What Does it Mean to be a Man? Part 5

I’ve been discussing what it means to be a man for a while now. So far I’ve presented an introduction of the problem, shown that innate traits and talents are not a qualifier for manhood, argued that emotional maturity is one qualifier for manhood, and defended the idea that particular skills are not a qualifier for manhood, but dedication to mastering skills is. So far all of this has led to one overarching conclusion. It is not how I appear, what I have, or what I’m good at that makes me a man. It is the choices I make. Real masculinity lies in the character that I develop and portray on a daily basis. The claims that I have made thus far all lead to this conclusion. Neither the way I look nor my inherent capabilities make me a man. The emotions that I feel also do not make me a man, though the manner in which I express them might. The skills that I pursue do not make me a man, but the dedication with which I pursue them certainly says something about my manliness. All of this leads us back to the above conclusion: true masculinity is found in the qualities of character that an individual develops.

This being said, what character qualities make one ‘a man’? If we remember Kant’s argument that it is respect, not admiration, that is truly valuable in determining quality, then the conclusion is obvious. Those character qualities that are inherently respectable are what separates a man from a boy. Of course, in all of these things the same could still be said to separate a woman from a girl. While there are clear physical and emotional differences between the masculine and feminine genders, the qualities that separate an adult from a child are still going to be largely similar. Plato proposed four qualities of character essential to a valuable person: Wisdom, Courage, Justice, and Temperance. The code of Bushido argued that the significant qualities of character were Rectitude, Courage, Benevolence, Respect, Honesty, and Loyalty. Confucius argued that the character qualities of a man were seen in five right relationships: Ruler to Ruled (Obedience), Father to Son (Respect), Husband to Wife (Devotion), Elder Brother to Younger Brother (Filial Piety), and Friend to Friend (Loyalty). The Christian Bible lays out the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, faithfulness, kindness, goodness, patience, gentleness, and temperance.

Many of these we can see as similar. For instance, Plato’s ‘justice’, Bushido’s ‘rectitude’, and the bible’s ‘goodness’ all speak of essentially the same thing. Similarly, Plato and Bushido both set forth courage as an important trait, Plato and the bible both set forth temperance as an important trait, and Confucius and Bushido both set forth Respect and Loyalty as important traits. Some of these we can also throw out entirely because they result from other traits. For instance, if one is righteous (just or good), benevolent, courageous, and loyal, then one will be honorable. Similarly, if one is good, kind, temperate, and gentle, then one will be patient. If one is loving, faithful, and at peace, then one will be joyful. At the same time some, while not exactly the same, are similar enough that they may be embodied in a single word. For instance, love, kindness, and gentleness may all be embodied in the word ‘love’. If one is truly loving, then one will be both kind and gentle. So, here is my first compilation of the essential traits of a ‘real man’: Wisdom, Courage, Righteousness, Temperance, Fortitude, Love, Honesty, Devotion, Humility, and Community.

Over the next few months (I said days when I started this series and it’s been two months already) I intend to discuss each of these in detail (I’ve already discussed Courage), but for now I’ll give a brief explanation of each:

Wisdom: A man pursues both knowledge and experience. He considers the world around him and is not rash or foolish in his decisions. He is capable of being impulsive without being ruled by his impulses.

Courage: A man does not allow himself to be ruled by fear. Instead of running or hiding, a man faces his fears and masters them.

Righteousness: A man has a strong moral compass and holds fast to those beliefs. He does what is right simply because it is right and does not knowingly choose to violate his moral understanding. (Please note that I have not attributed Righteousness to a particular moral system here)

Temperance: A man is emotionally stable and capable of controlling his actions. He rules his desires instead of being ruled by them.

Fortitude: This is one that you will not see in any of the lists above, though Plato does include fortitude in his idea of courage. A man does not avoid difficult things. He does not shy away from doing that which is good and/or necessary simply because it is hard or uncomfortable. Courage and fortitude are related, but courage is directly related to fear, while fortitude is simply a steadfast endurance in the face of hardship.

Love: A man shows concern for those around him. He is kind, caring, gentle, and patient. He willingly puts others before himself. Moreover, a man loves fully and deeply. He does not hide his heart away, nor does he build walls around it. A man accepts the risk of being hurt by others in order to have the chance of investing into their lives.

