It is probably the coffee, or the academic tomes I’m sloughing through right now on the cheery subject of various medieval religious polemics attacking religion (Islamic vs. Christian vs. Jewish). And then in a coffeeshop, you overhear other people’s conversations. I don’t like the brand of masculinity that is cultivated in snickering frat boys. It makes me sick and want to cry.
Masculinity can be incredibly precious, but the particular strains of “masculinity” that are cultivated in our postmodern era are anything but. The pig-headed jock who goes after women as if they were things and thinks loving violence makes him a man; the whiny and self-congratulatory sensitive male who is so proud that he doesn’t like football; and the general ‘nice guy’ whose stellar claim to moral superiority is that he doesn’t rape people and doesn’t hate other races, though he is sure that everyone else would. To all, the zeitgeist pressure: they have to apologize for their existence, which some try their best at (however clumsily) and others rebel against in a show of the-best-defense-is-offense, or worse still, embracing the slur in a fit of take-that-hah. And in all the cacophony, who will remember what it is to be a man? Amidst the swirling whirlpools, the Scylla and Charybdis and so many other countless ones, how many can even make it, to steer their ship true, to the place the stars chart out?
Oh God. It’s like that scene in Captain America 2, where some people try to get into the little fighter planes (parked on the deck of the aircraft carrier) to go to the aid of Captain America. Every single one of them is shot dead before even being able to get in the air. They go up in flames on the deck. That’s about the state of manhood in America today. Boys never even get a chance to be good men. They never even have a chance to try.
Craving moral heroism is not a bad thing. It can be something rather sweet in the young. And I suspect it is inborn too. Newborns scream in their cribs for the touch of another human being, for the sound of a human voice singing in the darkness.
And then by 3 or 4 years old, many of them are tripping about with their blocks and sticks and pillow-case capes, already yearning to be heroes. You could say that the fairy stories we tell them are the cause of it (I remember over-hearing my toddler kid sisters’ make-believe universe populated with tea parties, difficult pregnancies, and dragon slayings), but I suspect it is the reverse: fairy tales were created by the harried grown-ups because kids demanded it. It is the kids that crave moral heroism. They crave a world of good and bad, where good must struggle, but ultimately win.
I think it is a part of human nature— and, that like all the forces of nature, it must be respected and perhaps tamed, but never extinguished. If you attempt to extinguish it, it will blow up in your face. You can only repress human nature so far. Attempts to stymy the craving for heroism (e.g. ‘idealism is dangerous! look at the nazis or the bolsheviks!) will lead to things just as bad as the nazis and the bolsheviks. Actually, I wonder how many wandering idealists in the 1800s and 1930s latched on to those ideologies precisely because no-one else offered an alternative. Dostoevsky said that more than man craves for food, he craves for worship — to find something to fall before and worship. If he isn’t given that, he will go mad. In our era that tries to eliminate moral heroism, males have had it disproportionately worse. It’s a downward spiral–the symptoms are taken as the root, and the cure is banned as the cause.
A large part of the crisis in masculinity today is precisely this effort to eradicate a male-specific moral heroism (e.g. chivalry, or ‘how men should treat ladies or those weaker then themselves’) because of the inherent side effect of paternalism/condescension that inevitably comes with any system of morality, however constructed. But when you successfully eliminate male-specific moral heroism from a culture — you (surprise) have not actually gotten rid of the male, and hence male-specific XYZ-ism. And what it gets replaced with is something cruder: male-specific macho heroism, without a moral sense. That celebrates raw power, raw sexual prowess, raw violence, untrammeled by any moral specifications.
Ride the subway in any large city in America, walk along the rougher parts of town, and you see the cost of it. Boys barely men, trying so hard to prove their manhood by the only thing they know is “manly”: their only male-specific heroism being something that is an odd mixture of gang violence and knocking up as many women as they can. Their eyes, large and bright and young. And so many of them will be dead before they turn 25 years old. They have testosterone, they have a desire for male-specific heroism. But this amoral void gives them none of it, and they must construct what they can from the garbage heap. It is a costly thing, devouring what could have been: lover’s pledges kept steadfastly, homes peaceful, men strong and gentle, hands clean of blood.
