When I was growing up, it seemed like men were different.
I can’t put my finger on it exactly—and maybe it’s a rose-colored glasses thing tinted by youth and inexperience—but men seemed more serious back in the 1960s than the men of today. Back then, if a man who lived nearby said he’d meet you at 6 p.m. Friday in a neighborhood park to toss a baseball, he would
—actually show up
—actually show up on time
—show you something you didn’t know, like how to throw a curveball or a sinker
—possibly bring you a ball to keep
—tell you, in passing, why alcohol and cigarettes were bad for your health
—watch his language like a hawk
—not even consider any “funny business”
And your parents wouldn’t think twice that you were out alone in a park with a man who was not a relative.
I don’t know if men changed or our ability to trust changed, but it’s not that way anymore.
When I was growing up, there was a sense among all the men that they had a responsibility to boys, even those who were not their own sons. Call it that “tribal” feeling—that men, all men, were charged with ensuring the next generation grew up straight and true, into better men than the generation that spawned them.
God help us—what happened to that ideal?
Back when I was at Wheaton, I wrote a paper on a thesis of my own devising concerning the implications of the loss of rites of passage within the Church. I grew up Lutheran, and to be a full voting member of the church, we had to go through catechism and then be grilled on the Faith by the pastor. These were not lobbed question, either, but stuff like What is the nature of Man? and How does Man relate to His Creator? (Today, you’d be hard pressed to find a kid in your youth group who could thoughtfully answer those questions.)
That rite meant something. When you successfully navigated it, the world changed. Adults expected more of you. You could sit on church boards and make decisi0ns along with the rest of the adults. And the men in the church treated you like one of their own.
Today, we have too many churches who have abandoned rites of passage. And it shows, especially when you consider that some polls have 80-85 percent of Christian teens renouncing their faith by the time they graduate from college. Too many of those “enlightened” graduates go on to be brain-dead party boys who screw everything that moves and live in perpetual childhood. Back when America was largely agrarian, children meant something: the survival of the family. But today, children have no genuine purpose except to be children. So why should we be surprised when today’s child-men never outgrow that perception, never developing into the kind of men some of us older guys still remember. Now, asking callow youth to grow up seems like trying to blow out the sun, given that for 21+ years no one bothered to model for them what a real man, a real Christian man, looks like.
I’d like to think that I was one of those old school guys, like the kind I used to know. But I’m not really. I realize that the ideal started fraying with my generation, that we were the first boys that had an uncertain manhood awaiting us. Feminism was on the march, the drug culture was firing up, and so was the culture of privilege and entitlement. Somewhere along the way, manhood did a nosedive and has not recovered.
Not convinced? Need an example?
I don’t think a better example exists than with the current financial meltdown. If you were to go back to the founding of the investment houses, like Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, and Merrill Lynch, those companies were run by real men. If some smart-aleck tried to run subprime-mortgage-backed derivatives past Mr. Goldman, Mr. Sachs, the Lehman brothers, or Misters Merrill and Lynch, he’d have one of those founders burying a foot about 18 inches deep in his backside. Why? Because those founders were men, and their names meant something. Getting involved in such tawdry schemes violated their ethics and their sense of who they were as men. Today? Most of what passes for men today would trade their reputations for a quick killing in the market, no matter who got slaughtered in the aftermath. And that’s exactly what we saw exposed last year.
This isn’t an appeal to go kill a bear with a pointy stick, as has been epitomized by much of the Christian men’s movement, but to start getting serious and singleminded again about how we turn boys into men, real men, not the poseurs masquerading as men today. We need to see genuine rites of passage return to our churches, a passage not into Spartan-like manhood but into proper handling of the Scriptures, women, children, the work world, and on and on.
My fear? That my generation is so compromised that we won’t be able to reconstruct what it is that we have lost so we can pass on something of worth to the boys following us.
And trust me, that’s something that should make men everywhere genuinely afraid.
20 thoughts on “Still Looking for a Few Good Men”
I’m in the middle of writing 2 long papers for finals so I can’t validate this statement, but I feel like this has a lot to do with the issues covered in Building a Bridge to the 18th Century by Neil Postman.
Keep up the great posting Dan!
Postman was always a favorite of mine, David, so I need to pick up that book. Thanks!
Good stuff, Dan. I’m part of that next generation (24) and I can attest to the lack of role models. Quite honestly, I feel kinda cheated. I see from scripture what I should look like, but I have no practical model to follow. For example, my peers in the church all employ a lot of crude humor and innuendo, and their parents do little to stop it. I can only keep this from rubbing off so much. What happened to “teach your young men to be sober minded”? I mean I struggle enough, having just come to the Lord a few years ago. But when I come off more mature than most of the guys raised in the church by Christian parents…it’s just sad. No wonder no one takes us seriously.
The decay started in my parent’s generation, Chris. At least that’s what I contend. My generation was ripped off some, but each successive generation will lose even more. I hate to see that happen, yet we seem so preoccupied with other things that entropy alone will ensure it happens. Unless we repent, that is.
You tell ’em, Dan!!!
The immaturity we see in today’s men has vast repercussions — and not just with modeling for the next generation, critical as that is. Just try being a single woman in the church today and finding a Christian husband who has emotional maturity, much less spiritual maturity. It is darn next to impossible.
I believe we are losing a whole generation of Christian young women who cannot find husbands. First there is a gap — there are just more women in the church than men. Many of our Christian women, out of sheer loneliness, are dating and marrying men outside the church — real men who will actually pursue them instead of being passive.
It is wrong to be unequally yoked, but when you’ve literally gone years without being asked out by a Christian, it is hard to say no to someone who pursues you. After years of asking the Lord for a husband who does not materialize, it can become a crisis of faith, and we are losing women in large numbers because of it. And our church leaders, I am convinced, are asleep at the wheel on this issue.