Honesty: A man speaks the truth. He is open, truthful, even vulnerable. A man is blunt when necessary, tactful when appropriate, and always speaks truth in order to be a boon to others, not to harm them.

Devotion: A man commits. Whether this is loyalty to a nation/faith/organization, dedication to the pursuit of a particular skill/career/path, or commitment to a woman or family, a man shows commitment to the things that he pursues.

Humility: A man has an honest view of himself. He is capable of seeing his strengths without being puffed up, and he is capable of seeing his flaws without being destroyed.

Community: A man realizes that he does not exist in a vacuum. He understands that independence is an illusion. Instead of insisting on his own independence, a man is willing to depend on others when necessary, and allows others to depend on him. He considers those in his community in his actions, he contributes to the community, and he allows the community to support him.

Obviously, none of us is a perfect representative of any of these traits. Courageous men falter, wise men make foolish choices, devoted men stray, and humble men have moments of pride. The judgment of manhood must not be an unrealistic expectation of perfection in these qualities. Instead it must be an understanding that one’s life should be characterized by these qualities. One should be known for these qualities, however imperfectly, instead of being know for foolishness, fickleness, pride, selfishness, cowardice, or deception. So, hopefully soon I’ll be discussing each of these qualities in greater depth, but these are the qualities that a man of high character embodies.

Assertiveness or Courage

I can’t say that I read a lot of blogs. I don’t actually read any religiously. However, I do read occasional posts from a variety of relatively random authors. A lot of the posts I do read then to be about dating and relationships (big surprise there), and I never quite know what to make of them. Everyone has an opinion. Period. Everyone has an opinion. Some people say one thing and some people say something completely different, and someone else says a third thing that has nothing to do with the other two. For instance, some people say that ‘a real man is assertive and he goes for what he wants’, other people say ‘a real man understands that no means no and he knows when to leave things alone’. I’m three-quarters of the way through a series of posts on what it means to be a ‘real’ man, and you may have noticed that I have said nothing about assertiveness or aggressiveness. This is because I am convinced that it doesn’t matter.

We often confuse assertiveness with courage, and they are not the same thing. When I finally get around to writing a post on character’s involvement in manhood (and I will), I’m going to point out that courage is one of the characteristics a man has. A man does not run from what scares him. He doesn’t hide in the corner, he doesn’t beg someone else to do it for him. However, this doesn’t mean that he is ‘assertive’ necessarily. Assertiveness is often essentially selfish. Today I read a post that said: ‘A real man knows what he wants and he goes for it’. This is a good example of assertiveness. However, this example also only takes into account the emotions and desires of the man himself.

A man is not free from fear, nor is he above fear. At the moment I have set the goal to have my application to Southeastern submitted by the end of the month. This is utterly and completely terrifying to me. I honestly can’t express how frightened I am. Simply in filling out the main application I almost broke down three separate times, overwhelmed by fear and doubt. I was convinced that I would be rejected, and that even if I wasn’t rejected that I’d fail miserably, and that even if I didn’t fail miserably that it wouldn’t matter in the long run. This process is more than uncomfortable. It is more than frightening. Honestly, I’m not entirely sure that I can do it again. However, I’m going to.

However, this does not mean that a man (that I) simply ‘know what I want and go for it’. Assertiveness on it’s own is not a good quality. War is assertive, rape is assertive, burglary is assertive, in fact there are many assertive actions that are fundamentally bad. A man can be assertive when it is necessary. He is not bound by fear and cowardice. However, a man is also respectful. Rudyard Kipling’s poem If here also has an excellent passage that is very helpful:

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools

And see the things you gave your life to broken

And stoop, and build’em up with worn out tools

And also:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it all on one turn of pitch and toss

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

And never breath a word about your loss

One of the most important aspects of real manhood is the willingness to persevere. This is not an insane, reckless optimism that simply says ‘it’ll work, it’ll work, it’ll work’. This is not a pestering or stalkish nature that says ‘maybe if I just ask her one more time’. A man knows when to stop, when to let well enough alone, and when to walk away (and when to run :P). However, a man holds within himself the enduring will to keep going. A man does not give up on the things that are truly important, but at the same time he lets those things that are not important fall to the wayside.

A man is wise and courageous. He may be assertive when it is needed, but he is also able to tell when assertiveness is not needed. That’s something I’m still working on.

