Monday, September 30, 2019

#6 Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia (gender)


Men, far from resisting the implications of the power of words, received and/or uttered, like the kids in Narnia, have a waiting door into the secret “forest” of our sensibilities and our verdant imaginations (both personal and the “other” whether writer or friend) where the words we choose become historically archived imprints of our identity, our legacy and our most important dreams and aspirations.

Launching all of our interactions (both interior and with others) from the starting line of this belief, attitude, perception and conviction, will help to soften our dependence on our insecurity, and the corresponding default to using words as “tools” in an instrumental and too often manipulating exchange of power. Refocusing on the long-term, intimate connection of the current “moment” to what our imagination conceives as something called eternity (with thanks to Jurgen Moltmann’s Theology of Hope) offers a new lens to our potential and the potential of the words we choose. And through those lenses, we are more able to re-position our person and our identity as the gardener of our own legacy, reputation and contribution to the world community, and not merely to “fixing” the problem of the moment. The concept of identifying with whatever we are hearing from the other will be significantly enhanced, not merely by sensing empathy (walking a mile in his/her mocassins) but also by letting our own conception of our better angels “speak”, “write” or “draw” the picture those angels would honour forever.

If each and every moment of our existence, and that moment in the life of each other person were imagined as an integral and indelible scratch on the cave of eternity, rather than an impulsive, reactive and frightened response coming from the vault of our fear and neurosis, “fired” as a way to fend off what we can only conceive as “a threat,” imagine the transformation we can achieve together. Words, deployed as the arrows from the quiver of our fear and distrust, can and will only generate a similar and parallel response of the arrows from the quiver of the other’s fear.

Now that we have accumulated more than a surfeit of military weapons, as well as clouds of environmental gases that can and will eradicate our species, surely taking a look at how we might have arrived here might be instrumental in restoring the honour and the benefits of a perspective that points to the shared goal of survival and a new kind of planetary “garden”. Surely we have reached a tipping point in the manner by which we perceive/conceive/conceptualize our identity and the purpose/meaning of our existence, individually and collectively. One of the primary cornerstones of our identity points to our “use” of words as tools, weapons, and instruments of power over our colleagues, and our adversaries. Anything outside of ourselves, especially for men, including the universe itself, has been historically conceptualized as “for our use” and for some even our “dominion” over the universe.*

Not incidentally, our “reading” of these words provides an authentic opportunity to reflect on the significant difference between a literal denotative interpretation of these words and a metaphoric, connotative, mythical reading. Our chosen lens or perspective on our experience, in all faith communities, of the words that have been transmitted as the sacred belief of that faith community need and deserve a finely tuned reading and interpretation of those words. Not necessarily needing a philosophic or academic doctorate, but rather an acknowledgement of the history and origin of those words, from other human beings, depicting their best estimate of the origins of the universe, and reflecting a basic awareness of the multiple “voices” and meanings and reverberations of their words. There is no justification here for the “power-over” interpretation, as we have come to understand power in the manner by which we have destroyed habitats and eradicated millions of species, ostensibly to “serve” our most base and self-centred interests, passions and ambitions. Rather, merely to underline the early perceived differences between the human being and all other species, the words in Genesis offer a pre-historic conception, as our acceptance of and gratitude for that mythical gift is no less needed.

Clearly, the western allegedly Christian culture has imported these words from Genesis into the often-aggressive and virulent debate between “creationists” and evolutionists, and the implications for those opposing viewpoints in designing school curriculum. As a similar “incorporation” of eternity into our conception of the universe, only this time from the other end of time, we are invited to begin our own seeding of our imaginations and conceptions of our place in “time” as in the nunc fluens (the flowing now, of the river of eternal time from beginning to end).

Writers from all ethnicities, geographies, religions, languages and historical periods have been able and willing to stretch their own and their readers’ intellectual, imaginative and even affective and spiritual horizons to embrace both ends of time, while at the same time accepting and even depending a micro-measuring of its relevance in the scope of our brief existence. This experience need not be restricted to only a “faith” or religious dogma. In fact, such a reduction signifies a reduction and constriction of our perception/conception of God, while perpetuating a separation of the secular from the sacred. Words really do matter, whether we are tweeting to our colleagues, or framing our identity and existence in the world.

Not only will an enlarged and enhanced exposure to the words of our best and most revered authors and poets provide new and more varied word choices for each of our encounters and relationships, that additional reading will inevitably contribute to our growing confidence in all of our relationships. Not only by providing specific word choices, but also by providing scenes, scenarios and comparative situations to those we currently face, exposure to the imaginative gifts of our authors and poets enhances our perceptions, diagnoses and thereby our interventions for whatever situations enter our paths. As one contemporary CEO put it, “Give me a literature student who understands the patterns elicited and detailed in literary works, and I can and will teach him/her the details of the balance sheet!”

The wisdom of that highly sophisticated and cogent cornerstone of that CEO’s hiring policy and perspective, however, seems to have been lost, avoided or outright rejected by the curriculum designers in many western universities, (while pandering to the STEM demand of the current training vogue). It has also been glossed over by those responsible for religious theory and praxis, preferring the false safety and security of a “hardened, fossilized, rigid and immutable” set of religious “beliefs and dogma” rendering the ecclesial hierarchy, and the corporate edifice into another “law enforcement” agency, against the presumed and assumed “evil” of human beings. Even the elimination and/or reduction of basic courses in Literature from many of the STEM curricular requirements, and from the medical and science faculties robs those students, and the culture they will server, demonstrates an endorsement of the erosion of the importance, the relevance and the enrichment that can come only from “words” and their intimate, irreversible and deep connection to our most secret and creative thoughts and feelings.

