Being a Man Requires You to Stop Being a Boy

One of the things that I have noticed since starting this blog is that I am conscious of whether or not I am producing "content."  On some level, this is stupid--I have no obligation to write anything, no one is paying me to do any of this, so there is really no reason to feel that I have to write something.  Still, enough people read this blog that I want to give them something.  As a result, sometimes I sit around and try to come up with things to write about.

Sometimes, however, the content comes to you.  Witness this interview with Cardinal Burke, which was brought to my attention reading Deacon Greg Kandra's blog.  Hoo boy, it's a doozy--the full text is here, on a blog entitled the "New Emangelization" ("Get it?  It's like the New Evangelization, except for men!").  If I could summarize Cardinal Burke's position in one sentence, it would be that the Catholic Church has become pussified and needs to recover its "manliness."

Before getting into the article, a couple of initial thoughts.  First, as a life time, card carrying member of the XY chromosome set, it makes me sad that I recoil at most mentions of "men," because that word has been so co-opted by the thoroughly odious Men's Rights Movement.  It is truly unfortunate that legitimate issues that affect men either exclusively or disproportionately cannot be discussed in any kind of intelligent fashion, because any such discussion seems to be immediately hijacked by these incendiary, misogynist mouth-breathers.  I will confess that I have not read every post on the "New Emangelization" website, but I what I have seen suggests that it is a conservative Catholic spin on the basic MRM playbook.  Which is especially sad.

Second, I will point out the one thing that Cardinal Burke says that I agree with 100%--the importance of families taking the time to have dinner together.  That was a deeply formative part of my own growing up, for basically all the reasons Cardinal Burke notes--you learn to talk to adults and other not of your own age, you learn ways of behavior, you share non-structured time with your parents, etc.  Without being fascist about it, I hope to do anything and everything possible to make family dinner sacrosanct when and if I have a family.  So, I think he's totally right about that.

The rest of it, though, is cringe-worthy.  To put the crazy in some sort of structure, I'm going to rely on Richard Beck's piece entitled "Thoughts on Mark Driscoll. . . While I'm Knitting." the best and most thoughtful take on "manliness" in Christianity, and those who affirmatively advocate for "manliness."   Seriously, go read that and come back, because it is fantastic.

Beck identifies three intertwined ideas that are at stake when people talk about manliness and Christianity.  The first idea is the interests and activities that we associate with guys, such as sports or mechanical projects.  As Beck points out, there is nothing about Christianity or Catholicism that impedes the ability of dudes to watch sports or work on their cars.  Nor do I see any evidence that Catholicism has somehow moved in a direction that discourages this sort of thing--no one is telling Notre Dame fans that they need to stop thinking that rooting for the Irish is the 11th Commandment, as a brief meeting with any Notre Dame fan will reveal.

It also seems that the issue Beck identifies at the heart of this divide in the Evangelical world--the disparate levels of education between clergy and the laity--cannot be the source of Cardinal Burke's the proposed problem.  Unlike many segments of the Evangelical world, Catholic clergy have always been highly educated.  In fact, the educational divide between the clergy and laity in Catholicism is likely the smallest it has ever been in the history of the church.  If Beck is correct (and my anecdotal experience is that he is) that highly educated folks often project "unmanliness" to guys with less education, you would expect this problem to have been worse 50 or 100 years ago when the gap between the education of clergy and laity was far greater.

No, Cardinal Burke's notion of the "interests" of Real Men seems to be far more abstract than what Beck is talking about.
For example, there is a discussion of the "manliness" of the Mass.  I will confess that I don't really know what the interviewer means by that.  I would point out, however, that Cardinal Burke is well known for wearing outfits like this during liturgical celebrations:

I don't want to make too much of this, but this get-up is not exactly what one (perhaps stereotypically) thinks of when you think of "manliness."  The obsession with archaic finery among traditionalists like Cardinal Burke cuts directly against their macho posturing.  Whether or not these outfits communicated masculinity 200 or 300 years ago, they certainly do not do so now.  It would be like showing up wearing 18th Century aristocratic tights and powdered wigs--do it if want, but don't be surprised if people are skeptical of your macho street cred.  Whatever one thinks of a traditionalist version of Catholic liturgy, I have a hard time seeing it as especially or characteristically "manly."

