Friday, 9 September 2016

John Eldredge and Masculine Christianity

Political correctness in the last twenty years or so, and perhaps quite a lot longer in some forms, has seen the explosion of diversity and multiculturalism and the promotion of many ethnic minority rights and other what are seen as minority rights, too. Masculinity particularly has been attacked, diminished and sidelined, and in some senses so too have men. White men are a kind of all purpose bogeyman now, and to be honest some of that is not without reason. Men in general have been on the receiving end of all kinds of societal anger, resentment and hate, again, not without some justification. Masculine values and ideals are also under fire from many quarters too, and are seen as a problem. Of course, many men from all walks of life, ethnic backgrounds and many countries feel marginalised, and probably many women feel that it is not before time. Of course, within this fall other factors such as class, racism, nationalism and other things, not all men being equal after all. But, in short, men, masculinity and masculine values seem almost superfluous, almost redundant and not needed anymore. Men have become emasculated.

Now some people, even some men, may say the emasculation of men is not before time, and the feminisation of society is a welcome change. Some may even say that more women in power, in positions of authority and in politics, business and other spheres of human activity that have often been the sole preserve of usually powerful wealthy upper and middle class white men is a good thing, too. But, to be fair, many institutions tend to be dominated by men whoever they are and whatever background they come from.

But, didn’t God create male and female, and didn’t he do that for a purpose? Did He also create us to be different, as well? Knowing the trauma and conflict making us different genders and different colours and ethnicities would cause, just why did God create us all different? I suppose that’s another story. But it’s definitely obvious that male and female are very different, apart from the obvious differences. Most men tend to react differently to things than most women. Men usually have different abilities to women, and often have different interests to women too, although that is changing. Men can sometimes be solitary and ‘lone wolves’ whereas women tend towards empathy and sharing and caring. Of course, these are certainly not set in stone, and to be honest, how much of the general emotional characteristics that men tend to have and women tend to have are actually innate, or taught and socialised into us over the course of our childhood and later lives is most definitely open to question. What clever people might call the nature vs nurture argument.

I know that like with many things, masculinity is not something that is fully understood, but what I have a problem with is that there is now such animosity towards the idea of masculinity and so obviously to the idea of men. Many women may honestly say, ‘not before time’, but I think this in many senses is just the age old societal anger turning its ire to one group or another, and then in time to another group. Men and masculinity in general at this time are not flavour of the month. But, is this fair and is it acceptable? Should society demean masculine values and promote feminine values, if that is in actual fact what is happening? My view on this is quite simple. In the same way people vote for another political party when they become absolutely sick and tired of the one they have been voting for and not getting much from them, anger turns against one group or another when things are not going well politically or economically and badly in other ways. That can sometimes be immigrants, black people, Muslims, white working class people and so on. In the England of the 70s and 80s, Black people, Pakistanis and Irish people, women and gay people were the butt of jokes, casual sexism, casual racism and even violent racism. This hatred could be called unreconstructed as it wasn’t seen as completely malign, although those on the receiving end will probably beg to differ. In short, it was probably as much a lack of understanding than it was wilful and malignant and purposely directed. Although again, I would suggest that extreme racism and extreme prejudice has to come from focussed hate. But many people, as is human nature, just went along with it.

Today, political correctness has challenged such racism and prejudice and has turned its ire on the supposed architect of such prejudices, which is men, usually white working class men. It seems that greater, and self designated respectable, society always needs a group to point its respectable finger at, without fear of retaliation, the media itself being part of what seems to be respectable society. But as with many things ‘respectable’, there is always an agenda to shift society’s anger or frustration or the harsh economic realities sometimes imposed on the poor in some way, and usually it is shifted on a group that is either poor and can’t really fight back, or a group of some kind already resented in some way. Attacking the working class is quite an interesting move, because they are not really a minority and it cannot technically be called racism either, although I will dispute this at a later date, which seems to be acceptable to some, particularly those who seem to be quite vocally opposed to racism, homophobia and sexism. I truly find this rather strange, but not really surprising if I’m being honest. The white male, particularly but certainly not exclusively the working class variety, of which I am one of the said species, is the new scapegoat.

Working class masculinity is portrayed as negatively, and usually often as erroneously as racists portray black people or Jews or immigrants, or virulent sexists portray men or woman, or homophobes portray those who are gay. The working class are almost always portrayed by middle class writers or journalists or opinion formers, and very rarely portrayed by those who are or have working class backgrounds themselves. This often results in what are really extremes being portrayed as normal, so we either have the shaven headed, tattoo covered thug with can of strong beer in hand, or sometimes the saintly version who bears up and remains cheerful no matter how crap things are. One thing most of those writers seem to forget is we are all just human beings at the end of the day. But working class masculinity is seen now as almost completely negative. Of course, many of us rebel against this, but those of us who are smart, rebel in a smart way by being more masculine, looking more masculine, not being afraid to be men, and even grow beards these days! Men should be men. Women should be women. Never the twain shall meet!? Well, no, not exactly.