It isn’t just the urban poor that are paying the price. You see the same painful cost in the suburbs (though not as costly in lives–for the wealthier have more buffers–more leeway with the police, more therapists, more help). Boys, craving for male-specific heroism, turn to an odd amalgamation of sexual braggadocio (e.g. porn, or sex-as-an-impersonal-thing-i-grab-for-myself) and obscenely nihilistic fantasy violence now scrubbed clean of moral purpose. For example, current violent video games that pride themselves on their moral high-ground by intentionally having no moral heroism (but plenty of gore and boobs).
Eliminate the “serve and protect” purpose for male violence (e.g. chivalry and save-the-world ideologies) and what do you end up with? Violence for its own sake. Machismo without any fig-leaf of chivalry. Raw masculinity without any honor. And then they are told that manly men are just pigs and d-bags. But what other options are they given?
A typical example of this is the videogame Skyrim. Like most high-resolution first person games, the violence (unless you are playing as a mage with glowing blasts) is gory, up-close and personal.
To add insult to injury, the advertisement campaign was totally, totally tapping into young adolescent boys’ craving for moral heroism. Here is the original trailer that got so many of them to buy it, which shows a lone warrior defending the women and children and civilians from an attacking dragon.
It is such a scam. Instead of what is advertised above, in the gameplay, you are forced to first-person slash up women alongside men (there is no setting to disable that), and oh, it turns up that there are no goodguys. Here’s a dorkly comic that makes the point: (from The Skyrim Dilemma)
In a world where there are no good causes, the best thing to do is just fight for yourself. So you fight like a bandit, kill other “bandit” women and men you come across (they automatically attack you too, so you don’t have much of a choice), and grab stuff for yourself. Oh, and you have this side-kick female who is a really hot (and strong too, to appease the feminists) who basically acts like a traditionalist wife of the semi-servant variety, carrying your luggage and serving you devotedly.
Postmodernism, in an effort to tear down the mistakes of brash (wannabe heroic) modernity, tears it alldown, and we will cycle back into pre-pre-modernity, the era of the tribe and the patriarchy in its rawest, most untamed form.
If we try to get rid of condescending would-be heroes…all we will get rid of is the attempted heroism. Then we are left with condescending, brutal thugs.
If you remove male-specific moral heroism from a society, everyone suffers.
These are my thoughts about the HHS mandate. I should have explained this a long time ago, but I was too tired emotionally. I suppose this is too late, but here it is now.
The HHS mandate, under the new Obamacare system, mandates all employers (including religious charities and religious schools) to pay for their employees birth control pills (which, by the way, not only stop conception, but also can stop implantation of an already-conceived zygote, causing it to lack nutrients and die– hence the term “abortifacients”).
A month’s supply of birth control pills (depending on the brand) is anywhere between $10-$50.
That is between $0.33 to $1.67 a day.
In other words, if you are a young law student at a Catholic university, don’t buy a muffin with your daily Starbucks latte and voila! you can afford it.
And if you happen to be working for a Catholic Charity or Catholic School, pack a lunch just one day per week, and there is your pill money.
It isn’t a crushing expense.
And for those of you concerned about child-bearing women working at Catholic organizations who can’t afford this $0.33 to $1.67 per day, and who would very much rather swallow a pill of artificial hormones on a daily basis than purchase a couple condoms a week for three quarters at the gas station…..for those women, you can start a charity of Birth Control for Childbearing Employees at Religious Organizations Fund. I am sure you will have more than enough money for it—there are probably only a couple thousand such women in such straits (a lot of people don’t devote their life career to a Religious Organization whose core doctrines they disagree with), and I’m sure you could get a bulk discount with the Pharmaceutical companies.
Note in the poster above, there is nothing about what the Republicans are doing….but about what Religious Folks believe. That is our real crime (not the American Inquisition we were trying really hard to set up in 2013 to force everyone to become Catholic) but just our alleged beliefs themselves.
(both photos courtesy of “Americans Against the Tea Party” facebook group, I came across these in my newsfeed as a friend of mine kindly posts them for my enlightenment)
Now…think about this carefully. Republicans weren’t trying to pass a law to stop them from getting Birth Control. Nobody was trying to outlaw Birth Control in the 2012 election. We are just asking to be left alone. For those of us who choose (there is no Inquisition–you can always leave!) to join or remain in religious organizations…we are simply asking to run our religious organization (not the entire country) by our own religious principles: we just want to be left alone.
Think about those posters. What it really means is this: the government has the right to force those in (voluntary) religious organizations to violate their own principles because those religious people are jerks. So the gov’t is here to make them stop acting like jerks–for that unforgivable crime of “imposing” their beliefs by having the cheek to say that some things are wrong.
