Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Descent of Man

Modern masculinity is on its way down.
North American Christian men, it’s not your fault. I get that.

No matter how hard you work, it is extremely difficult to earn enough to be the sole financial support of a family anymore; it’s well past time we acknowledged that.

We are living in a society that has made sacred cows of greed, universal higher education and feminism. While we may not personally embrace these values, it is evident that without leaving the world entirely it is impossible to escape the inevitable and natural consequences of the priorities of business, government and the individuals among whom we live.

While the conditions in which the modern Christian man finds himself are not his fault, the choices he makes as a consequence are very much down to him.

Modern Male 1.0

What increasing numbers of men are allowing themselves to become as a result of the current societal atmosphere is deplorable. If I had to judge the character of the modern male solely on the basis of anecdotal evidence gathered from the people I work most closely with, I’d be inclined to write him off entirely.

Here’s what I see happening in the world around us (for the record, these are real people I know personally or about whose situations I have reliable knowledge. No hyperbole or exaggeration is involved):

1.    A 39-year old unemployed man-child with a child of his own, still living at home with his retired parents. The grandchild splits her time between her mother’s home and the home of the grandparents. Her father’s entertainment and vehicle are paid for by the divorcee he is currently dating (or technically by her ex-husband, since she too does not work).

2.    A seventy-something retiree with no personal assets who married a widow and lives off her. Rather than an equal partner in the relationship, he serves essentially as her paid chauffeur and handyman, receiving the level of respect usually reserved for either or both.

3.    Multiple middle-aged men with minimum wage or part-time jobs who have parted from or live with women who are harder working and make more money than they do. Most have children with these women. Much of the lifestyle they enjoy comes from their partners — at least until the partner tires of it or meets someone more promising.

Is this sort of behavior obviously on display in today’s church? Maybe not yet — at least it’s not commonplace, I hope. But trends in society have a way of infecting the church, if not immediately, then certainly within a generation or two.

Let me suggest three factors that have contributed to the increased degradation of the modern male in one way or another. They are by no means exhaustive.

Greed and the Christian Family

To say that greed has become perceived as good is to state the obvious. Of course, it’s unusual to say it quite so baldly. Gordon Gekko may have been charismatic, but he still came across as a less-than-stellar role model. So we’re told instead that “important social programs require necessary funding” or that “shareholders require a return on their investment”, when it’s simply greed repackaged. The social programs under discussion are often nothing but pork, and the rate of return on investment to shareholders is often obscene.

We are affected by greed at every level, and it has an impact on your personal bottom line.

Government. Politicians stay in office by shoveling out tax dollars to address the perceived needs of their constituents and the expressed needs of the special interest groups that fund their reelection campaigns. When those dollars run out, they go back to the taxpayer for more. And mismanage it. Apparently $700 million of the $29 billion designated to restore New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina is simply missing. Gone. Anyway, between income tax, sales tax, property tax and other hidden taxes, you probably paid between 43% and 58% of your gross income to the government last year. Whether we blame the public or politicians for that, the end result is that you take home less of your actual income to your family than at any time in history.

Business. Outsourcing is the new normal; another huge factor in the decline of the average annual salary, the increase in part-time employment and the reduction or elimination of benefits. Most major North American corporations are sending work overseas where labor is cheap, and as a result are employing fewer and fewer North Americans, especially males. This is greed, pure and simple; but in a competitive market, nobody is interested in merely breaking even. After all, the shareholders must be kept happy. With limited options for trimming expenses, the end result is that the employee takes the hit more often than not.

Though you hear complaints now and again about corporate greed and rapacious taxation, nothing changes. Overall tax rates and unemployment get higher and higher, notwithstanding the massively fudged U.S. employment statistics currently on offer, which are so far off reality they may as well be fabricated out of whole cloth.

Again, men, not your fault. You don’t control the economy and you didn’t ask for this.

But is it that surprising if, faced with the inevitability of failing as a provider, many men give up the idea completely?

Universal Higher Education and the Christian Family

In our society, if you don’t go to college or university, it is generally thought that you have missed the boat.

But it’s getting harder and harder for a young man to put himself in a position to even consider marriage from a financial standpoint. Any kind of serious education puts you well into your twenties before you’ve finished school. Two or three years into your time in the workforce, and you’re closing in on age thirty with an average of $30,000 of school debt to pay off. 

