Two weeks ago I came across this article by Glenn Stanton (senior fellow at Focus on the Family) about how masculinity is unnatural and must be tamed by women. How did our society get into this terrible bind of fatherlessness, crime, abortions, and murder that has so blighted us? Because it has in large part been divorced from the softening influence of a woman’s natural goodness, that’s how. Although girls automatically grow into women who make life better, boys naturally grow into men who make things worse—and woe to us for it.
The article is a mess. While it’s true that men must be civilized lest they engage in destructive behavior, the idea that this is unnatural or unknown in nature is plainly wrong (see the elephants at Kruger national park). And after ruminating on this concept for a couple of weeks I’m now convinced that the article is not only flattery at best (and a kind of pornography that objectifies men to gratify a woman’s lust at worst), but in the end is reflective of a sin that God will punish most severely.
Before I explain that further, let me start by praising the good things in the article. First, it’s well written and clear as a bell; Stanton deftly makes his points with solid construction and to-the-point writing. This isn’t surprising however, if you browse his blog you’ll find similarly clear and lucid arguments he’s written on other topics. Second, there are some astute and correct observations sprinkled in that are impossible to argue with. When speaking of young men raised without a father Stanton says, “Left to his own, he is not inclined to play well with others. He is not disposed to make himself, or anyone around him, a better person. He is not likely to become other-focused. Either fiercely competitive or indolent, he is more likely to become a social contagion. He will either seek to define himself in the community by power, false confidence, and selfish conquest, or shrink away toward inactivity and reticence.” This is true, for if you leave boys to grow up without guidance they’ll become apex predators that tend to rend and maim, similar to tigers. And society really doesn’t need more wild tigers.
I also enjoyed this bit: “It is not controversial among gay men to acknowledge that they understand fidelity and monogamy as two different things. “Fidelity” means being faithful to the mutually agreed upon rules of a relationship, whatever those might be. “Monogamy” means only having sex with one person.” Take two gay men and put them together and you get two men in a relationship. You can think of them as having complementary roles, or as one having the “woman’s” role, but that’s not interchangeable with the fact that neither is actually inherently a woman. Men are men and women are women.
But by in large this is a poor article, and that mostly because there’s a profound mistake in Stanton’s thinking that manifests itself as a number of outrageous or offensive claims which come from the problem of seeing men, and only men, as sinners. The clearest turn of phrase for this is when he says, “Lord of the Flies is not a novel about the dark side of human nature. It’s about the nature of raw, yet-to-be-formed maleness.” If you thought it was a book about the power of original sin to reach up to any society (no matter how disciplined or civilized) and ruin it then you’re wrong. It’s not. It’s about the threat that undomesticated masculinity poses to all of us.
Now I fully agree growing boys need older men to set them straight, and I have no problem seeing fatherlessness as being a huge problem for us city dwelling Americans, perhaps even the problem of our age. Nor would I take umbrage if this article were part of a series on the cause of fatherlessness if it looked at the breakdown from every angle. My problem is with the assumption that women are the agents for change and that men who are the source of the failure need to be domesticated. Stanton has joined his voice to the zeitgeist in saying that man isn’t fallen, only men are. He defines being fallen as exhibiting aggressive or selfish behavior, then concludes that men are the only ones who suffer from it. His solution is to make men more like women.
But this is a kind of half truth that’s no better than a lie. Both men and women are fallen, just fallen in a different way. To put this crudely (because I can’t think of any other way to put it) men are like their sexual organs—they go out, they show up, they are bold, they are unsubtle. They make for shepherds or husbands (think animal husbandry) because they are concerned about going out and building something external. Women are like their sexual organs too—they receive into themselves, they accept, they nurture, they take what is given and make it into something wholly greater. When men and women fell into ruin, they fell according to their nature. Men, being outward and item focused by nature, fell outwardly. Women, being inward and person focused, fell according to their inward and relational nature. Their danger doesn’t come from wanting to do drive by shootings on the rival gang member, it comes from wanting to suck things into themselves and control them. Unlike men, they face the danger of a supercharged nurture that sees other people as merely an extension of their own personality. Men become disinterested tigers, women become thorn-bushes. Or as God said, “Your desire will be for your husband.”