In other words….they want the Catholic Church to say “uncle”, because the people who say birth control is wrong are all nasty-hateful-intolerant-judging people. They want the Church, those judgmental medievals who say women shouldn’t be taking these pills, to fund birth control pills, and in so doing, condone it. It is a matter of principle, for both sides. It is an ideological statement for both sides. They want the Catholic Church to say to the gov’t, “OK, you call the shots about this, yes, birth control is valid medical care and not a moral issue, and hey, we are funding it now because you said so, so it is OK.”
After all, the Ancient Roman Gov’t did the same thing. They were VERY tolerant (most of the time), you could be a Christian all you wanted—just make sure you mutter a few words in front of the Official about cursing your gods, and light a pinch of incense for the genius-spirit of the Emperor. That is all. You can go home and worship your little heart out, to any gods you choose. We just want you to go through this little motion–that the Roman State (in its spiritualized form–the genius of the Emperor) gets the first little token of respect–that it matters more than your other gods, whatever they are.
Makes perfect sense after all. If we are going to build our tolerant, multi-ethnic society, we need a basis for society, and that basis is to make sure everyone acknowledges the Authority of the State first and foremost, before any of their wacky foreign gods. Just make sure they will curse their gods if the State asks them to, to show which one matters more. That’s all. And most religions, most eastern mystery cults, were fine with this.
But the Christians weren’t. Because it was a matter of principle. Because in Christianity, our words are sacred, our ‘little ritual actions’ are sacred….and we must not compromise our allegiance–first and foremost to our beautiful Christ, that incarnate god-man who knows us each by name. He isn’t an impersonal god, but a personal one: hence we value our personal integrity, because it matters to Him.
That’s why a bunch of them were eaten by lions. They had just declared their personal religion, their private god, as more important than the Authority of the State. Therefore, they are a menace to Society. Hence, the need for the lions.
I know, most Christians went along. Most did the little pinch of incense. Only some of them died, the minority who could not be intimidated into backing down (That is the story of the human race….e.g. the French Resistance under the Nazis, or the White Rose…they were always the minority).
But the ones who did go along…there is a cost in that. We feel it keenly. A compromise of our own integrity. Life is not as much worth living, when you are not free to do what your conscience requires of you. Now—to materialists and pragmatists, they think we are over-reacting over nothing.
Most human societies throughout history have thought that, from second-century Classical Rome to fifteenth-century Spain to twentieth-century Soviet Russia.
But this is America. America was different.
This was the place of Religious Freedom. Where “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech…”
This was a country where the Government did NOT dictate to people what they could or could not think, where the government did not dictate the ideology of the people. Now….everybody has a “religion”, an “ideology”, a “worldview”, a sense of what is acceptable and inacceptable, etc. But unlike the aforementioned human societies, this was the place where we could live in freedom before our God, serving Him according to our own conscience. Living in peace and raising our children according to our own conscience.
And so this HHS mandate is….a huge break from that. And it is intentional. It is a matter of principle for the Obama Administration and they mean it. The rhetoric of “Freedom of Worship” has replaced “Freedom of Religion”, because “worship”, unlike “religion”, is not a way of life. We can think any warm fuzzies in our heart….but we do not have the right to live it. Period.
(After all, even second-century Rome had “freedom of worship”…and so did the USSR. You just had to hike out to the woods to do it.).
And so this ‘minor’ issue isn’t so minor after all. If the American people accept this (as they appear to be doing), then this is the end of what America stood for these past 236 years. On principle, we will be no different from all those other countries, where religious dissidents are persecuted and killed on a regular basis (not that the media covers it much, so we don’t have to think about it….)
It will be full-scale surgical abortion next. I know that sounds far-fetched…but it has already happened. Governor Eliot Spitzer of New York, in 2008, was going to force Catholic Hospitals to perform surgical abortions or shut down. Seriously–he was pressing for it the week before he suddenly resigned because of the Emperors Club VIP scandal. If it wasn’t for the call-girl ring leaking to the press…it would have gone through–in 2008. So no, the Catholic organizations have a reason to be concerned. They are the first on the radar. But they are not the last on it.
This will also be the beginning of…something else. Something progressive. Progressive countries like Sweden and Germany who still seize children and place them in foster care for no other reason that their parents audaciously pulled them out of the Government School System and wanted to teach them at home (in both cases, the parents were religious conservatives).
