Sunday, February 11, 2018

a few extended thoughts on Alastair Roberts' writing and the inevitable male/female questions he grapples with

Over the last three years I've intermittently read the blog of Alastair Roberts, and with decreasing interest.  I still read it from time to time but as his career progresses he seems more shunted into a rote part that can be played by any number of conservative Christians in the Anglo-American idiom.  This part is the social observation guru and the matters of social observation tend to fall into one of two categories--sex/gender/sexuality on the one hand and politics on the other. 

Well, there's also occasionally stuff at a platform like Mere Orthodoxy where the question of why there aren't Christian intellectuals comes up but that's arguably peripheral to Roberts' commentary. 

In the last few years it can sometimes seem that despite his reading Roberts can get, well, lazy.

Take this old piece about the problems with "strong female characters", published at Mere Orthodoxy about a week after the trailer for Rogue One dropped.  In an era in which thanks to steady reshooting activity in late production such as happened with the Star Wars film and has happened regularly with tentpole releases, building a commentary around a few bad lines of dialogue (from a Star Wars film, no less, a franchise whose established reputation for howler dialogue would seem pretty well established after forty years) seemed precipitous.  We live in a time in which what you see in the trailer may end up being footage or scenes that never even appear in the movie, reshoot schedules can be that tight.   As to arguments against the cliché of the strong female character Overthinking It handled that in such a magisterial fashion back in 2008 after the first Michael Bay Transformers film came out Roberts wasted his time. 

Unless, of course, the magisterial rebuke needed to come from somewhere roughly to the "right" rather than a "left" on the issue of gender and social convention, in which case some kind of conservative Anglican response would be in order.

So there was a case made about attempts to shoehorn traditionally and conventionally masculine arcs from the hero's journey onto a female character that did violence to the teleology of our gendered existences.  Now I own most every Hayao Miyazaki film ever made so I'm never going to debate Roberts on the merits of one of the most brilliant creators of animated film of the last half century.  And I enjoy Jane Austen novels, too. 

But in the twenty years since Buffy the Vampire Slayer became a thing on TV feminists have managed to come around to articulating a criticism of Joss Whedon's waif fu as an ultimately negative influence on popular culture.  There's not a whole lot in what Roberts had to say that hadn't already been articulated in a more cogent and readable fashion by, well, feminists. 

Take this, though:

The recurring characterization problems with such Strong Female Characters arise in no small measure from the struggle to show that men and women are interchangeable and can compete and cooperate with each other on the same terms. As I have already noted, this falsehood serves no one. It sets women up for frustration and failure as they have to justify their agency on men’s terms and it produces an embarrassment about male strengths that should be celebrated rather than stifled. It reflects a drive towards intense gender integration and de-differentiation in the wider world.

The traditional world of women—typically a different existential and intersubjective mapping of spaces that were shared with men—has been reduced through the migration of work away from the home, the expanding social role of the state and its agencies, the shrinking and contracting of families, the thinning out of neighborhoods, and the removal of much of the burden of domestic labour through technology. One’s value in society has also become increasingly contingent upon advanced educational attainment, career, wealth, and consumption. Within this new situation, women have had to forge new identities within worlds created by men and which play to male strengths. Shrunk to a sentimental reservation of domesticity, there is relatively little dignity to be found in what remains of traditional female worlds in most Western societies.
I remember one of my relatives saying to a coworker that he got the impression that the vision of feminism was that women could and should rise to the highest levels of management and strategy as a way of achieving equality with men, not by way of doing the thankless shitty jobs at the bottom of the company pecking order for low end wages doing the things that somebody has to do but that people find boring.

To borrow lingo from Joseph Campbell, the hero's journey is supposed to involve the call to adventure and challenge and discovering the boon.  It's not expected to take the form of you punch in for your day job, punch out after you've done the day's allotted work (maybe), and then go home and live that way day after day, week after week. month after month, and then year after year for so long as you can stand to do the job for the compensation you get.  The traditional world of women, whatever Roberts imagines it to be, was not a world in which everyone in a post-industrial economic system could be construed as interchangeable cogs in a production machine. 

But let's suppose the hero's journey and the trope of adventure itself is the greater, deeper and more pernicious lie--in that case then the problem with the strong female character isn't really that she is somehow bidden to have the hero's journey by way of Rey that was supposed to be Luke Skywalker (or "Jake" Skywalker), the problem is that the call to adventure only means anything to those people who imagine themselves to be some kind of John Galt in a world full of abject mediocrities.  We're told by way of movies and literature and TED talks and self-help books that we can discover the Luke Skywalker or Han Solo or maybe, too, a Princess Leia or Rey inside us when, in fact, we live in a world and work in a world where we're more likely to be a storm trooper (and not Finn) or Porkins or maybe Boba Fett in the "gig economy".  We might have a killer costume and then get unceremoniously knocked into the Sarlac by a blind guy with a stick who isn't named Matt Murdoch.