Novagirl, I feel your pain. It is my gripe and the gripe of all other young Christian women everywhere, in many churches either I have visited or my friends attend! The worst part is being told to trust God with your husband and then seeing people get married for the first time well past their child-bearing age. I think emasculated, “safe”, sanitised Christianity is a part of this (that holds no appeal to the natural warrior in men); as is ignorance on important issues such as evolutionary “science” rendering the church impotent in an increasingly critical and educated culture.
And that’s before you even address the issue of sexual purity in the church. When the men inside are as bad as the men outside… at least you know what you’re getting with an unsaved boy! However, I personally am too strong in my faith for it to ever work. What am I then, doomed to celibacy and solitude and barrenness? Heaven forbid! It is interesting to note the growth of Islam in the West. They have a reputation (whether it’s deserved or not) for having strong beliefs and a strong code of behaviour. Perhaps lukewarm Christianity is not just unappealing to God (to put it mildly).
I think it is worth asking whether the supposed stereotype of warrior men that is promoted by some Christian writers is even remotely biblical or whether it is instead an offshoot of the secular men’s movement of the late 1980s and early 1990s.
If you actually read the NT, you will find that while infantalism is defective, so is warriorism. If anything that is not warriorism is considered “emasculated,” then solid Christian men are in as much trouble as their less mature counterparts. Great men of faith like George Mueller, who spent most of his life working to help orphaned children in England, or Jim Elliot, who died rather than use his gun to kill his unsaved attackers, would be considered wimps.
Yes, oppose infantalism. But also oppose warriorism. They are two sides of the same bad coin.
“For our battle is not against flesh and blood”… the worst thing you can do is deny things that God has naturally put in us, either as males or as females or as humans as a whole. Promoting “turn the other cheek” and ignoring the fact that Jesus chased the money-changers out of the temple with whips is almost as dangerous. Although I am generally a pacifist, I certainly am not in the spiritual world, where most battles are to be fought. Denying men (and women) their nature and mandate to have dominion only serves to harm their masculine identity. Instead, you should embrace it, and direct it to it’s CORRECT use, not the sinful, fallen, extremely damaging uses the world has to offer (or damaging ways to “medicate” to subdue the natural tendencies that otherwise can’t be stifled. God needs our souls as well as spirits and bodies to do His work. Whole, and sanctified, sure. But not denied and suppressed, or told they are intrinsically “wrong” (ignoring the flesh nature here).
Redirection is key.
I’m planning a “rite of passage” camping trip w/ my 13-year-old son this summer; may include some other men to speak into his life (either in person or via letter). Not sure what it’ll look like or where we’ll go, but suggestions are welcome from those who’ve done something similar.
Another wonderful post, Dan. This is an issue new and dear to my heart.
I don’t know what you think of John Eldridge’s “Wild at Heart,” but I think he describes the issue well. Our country (our world?) has become afraid of real masculinity. We have feminized them. But this I think is a direct result of our increasing distance from God.
With more and more broken homes and fathers walking away from their children, boys are growing up without their role model. A woman can never bestow masculinity to her son. That can only come from a father, a man. So what happens? The boys become angry and with no one to properly guide them into young manhood, they rebel and…well…our prison system is bursting at the seams.
Signs of this are everywhere, including my own extended family. I have several nephews without their fathers (in some cases this is a good thing, actually) and I’m doing my best as an uncle to be a positive role model for them as they grow older.
Fathers are indispensable, not expendable. It angers me when I hear about celebrity women saying that one of their goals is to have children, married or not. Or just having children without having the father involved. What is that? How are these boys supposed to learn what it means to be a man if they don’t know their birth-father, much less their Heavenly Father!
I could rant on and on about this subject.
Thank you, Dan.
John Eldredge does an excellent job listing all the problems, but his solutions and explanations for those problems are lunkheaded and unscriptural, if you ask me. One of the basic problems he fails to address is whether or not a good deal of what we hold up as good, genuine masculinity is actually a perverted form damaged by the fall. If he can’t answer that question, every analysis and prescription he writes is built on a lie. (I gave Wild at Heart a very negative review on Amazon, which has received brickbats and kudos depending on which side people are on.)
I don’t believe that men have been feminized as much as I believe that some aspects of masculinity have been stripped from them or held up for ridicule. In fact, I would argue that some aspects of “feminization” are good, in that men are more emotionally aware today and more sensitive to the emotional needs of their wives and children, not to mention being more apt to help with housework than their fathers were.
Maybe I need to re-read it. It’s been a little while.
Dan: I’ve given the male right-of-passage issue quite a bit of thought. I don’t want to hijack your post with lots of words of my own, but if you’d like to discuss a few ideas families and churches could be implementing right now, please email me. Peace. Milton
As a (homeschooling) mom of two boys, with a husband who is not a spiritual role model, I want to know what *I* can do, or what I ought to look to my church to do. I’m interested in Milton’s ideas.
I have two sons, ages 10 and 13, whom my husband and I homeschool. We’ve devoted our lives to bringing them up well. They are, thankfully, part of a large extended family in which the adults are in stable marriages, as well as a solid, traditional church where my 13-y-o is a confirmand. They don’t have the latest electronic gadgets or watch much TV. They love the outdoors (we live in the country) and read a lot of good books, including the Bible. They also do gymnastics, a highly disciplined sport.
And they love to mow the lawn, fish, play ball, and just generally accompany their dad in his activities (as does their little sister!). I work hard to shape their character; I don’t let them get away with nonsense. I try to teach them good habits.
We are not a perfect family, but we believe in Christian virtue and solid citizenship, and are doing our best to instruct our kids in these things.