Tuesday, March 31, 2020

#64, Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia (Is God perhaps speaking to humanity, not just individuals?)


There has been considerable work dedicated to theme of “redeeming masculinities” over the last few decades, including a ground-breaking work edited by Stephen B. Boyd and W. Merle Longwood and Mark Muesse, Redeeming Men, Religion and Masculinities, (Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, KY, 1996).
It is from this text that I wish to borrow, all these twenty-four years later:

Patriarchy is set up and run not for men as a gender or for masculinity in its fullness or in its mature expressions but rather by men who are fundamentally immature. It is really the rule of boys, often cruel and abusive boys. For the most part, we believe that human societies have always consisted of boys and girls more or less unconsciously acting out their immature and grandiose fantasies. Our  planetary home more of than not has resembled the island world in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. Thus our societies have, on the whole opposed the realization and expression of both mature feminine and masculine psyches. We feel it is wrong to view patriarchy as the expression of mature masculinity or of masculinity in its essence. Patriarchal societies are out of balance partly because at their helm are unbalanced men. And while we abhor the often horrific abuses of patriarchal systems, we also remember that males helped generate, from earlier urban neolithic cultures, all the higher civilizations we know from recorded history. (Robert Moore and Douglass Gillette, Initiation and the Male Spiritual Quest, in Redeeming Men, Religion and Masculinities, op cit. p. 188)

Let’s begin to unpack this passage:

“Immature masculinity”…”cruel and abusive boys,”…“immature and grandiose fantasies”… “unbalanced men”……
For several pages, in this space, we have been exploring how men sabotage ourselves, demonstrate a level of emotional illiteracy, often find ourselves reduced (primarily by women) to only two principle emotions, anger and sadness, resort to violence and/or passive aggression when confronted, fail to negotiate health relationships, fall into “teams/gangs/groups” in which loyalty to the “team” often tilts into blind ambition, obsequiousness, gratuitous ‘brown-nosing’ and compromise of both truth and courage.

We have noted how history, religion, philosophy, science, medicine, law and commerce are all based on ideas, principles, concepts, beliefs and codes that emerged from the mouth/axe/knife/quill/pen/mind/worship of men. So dominant has the masculine heavy hand been that for centuries, women were literally forbidden from publishing, voting, learning, and all levels of community leadership. Whether or not these men were “immature,” we can likely agree that for centuries, they seem to have been operating with limited empirical information while still expressing the highest of their imaginative visions, aspirations, and beliefs. Perhaps we might speculate that “protecting” the mothers of their children from the potential ravages of enemy attacks could have helped to shape some of their thoughts, habits and conventions. We might also speculate that hunting, warring, exploring and building (literally) were more congruent with male attributes. The compliance of women in such systems naturally varied depending on the nuances of any culture, but we have all heard and read stories about how women “took it for granted,” that they were “supportive” to their men.

There is, however, likely very little disputing the competitive, even aggressive tendencies that are hard-wired into the male psyche.  Some of this unbridled energy found expression in battles of empires, for pride, honour, and legacy of the most ambitious among the men. Some of this male energy wreaked havoc in vengeance and jealousy over a prospective or current female partner. Other expressions of male energy found their way into the assumption of power over others including children, labourers, competitors, neighbouring tribes, especially in instances when fear drove the male ego.

Were all abusive deployments of masculine power “immature”?
Were all wars the result of immature men pursuing “immature and grandiose fantasies”?
Were all attacks on other men to protect/ward off enemy captors undertaken by immature men?
Were the expressions of profound awe/fear/wonderment/insecurity in the face of “gods, God, Allah, Jehovah,” merely expressions of immature men pursuing grandiose fantasies?
Were the myths of creation, the lists of kings and kingdoms, the loving relationships and the hymns and songs of love expressions of immature men pursuing grandiose fantasies?
Were the soaring pieces of rhetoric delivered in the Roman Senate merely expressions of immature men pursuing grandiose fantasies?
Were the Greek tragedies, the Shakespearean tragedies, histories and comedies the work of immature men pursuing grandiose fantasies?
Were there large blind spots in the peripheral/immediate screen of vision among those planting the seeds of our foundational philosophies, religions, mythologies, agricultural discoveries, transportation engineering accomplishments like aqua ducts? Of course, but that hardly renders their conceptions and their delivery and executions those of immature men.

