New Male Spirit
Paul Coughlin Paul Coughlin's Weblog
- 2007 Feb 21
I’m also a founding member of GodMen (www.godmen.com), an innovative men’s event that connects men to their unique spiritual destiny. I’ll be telling you more about GodMen in the coming months as well. The next event will be held March 10 in Franklin, Tennessee.
My goal is to explain a new expression of male spirituality that’s on the horizon. It’s far more earthy and real than what many Christian men have currently experienced. It’s less mystical than what men of a more New Age persuasion are used to as well; yet it still retains energizing wonder. It’s attractive to some and, like Jesus, offensive to others.
Every society grapples with the question: What should a man be? The answer we currently live with was contrived in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and few today are happy with our creation: The Sensitive Man. He was a unique creation, because for most of human history the ideal man was a combination of religious, military (martial), and social attributes. The Sensitive Man excommunicated time-honored religion and forms of disciplined martial skill, resulting in a sweet-smelling man in touch with his inner woman, but very out of touch with his inner man. Women sound the alarm about such men, and as the letters piling up in my office attest, they tend to divorce them. Manliness, wrote G.K. Chesterton, “is a delicate balance between the sexes, which gives the rarest kind of pleasure to those who can strike it.” Few seem to have found this rare pleasure.
Many men, as well as a surprising number of women, want today’s Sensitive Man to undergo a philosophical plastic surgery. They want him to retain his emotional capacity, but they also want him to possess more manly qualities, such as boldness and courage.
This desire will be hard to fulfill given what we claim to want from men, because every generation also has its pet virtues. Ours are tolerance, gentleness, and sensitivity, which are virtues in the right proportion and application, but vices when out of proportion and improperly applied. A father who is gentle with the folly of his two-year-old daughter is virtuous. But the same gentleness makes him delinquent when he discovers that his teenage daughter is addicted to meth and he does not muster his manly ability to confront her. The most helpful ministries we know, such as Focus on the Family, would not exist if they believed the lie that they should always be sensitive and tolerant. Nobility demands more.
A spiritual prejudice against men will need to be overcome in order for this more rugged expression of faith to spread. It is expressed in many ways, the most direct being that women are more moral and spiritual than men. I’ve heard many Christian preachers and speakers repeat this myth. I call it a myth because you will never find these words in the Bible.
There is an earthiness, competitiveness, and pugnacious-ness to men that is attacked instead of honored in our culture and our churches. For many, “putting on Christ,” means taking off manliness. This is the same problem C.S. Lewis lamented about nearly fifty years ago when he wrote that there seems to be a conspiracy afoot that creates “men without chests,” the place historically where courage lives. Lewis criticized how we tear courage out of men, then expect them to be courageous. This veiled attack is alive and well today. We want men to possess character and to lead their homes to victory—just as long as they make sure not to ruffle any feathers. We want men to possess rock-solid morality—just as long as they don’t offend anyone. We want them to possess integrity—but to make sure that they don’t go so far as to give evil a particular name or face. We ask for toughness that is not tough, truth-bearers who don’t tell the truth. We are asking men to possess attributes that they cannot have or express under the naïve terms we put upon them. We ask men to live with one foot on the gas, the other on the brakes. We did this as teenagers when we got our first car or truck. It’s called power-jumping and it’s a great way to get into a wreck. I ended up on a neighbor’s front yard.
Today’s ideal Christian man is a secular Sensitive Man with the religious component put back in. He is a man with a smile, careful never to offend anyone, carrying a Bible, and sometimes wearing a tee-shirt with a Bible verse designed to start a conversation usually with non-Christians. He makes a great neighbor, but if you’re looking for someone to defend you--that is, someone determined to unsheathe the sword of his willingness and confront those who unfairly disparage you or take advantage of you in other ways, he’s the wrong man for this holy work. His spiritual training manual states very clearly that all conflict is wrong. Most are peace-fakers, not peace-makers. They are neither lovers or fighters, and you’ll find them in spiritual bomb shelters, not on the front lines of life.
The ideal Christian Sensitive Man (CSM) does not understand or appreciate his maleness very well. He is contrived, engineered, more a product of what society says a man is rather than how God made him to be. He doesn’t study the tough Scriptures, but studies sensitive ones, and in doing so reads from what I call the Nice Guy Bible (retail price: your soul). He is void of a martial ethos as well.
What he has been told to be has handcuffed his ability to be a leader, the subject men ask for help with more than any other at GodMen. Sweet-only men don’t lead very well, if at all. They, unlike men of faith such as manly William Wilberforce, who threw himself against international slave trade, never change the world for the better.
Today’s CSM is gentle and sensitive to the point of unintentional weakness. Something vital has been extracted from him, as insightful women sense. A single woman who works for one of the largest Christian publishers in the world told me at a writer’s conference: “Me and my single Christian girlfriends have a saying: ‘The ideal man to date has only been in church for two years. This way he still has some masculinity left.’”
This God-given and unique quality in men, which more and more men say they want but aren’t sure how to get it (some believe it’s “sinful”), is on the rise and is meant to be spent on others. In the following months, we’ll explore how this God-given attribute is expressed in everyday life and the battles that wage against it. I hope you’ll join in.