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The Paradox of Manliness

September 2, 2015


A popular topic today, among both Christians and secular people, is authentic masculinity. Among Christians we see Jesus as our model to not only look up to, but to emulate and imitate, both in his strength and in his meekness. However, we sometimes mistake his strength as that of a mere bully or his meekness as that of a free-spirited peacenik. Among those in the secular realm we find an often confusing concoction of men who use Conan the Barbarian’s Nietzschean motto of crushing enemies and hearing the lamentation of their women, right alongside the flowery hippie montage of ‘free love’.

It appears that while this topic is popular, there seems to be a continued debate about what masculinity is. While I certainly don’t think any one article will put a lid on the argument, I have found that when it comes to men, ultimately actions trumps words. So, for this reason, I thought I might offer a few actionable ways in which men, both secular and Christian, ought to be able to appreciate their testosterone, preventing them from becoming mamby pamby nice guys, yet also contextualizing this drive for manliness within the overarching theme of sacrificing your life for others, something that I firmly believe touches the heart of every man, no matter his belief.

The reason Christian men tend to pay more attention to the stories of Christ in which his temper was shown, such as the flipping over of tables, and those in which he physically gave of himself, whether in the passion or in his miracles, is that ultimately men desire deeds above words. In these instances we have the logos of God, taking action and thus hitting the heart of men on a deep, meaningful level. Men have a desire to be the change they want to see, not just talk about it. However the problem is that most men have not taken the time to seriously consider what it is that they believe, and we cannot act on something we don’t hold firmly as a core belief.

Many men I have talked with do not consider the bigger picture of life, and I must admit that it is easy to fall into the trap of focusing on the here and now, which often means that thoughts about our legacy and the afterlife rarely receive consideration. You don’t want to be that man lying on his deathbed wondering, ‘What’s the meaning of life?’ The more we consider the grand questions of human experience and existence, the more we can appreciate and enact our roles as men. Fostering this benevolence toward the necessity of philosophy in our lives can then lead us to desire goals we come to see as eminently significant.

One of my biggest pet peeves in terms of my research and understanding of how a culture displays a real man, came about during the advent of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s philosophy of man’s corruption within society. What flowed from this fundamental divide of the good in man, contrasted with the corruption of society, was the understanding that a man ought to be a loner of sorts. He suggested that in the end, every man knows what is good for himself and that belief led to the dawn of the rogue, bourgeois, lone wolf who has no need of others. The problem with this vision of masculinity is that men, by their very nature, desire community and belonging. Looking  at some of the ancient cultures right up through today, and you’ll find young men longing for purpose and they do so through acceptance from other men. While the first and best place to receive such approval is from their own fathers, men still have a tendency to seek out brotherhood. Culture after culture has offered young men a test of manhood, whether running a gauntlet, killing a wolf, or raiding a neighboring town, the young men desired to show their worth, not so much to prove that they can complete the task, but to be interrelated with the grown men of his society. Among Christian cultures, up until recent years, the expectation was to have young men know their faith and thus, once they reach a certain age, become a consecrated religious or raise a family within the foundational teachings of the Faith. You might want to ask yourself, ‘How am I fulfilling this need for community with other men?’ Authentic relationships among men have been the foundation of authentic manliness since the beginning; we are not meant to be alone.

In order to appreciate the true understandings of manliness, male spirituality, and our juxtaposition of strength and meekness, we must recognize what our lives are for: they are not ours. In other words, your life is not about you. I think that the very core of male sociology, psychology, philosophy, theology, and every other ‘ology’ you can think of rests on this very truth. It doesn’t matter if you believe in a deity to appreciate and apprehend the fact that our lives are but a whisper in the annals of time and if we really want to stand out and make a difference, then we must come to a full realization that our lives are about service to others. We cannot fully define masculinity without knowing that a selfish, unexamined life is not worth living. So, while many might want to go back and forth about the play between toughness and kindness, the crux of the matter is that a life turned in upon its self is the sure path to despair and death. Perhaps service to others might mean that at times we indeed are called to be tough on the enemies of truth and love, or that at other times we are called to set aside the feelings of cultural gender stereotypes and express the kindness and submissiveness of surrendering for another. There’s a reason why Christ is held up as the perfect model for all to follow, Christian or not, because he was never afraid of his testosterone, which played a part in his ability to lead other men and do what was necessary in times of conflict, nor was he afraid to become like a lamb and surround himself with those who were indeed weaker than he. A man must desire more than what the world offers, this typically means stepping out of our comfort zones and picking up where a man like Jesus left off.