Saturday, September 11, 2010

False equations: masculinity and violence

Can we move past them?

I'm sick of hearing people say, "I can't imagine Jesus as a wimpy guy. He must have been a tough dude. Therefore pacifism is wrong, and you're not manly enough." [slight caricature, but only slight]

If you equate being masculine with being tough, and physically capable of beating up other men, then your doctrine of humanity is deeply flawed. Most men will never live up to your physical idealisation of masculinity. Some will never be capable of even attempting to do so.

More drastically though, if you build in to your idea of masculinity the idea of violence, then you're tacitly building violence into your idea of the New Creation. The Scriptures image to us that the New Creation will be the restoration, redemption, and perfection of this current one, and so it's theologically naive to suppose that masculine identity innately involves violence, and your heaven is beginning to look more like Valhalla.

So cut that cheap rhetorical trick out of your repertoire. Were Jesus and the apostles physically fit and tough? Probably. Did Jesus or the apostles ever practise or teach self-defence or violence? No. Did Jesus or the apostles at any time teach restraint from violence? Yes. Why then would you keep arguing that violence is somehow integral to being a man?


Alistair Bain said...

I can't believe I haven't been following your blog before now. Your thoughts will fit very nicely indeed on my google reader. Thanks.

More drastically though, if you build in to your idea of masculinity the idea of violence, then you're tactitly building violence into your idea of the New Creation.


Stuart Heath said...

I, too, find 'Christian machismo' distasteful, but I'm not sure about the eschatology, here.

We do business with a world which is (a) created very good, (b) fallen, and (c) redeemed (awaiting consummation). Those three realities inform different aspects of our lives.

There are masculine rĂ´les (like being a husband and father) which won't persist into the new creation, but they're an important part of living in this creation.

I guess we could strip this back to an abstract and say that 'masculinity involves taking responsibility for others', but that leaves open the possibility that the kind of responsibility one needs to take will be different in the overlap of the ages from what it will be in the new creation.

On this specific issue (as I think we've discussed briefly before), I don't think all violence is created equal. I'm in favour of using force to protect the vulnerable — part of what it means to restrain evil in the present age. I think this is part of taking responsibility for others. But I don't think this particular application will persist into the new creation — there won't be evil to restrain.

Fiona H said...

I agree with Stuart re eschatology and I don't think violence (or discipline, or working, or good time management for that matter) defines masculinity.

One thought, "Did Jesus or the apostles ever practise...violence?" Maybe - what about clearing the temple? The description appears pretty violent to me!

Seumas Macdonald said...

Stuart, Fiona,

Thanks for your comments. I will come back to the eschatology issue in a soon-to-come post that is mulling around my head.

I do not say that all force is violence, and so I do see a role for force in restraining evil, but this plays into a larger argument about individual and corporate responsibilities and the interplay between church and world, which is what I want to address in a fuller account.

I think the cleansing of the temple episodes are extremely difficult to use to build a case for Jesus acting violently. I feel like I've written on this before, and should probably write on it more explicitly, but for now I'll just make the following points:

(a) vehemence of action does not equal violence. Jesus is more like a violent wind here than a violent person.
(b) the text of the episode portrays Jesus driving out the animals, a natural way to get animals to move. It doesn't depict Jesus driving out people with a whip.
(c) If Jesus had driven people from the temple courts with a whip, there would have been a charge that could have been brought against Jesus, which surely would have been brought.
(d) We should not mistake forceful and dramatic intervention and confrontation, with a violent one man rampage on the temple institution.

Fiona H said...

I agree, just being a bit cheeky. Does show there are different types of violence though...