Let’s look more closely at the island from William Golding’s Lord of the Flies where a choir of young boys has survived a plane crash, attempted to build a community using the shell, the vegetation and the various ‘skills and talents’ of each boy, only to be rescued eventually and ironically by a warship looming offshore. Certainly, throughout human history, military conflict, natural disaster, plagues, draughts, floods, fires and starvation have been among the more endurable and predictable menus/diets/narratives of human evolution. In the most direct causative manner, men have perpetrated war, while we have also been the target/victim of many of the other human ravages. Not all, however, are without human influence. Golding’s view that “man” is destined to and forever embedded in violence, is fundamentally at issue, both in his work, and in the assumptions of both Moore and Gillette.

Why are men, historically far more than women, dependent on violence? Rather than immaturity, an attribution that insults, that demeans and that raises the ire and the hair on the neck and back of men, perhaps we might see our dependence on violence as a weakness, an insecurity, a fear and a blindness to our own better angels. We think we must be strong; we are told, instructed, and modelled strong behaviour. We imitate heroes who have exemplified strength, including violent expressions of strength. We also hear, see and resist masculinities that seem “weak, feminine, collaborative, collegial and negotiable. Masculinity, in many instances, has been too narrowly defined, not incidentally by men, as the expression of the warrior, the heroic warrior who engages in battle to win his trophy, whether that trophy be the surrender of an enemy, or the marriage of a bride. And while strength, physical at least, is one of the biological traits of men, it is certainly not our only feature, and not necessarily our most appropriate feature, depending on the situation.
Here, perhaps, in the tolerance, complicity and transmission of rugged, warrior-masculinity by both men and women, lies one of the most obvious intersections of the observations of Moore and Gillette with those here. However, is that convergence, complicity and transmission based on a level of immaturity of men and women?
Women, traditionally, have served as the ‘grease’ in the gears of the family; they keep it running when nothing else either can or will. Amid the tempests, the diphtherias, the small poxes, the draughts and the bankruptcies, our women have held our male hands, shed their tears, even screamed their venom. Nevertheless, they have stabilized many domestic ‘ships’ from floundering on rocky cliffs, shoals and torrential winds. Was that too immaturity? Was their intimate compliance with their masculine partners, including their strength and endurance, evidence of immaturity? Hardly.

Words like unbalanced, immature, neurotic, even psychotic (although the last two do not appear in the quote) tend to emerge from a framework of evangelical conversion, one of the principal frames of a sector of Christian thought and praxis. One of the principles behind the conversion is that man is inherently evil, and in desperate need of forgiveness. The events of Holy Week, the Crucifixion and Resurrection are theologically framed as the ‘answer’ to human evil, disobedience and human willfulness. “Christ died for my sins!” and my redemption issues from a complete and total, unsullied acceptance of that truth….these are the cornerstones of the Easter message as propagated for centuries. Even the title of the work quoted embeds the words “redeeming men.” However, there are other ways to examine the convergence of male immaturity, unbalance and in need of redemption.

The essence of how evil is portrayed lies at the centre of this dilemma. Are men evil when we behave in an immature manner? Are we unbalanced when we act out our frustrations? Would these behaviours evaporate through a complete acceptance of and belief in the redeeming quality of the Cross and Resurrection? Doubtful.
What seems like a more effective, reasonable and transformative framing seems to emerge from a shared, cultural shift in priorities, in order to transform western culture. Given that the foundations, and the instruments of both archiving and propagating cultural norms have been primarily in the hands. minds, hearts of men for centuries, it would seem only reasonable to envision a significant yet gradual, enlightening consciousness that we men have fallen into “fitting” into a role, and a set of expectations that neither conform with our natural character, nor do they serve the best interests of our families, our schools, our communities and our planet.
Some obvious examples:

Collapsing time into a mere game measured by the tickers on stock exchanges, or the white flag of military victory, or the promotion to the executive suite, or the Super Bowl victory, or even the Oval Office, is one guaranteed way to ensure that millions of others will have to be left in the ditches of our ambition. And our radically focused pursuit of personal goals, at the expense of family, community and global needs elevates the individual far above the common good. Paradoxically, much of Christian thought says that God speaks directly only to individuals, and not groups, while elevating the prophetic and even the mystical words, meditations, visions and prophecies of the mystics and the saints, there is no reason that such reverence for mysticism needs to exclude God’s ‘speaking’ to groups.

