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

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Cultural Conservatives and the Religious Establishment Do Not Care About Men

Though I have done a lot of writing on the intersection between religion and men's issues, I thought I take this opportunity to offer the following summation of my concerns: Cultural conservatives and the religious establishment do not care about men. Granted, I am willing to acknowledge that there are notable exceptions to my thesis, but in large, I think it stands as an axiomatic observation. I say this from the perspective of one who is a men's rights activist and a Christian man. I submit for your consideration some propositions which are subordinate to my thesis. I do not intend to get into a detailed discussion about them, but I offer them as talking points for an ongoing discourse that I have been having for some time on this blog and elsewhere.

Cultural conservatives and the religious establishment do not care about men as evidenced by the following ...

1. They expect men to silently bear pain, suffering, shame, and humiliation at the hands of others in the name of "manhood" and "virtue."

2. They are largely silent on issues that men's rights activists address, such as lopsided divorce laws, paternity fraud, male-bashing in media, etc.

3. They assert that men are primarily, if not solely, at fault for the problems that arise between the sexes (either in interpersonal relationships or in general).

4. They generally don't hold women accountable for their actions against men.

5. They address issues which affect men only to extent that such issues might be of concern to women and others.

6. They treats a man's masculinity and humanity as a privilege that can be granted or withdrawn by others (viz., all the talk about what "real men" do).

7. They define manhood in terms of a man's usefulness to women and others.

8. They push antiquated stereotypes about what men should be like (e.g., having an extroverted personality type, being stoic, etc.).

9. They push the notion of men being "protectors" and "providers" without any meaningful discussion about whether or not these roles are always necessary or appropriate for men.

10. They typically demand a type of arrangement between the sexes where options accrue to women and responsibilities to men. This is especially the case where men are expected to embrace traditional roles while women are given more leeway in how they define themselves.

11. They present marriage and fatherhood as hallmarks of masculinity, adulthood, and spiritual growth to such an extent that men who don't embrace marriage or fatherhood are put in a bad light.

12. They have high expectations of men but give no meaningful guidance or or assistance so that men can meet those expectations (viz., the expectation that young men should have the ability to support a family, even in unfavorable economic and social conditions).

13. They imply that male sexuality is, at best, of secondary importance to female sexuality. At worst, they regard male sexuality as being generally suspect or disordered.

14. Whatever outreach they offer to men, they imply that men are in need of remediation (e.g., the proliferation of "accountability groups" but no real support groups).

15. They have no compassion for socially marginalized men such as single men, divorced men, economically disadvantaged men, men who are socially awkward, men with emotional problems, men caught up in sexual sin, etc.

If you want an apt illustration of the disconnect between cultural conservatives and the welfare of men, consider the following on-air exchange between Bill O'Reilly and Mark Rudov ...

Bill O'Reilly's dismissive attitude is par for the course among cultural conservatives. Mark Rudov raises a valid issue about why women should be treated as "equals" if they need to be mollycoddled. O'Reilly never addresses that issue, and neither do a lot of other right-wing pundits who claim to be "against feminism."

Religious pundits are just as cavalier towards men's concerns. Why would they be otherwise? They cater to women and powerful men. Their paycheck does not depend on the men they excoriate, belittle, and demean. Or if it does, then these pundits escape accountability because the men they vilify are mentally arrested by fear, insecurity, a restrictive social upbringing, or just plain ignorance. All in all, from Phariseeism to Jim Crow to man-bashing, the religious establishment has dropped the ball on being merciful and just to those who are lower down on the social totem pole.

When you see a religious figure engaging in any of the behaviors I described, then you know what kind of specimen your dealing with. Jesus said you can know a tree by its fruit (Matthew 12:23). Some religious pundits just need to be marked and avoided (Romans 16:17). True, Christian men have an obligation to be a part of a visible faith community whenever possible (Hebrews 10:25), but they have no obligation to hold up the hands of those who fail to be compassionate to men. The Bible speaks of "shepherds" who are no shepherds but are, in fact, oppressors (Ezekiel 34). When these "shepherds" fail the flock, it's time to look to the One, True Shepherd for the healing our souls--Jesus Christ (Hebrews 13:20). If need be, leave your faith community if it does not respect men.

When cultural conservatives and the religious establishment start talking about men, and when they claim to be "concerned" about men, take their claims with a grain of salt. It may be a ruse and a sham. Cultural conservatives and the religious establishment are "concerned" about men as a commodity. Men's right activists, on the other hand, are concerned about men as people. Think on these things.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Lauren Winner on Men

Well, dear readers, I've been very busy the last couple of weeks. I find myself somewhat annoyed, feeling the duty to address the anti-male nonsense that passes for religious journalism, and yet feeling too tired and preoccupied to hose the sheer volume of it off the sidewalk. A week or so ago, I read an article by Lauren Winner at Boundless.org which addresses the contemporary problem of men not being achievers like women are. You can read her article here and the reactions Boundless readers had to it here.

