“Confessions of a Bad Christian” – Is manliness endangered?

The number one box office movie is still the 1997 film Titanic. It was the number one movie for fifteen consecutive weekends and grossed 600 million in the US and over 1.8 billion worldwide. Titanic became a national obsession to the point where people were wearing T-Shirts that said…

The boat sank.
Get over it.

Many moviegoers got drawn into the class warfare relationship of Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Rose DeWitt Bukater (Kate Winslet). But there was so much more to this story than the boat sinking. The pride and arrogance of engineers who thought they had designed the unsinkable vessel. Witnessing the worst side of human nature as people perished because some were so concerned about self preservation that they willingly sacrificed others to achieve that goal. All of this came to mind as I read an article in The Weekly Standard entitled Being a Man. Christina Hoff Sommers is the author of the piece. She is the author of a book called The War Against Boys . Sommers was commenting on a controversial new book from Professor Harvey C.Mansfield. His book is titled Manliness and it is creating quite a stir in academic circles. This is an excerpt from Sommer’s article in The Weekly Standard.

ONE OF THE LEAST VISITED memorials in Washington is a waterfront statue commemorating the men who died on the Titanic. Seventy-four percent of the women passengers survived the April 15, 1912, calamity, while 80 percent of the men perished. Why? Because the men followed the principle “women and children first.” The monument, an 18-foot granite male figure with arms outstretched to the side, was erected by “the women of America” in 1931 to show their gratitude.

To The Brave Men
    Who Perished
    In The Wreck
   of The Titanic,
   April 15, 1912.
   They Gave Their
  Lives That Women
    and Children
   Might Be Saved.

    Erected By
    The Women
    Of America.

Today, almost no one remembers those men. Women no longer bring flowers to the statue on April 15 to honor their chivalry. The idea of male gallantry makes many women nervous, suggesting (as it does) that women require special protection. It implies the sexes are objectively different. It tells us that some things are best left to men. Gallantry is a virtue that dare not speak its name.

In Manliness, Harvey C. Mansfield seeks to persuade skeptical readers, especially educated women, to reconsider the merits of male protectiveness and assertiveness. It is in no way a defense of male privilege, but many will be offended by its old-fashioned claim that the virtues of men and women are different and complementary. Women would be foolish not to pay close attention to Mansfield’s subtle and fascinating argument.

“Manliness,” he says, “is a quality that causes individuals to stand for something.” The Greeks used the term thumos to denote the bristling, spirited element shared by human beings and animals that makes them fight back when threatened. It causes dogs to defend their turf; it makes human beings stand up for their kin, their religion, their country, their principles. “Just as a dog defends its master,” writes Mansfield, “so the doggish part of the human soul defends human ends higher than itself.”

Every human being possesses thumos. But those who are manly possess it in abundance, and sometimes in excess. The manly man is not satisfied to let things be as they are, and he makes sure everyone knows it. He invests his perception of injustice with cosmic importance.

Women can be manly–Margaret Thatcher is an example–but manliness is the “quality mostly of one sex.” This creates problems for a society such as ours that likes to think of itself as “gender neutral,” egalitarian, and sensitive. Manliness is not sensitive. Today, we mainly cope with it by politely changing the subject. The very word is deemed quaint and outmoded. Gender experts in our universities teach as fact that the sex difference is an illusion–a discredited construct, like the earth being flat or the sun revolving around the earth.

This surprises me that a Harvard professor has the courage to write this book. Manliness has been either deemed outmoded or it has been marginalized by the stereotypes of men that are anything but manly. We seem to equate cultural manliness with the “bad boys”. That is not a Biblical view of being a man. The church has some dogs in this hunt. The role of men in marriages and families has been perplexing as we try to integrate Biblical principles with cultural realities. Neither I nor my wife will ever believe that sex differences are an illusion. Raising three sons will get you to that place. The confusion that many men feel over how to be a spiritual leader in the home is often paralyzing. But how this issue plays out in the corporate church may be the biggest issue of all.

David Murrow has written a book called Why Men Hate Going to Church. Murrow postulates in an interview in Leadership Magazine that men don’t do church very well. In a nutshell, he sees these problems.

“You have to be able to speak, read, and pray out loud in church culture, and the average man is not going to be as good at that as most women. Secondly, we do almost nothing to try to attract men. We’re constantly putting books in the hands of Christians telling them that the way to Christ is through a classroom experience and Bible studies. This whole idea of church as a “learning process” is going to attract more women than men. On top of that, so much of the imagery used in the church is feminine. In the last fifty years, the dominant metaphor used to describe the Christian life has been “a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” Jesus’ command was not to “have a personal relationship with me,” but to “follow me.” Men can handle that.”

Men can handle that. We understand how to follow a dynamic leader and Jesus was that. We often forget how over the top revolutionary Jesus was in His teachings about women. He demonstrated manliness in the sense that I would like to become manly. Courageous when speaking the truth. Strong enough to stand up for the poor, the weak, and disadvantaged. Tender enough to realize the pure hearts of children. Willing to forgive and to restore those who left him behind. Jesus was not like the hippie peace loving character from the TV show The Book of Daniel. That type of benign character won’t get you killed on a cross. And Jesus realized the importance of investing His life into the life of flawed men who, despite their weaknesses, understood the concept of manliness. And those twelve men changed the world. Send out twelve emasculated men with that mission and see what happens.

The article from The Weekly Standard continues.

Manliness can be noble and heroic, like the men on the Titanic; but it can also be foolish, stubborn, and violent. Manliness is often aggressive, but when the aggression is tied to the concept of honor, it transcends mere animal spiritedness. Allied with reason, as in Socrates, manliness finds its highest expression.

Because manliness manifested in sinfulness is often foolish and violent our culture wants to neuter the manliness and not attack the root cause of misguided “thumos”. It is politically incorrect to suggest that sin is the reason for manliness that goes astray in violence and aggression. I believe that is the root cause and not the trait of manliness. I remember the fear of Promise Keepers  expressed by many women. The concern that somehow we men were rallying to reclaim our role as kings of the house and plotting ways to make our wives live in submission to our every desire. But all I ever experienced at a Promise Keepers meeting was getting my butt kicked about not loving my wife enough. Or being challenged about working too much and spending too little time with my wife and kids. Dangerous stuff, huh?

I would suggest that for me manliness finds its highest expression when I am trying to love my wife like Christ loved the church (I have varying degrees of success). Manliness is manifested in having the “thumos” to protect her and my family and my friends. I pray that I would have the courage to be like the men who were honored at the now mostly forgotten Titanic monument. Jesus said that “greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” Do I have that kind of love?

Nobility. Honor. Manliness. Do we still believe in those words? It is an important question.