort.

Ken said...

Christina,

I see what you are saying.

I was once in her place, kind of. The major issue wasn't kids, but it was a major issue, and I was the one who could not marry the person unless she changed her mind. She thought she could marry me as things were, but she did understand that I would likely end up being unhappy if she never changed her mind.

If she wants to try to convince him, that is her option. But she is doing so at risk of spending more time, energy, and emotion on someone with whom she is ultimately incompatible. My advice to her would be to see other people as well so as to not keep herself from someone who might be compatible with her NOW. If the current fellow ends up deciding he does want to raise children, then great.

But nobody should exclusively see someone who is currently incompatible with them - and disagreement over whether or not to have children, for whatever reason, is a very big incompatibility. Does she really want to marry the guy and make babies with him, only to find out 10 years down the line that he is miserable and being less of a husband and father than he could be because of the resentment? Especially when she could have married someone else who would have LOVED that life?

Christina said...

Ken,

I kinda agree, kinda don't.

I think its a good thing that this girl is letting his doubts challenge her own reasons for wanting a family.

I think its a good thing that she's exercising cooperation and committment (at least for now) in a difficult area where compromise can be difficult and painful.

Though I agree, she probably shouldn't continue in this when she realizes her reasons for family are legit and doesn't wait to long for him to change his mind.

Right now, she is exercising some very critical characteristics that will make a life-long marriage more do-able, and for that I think she deserves some credit.

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