Now for some fiskin' ...

Lauren says ...
But when we talk about gender and leadership, we may have been leaving out one crucial fact of contemporary life: Regardless of what we say we think about women and leadership, when it comes to college-aged and 20-somethings, women are leading in all sorts of areas.

Let me offer two examples — one anecdotal and one backed up by hard research.
With all due respect, we've had more than enough of the anecdotal from women who write about the sexes, but anyway ...
The anecdotal example comes from just about every church I've visited in the last year. Ask church staff, especially staff in charge of young adult ministries, who steps up to the plate when something needs doing, and you are likely to get the answer, "women." ...

"What's going on here," one of my friends tells me, "is not just volunteering or service, but real lay leadership. I'm thrilled to have so many active, vibrant women working with me, but I do wonder why the guys are so slack — why men who regularly attend Sunday worship and come to all our single's group social events can never be counted on to help out with anything. And I probably perpetuate things, because now, when I really need something done, I often don't even think to ask any guys. I go to the women who I know can get things done."
No, I'll tell you "what's going here." A lot of churches in the Anglosphere are nothing more than social clubs for blue-haired ladies and their richer donors. There is no spiritual depth. The men who have a stake in institutionalized Christianity usually grew up in it. The men who haven't are probably not going to go for it, or if they do, they might find down the road that they have been taken for a ride. Here's what institutionalized Christianity thinks about socially marginalized men ...
"I have no sympathy for those pushing churches to cater to the unregenerate man as a way of drawing him in. The fact that a beer guzzling, Nascar watching, porn-viewing, minimum-wage earning loser thinks that church is not for him; well, he is right." -- Debbie Maken
Just substitute a few words with the phrases "tax collectors" and "sinners," and you'll understand my ire. But, hey, at least Debbie Maken is honest. Why would Joe Six-Pack darken the door of any place that treats him like a recovering child-molester, a useful idiot that pays and obeys, or scandalized object of pity (such as someone dying of AIDS). This is why books are being written by fellows like David Murrow and Paul Coughlin. 21st century Christendom in the West, liberal or conservative, is about as relevant as 1st century Judaism, Sudducean or Pharisaic.

Continuing on with Ms. Winner ...
"It's not just in the ranks of church volunteers that women are outshining men. According to a recent cover story in The Chronicle of Higher Education, women are outpacing men on college campuses, too. More women than men are attending college, and once they get there, women get better grades and devote more time to civic activities and serving in leadership positions in campus organizations. At graduation time, women also bring home more awards and honors than men.

"What are the guys doing while women are studying, running the sorority charity drive, leading a Bible study and heading up the school debate team? Playing Lost Planet and The Legend of Zelda. Seriously. According to the Chronicle article, that's one area in which male students do significantly best women: Men devote far more time than women to playing computer games. Men also exercise more and watch more TV, and are more likely to oversleep and miss class."
What's the problem, madam? Isn't this what you girls wanted? Higher education has been the hotbed of misandry and gynocentrism for the longest time. Women have had all sorts of entitlements and handouts from various social, educational, and legal institutions to engage them. Men haven't. Why would a man want to go into debt in the first place, just so he can sit in some English class and listen to some middle-age woman drone on about Margaret Atwood's book The Handmaid's Tale? When I was in college, I sat at the feet of "those oppressive white men" who were Ivy League-trained and read works written by "those oppressive white men." A lot has changed now and a college degree has, in many respects, become a joke. Young men know this.
Experts have been scratching their heads about this trend, but no one seems to have any solutions. Should colleges accept male students with lower GPAs, with the aim of having a student body that is roughly half men and half women? Should classroom standards be radically retooled and made more "boy friendly"? For example, should teachers accommodate students' differing learning styles by no longer asking them to sit still?

(Again, I'm not making this up. As strange as it may sound, a colleague recently suggested to me, in all seriousness, that the real problems begin in the fourth and fifth grade when boys were forced to "act like girls" by sitting still to learn.)
Sorry, Lauren, but I caught you. Nice rhetorical move on your part, but you've been outed. You are attempting to marginalize the concerns that others have about anti-male discrimination by characterizing these concerns as being "strange" etc.

