Date posted: January 24, 2012
Wow. Lots of responses to my last article on masculinity and evangelicalism. A number of people have asked for some further clarifications. I noticed also that a number of people slightly misunderstood what I was attempting to say.
I was saying that evangelicalism of the 18th century saw one of its missions as challenging the aggressive, arrogant and violent code of machismo that dominated the public imagination of what it was to be a male.
By the beginning of the 20th century the public consciousness of what it was to be a male had radically altered, the code of machismo was on the whole consigned to the past. This is evidenced in the way that fascism in the early 2oth century saw contemporary modes of ‘the soft male’ as an obstacle to its goals of recreating society. Hitler lambasted the state of pre-war German masculinity, accusing it of passivity, weakness and effeminacy. Thus Hitler took a page out of Mussolini’s book and reached back into history for an alternate model of masculinity that predated Christianity’s softening.*
So what I am saying is that evangelicalism softened masculinity and that was a good thing. I think this re-envisioning of masculinity can be counted as one of its great achievements. This move created much of the social spaces of freedom in our culture today that we take for granted.
Yet in our day this softening has intensified, moving beyond the place of balance into passivity and indifference. The social dislocation of contemporary society and the aimlessness of secularism alongside numerous other factors have contributed as well.
I believe that Genesis teaches us that masculinity moves to two extremes in sin. Adam’s silence while the serpent tempts Eve points us to the sin of passivity. Cain’s murderous rage towards his brother illuminates the sin of violence. Masculinity in different cultures will move from one extreme to the other. Sometimes both extremes will be on view. All around us in the comfortable West is the sin of male passivity. The danger is that when we ignore history we attempt to solve today’s sins by ignoring the sins of the past. To return to a mode of machismo to rectify today’s passivity will only again open pandora’s box of violence, anger and arrogance.
What we need more than anything today, is not a new or old model of masculinity, but a biblical model of masculinity. One that is balanced, that does not fall into the extremes of passivity and weakness or it’s polar opposites of arrogance and violence.
Where do we find that balance? Well I think that the last word should be left to one of my readers, Jono Smith a pastor from Melbourne who wrote the following comment after reading the original article.
“Jesus was tougher and more tender than me. I need the Spirit to grow me in both directions.”
*(Of course the death of the code of machismo would see the reduction of individualist and small scale outbreaks of violence in the West, but sadly as history progressed the state would become main arbiter of violence. This transition from the medieval code of machismo to the modern mode of state sponsored violence is powerfully communicated in Tolstoy’s War and Peace which begins with aristocratic duelling and ends with total Napoleonic war.)