Toxic vs Redeemed Masculinity (Once more unto the breach!)

I want to revisit a topic I took up a few months ago, when I shared my concern that many seemed to be trying to address the (very real) problem of toxic masculinity by trying to toss aside or radically redefine 'masculinity' itself, rather than addressing what turns it toxic.  I also, in that same post shared the great CS Lewis Doodle video about Chivalry.

As I noted in the previous post, the personal redemption of any particular man begins with surrendering our lives to Jesus Christ, accepting the gracious forgiveness of sins that he alone can provide, receiving the promises of Holy Baptism, and beginning to live a new life, walking by faith in the Son of God.
But what about redeeming masculinity, the ideal of masculinity, itself in our culture?
Is there even a coherent ideal of masculinity in our culture anymore?

I've been thinking a good deal more about this in recent months.  I agree that there is a crisis of masculinity, and a crisis that leaves boys not really being sure what it means to 'be a man,' and without the rites of passage needed to know that they have become men, and that this confusion may (I suspect) contribute to everything from the sexually libertine hook-up culture, to domestic violence, to gender-identity confusion.  I've said before this may be why so many young people (including young ladies) are more comfortable calling the men in their life "guys" rather than "Men."  That little verbal habit may speak more volumes than we know.

It seems even more clear to me now that a solution to "Toxic Masculinity" is to be found by drawing on the Biblical message and the Christian traditions.  That Solution to "Toxic Masculinity" is not "Less Masculinity" (or, Heaven help us, "No masculinity").  Rather, the Solution to Toxic Masculinity is Redeemed Masculinity...better known to our Western culture as 'Chivalry.'

Chivalry presents the ideal of a man who fights for the Right and is fierce in battle, but gentle and courteous at the banquet table; he is meek and reverent (and regular) in worship, and also assertive and dedicated in doing his duties and actively pursuing noble goals; Chivalry presents us with the ideal of a man who is a saintly soldier.
Their dedication to this ideal (at least in principle) is why knights - and the monastic knights such as the Templars and Hospitallers in particular - were so highly esteemed in Medieval Christendom.

As the literature of the Medieval Romance reminds us, the Chivalrous gentleman - or knight - was supposed to always speak the truth, always keep his word, always uphold justice, always respect the honor of women, and always defend those who were weak.  Do you begin to see why chivalry is the proper antidote to the sort of Toxic Masculinity that has been in the news?

Yet some strands of feminism have objected to the very concept of Chivalry, because (they say) it assumes (and therefore perpetuates) a power dynamic in which men are more powerful than women.

Of course, on the purely physical level this is generally true (and always has been and always will be): Men tend to be taller and stronger, with more muscle mass and greater bone density than women.  Men have a hormone called testosterone which can cause us to be more physically (and sexually) aggressive than women.  If you took a man and a woman with very similar genes, similar physical activity, nutrition, and so on, the man will usually be more physically threatening to the woman than the other way around.  This is simply a fact, and it is a fact that Chivalry has attempted to account for and deal with in a constructive way, while merely pretending that 'all people are always equal in every way' does not really help us deal with this fact in any useful way at all.

But I think this particular feminist critique misses the point of Chivalry on a much deeper level.  I'll illustrate this with a story.
When I was living in Dallas I went bowling with a group of young adults from my church.  On the way into the bowling alley, I held open the door for a young woman from the group.  She told me that she did not need a man to hold the door open for her, and that she was perfectly capable of doing so herself.  She might have even used the words "liberated" and "modern woman" in the little chastising that she gave me, I don't recall.
This was quite a shock for this Louisiana boy.

But as I've reflected on her response I've come to ask this question: What makes her think that my holding the door was primarily intended to benefit her?  What if it was primarily intended to benefit ME?

Could it be that those powerful men out in Hollywood, those powerful men in TV stations and movie studios whose abuse of women has come to light in recent years, could it be that they might have benefited by having MORE, rather than less, of these little Chivalrous habits in their lives?  Could it be that such habits help form the affections and the character of the men who engage in them in small yet cumulative ways, so that we more fully internalize the ideals of how a chivalrous gentleman "ought to behave toward a lady"?  Could those small little bits of training in habits of Chivalry have helped steel these men to choose the better way whenever the vile temptation presented itself?

Someone once said that "He who is faithful with a little, will be faithful with much."   (hint: It was our Lord)

The classical education movement reminds us of what the ancient Greeks and Romans, and the Biblical writers and the Medieval Christians all knew: a man or woman has to be trained to love what is lovely and desire what is good.  This does not always come naturally for us, it has to be taught and it has to be ingrained through habitual behavior, such as the courtesies of Chivalry.

So, what does the world need if we want to counter "Toxic Masculinity"?  Not less Masculinity (that is not possible even if it was desirable); no, what we need is more Chivalry!
It does no good to wish that men were not powerful creatures; we must channel that power in a way that is Good and Beautiful and Just.

Where can today's young man raised in some a-cultural cosmopolitan urban landscape that is largely secular, individualistic, and suspicious of anything 'old fashioned' or 'formal' turn to learn more of the virtues of chivalry?

First, you can turn to the Bible to learn from the triumphs (and failures) of such figures as King David in the Books of Samuel (and the Psalms); you might turn to look again with fresh eyes at the Great Requirement in Micah 6:8, or the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23, or the exhortations of Paul to Timothy to be a 'good soldier for Christ,' or the call in Philippians 2:4 to put the needs of others above our own, or the command of Christ in the Sermon on the Mount to "Let our 'Yes' be 'Yes'," or turn to Peter's rule on how men ought to treat the women in their lives in 1 Peter 3:7, or the Heavenly command expressed in Psalm 82:4 to 'rescue the weak and the needy...from the hand of the wicked', and so on.

Indeed, the Code of Chivalry that a knight was expected to live by, is fundamentally based upon the Bible and, as an ideal, is one of the great moral achievements of Western Christendom.

To learn more of the spirit of Christian Chivalry you could look at other primary texts such as The Song of Roland, or Morte D'Arthur, or Shakespeare's Henry V.  Even the history of St. Joan of Arc may be instructive: if she really is a saint and really did hear the voices of Heaven in her visions, then she must have a great deal indeed to teach us (men and women) about the ideal of a genuine 'saintly soldier'.

There are a great many websites (and indeed upstart 'knightly orders' that you can join) dedicated to rekindling the flame of Christian Chivalry in Western cultures.  One interesting website working toward the recovery of the "gentleman" is The Art of Manliness.

There are plenty of modern books about learning to practice the virtues of Chivalry, such as Knights of Christ: Living today with the Virtues of Ancient Knighthood, and books about how fathers can raise their sons up in these virtues, such as Raising a Modern Day Knight (which gives great attention to intentional character-formation and the importance of rites of passage).

I'm just discovering a lot of this myself, and I'd love to hear other resources you may have stumbled upon as well.

The way to address 'toxic masculinity' is not trying to somehow get rid of masculinity; the way to address it is to finally reach back into the treasure house of Western Civilization and recover Chivalry: the ideal of a Redeemed Masculinity.  As Tennyson has it in Idylls of the King: "Follow the Christ...Live Pure, Speak True, Right Wrong, Follow the King!"

I'll end with the ultimate goal of all Christian Chivalry (and the motto of the Templar knights):
"Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory!" - Ps. 115

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