The real perniciousness of course is that the supposedly clever, informed and clued up in the media, politics and the world of academia, particularly in the US and the UK, instead of challenging stereotypes and prejudices either pretend they don’t exist, subtly and sometimes not so subtly go along with those prejudices and don’t allow any real debate on issues around class discrimination, racism, sexism, homophobia and the like unless it comes from a very narrow politically correct agenda. In short, the people who claim to be liberal and open minded have become some of the most narrow and closed minded and illiberal people around. Some of them scream racist and fascist at people now merely because they have a difference of opinion from what a friend of mine called the New Orthodoxy, which I suppose is the idea that if you aren’t an ultra politically correct roving anti racist, anti sexist and anti homophobic champion of the oppressed, you don’t deserve to be heard. I’m waiting next to hear of books being burnt because they aren’t politically correct enough, or because the writer has had the temerity to hold an original and different thought from the PC Thought Police, on their quest to save the world from fascism and intolerance, except their own fascism and intolerance of course.

Yes, we do seem to have wondered a little off the topic of masculinity, but I see that as resentment has turned against the often racist, sexist and xenophobic nature of Western society, particularly the UK and the US, the political class and the well placed liberal opinion formers have found a target to blame it all on.

My view, as a white working class male, who also happens to suffer with chronic fatigue syndrome, has suffered with bouts of depression, unemployment, identity crises here and there, and now the ire of respectable society for being a white working class male who is not in any way ashamed of that, with an ability to grow a fairly good beard (now surely the last gasp of desperate masculine defiance?!) is to simply walk with the Lord. Whoever is persecuted in this world, for no other reason than simply being who they are without harming others becomes like Jesus when they act like Jesus. The world system may target one scapegoat after another to justify economic divisions and social and economic apartheids of many kinds, and political establishments and elites and the media will always seek to justify in however subtle a way they can such unfairness and injustice, but this is an unfair and unprincipled world where money is worshipped long before God is, and human beings come a very poor second to the worship of greed, success and self interest of many kinds, and that will never change.

We all, whoever we are and whatever injustice and persecution we may face in this world, have a saviour we can rely on. ’16 Be joyful always; 17 pray continually; 18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.’ (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

Masculinity isn’t a dirty word! Neither for that matter is femininity. Like it or not, God made us different for a reason. If men become women, and women become men, where will we all be? I am not judging people who struggle with who they are and wish in those rare and extreme cases to change sex, but the majority of us who are just happy to be men or women but feel that we should be constantly changing, constantly fearful of every new thing and social trend that says this is now acceptable but that isn’t, and then something else comes along saying the exact opposite. As a Christian, I don’t want or need changeable humanistic values or ideals, because no matter how good they are or start out, they always deteriorate eventually. Look at political correctness, or the most zealous feminists or even the proliferation of equal rights, which in that particular case hasn’t really changed that much. They all eventually become corrupted and sometimes vehicles for ambitious people for their own ends, and often against other groups of people.

God’s values do not change, neither are they the personal or special rights of any group of people, even long standing devout practising Christians for that matter, they are unchangeable laws that benefit those who obey them and condemn and bring to judgement all who arrogantly flout them.

Away from all that stuff, I really like to read John Eldredge’s very Christian and very masculine books that celebrate his Christian faith and celebrate the idea of men being unashamedly masculine without having to apologise or make any excuses for being men, and being masculine men as well. But also being Christian men, too. There is this growing idea, probably more so in the West, that men, especially Christian men, should be emasculated men. Yes, Jesus was said to be meek and mild, but this isn’t the only blueprint for Godly masculinity. Meek and mild is not necessarily weak and emasculated for that matter, either. John Eldredge says that we should reclaim our masculinity as Christian men, should see that as God is untamed as we men cannot be tamed either. That appeals to me. Obviously, becoming Hells Angels or football hooligans or pub brawlers is out of the question for Christian men, but going beyond the humdrum of emasculated manhood certainly isn’t!! I love being with blokes, having a laugh, not worrying about making, or usually hearing an inappropriate or off colour joke now and then, being loud and laughing even louder. But, I love my own space, being on my own, walking in country places surrounded by trees, greenery, hills, mountains in the distance and the feeling that I can walk wherever I want without a care. Oh, and I do like the beauty of a woman, too. I may add that Hells Angels and footy hooligans and pub brawlers may enjoy the peace, freedom, forgiveness and new life in Jesus Christ, too.

I’ve been on this planet for nearly 50 years now. Sometimes I’ve lived as a man, sometimes I’ve lived as a half man. It’s like I’ve never lived. Well, Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt at 80, so I’ve got some time yet. But, God made me a man, and a masculine man. It’s where my heart has always been. No longer should us men be ashamed of our masculinity.

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