Let me quote from the Catalog of Anti-Male Shaming Tactics:
Charge of Fanaticism (Code Brown) - The Brown Shirts Charge

Discussion: The target is accused of subscribing to an intolerant, extremist ideology or of being devoted to an ignorant viewpoint. Examples:

* "You're one of those right-wing wackos."
* "You're an extremist"
* "You sound like the KKK."
* "... more anti-feminist zaniness"

Response: One should remember that the truth is not decided by the number of people subscribing to it. Whether or not certain ideas are "out of the mainstream" is besides the point. A correct conclusion is also not necessarily reached by embracing some middle ground between two opposing viewpoints (i.e., the logical fallacy of "False Compromise").
Anyway, moving right along, Lauren says ...
I was discussing the college gender gap with a group of honors college students at a Christian college a few weeks ago (and, notably, this honors class had far more female students than males). The students agreed that student leaders on campus tended to be women, and that women applied themselves more enthusiastically to their studies.

"You know what's really lousy about this?" said one gal. "There's no one to date. I mean, I want to date someone who is my equal, who challenges me, and who likes to spend his time doing some of the same things I do. I want to date someone who values the same things I value."
Well, sweetheart, maybe the guys think you and your hobbies are boring, or maybe they think you are a bit of a control freak. I dunno. Why is "the problem" always with the men? Get over yourself, ladies. If you want to marry up and have a knight in shining armor, then "get back in the kitchen." Men want to marry women who are attractive and have a great personality. They don't necessarily need a rocket scientist, or even a liberal arts professor. They want a helpmeet, not a competitor that reminds them of their boss and every other unpleasant authority figure they've known in their lives ...
So maybe that's the way to get men to take their studies more seriously — by pointing out that if they don't, they'll have a hard time catching the eye of an accomplished and interesting woman.
I'm so scared. Pass me the game controller, dude.
Are the two trends — the slack computer-gaming of male college students, and the seeming dearth of male volunteer leaders at churches — related?

I'm guessing they are. After all, college is a formative period, and (as your parents are endlessly telling you) "the habits you establish now will be with you for a lifetime."
Yes, because we are all now weekend statisticians that confusion correlation with causality. You know, folks, articles like this are all too predictable. If men are disengaged, well, it must be their own fault. They must be, like um, playing too many video games or looking at porn, or something like that, don't cha know. They need to grow up, man up, and be "Real Men(tm)!"
What should the church's response to this be? Well, I hope it's two-fold: First, women should get some applause for the wise way they're stewarding time and all the contributions they make to church and civic life. At the same time, we all need to encourage even young boys to devote more time to civic engagement and less to computer gaming.
I've asked before. I'll ask it again: Why should men care about a society that doesn't care about them? Pass the game controller, dude.
What we should not do is buy into a discourse that pits men against women, takes competition for granted, and tacitly assumes that only one group — men or women, but never both — can excel in college or take responsibility in church life.

All too often, discussions of any kind of "gender gap" polarize conversation. That is, people respond to the news that women outnumber men in college classrooms with panic and decide they need to devote all their attention to helping men out.
Whistling past the graveyard, aren't we, Lauren? Now boys and girls, Ms. Winner has instructed us to not say anything about the 300-pound gorilla in room that's urinating on the carpet. Mind your manners, now. But seriously, she might as well tell us to not think about pink elephants. Lauren needs to stop trying dictate the terms of the debate. Her suggestion comes off naive at best and condescending at worst.

The discussion was polarized from the start!! The polarization started when some ideologues decided the "personal" was the "political." It has been the feminists and their lackeys in government, academia, media, etc. who have elevated women by keeping men down. Young men have no positive mentors in their lives because their fathers are removed by homewrecking mothers or Nanny State functionaries. Education has become a "hostile and intimidating environment" for male student and male teacher alike at the elementary, secondary, and postsecondary level. Women must take their share of the blame for this mess.

I believe Lauren Winner doesn't know any better. She has grown up in the wake of feminism and has spent her life in elite institutions where one can expect her gender to be coddled and pampered. She now teaches at one of those elite institutions. That doesn't make her a bad person (and I don't want to diminish her accomplishments), but I do believe her background poses some potential barriers to having a better understanding of the issues men face today. A lot of educated women have make their bed with the entitlements. Now they have to lie in it.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Views on Marriage (Church vs. Culture)