If for example, we could agree that at the centre of our own identity lies a kernel of conviction in the value of all life, as a gift from a deity, beyond our cognition and beyond our scientific consciousness, then our deviation from that ‘north star’ in the sky of the universe, is easily seen to be self-sabotage. (Please do not reduce this to advocacy for the Right to Life movement!) If is, by its very existence, worthy of preservation, then our own life cannot be reduced to the pursuit of personal or corporate profit at the expense of the abundant life of the universe. Surely, we are not so cognitively nor psychologically nor spiritually constricted as to fall into Darwin’s survival of the fittest, the norm in the wild, as the model for human’s to follow. Just because the fox slithers the rodent from his hole to survive, that does not mean, or imply, that such a model, human versus human, is in our interest. And it is not merely a matter of logic. It is a matter of commitment to the imaginative, creative capacity of humans to share, to care to our brothers and sisters, to (oh no, here comes that defamed word!) “love” one another.

And once again, shared, mutual and reciprocal love, while clearly not restricted to humans, (animals and birds do exhibit monogamy and life-long commitment) demonstrates our ‘best angels’ and such an ideal will not be achieved through any religious “rules” or the punishments that some impose. In fact, here is another abuse of the ethic of shared power. It is not for a church, or especially a hierarchy of churchmen to use what can only be a limited human conception of the abundance and universality of the love of God, (or the mind, or the heart, or the parenting). Anthropocentric depictions of God, however, easily grasped, can only be reductions of any deity worthy of the name. So, attempting to “please” a God who is to be feared, (another mistranslation of the original “awe”) have theologians imposed a kind of neurosis even psychosis, should humans not comply with their version of the will of God.

The pursuit of personal, and by extension, organizational power, in the name of God, is another of the reasons why the human spirit has been and continues to be so constricted by religious teachings and practice. Gate-keepers, pompous figure-heads, little Lord Fauntelroy’s, both men and women now, abound in ecclesial culture. And their “parishioners” in far too many cases, fawn over them. Some even worship as a way to arrange their heavenly reward, so deeply and intimately embedded are the many parent-child directives of the church.

Is it merely masculine immaturity, and unbalance that allocates such power into the hands of a few? Is it a deeply embedded need to create a metaphysic and a structure of “security” about a relationship between man and God, that could potentially explode the ‘roof’ of human cognition, human caring, human creativity, and human hope.
Tithing, that loathsome one-tenth, is another of the human impositions of “value” on spirituality, framed as a legitimate need to pay the heat, repair the windows, pay the salaries, and grow the investment portfolio. And while kindness, generosity, compassion and sharing are deeply and intimately included in all expressions of human spirituality that gives and sustains life, in all of its complexities, monuments of human architecture, while beautiful and inspiring, are neither the purpose nor the means of discipleship. In fact, it is our human dependence on the immediacy of our senses, and our need for such a degree of control in our lives that shapes much of our traditional theology.

Could we but take off the false humility, and the crass commercialism, and the opportunistic sycophancy, as well as the hollow religious piety, and the unnatural totem of the images of power and success that impale much of western culture, as men (and women) we might begin to see further than the ends of our noses, further than the stock ticker, and further into the life of things that so inspired poets like Wordsworth.
Se have reduced ourselves to slaves to our own scarcity, when our abundance cries out for reverence, respect, compassion and an ethic of sustainability. Currently, the planet, and all humans living on it are endangered by a pandemic virus, unleashed by a combination of factors of greed, narcissism and hubris. And those “drivers” are neither being confronted by our panic to save lives, nor are they being serious considered by men and women whose power to bring them to the light of day is also constricted by the immediate and tragic panic.

It is not merely that we are not prepared to fight this latest threat to human lives. It is much more that we will return to our myopic, even blind hubris, greed, narcissism and zero-sum framing of our circumstances, just as the right-wing tyrants like Hungary’s Viktor Orban is already doing today. The European Union is under threat for similar isolated nationalistic interests. Americans are competing with each other for absolutely critical medical equipment, as if the infection wears the colours of competing political parties. Our public officials, (with exceptional comparisons, like Cuomo) are too much interested in their own political success, while human lives are bagged and loaded into refrigerated tractor trailers, because of their negligence, narcissism and potentially fear.

Seeing ourselves differently, as equal sharing participants in the bounty that is planet earth, rather than as warriors seeking to eliminate our human enemy, especially at a time when all humans face a common, invisible and unpredictable, invisible and nefarious enemy, seems ludicrous, even insane. And if now is not a time to come to our senses, then when will that time be, if ever?

And, looking for the voice of God in this deepening crisis, we might consider opening our shared, equal, and receptive ear of all humanity to hearing that voice, should we wish to shift our thinking, our attitudes, and our beliefs.

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