Author and "recovering nice guy" Paul Coughlin points the way for all men who yearn to live a life of boldness and conviction – like Jesus – as he discusses his latest book, "No More Christian Nice Guy."
Christianbook.com: What’s wrong with being nice?
Paul Coughlin: What we often label as “nice” behavior is a disguise for passivity and fear. Historically, calling someone a "nice" person has not been a compliment. It has meant "dainty," "unable to endure much," and "effeminate" among other adjectives.
And think about the "nice" people in your life. Do they stand up to injustice and are they truthful regardless of consequences? Most "nice" people don’t have it in them to be righteous. They are pleasant and amiable not because they are virtuous but because they lack virtue. We see another type of person in Jesus, who wasn’t nice but was amazingly good.
Worse, "nice" people aren’t very nice behind the scenes. As the wives of Christian Nice Guys will tell you, their husbands are secretive, manipulative, even dishonest. The nice lifestyle is a sinful lifestyle.
CB: You say kindness is not the same as niceness. Please explain.
Coughlin: Kind people extend and donate a part of themselves to help others. Compare this to nice people, whose motive is to stay hidden from life. They may not do harm to another person, but they also don’t do any good. They are often fearful and dormant people who are unable to really follow Jesus. They don’t have it in them to be redemptive forces for good in this world.
CB: You say Jesus wasn’t a nice guy. He was a good guy instead. Please explain.
Coughlin: The Gospels show a man in near constant conflict and tension with his surroundings. Fearful Nice Guys avoid conflict and tension, often through dishonest means.
Nice people worship at the altar of other people’s approval. Jesus did not. Nice people when criticized often crumble and hide. Good people keep going, the way Jesus did.
CB: You promote a more assertive form of masculinity, yet you defend Fred Rogers and are critical of pro-wrestling. This seems contradictory. Can you clarify that?
Coughlin: The Good Guy Rebellion is about expanding and deepening our understanding of love that’s in tune with masculine impulses. It’s about redefining the Man Box we live in and which is killing us, too.
Men in general and Christian men in particular should cultivate tenderness, which contrary to popular perception, is a masculine trait. After all, the shortest verse in the Bible is "Jesus wept" (John 11:35).
Fred Rogers is an honorary member of the Good Guy Rebellion. He represents the gentle, though not passive, side of masculinity. He struggled and was criticized for being so loving and considerate toward children. A passive and fearful Christian Nice Guy would have collapsed under the weight of such criticism and mockery.
Pro-wrestling on the other hand perverts the masculine impulse to fight and protect and extracts from this perversion a healthy paycheck. It’s blood money that is misguiding many young men throughout the world.
Where we go wrong is when we say that the only definition of love is gentle and kind, which is a large misconception today. Mr. Rogers was virtuous, but he didn’t represent all of the virtues that we are called to embrace. We need to embrace our inner policeman as well.
Christian men are excepted to be all Hush Puppy, no combat boot. The Good Guy Rebellion says men should own both.
CB: What opened your eyes to the more rugged side of Jesus?
Coughlin: Jesus’ sarcasm opened my eyes, and I discovered this through the excellent book, "The Humor of Christ," by the late Elton Trueblood. Examples are found in my book.
His sarcasm, especially toward the Pharisees, destroyed my perception of Christ as a "nice" guy. I couldn’t explain away Jesus’ sarcasm, which C. S. Lewis appreciated as well. Yet nice people aren’t sarcastic. Therefore, Jesus wasn’t always nice. It sounds simple and maybe a little odd, but that was one of the biggest insights that launched this unique message and ministry that is exploding across the country and outside the U.S.
CB: In "No More Christian Nice Guy," you question the belief that women are more spiritual and moral than men. Why is this important to you?
Coughlin: Because there’s nothing in the Bible that supports this belief. We are all equally sinful and in need of God’s grace.
People say that women are more moral and spiritual because they attend church more regularly. But more men would come to church if they wouldn’t be forced to conform to a dangerous caricature of Jesus as "meek and mild." Also, most church services are more inclined to address feminine sensibilities than masculine interests.
It’s also an example of what I call "genderism," which is similar to racism in prejudice and destruction. It encourages the false belief that what women deem as important is more important than what men deem important. If the church wishes to create genuine unity between the genders, it will listen to both genders equally.
CB: You talk about women sharing power in their homes. Explain this idea.
Coughlin: Men don’t have much of a say in their homes. Many aren’t even consulted when it comes to decoration.
Their wives usually control most if not all of their social schedule. And some wives misuse this power by cutting out their husband’s friends and sometimes their family. This is abuse by another name.
Wives have not been encouraged to restrain their verbal strength the way husbands have been told to control their physical strength. Wives shouldn’t misuse their verbal superiority when arguing. They should withhold this strength in order to make their verbal disagreements more fair and beneficial for everyone involved.
Some women don’t understand or appreciate masculinity given how an entire generation has been raised to be suspicious of men. Fathers must not allow this lack of appreciation of masculinity to be unleashed upon their sons. Fathers must not allow mothers to shame young boys for being boys.
CB: Can you explain what you mean when you say that Christian men have it worse than non-Christian men when it comes to relationships at home and at work?