I do not have to remind my readers that there is a difference between the spiritual realm and the secular realm, between what our faith communities uphold and what popular culture upholds. Scan the pages of church history and see what believing men of old have said about marriage, and compare their words to what the unbelieving voices of modernity have said. On one hand, we have these words ...
"Marriage is something more serious than the pleasure of two people in each other's company; it is an institution, which through the fact that it gives rise to children, forms part of the intimate texture of society, and has importance extending far beyond the personal feelings of the husband and wife."
"But for children, there would be no need of any institution concerned with sex, but as soon as children enter in, the husband and wife, if they have any sense of responsibility or any affection for their offspring, are compelled to realize that their feelings towards each other are no longer what is of most importance."
"I take this view because I regard marriage not primarily as a sexual partnership, but above all as an undertaking to cooperate in the procreation and rearing of children."
"Children are the purpose of marriage ..."
On the other hand, we have these negative statements ...
"The world is already full, and the population is too large for the soil."
"Grant this obtained; let us sketch a marriage in every way most happy; illustrious birth, competent means, suitable ages, the very flower of the prime of life, deep affection, the very best that each can think of the other, that sweet rivalry of each wishing to surpass the other in loving; in addition, popularity, power, wide reputation, and everything else. But observe that even beneath this array of blessings the fire of an inevitable pain is smouldering."
"If only, before experience comes, the results of experience could be learnt, or if, when one has entered on this course, it were possible by some other means of conjecture to survey the reality, then what a crowd of deserters would run from marriage into the virgin life; what care and eagerness never to be entangled in that retentive snare, where no one knows for certain how the net galls till they have actually entered it!"
"So many-sided, then, so strangely different are the ills with which marriage supplies the world. There is pain always, whether children are born, or can never be expected, whether they live, or die. One abounds in them but has not enough means for their support; another feels the want of an heir to the great fortune he has toiled for, and regards as a blessing the other’s misfortune; each of them, in fact, wishes for that very thing which he sees the other regretting. Again, one man loses by death a much-loved son; another has a reprobate son alive; both equally to be pitied, though the one mourns over the death, the other over the life, of his boy. Neither will I do more than mention how sadly and disastrously family jealousies and quarrels, arising from real or fancied causes, end. Who could go completely into all those details? If you would know what a network of these evils human life is, you need not go back again to those old stories which have furnished subjects to dramatic poets. They are regarded as myths on account of their shocking extravagance; there are in them murders and eating of children, husband-murders, murders of mothers and brothers, incestuous unions, and every sort of disturbance of nature; and yet the old chronicler begins the story which ends in such horrors with marriage. But turning from all that, gaze only upon the tragedies that are being enacted on this life’s stage; it is marriage that supplies mankind with actors there. Go to the law-courts and read through the laws there; then you will know the shameful secrets of marriage. Just as when you hear a physician explaining various diseases, you understand the misery of the human frame by learning the number and the kind of sufferings it is liable to, so when you peruse the laws and read there the strange variety of crimes in marriage to which their penalties are attached, you will have a pretty accurate idea of its properties; for the law does not provide remedies for evils which do not exist, any more than a physician has a treatment for diseases which are never known."
"If you do not throw into the fire wood, or straw, or grass, or something that it can consume, it has not the force to last by itself; so the power of death cannot go on working, if marriage does not supply it with material and prepare victims for this executioner. If you have any doubts left, consider the actual names of those afflictions which death brings upon mankind, and which were detailed in the first part of this discourse. Whence do they get their meaning? 'Widowhood,' 'orphanhood,' 'loss of children,' could they be a subject for grief, if marriage did not precede? Nay, all the dearly-prized blisses, and transports, and comforts of marriage end in these agonies of grief. The hilt of a sword is smooth and handy, and polished and glittering outside; it seems to grow to the outline of the hand; but the other part is steel and the instrument of death, formidable to look at, more formidable still to come across. Such a thing is marriage. It offers for the grasp of the senses a smooth surface of delights, like a hilt of rare polish and beautiful workmanship; but when a man has taken it up and has got it into his hands, he finds the pain that has been wedded to it is in his hands as well; and it becomes to him the worker of mourning and of loss. It is marriage that has the heartrending spectacles to show of children left desolate in the tenderness of their years, a mere prey to the powerful, yet smiling often at their misfortune from ignorance of coming woes. What is the cause of widowhood but marriage? And retirement from this would bring with it an immunity from the whole burden of these sad taxes on our hearts. Can we expect it otherwise?"
In the negative set of quotes, the first one is from Jerome. He is commenting on what a "present distress" means in terms of staying single (1 Cor. 7:25); in the same context, he quotes Jesus' statement on the "woe" of those who are "with child" and who "give suck" (Matt. 24:19). The remaining negative quotes are from Gregory of Nyssa's work "On Virginity." Both of these men are canonized saints in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches. And for the first set quotes, which are more favorable towards marriage? They come from the book Marriage and Morals by Bertand Russell (an atheist).

You may ask, "What is the point? You've proven nothing. Anybody can quote somebody that agrees or disagrees with your beliefs." Indeed, quoting celebrated dead theologians in support of my position and comparing them to what an unbeliever might think doesn't say anything about whether I'm right or not. Who woulda' thunk it? Let him who reads this understand what I'm getting at.