It often means young men live at home longer to pay down debt. It means they marry later in life, if at all.

Do you know how long it takes to pay off $30,000, especially if, as in many cases, you fail to find employment in your field of study immediately after graduation? Now imagine you’re dating a Christian girl with her own $30,000 debt. It changes everything about the financial dynamics of your future household.

Further, putting off marriage until one’s late twenties or early thirties — in a dating culture to boot — creates tremendous pressure on young Christian men and women (I’d say it creates tremendous pressure on all of society, but realistically most teenagers from non-Christian families have long abandoned any pretense of sexual restraint).

But is it even reasonable to expect the majority of young, professing Christian twenty-somethings to put off the gratification of urges that are entirely God-given and natural — further fueled and fed constantly by everything they see and hear in the media, school and the workplace daily, whether they seek it out or not — while they put themselves in a position to marry and raise children? Self-control is always commendable. But if there’s any truth to these statistics, it’s also clearly beyond most young people in the current social environment, though the word of God assures us it should not be.

Giving in to the self-indulgent, pleasure-obsessed, YOLO spirit of the age remains a choice, of course. But once you go down that road, you run into the numbers, and they’re not pretty. Almost 40% of pregnancies are unintended. Statistically, regular sexual activity leads to babies much more often than is commonly believed, the use of birth control notwithstanding. Babies lead to one of three things: (i) abortion, which for the believer should not even be a consideration, (ii) single motherhood and all the societal misery that produces (this also should never happen in Christian circles, but a friend in youth work assures me it is, sadly, no longer uncommon — young, professing Christian men in dating relationships often father children), and (iii) rushing into a marriage for which one is emotionally ill-prepared and financially unready, which almost inevitably alters the spiritual dynamics of a marriage for the worse unless there is real repentance from both parties.

The result is a bunch of young adults either abandoning Christian circles entirely out of shame or unwillingness to subject themselves to the judgement of others, or else sitting in church paying lip service to a bunch of principles with which they regularly and knowingly fail to comply.

It isn’t good for the family, its finances or the local church. Some version of this story or one of its features may explain why so many young Christian couples seem to fail to amount to much spiritually these days.

More on the Christian male tomorrow …

1 comment :

  1. A very thoughtful and thought provoking piece, Tom. I think we all know people along similar circumstances. We wish better for them (all) but are often up against realities that are simply not fathomable go us. Personally, I am always troubled by what kind of trajectory some people (and society and the world) are on and, like most, I have no recourse, special insight, or dramatic means to influence much of that. But, I have a penchant for trying to figure and reason things out and there are a number of conclusions possible.

    These usually have to progress from the fact that many people are not necessarily in dire circumstances and one can examine the reasons why.

    1. Motivation: this is an absolute essential. People who are in positive circumstances, or at least in a positive frame of mind, have a pattern of being motivated to act positively and constructively even just concerning the small matters in their life.

    2. Motivators: family, church, friends, colleagues, informational sources. You are motivated to take the best from that.

    3. Competence of Motivators: Morality - you have figured out, and choose to not ignore the fact, competence is correlated to quality and the greatest quality obtainable in in the moral and social sphere is Christ and his teaching. There is simply no other human who can take his place at the top of the moral information pyramid. No supreme court justice, politician, wise man, philosopher, scientist, etc.. It just is not possible. Thus your motivators must be linked to the best moral competence available or they are flawed.

    4. Character: You are aware of your shortcomings and have adopted a path of not lying to yourself or anyone about where you are and where you need to go in shaping yourself. You are willing to reject poor impetus and are willing to struggle to do what is right for yourself and those around you. I.e., you keep on working on yourself until your last breath. Your aim is to do well for yourself in accord with your positive moral motivators to create a fruitful and beneficial environment for yourself and those around you.

    5. Insight: You pay attention to what you are up against, that you may have been placed in poor circumstances, and you humbly, honestly, and fairly try to improve those circumstances and accept those things that you cannot change but pray that God will. This includes the entire spectrum of social, mental, physical, emotional facts you are confronted with. You accept the reality of Hope, Love, Charity, Faith as extended by you and extended to you by others.

    6. Power: You recognize when you are powerless, and then you rely on the power of prayer. If you have worldly power, you never abuse it.

    Note that all the above turns us into transformative human beings and it just needs to be implemented.