Not My Law

As Christians we’re supposed to place God’s law above man’s, right? Absolutely, but in practical terms, what does that mean? According to the modern church in America, or at least the way we act, that means to pursue a vigorous, staunch, often demeaning and dehumanizing political campaign against anything with which we happen to disagree.

Abortion is immoral. Therefore it should be illegal in any and all circumstances, no matter what the populace has to say about the matter. Homosexuality is immoral. Therefore homosexual couples should hold a lower legal status than heterosexual couples, including a lack of access to combined health insurance, a lack of inheritance rights, a lack of power of attorney, a lack of tax breaks, etc, etc, etc. These are the two major issues right now, but certainly not the only issues.

However, what does placing God’s law above man’s law do to man’s law? In declaring abortion to be murder we effectively announce our dismissal of American law. Murder is a term that is defined by law, and American law does not define abortion as murder. Thus, when we declare that abortion is murder we remove ourselves from the conversation by declaring that American law is unimportant to us.

All in all, the church today expresses an extreme pride, self-interest, and obsession with temporal power in our political stances that puts us very close to the excesses of the medieval Roman Catholic church. It doesn’t matter what the bible actually says, what matters is that we are in control! It doesn’t matter how we treat people, as long as they do what we want! This does nothing to edify the body, or to advance the kingdom or glory of God.

“But wait!” You say, “aren’t we supposed to defend God’s law and his word?”

I challenge you, find me any place in scripture that commands us to defend God in any way? We are commanded to obey God repeatedly. Peter commands us to be ready to give an account of our faith. However, no where are we commanded to defend God. God is God and if he wants to be defended he is perfectly capable of assigning a thousand legions of angels to that defense. Our job is not to defend God or his laws by forcing others to obey.

“But wait!” You say, “doesn’t that mean that there’s no point in apologetics?”

I ask you, since when was apologetics the defense of God? There is every reason to pursue an apologetic defense of the faith. The task of apologetics is not to defend God, or his law, but to defend the rationality of Christian belief. In light of questions like: Can God be real? Is the scripture trustworthy? Did Jesus really die on the cross? We must have an apologetic response. This is a part of what Peter meant when he commanded us to be ready to give an account of our faith. To answer reasoned questions with a reasoned and thoughtful faith is very different than spewing thoughtless rhetoric and pursuing a legal divine mandate of Church rule.

In too many ways the Church resembles Senator Palpatine’s description of the Jedi in Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, we have held political power in this nation for a very long time, and we are loathe to give it up. However, make no mistake, the attempts to legislate marriage, sexual conduct, the handling of pregnancy, etc is less about the rule of God and more about the fear of the church. It shows a lack of trust and an extreme cowardice.

Does this mean that there is no homosexual agenda bent on attacking the church? Of course it doesn’t, though it would be ridiculous to assume that all homosexuals are a part of this agenda. Certainly the nation is becoming more hostile towards Christianity, and persecution is coming. However, Peter does not tell us that when persecution comes we should fight for our power and rights tooth and nail, even if it means destroying the other side. Instead, Peter tells us to rejoice that we may share in the sufferings of our lord!

How much of this sharing and rejoicing do you see in the modern church? Do we gleefully welcome the coming persecution as a chance to join in the suffering of Christ and show the true heart and resilience of the Christian faith? Or are we too busy trying to make the pain stop and make everyone to agree with us, regardless of whether they actually want to?

To those Christians who can’t see past their noses, and certainly not far enough to love their neighbor and their enemy, I would say: Get the log out of your eye!

To those who would see the Christian faith persecuted, hurt, injured, and destroyed, I would say: Bring it on! Do your worst and find out just what our God is made of. Come and see the love of Christ through the blood of his people.

To those who stand somewhere in between I would say: Watch, think deeply, seek truth, and find your way. If you want to see an example of the Church righteous under all threats and enemies, look at the early church that bore many and varied persecutions in love. Look at the anabaptists who were persecuted, tortured, burned, and drowned by Catholics and Protestants alike. Look at the Christians of Nazi Germany who took Jew into their homes and hid them, despite the risk to themselves. Who spoke out against the regime in love, despite the certainty of punishment, who acted not to destroy the government, but to protect the people, and who did not flee the consequences of that action.

This is what we should be. A face of courageous love and truth that stands against hate and violence, not a face of hate and violence that seeks to oppress those who disagree. We should be better than we are.