Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Manly Men and their Manly God

I've been reading ahead in my ongoing commentary project and made it into Judges, which is chiefly concerned with the dangers of unchecked militarism on the one hand, and pagan anarchy on the other. I'll get it to it in due time, but I want to note in the meantime the asinine bullshit and general lunacy that may be found in my Man's Bible and, for that matter, in a great deal of Christian literature. (The first major rise of modern Christian masculinity was a Victorian movement, but it's resumed again since the 1980s.)

My Men's Bible takes the story of Gideon, a demonstrably manipulative brigand who slaughters both foreign Midianites and his fellow Israelites, brazenly demands one unnecessary miracle after another from God, and, through the glorious hand of Bill Hybels, turns it into a declaration of the "authentically male," something that is presumably missing from today's "effeminate" church.

An entire generation of men, Hybels declares idiotically, are "lost in a cloud of confusion." What this confusion may be is unclear, though in part it supposedly stems from failed fathers. We as men have been collectively "emasculated" by contemporary society, Hybels goes on. (Emasculated? Really? Because the continually high sexual assault rates would seem to suggest otherwise...)

Then we get to the good part (no, that wasn't it). Hybels, veering from the merely idiotic into the truly preposterous, says thad God wants to save men - not just from sin, but also from social emasculation - and turn them into "macho men" who will "take risks and make commitments," reclaim the "freedom of authentic masculinity" and gain a "divine elasticity." As official spokesmen of God, Hybels's New Man ill "lead with firmness, the submit with humility"; "challenging with a cutting edge, then encourage with enthusiasm"; and, best of all, "fight aggressively for just causes." Such a man is a "masterpiece": these "authentically male" people were what God had in mind when he made the world.

Mr. Hybels, I have never met you, and I will never meet you (nor, likely, anyone else who has), so I can't speak about you personally, but with the greatest respect possible under the circumstances, your writing here makes you sound like a complete fucking imbecile. I'm trying to see things from your point of view, but I can't seem to get my head... well, you know the rest.

In fairness, Hybels should not be condemned in isolation simply for raving like a crazed chauvinist loon. Even if we could find a sufficiently lofty and righteous perch from which to hurl the stones, we'd have to include the other Promise Keepers, etc., as well. They too have seven manly "promises" - sworn despite the Bible's regular skepticism about oaths, and Jesus's prohibition against swearing them at all - which, ironically but significantly, claim to "reach beyond" race and creed, but not beyond sex. Hybels himself is one of those Willow Creek idiots who regularly bombard and bamboozle the church with nonsense like Contagious Christians.

"Authentic manhood"? If Hybels really wants "authentic manhood," he should read his Bible and find a better role model than an obvious scoundrel like Gideon, who shamelessly demands miraculous proofs from God, murders his "brothers" in Israel, and builds idols out of captured war treasure. He also takes dozens of wives, and keeps extra mistresses on the side, which presumably must also fall into Mr. Hybels's concept of "authentic manhood." Which is strange, because I know of no instance in which Hybels actually embraces elitist polygamy - basically harem-keeping - on a grand scale.

I'm not sure which is worse from a Christian perspective: the offence against God, or the offence against humanity. Hybels's notion of masculinity obviously has much more to do with prevailing militarism-tinged ideals in Western culture than it does with the Jesus Christ he says he serves. There's a basic contradiction between "authentic masculine" power and authority on the one hand, and submission to Christ on the other. Submission is seen as a feminine act, and if we were truly to embrace the concept of total servanthood and humility, then we could not have authority over women. So instead we combine leadership and servanthood in a farcical notion of proud, manly "servant-leadership," and its corollary, which reverts Jesus Christ's suggestion that to serve is to lead and instead proclaims that to lead is to serve, which is a convenient declaration for those who already lead, because it means they can keep leading without calling into question the fact that supposedly they are humble and have rejected worldly power in order to serve God.

There's also the offence against humanity - which, according to the Mosaic law as well as Christ, becomes an offence against God - which is that Hybels's grand manly man requires a suitable number of women, children, and effeminate failed men - preferably non-Christians - in order to truly exercise their power. An authentic Christian woman, may assume, does not "lead with firmness," but only "submit with humility"; she weeps but does not "fight aggressively." Actually, she probably cries rather than weeps, the latter being a much more manly term. She also does not have Hybels's "freedom." Probably, if she's a good Christian woman, she doesn't want freedom - merely humble service to a properly masculine husband.

Then there's the fact that, despite the hereditary status of the priesthood, the God described in the early Old Testament (including in the section of Judges on which Hybels is writing) clearly doesn't give a flying fuck about Hybels's good fatherhood worries. Certainly we may attribute the sinners to the influence of "bad fathers" - but then, what about all of God's heroes so far? Literally not one major Biblical hero in my readings so far comes from a properly righteous family kept in proper, disciplined order by a good father: Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, etc. What's more, these righteous men of God are generally horrific fathers: Noah can't control his sons, Abraham loathes and regrets one of his (and almost kills another), Jacob's sons squabble almost to the point of death, Moses completely neglects his family (to the point of provoking an intervention by his father-in-law), and so on. A generation of failed fathers? The Old Testament says God does his best work with the sons of failed fathers (not to mention some of the failed fathers themselves)! Now, I'm not suggesting that this means we should completely ignore any of the responsibilities or obligations involved in raising children, but it does suggest that the Bible really isn't concerned about the "new masculinity"/"family values" agenda of the religious right.

The fact that Hybels thinks men have somehow lost control of society's fate (and thus their own) is plainly ludicrous - most men never had such control and those elite few who do continue, by and large, to be men. If Hybels really wants humility and submission to God, he ought to consider that one cannot take that humility and simultaneously claim righteous command here on earth. The continuing nonsense about "servant-leadership," which in this case is manifested in masculine servant-leadership, always places a lot more emphasis on the "leader" part than on the "servant" part, thus revealing that it is a transparent fiction intended to legitimize an oppressive hierarchy on the grounds that even those on the top of the hierarchy must someday submit to an abstract and impersonal divine figure somewhere out in the ether, who curiously makes very little effort to make his will known directly even while his chosen "servant-leaders" here on Earth habitually attribute his will to their every action.

"He," of course, meaning God the Father. Because this metaphorical description of God clearly means that God has a penis, therefore those who also have penises can feel secure in their positions as leaders here on Earth, exercising judicious command over those who lack the divinely instituted Phallus of Authority®.

Actually, the fact that someone like Gideon becomes the model for certain sexist components of the religious right is starting to make a strange kind of sense. See, the thing about Gideon is that he doesn't actually serve God: like the most successful of the priests and generals before him (e.g. Moses, Aaron, etc.), God serves Gideon. Gideon shamelessly demands one miracle after another from God, most of them only for his personal benefit. Gideon isn't God's servant: rather, the two of them have a symbiotic relationship. Gideon's military prowess glorifies God as commander-in-chief of Israel, and God's mysterious and invisible influence over human affairs glorifies Gideon as general in the field. God gets some headlines in Judges, and Gideon gets some gold and some chicks - not to mention some headlines of his own. Everyone wins! Except Gideon's wives, of course. And all the people he's murdered, too, I suppose.

Rant over.