After all, “education is too important to be in the hands of parents.” (–a real quote from an Ivy Leaguer I knew). I suppose their ideological formation is too (we need the Young Pioneers). And so many things are “too important”…..
Look how they frame the debate: apparently religious people are trying to run a theocracy, we are banning birth control. This facebook ad, which popped up on my wall a couple weeks ago, puts it this way:
But what is really going on here? Is this really the Church trying to run the State….or the State planning to run the Church?
I think it is pretty clear. It is this Progressive administration that does not believe in the separation of Church and State. (It shouldn’t be that surprising—progressives never have believed in it). And that is why we are seeing the end of an American ideal, and the beginning of a brave new world.
I’ve been listening to Son of Hamas audiobook, and got to thinking…
Hassan Yousef (one of the seven founders of Hamas) was as “Christian” as St Francis. In his heart–he knew deeply and practiced all that was holy, kind, merciful, just, good, humble. In a word: selfless love and honest integrity. He is a devout Muslim.
“Walk towards God and He will run toward you.” I read that in 2002, on an introduce-the-highschool-class display case in a Chicago suburb. It was the favorite quote of a beaming girl in a headscarf, the only one in the whole class to bravely identify herself as Muslim, in the post 9-11 tensions. Walk towards God and He will run toward you!
He does come. He doesn’t only answer his favorite clan, or those with the correct theology. He does not desert any of His children who look up, calling to Him. He comes. So the postmodernists who say all religions lead to God, are on to something. We all turn, in our various ways, to a Higher Power who is Goodness and Love. And He comes to us, for He is gracious.
But Hassan Yousef couldn’t condemn terrorism. He couldn’t stand up to Islamic men of a different kind of religious fanaticism, one of killing (and torture and paranoid sexual fantasy– the same as sixteenth-century european witch trials). Like tolerant westerners, he too could say that personally couldn’t stomach the killing–but he couldn’t judge/condemn/rebuke those who did. He had no theological backing.
And that is why doctrine matters too. The heart can learn all from God, by just yearning towards him in a selfless life. But the mind must be given words, words of truth, to fight the violent perversions of faith and twisted men.
Because those violent perversion of faith eat humankind. They destroy the sacred (ripping and stomping upon Torah scrolls, cutting the throat of child after child, meting out ‘justice’ by rape, burning to death non-virginal teenage girls, ripping an infant limb from limb, etc.).
Nowadays we call it ‘genocide’….at a conference on genocide studies at Penn, I heard a woman describe how genociders typically attack what she termed “life-force symbols”, that is (1) the aged of the community (its history), (2) the young of the community (its future), (2) their sexuality (gang rape, or force them to act out with eachother in aberrant ways, etc), (4) their spirituality (ripping Torah scrolls, smashing gravestones, urinating on Bibles, sexualizing religious sanctuaries, etc). And yes, I had to flee in the middle of the presentation when she started citing examples.
But it struck me: it was all a desecration of the Holy, a defilement of the Sacred. Grandmothers, babies, sex, sanctuaries — reverently approached in their fitting place — those are the dearest and most beautiful things in this world. The things that give meaning to everything else in life, and are hence life itself. The Sacred.
And for every rapacious thug-horde that have defiled those things in sheer greed of conquest, there are also those who have done the same for twisted ideologies, some of them claiming to be faiths serving God. It is sickening to see how religious faith can be twisted to such perverse postures — but then, so can sexual and familial love (for example, incest). Of course it is the most beautiful things that can be twisted into the most horrible things.
So yes and no. All faiths — when reaching out to the Higher Power through goodness and love — do lead to God. But we need doctrine and truth too, to defend the sacred — specifically, the doctrine of the Incarnate Christ, who became flesh like us, deifying every human being (who thus must be treated as such), who demands perfect holiness of us and yet bled on a cross to fulfill it, who charges us to forgive every sin, who calls us all to follow him and abandon everything, and who says “whatever you do to the least of these–you do to me.” Who makes Holy what was defiled, who gives life to the world.
If we don’t want to be ‘judgmental’, we need an unbendable moral law. I’m serious. Moral Relativism is what breeds judgmental scorn.