It’s easy to see the failure of man because it’s outward, but the failure of a woman is subtler, more likely to be mistaken for their unfallen nature. But while their sin is different, but their sin is still sin. And here I’m going to insert chapter 10 from C.S. Lewis’ work The Great Divorce because it’s about a woman in hell who has been damned for letting her womanly nature go unchecked:
“Please don’t interrupt for one moment. You haven’t the faintest conception of what I went through with your dear Robert. The ingratitude! It was I who made a man of him! Sacrificed my whole life to him! And what was my reward? Absolute, utter selfishness. No, but listen. He was pottering along on about six hundred a year when I married him. And mark my words, Hilda, he’d have been in that position to the day of his death if it hadn’t been for me. It was I who had to drive him every step of the way. He hadn’t a spark of ambition. It was like trying to lift a sack of coal. I had to positively nag him to take on that extra work in the other department, though it was really the beginning of everything for him. The laziness of men! He said, if you please, he couldn’t work more than thirteen hours a day! As if I weren’t working far longer. For my day’s work wasn’t over when his was. I had to keep him going all evening, if you understand what I mean. If he’d had his way he’d have just sat in an armchair and sulked when dinner was over. It was I who had to draw him out of himself and brighten him up and make conversation. With no help from him, of course. Sometimes he didn’t even listen. As I said to him, I should have thought he’d have good manners, if nothing else. He seemed to have forgotten that I was a lady even if I had married him, and all the time I was working my fingers to the bone for him, and that without the slightest appreciation. I used to spend simply hours arranging flowers to make that poky little house nice, and instead of thanking me, what do you think he said? Said he wished I wouldn’t fill up the writing desk with them when he wanted to use it, and there was a perfectly frightful fuss one evening because I’d spilled one of the vases over some papers of his. It was all nonsense really, because they weren’t anything to do with his work. He had some silly idea of writing a book in those days, as if he could. I cured him of that in the end.
“No, Hilda, you must listen to me. The trouble I went to, entertaining! Robert’s idea was that he’d just slink off by himself every now and then to see what he called his old friends and leave me to amuse myself! But I knew from the first that those friends were doing him no good. ‘No, Robert,’ said I, ‘your friends are now mine. It is my duty to have them here, however tired I am and however little we can afford it.’ You’d have thought that would have been enough. But they did come for a bit. That is where I had to use a certain amount of tact. A woman who has her wits about her can always drop in a word here and there. I wanted Robert to see them against a different background. They weren’t quite at their ease, somehow, in my drawing room, nor at their best. I couldn’t help laughing sometimes. Of course Robert was uncomfortable while the treatment was going on, but it was all for his own good in the end. None of that set were friends of his any longer by the end of the first year.
“And then, he got the new job. A great step up. But what do you think? Instead of realising that we now had a chance to spread out a bit, all he said was ‘Well now, for God’s sake let’s have some peace.’ That nearly finished me. I nearly gave him up altogether: but I knew my duty. I have always done my duty. You can’t believe the work I had getting him to agree to a bigger house, and then finding a house. I wouldn’t have grudged it one scrap if only he’d taken it in the right spirit, if only he’d seen the fun of it all. If he’d been a different sort of man it would have been fun meeting him on the doorstep as he came back from the office and saying, ‘Come along, Bobs, no time for dinner tonight. I’ve just heard of a house out near Watford and I’ve got the keys and we can get there and back by one o’clock.’ But with him! It was perfect misery, Hilda. For by this time your wonderful Robert was turning into the sort of man who cares about nothing but food.
“Well, I got him into the new house at last. Yes, I know. It was a little more than we could really afford at the moment, but all sorts of things were opening out before him. And, of course, I began to entertain properly. No more of his sort of friends, thank you. I was doing it all for his sake. Every useful friend he ever made was due to me. Naturally, I had to dress well. They ought to have been the happiest years of both our lives. If they weren’t, he had no one but himself to thank. Oh, he was a maddening man, simply maddening! He just set himself to get old and silent and grumpy. Just sank into himself. He could have looked years younger if he’d taken the trouble. He needn’t have walked with a stoop—I’m sure I warned him about that often enough. He was the most miserable host. Whenever we gave a party everything rested on my shoulders, Robert was simply a wet blanket. As I said to him (and if I said it once, I said it a hundred times) he hadn’t always been like that. There had been a time when he took an interest in all sorts of things and had been quite ready to make friends. ‘What on earth is coming over you?’ I used to say. But now he just didn’t answer at all. He would sit staring at me with his great big eyes. (I came to hate a man with dark eyes) and—I know it now—just hating me. That was my reward. After all I’d done. Sheer wicked, senseless hatred, at the very moment when he was a richer man than he’d ever dreamed of being! As I used to say to him, ‘Robert, you’re simply letting yourself go to seed.’ The younger men who came to the house, it wasn’t my fault if they liked me better than my old bear of a husband, used to laugh at him.
“I did my duty to the very end. I forced him to take exercise. That was really my chief reason for keeping a great Dane. I kept on giving parties. I took him for the most wonderful holidays. I saw that he didn’t drink too much. Even, when things became desperate, I encouraged him to take up his writing again. It couldn’t do any harm by then. How could I help it if he did have a nervous breakdown in the end? My conscience is clear. I’ve done my duty by him, if ever a woman has. So you see why it would be impossible to…
“And yet… I don’t know. I believe I have changed my mind. I’ll make them a fair offer, Hilda. I will not meet him, if it means just meeting him and no more. But if I’m given a free hand I’ll take charge of him again. I will take up my burden once more. But I must have a free hand. With all the time one would have here, I believe I could make something of him. Somewhere quite to ourselves. Wouldn’t that be a good plan? He’s not fit to be on his own. Put me in charge of him. He wants firm handling. I know him better than you do. What’s that? No, give him to me, do you hear? Don’t consult him, just give him to me. I’m his wife, aren’t I? I was only beginning. There’s lots, lots, lots of things I still want to do with him. No, listen, Hilda. Please, please! I’m so miserable. I must have someone to-to do things to. It’s simply frightful down there. No one minds about me at all. I can’t alter them. It’s dreadful to see them all sitting about and not be able to do anything with them. Give him back to me. Why should he have everything his own way? It’s no good for him. It isn’t right, it’s not fair. I want Robert. What right have you to keep him from me? I hate you. How can I pay him out if you won’t let me have him?”