Coughlin: Christian men are expected to be mild and amiable, though Jesus was far from mild and amiable. They aren’t expected to show much emotion either, especially passion, since the "ideal" Christian man is primarily stoic. This makes him emotionally unavailable, which statistically leads to divorce.
Christian men have heard countless sermons on what it means to be innocent as a dove, but very few on what it means to be wise as a serpent. Some translations say "cunning and shrewd as a serpent." As a result, they are ill-equipped to take on dishonest and deceptive forces at work. They are naïve, and we don’t respect naïve bosses, co-workers, husbands, or fathers.
They have been told for decades that personal integrity alone will help them succeed in life. This is naïve and detrimental both at home and at work. It goes against what Jesus told us.
CB: Why do you argue that Christian men need a more flexible code of conduct?
Coughlin: Because the current false expectation to be nice instead of good is filling them with smoldering resentment and anger. This damaging expectation goes against their masculine design. The Man Box must be expanded to include both tender and tough behavior – depending upon their circumstances.
This change will foster wider and more powerful expressions of love. Women and children will be happier and safer.
CB: What are the common sources of passivity in our culture?
Coughlin: There are three common sources: A culture that at best is confused about masculinity – at worst vilifies it; a dangerous caricature of "gentle Jesus meek and mild" that is as fictitious as "The Da Vinci Code"; Childhood traumas that create fear and anxiety, which are brought into adulthood, often undetected.
CB: You say that our culture is prejudiced against men. Give an example of what you mean by that.
Coughlin: An American retailer has made a fortune selling a clothing line that demeans boys. It even encourages violence against them. His T-shirts read: "Boys Are Stupid. Throw Rock at Them." No one in the major news media has denounced this work. Imagine if you changed just one word and made shirts that said girls, lesbians, Hispanics, even cats are stupid? The outcry would be tremendous. But it’s okay to demean boys. After all, they are men in the making, and men are what’s wrong with the world.
CB: What does passivity do to men?
Coughlin: Passivity makes them angry losers in life. It also makes them dangerously dishonest, unreliable, and can even lead to outbursts of tremendous anger and violence.
It fills men with self-loathing and gets them to mistake their failure in life for God’s sovereignty. They blame God for their wasted lives when God has already given them a plan to escape their passive and fearful lifestyle. Many of these men have not been shown this escape route until now.
CB: What role does fear play in passivity?
Coughlin: Fear is the major reason why they are passive. Fear causes people to live small, thinking their life will have less troubles when they do. Their life has more troubles when they refuse to enter into redemptive conflict.
Fear also means they will not be able to give or receive deep love. This makes them unattractive to potential spouses and unable to keep a wife when they get one. They can’t fully receive God’s love either, or love Him in return.
When fear is in the driver’s seat of your life, forget about obtaining the abundant life Jesus said He came to bring us, but also warned is hard to find. Perfect love castes out fear (1 John 4:18). But the opposite is also true: fear casts out love.
CB: What’s your advice to people who realize they are a passive Christian Nice Guy?
Coughlin: There are two primary actions they must take:
1. Discard the church’s current caricature of the Nice Nazarene. That is a work of fiction and a powerful source of false expectations.
2. Understand the roll that fear is playing in their lives. It’s best to talk with someone who knows the multifaceted dynamics of fear. Trained counselors are a great place to begin.
CB: What’s your advice to the women in the lives of passive and dishonest Christian Nice Guys?
Coughlin: The problems women face as they relate to the Christian Nice Guy problem is the subject of a whole other book that I’m currently working on. These women are in a tough place, and I admire how much they care about their men.
First, they should understand that the destructive passivity they witness probably began before meeting their Christian Nice Guy (CNG). So in most cases its not their fault. This brings immediate relief.
Second, never shame your CNG. This will push him further underground.
Third, encourage him to confront the fear that controls his behavior. My testimony can help. Tell him about Christianniceguy.com.
Fourth, try not to control the outcome of his transformation from a Christian Nice Guy to a Christian Good Guy. Sometimes this soul work can get a little messy. It’s well worth the wait.
CB: You say that you are presenting a wider and more powerful definition of love. Can you give us an example?
Coughlin: A man who joins the Good Guy Rebellion is encouraged to by more tender and more tough, but always keeping in mind what is good for others. They are encouraged to embrace their emotions, not hide from them like so many men are prone to do. It’s not an excuse to be a jerk.
My son’s first day of school is a good example. He was waiting in line and near him was a boy who was clearly upset and depressed. I know the boy. His mom is dying. I put my arm around him and asked him questions about his life. I have no magic answers, but I showed him imperfect love anyway. I never would have done that during my Christian Nice Guy years. And I never would have gone up to the kid who was picking on my daughter and told him that it has to stop now, either.
Paul Coughlin hosts a radio talk show on KDOV in southern Oregon and is the author of "Secrets, Plots, and Hidden Agendas: What You Don’t Know About Conspiracy Theories." Paul has been interviewed by C-SPAN, the New York Times, and numerous radio and television stations across the country. A former Christian Nice Guy, Paul is a happily married father and lives in Oregon.
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