Here’s an example: As an undergrad Freshman at a big party school, I was surprised to notice those most willing to heap scorn and contempt on so-called ‘sluts’ were those who…weren’t exactly practicing chastity themselves. Oh SHE’S a bad girl (and I’m not) because for her, it wasn’t the weekend, it was before 5pm, she wasn’t drunk enough, that was someone you knew from your hall OR I knew him for three months and she knew him for two, etc…… There are so many odd little rules in the Campus Hookup Culture to define what is contemptuously trashy from what is fun-loving and normal on the partying/dating scene. It’s in the media too—look at the scornful way Ms Simpson in The King’s Speech or the loose neighbor in Just Like Heaven are portrayed—so contemptuously BECAUSE there is no moral law in our modern cinema, and we must somehow feel why they are the ‘bad’ girls….
Moral Relativism, or any subjective moral code, eliminates God as Judge and Law-giver, by putting EVERYONE into the judgment seat of God. Is it any surprise that judgmental scorn increases? When you have the unbendable moral law of God, you don’t need to maintain it with your own subjective emotions. You don’t need to despise anyone or get angry at anyone. Because it is just true. There’s a calmness when one is not the creator of the law. That is a sin. She sinned. It was wrong. Well, we all sin, and it is still wrong. But we are still made in the image of God. Repent, go on with life.
It is those who have nothing fixed and sure, where everything is a slipping, relative standard (where morality is merely grading on a curve)…that one needs to despise others. To feel the ‘eww, icky’ to even explain why something is not acceptable. So they have to work up the feeling. Insecurity breeds hysterical contempt. Because, how else can you hold onto your sense of right/wrong? It’s all feelings and relative (e.g. grading on a curve), so to hold onto any moral sense (or one’s own self-worth as ‘above average’ in the percentiles of humanity), one must be full of Disgust/Shock/Contempt/Indignation…. after all, in moral relativism…how else do you define anything? You can’t calmly rest on a standard not of your own making. You have to make it yourself—and that, with emotion.
So the modern relativist’ cries out in outrage, indignation, contempt and scorn: That is ‘not nice’, ‘hateful’, ‘bigotted’, ‘unacceptable’, ‘inappropriate’…..
Because When you no longer believe in Law of God with right/wrong/sin/guilt/redemption….all you are left with IS moral outrage and contempt. There is only shame. There is no place left for forgiveness, for certitude, for help from pain…and we are left on a darkling plain, while ignorant armies clash by night.
So our society stands on Matthew Arnold’s Dover Beach a century after he raised this cry:
The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
Desperate love hasn’t been the only response. Desperate contempt too.
I grew up laughing. We didn’t have a TV, and comedy was an unknown genre to me. Laughing at my mother, my father, my sisters and brothers, and at myself. Sometimes laughing at God. Everything beloved is also funny.
I went off to school and everybody in the packs in the Freshman dorms would laugh and I didn’t get it. Even when I learned enough to realize the (biological) reference, it still didn’t seem particularly funny. A ‘significant other’ cheating, another vague reference to a vague euphemism of human reproduction. A little obsessive. I learned a good deal of biology from hearing several hundred different ‘jokes’ through four years of college. But why was it funny? Awkward, yes, painful yes… but funny?
Yes, back home, there is laughter for pain and awkwardness–but that is only because dearness is in it too. The absurdity and belovedness, individual quirks and stupidities. You grimace and the infant squeals with laughter. A grimacing cartoon goblin is not funny, because it isn’t belovedly stupid the way your siblings are. Pain, love, absurdity intermixed–that is funny, but it is because of the belovedness (a prime example of that is the film Fiddler on the Roof.). People who laugh at themselves, know their own belovedness. That is why they can laugh.
Then there is Freshman College Humor upgraded…the more sophisticated kind as one moves into one’s twenties. Vaguely putting other groups of people down. A jocular sneer. O, we are so sophisticated, O, they are so ridiculous. It is about sophisticated superiority. Now we don’t laugh, we kind of chuckle and glance down, our bemused faces at the ‘ridiculousness’ of others…… the monotonous dullness of it all!!
Ethnic jokes were funny in an age when men were proud of their blood. We are too sophisticated for that now. So it’s ‘offensive’. People don’t love themselves enough anymore. So they forget what laughter is. Mockery is hillarious when you love the thing you are poking at. It’s just cold sneering when you don’t love. But if you don’t know, you have no idea.
and the television comedians must have something to laugh about, but belovedness fades away, and so all that is left is awkwardness and shock value and sneering….
And so the stereotype…that odd idea that all those puritan children of yore and denim-skirted or head-covered girls of faith must be dull, humorless people….because they don’t laugh in the public sphere. There’s another place, far away from Media, in the kitchen with the dishrag, we laugh till the tears come into our eyes. God is laughing, and the children grin.