Beck's second thread is the question of "agency."  As Beck describes it:

Agency/masculinity is associated with motives for control, power, independence, and dominance. These are, stereotypically, "masculine" traits, but women can be highly agentic as well. If agency means power, control, and dominance then it seems clear that "masculine" traits will struggle to find a place in the Christian ethic. This was precisely Nietzsche's concern about Christianity: Christianity preaches a passive "slave ethic."

Cardinal Burke appears to be talking about a certain notion of agency, especially where he talks about things like chivalry.  Nevertheless, as Beck points out, he is running headlong into Christian theology.

But Jesus called them to him and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’

Matthew 20: 25-28.  The notion that men, especially lay men, should exercise more agency is particularly strange coming from Burke, who expresses such a high view of the authority of the Church.  I mean, how much agency could a lay man even have in the Church as it is currently constructed?

We are left, therefore, with Beck's third strand--misogyny.  And it is here that we find the heart of Cardinal Burke's thesis.

Let's start with some really, really bad psychology.  Try this paragraph on for size:

All of those virtuous characteristics of the male sex are very important for a child to observe as they grow up and mature. The healthy relationship with the father helps the child to prepare to move from the intimate love of the mother, building a discipline so that the child can avoid excessive self‑love. This ensures that the child is able to identify himself or herself properly as a person in relationship with others; this is critical for both boys and girls.

Hear that mothers?  Your love for your child makes him or her narcissistic, and only some toughening up from Dad will save the little one from that fate.  After all "it is the relationship with the father, which is of its nature more distant but not less loving, which disciplines our lives."  So, if you have been watching ESPN in the last couple of days and hearing testimony after testimony about the closeness and love that deceased ESPN anchor Stuart Scott had for his daughters, understand that, per Cardinal Burke, he has been Doing Fatherhood Wrong, as Scott's relationship is (or should be) "of its nature" "more distant" than the mother.  So, yes, dads and future dads, be more distant and less overtly affectionate with your kids.  That will certainly fix the "crisis" in the family.   

You will not be shocked to know that Cardinal Burke thinks all of deficiencies in the church with regard to men is the fault of feminism.  You might be shocked to learn that, because of feminism, the Catholic Church has been "constant[ly] address[ing] women's issues"; I suspect that will come as a particular shock to, you know, Catholic women.  But it is not just Cardinal Burke who has had these insights, oh no:

I recall in the mid-1970’s, young men telling me that they were, in a certain way, frightened by marriage because of the radicalizing and self-focused attitudes of women that were emerging at that time. These young men were concerned that entering a marriage would simply not work because of a constant and insistent demanding of rights for women.

Sure.  I mean, how could a marriage possibly work with women always nagging men about their "rights" and the desire to be treated as an "equal"?  Go make me a sandwich, woman.  Kyle Cupp's post says it best:

If women pursuing their rights, fighting systematic oppression and marginalization, and gaining influence in the Church makes men reluctant to become religiously active, that speaks poorly of these men. They need to grow up, but they’re not going to do that by being fed overly romanticized notions like the “powerful manliness of the Mass” and the “heroic nature of manhood.”

 And that is the core problem with Cardinal Burke's interview--it is infantile.  It is infantile to blame women for wanting to not be dumped on any more.  It is infantile to take your toys and go home--from marriage, from the Church, from life--because some girls might be around and make requests, even demands of you.  It is infantile to take complex issues and place all the blame on amorphous, cliched ideas like a "lack of manliness."

By definition, being a man means that you are no longer a boy, that you have "put aside childish things" as St. Paul says.  Ironically, Cardinal Burke's complaints about a lack of manliness would seem to disqualify him from being one.


Anonymous said…
"the feminized Church"

Funny, I always thought the Church was a Bride and a Mother.

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