The Ghost which had towered up like a dying candle flame snapped suddenly. A sour, dry smell lingered in the air for a moment and then there was no Ghost to be seen.
Now having quoted Lewis I’m ready to back up my point I made at the beginning about this being a damning mistake for women, and let’s just pretend Lewis didn’t just do a better job than I ever could. (As an aside: it’s ironic to me that in flattering and pandering to women Stanton is actually advocating they play with a consuming fire he himself is immune to, by dent of being a man. It may boost the self-esteem of his readers for a time, but it doesn’t seem very loving to plant something in their mind that will grow bad fruit.)
In making this point I take as foundational and self-evident that all women sin, and that all women are sinners. Even if you don’t believe women inherit a sin nature from their mother, they still have men for fathers from which they get this sin nature, and there’s therefore no escaping the truth that they are sinners. They may sin quietly, they may sin sweetly in the eyes of others, their sin may be less obvious or less socially condemned, their sin may be more tolerable and amicable for forming community, but if left unchecked or uncorrected their sin will merit the punishment of hell. Their nature isn’t pure, and therefore they don’t grow more virtuous by nature or given enough time left alone. This is why God command the older women to teach the younger women “to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.” (Titus 2:4-5)
And it gets worse. Not only do women not have a pure nature that stands in contrast to the corrupting nature of men, but in some ways their sins are worse than a man’s sin. Being less obviously destructive their sin is more likely to be overlooked or ignored, whereas the man’s sin leaves people no choice but to deal with it. And even granting women possess a better nature than men, this might only mean they are more likely to ignore The Physician who came for the sick and His radical offer of forgiveness because they don’t believe themselves to be nearly as ill. Again, as Lewis said,
“There’s something in natural affection (read: woman’s nature) which will lead it on to eternal love more easily than natural appetite (read: base male nature) could be led on. But there’s also something in it which makes it easier to stop at the natural level and mistake it for the heavenly. Brass is mistaken for gold more easily than clay is. And if it finally refuses conversion its corruption will be worse than the corruption of what ye call the lower passions. It is a stronger angel, and therefore, when it falls, a fiercer devil.”
Focus on the Family isn’t sounding this warning however. They’re writing articles putting men down and encouraging women to think of themselves as a natural force for good; to assume the problems around them are not their own. They’re teaching women not to look at the log in their own eye as Jesus instructed, but to look in the eyes of those males in their lives. Which is in fact the same message the world gives when it says: “Your problem is outside of you and the solution is within you,” rather than the way Christianity puts it, “the problem is within you, and the solution is from without.”
They’ve decided to join their voice with the world in calling women good and men bad. But… it’s worse than that really. They are speaking with the authority of God, using His power to preach a message that He has specifically rejected, and that’s a violation of the third commandment, for which not even the world is guilty of. The problem for women isn’t violent, stubborn, childish men who need a firm hand from their civilizing betters, it’s the pride in their heart that makes them think they’re better than they are. Focus on the Family is leading them away from Jesus.
How do I know this? Because this isn’t an inadvertent, one-off article, it is serious, long term, settled, willful disobedience that crops up frequently on their radio show. I’ve listened on and off for years, and I know that whenever the idea is brought up that women have to do something to change their situation the idea is squashed as bad for ratings. The result is a cultural Christian production, something more like a feel good Oprah-lite show with a thin veneer of religiosity than a genuine forum for pious women. If you’ve read Kings or Chronicles and wondered why the phrase: “The high places were not taken away” is repeated over and over again then you haven’t been paying attention to the seductive nature of its modern form. Confronting sin is hard and bad for ratings, and it’s far easier to confront sin in others than it is in ourselves.
Two more things and then I’m done. First, Stanton is right that women can and often do help make men better, so don’t hear me saying he’s entirely wrong about that. If men are open to improving themselves, and if women are committed to being help mates, women and especially children can be a powerful force for making men what God intended them to be. Unfortunately however that requires women to become help mates and disown much of what Stanton has written. And second, if Stanton does publish a follow on article blaming women for their part in the fatherlessness crisis and calling them to repentance I will gladly write a follow-on piece saying I had misjudged him. But all things considered I think this is unlikely, and if I were a betting man I’d lay my money on the high places not being removed. Because as Calvin observed, the heart is an idol factory.