Historically, men have attempted to divide another of the indivisibles of human existence, thoughts from feelings. The zygote of sacred/secular and the zygote of intellect/emotion ought never to be completely separated in the insemination of our world view, and our identity. The zygote is the fertilized egg cell that result from the union of a female gamete (egg or ovum) with a male gamete (sperm), in the embryonic development of human and other animals, the zygote stage is brief and is followed by cleavage, when the single cell becomes subdivided into smaller cells. Just as we cannot eliminate the zygote of egg and sperm from our human biology, we cannot either eliminate or negate the need of such a fertilization, prior to individual cleavage into subdivision of the many cells of our bodies, that can be compared to the process of growth and development that is unique to each of us.

And here is another word that demands the attention, the integration and the nurture in the culture deemed by the masculine gender of the western culture:

ANDROGYNY: the combination of masculine and feminine characteristics into an ambiguous form. Androgyny may be expressed with regard to biological sexual gender identity, gender expression or sexual identity.

However, is befits the dominant literalism of our current thinking, public discourse, and reductionism,  we have eliminated the “psychological” and the cultural and the spiritual and the intellectual and the imaginative potentialities of this concept. Far from reducing it to a merely biological, physical, expression, the word and its connotation has far more expansive and extensive application. It can be applied to a world view, an attitude, an appreciation of our individual and unique psychological identity, as originally offered by Carl Jung, the psychiatrist and theorist whose attribution of the “anima” (the female spirit) in all men, and the animus (the male spirit) in all women. For Jung, these unconscious traits “reside” in the Shadow, “the inferior being in ourselves, the one who wants to do all the things that we do not allow ourselves to do, who is everything we are not. The shadow is the personal unconscious; it is all those uncivilized desires and emotions that are incompatible with social standards and our ideal personality all that we are ashamed of, all that we do not want to know about ourselves. It follows that the narrower and more restrictive the society in which we live the larger will be our shadow….(Frieda Fordham, An Introduction to Jung’s Psychology, Penguin, Great Britain,1966 p.49)
“The unconscious of a man contains a complementary feminine element (anima), that of a woman a male element (animus). The most masculine of men, will often show surprising gentleness with children or with anyone weak or ill; strong men give way to uncontrolled emotion in private, and can be both sentimental and irrational; brave men are sometimes terrified by quite harmless situations, and some men have surprising intuition or a gift for sensing others people’s feelings. All these supposedly feminine traits, as well as more obvious effeminacy in a man. This latent femininity in a man is, however only one aspect of his soul, his anima. An inherited collective image of woman exists in a man’s unconscious with the help of which he apprehends the nature of woman.” (Fordham, op. cit, p. 52)

Here we can explore the intersection of the complexity of human psychology and the dictates of a restricted, repressed and constricted definition of masculinity by too many men in North America. Fighting, denying, ignoring, refusing to acknowledge and also punishing (especially as a function of a religious, spiritual and ethical theory and praxis) or even competing with another of the many concepts that remain beyond empirical definition and measure and scientific study, the anima, North American men hoist themselves on our own petard: harm ourselves by our own plan and attitude and intent to harm those we consider to be too effeminate for our comfort. There is no escaping our own anima, nor is there any place for such an elimination or its vindictive punishment inside our faith communities, nor within the legal constraints of our civil and criminal law.

Rather, we need to become open to, receptive of and embracing that side of our identity (our anima), not restricting our conception and belief of masculinity to what can be empirically perceived by the senses. It is not only our adolescent football of hockey team members who reject anything hinting of the “fag” the “wuss,” the “girlie” and the “cry-baby”. Too often these epithets are uttered in derisive contempt by our mothers, our girlfriends (behind our backs), our work-mates, our classmates. And of course, stamping on many of the political debates about KGBTQ rights, this drumbeat of the masculine denial and rejection of even the spectre of an anima in the most straight men without being acknowledged and accepted, especially among the most power men among us, this denial results in further persecution of the LGBTQ community, both socially and criminally.

With respect to our faith institutions, too, a denial of the unconscious male anima has for centuries resulted in the rejection of non-celebate clergy, gay clergy, and the concept that the deity must remain conceived, perceived and presented to the laity as exclusively male. It has also led to an impossible and unenforceable divide between male clergy, and male faculty from their female parishoners and students respectively.

Based on the assumption of the “weakness” in power of the female “clients”, this fallacious premise ignores and denies the biological impetus to connect and to relate. It also perpetuates the perceived inferiority of the women, who themselves have a self-respecting and powerful voice either to accept or to reject invitations to relationship from men, regardless of the perceived power imbalance. From the masculine perspective, the sign hanging from the window of a co-ed’s room in a university residence rings loud and clear: “What part of NO do you not understand!” There are far too many instances of men presuming and assuming the consent of their sexual partners when such consent has not been offered. And there are also too many instances of women who originally consented to relationship and later, after the termination of the relationship, betrayed their own original consent and the “now offending” male, in an act of willful and illicit and jealous vengeance.

Is it only an appreciation of the potential of an androgynous deity that can and will ameliorate much of this contemporary shackling leg-iron that enslaves much of “establishment” society? It could also free many members of the LGBTQ community who, like many men and women in the straight community, struggle with rejection and alienation based on an innate fear of sexuality.

As the still dominant gender in our contemporary culture, men have much both to atone for and to learn about who we are, and how we might more effectively and mutually relate to our female partners, daughters and mothers. “Taking care of our own business” of knowing who we are, and whom we can become including both an enhanced vocabulary and an enhanced perception of our worth and value, as individuals and as a gender seems like a reasonable attainable goal.




*Genesis 1:26-28 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the flesh of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

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