In thinking about the characteristics of manliness we need to be aware of the danger of an appeal to a mythical golden age of manhood. It is easy (for a Brit) to look back to the days of Empire and Victorian manliness and feel a wistful nostalgia about it, but there are aspects of modern life in which todays men are better men than their ancestors. Many men are better fathers than used to be the case. Men tend to be more involved with their kids now, not so formal and cold and distant. This can only be good.
Those of us who are Christians also need to be aware of the danger of being overly-critical about “men in our culture.” I know unbelieving men who are faithful husbands and good fathers; who really are men. Too often it is the wimps in our churches who are the problem more than the man in the street.
And we need to be honest about the similarities and dissimilarities between the sexes. In a call for manliness we must not set men over and apart from women. The way that God created us, as man and woman in his image, means that we cannot know what it means to be a man except in relationship to women. We are from the same root and are meant to work together.
There is also the serious danger of pursuing manliness over and above Christ-likeness. I detect this trend in some of the hyper-macho material being pumped into churchianity from certain quarters. We need to recognize the place of the Fall in certain male characteristics. There is meant to be an aggressiveness about men, but much of our aggressiveness is a consequence of sin, not creation.
We need to be followers of Christ, not of Nietzsche.
Nietzsche is the philosopher-prophet of manliness, and he despised Christianity as weak. For Nietzsche the real man does what he wants to do – he is bold and risk-taking and assertive. “Nothing is true, everything is permitted.” But the fruits of Nietzsche’s philosophy show the limitations of this kind of manliness.
Not many people read Nietzsche, but our culture has been greatly shaped by his teaching. He has given cultural grist to both the slacker and the tyrant. The slacker lies in bed and says “**** you! I owe no-one anything.” The tyrant beats his wife and says, “I am a man!”
Nietzsche regards Christianity as servile and cringing, but Nietzsche’s philosophy leads to a diminution of real manliness. To be men we need to be disciples of Christ, not of Nietzsche.
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