There is relatively limited dignity to be found in any rank and file job these days, regardless of gender.  Anyone who has moved far enough along in academia to get a master's degree or a doctorate is going to be ensconced in that kind of culture.  It's not always necessarily a bad thing.  Yet, to make this in a pointed way, some guy who was a preacher here in the Seattle area used to quip about guys who had seminary degrees but no real world experience.  He, of course, would go on to get a master's degree in exegetical theology without so much as demonstrating by way of his sermons that he could exegete a Hebrew text without perhaps consulting a lake of secondary literature--but the argument could be made all the same, that there's a point past which academic achievement involves a journey inward towards an ivory tower where the theorizing you pick up from study has nothing to do with a bunch of guys whose job it is to swing a hammer for a living. Something similar could be said for people in cubicle work whose 9-5 or 8-4 or whatever the hours are existence leaves little room for being agentic  and all that. 

Roy Baumeister has written that one of the traits of masculine socialization and social groups is that the burden of proof is upon you, as the individual man, to make a case you should even be part of the team, and that broadly speaking the threshold beyond which a boy becomes a man is simply that he produces more than he consumes.  In that sense, a crisis of masculinity would seem completely moot.  So long as you produce more than you consume you have become not just a man, but arguably simply an adult, regardless of gender.  But ... of course ... without rites of passage to communicate clearly that such a threshold has been reached how do you know for sure that you've attained that point?  Most of the attempted jokes at "adulting" have never landed as funny to me over the last ten or so years.  When I was a kid I was not sure that whatever this being "grown up" was supposed to be about that it was much to speak of.  That's not to say that growing up and becoming a responsible adult isn't important or necessary, it's saying that when I was a kid and heard other kids tlk about how much better everything was going to be when they became adults I didn't believe that then.  I don't believe it now.  People become adults but there's no necessary advantage to becoming one, just a different set of responsibilities to be navigated.  Not everyone navigates those responsibilities and in some cases those responsibilities in the form of social expectations can be hired out to be done by other people.

And there's a cottage industry of self help books to help you figure out how you want to tackle that "adulting" stuff if you feel you're not up to all or parts of it.

It's not that Roberts doesn't have moments of lucid observation.  He can sum things up well enough:
Summing up, Dr Bradley’s thread puts its finger on the key issue of male shame and identifies part of the reason why Peterson so resonates with young men today. However, I believe that he doesn’t go far enough in identifying its causes. Male shame chiefly results from the subjection of isolated men to increasingly unattainable and contradictory demands that set them up for blame-ridden failure. Men’s struggles also can’t be understood apart from a recognition of the loss of male community and the individualization of male identity. Peterson recognizes men’s stifled natural hunger for virility and speaks to it, holding out to men the possibility of attaining a true manly dignity, while relieving men’s burden of shame in the process.

The increasingly therapeutic framing of masculinity is largely a result of the lack of male community in a gender-neutralizing society. Denied such community, masculinity will increasingly be experienced as a wound that needs to be tended. People like Peterson may be helpful in enabling some men to recover a measure of manly dignity. However, they really can’t substitute for the organic reality of male community. The response to the contemporary crisis of masculinity is not going to be a new and better theory or self-help programme for individuals (which, for all his strengths, is where Peterson largely leaves us), but must be a recovery of robust, deep, and enduring intergenerational male community pursued in meaningful and productive activity.

The patriarchy can, even with a pejorative definition, be understood as the propensity of enough males with power and influence conflating what is in their best interests with the interests of common human flourishing.  In other words, even if one isn't a feminist it's relatively easy to understand the shorthand that the patriarchy entails, a reference to white anglo-saxon protestant imperial cultural expansion as a herald of what was regarded as the spread of "universal" human values and human rights that, in rather simple historical terms, accrued mainly to a set of aristocratic castes.  I don't think a person even has to be in any way feminist to get that that's the concern of feminist scholars about what they regard as patriarchal systems.

Let's briefly consider an idea here, that there's potentially no such thing as "inherent" human dignity.  You can't just assert that you have dignity and expect to be treated with dignity. Dignity is imputed. It can be received but it cannot be coerced into being given to you by someone else if you don't have it. 

And there may have always been a crisis of masculinity ever since ... Genesis 3.  A robust, deep and enduring intergenerational male community pursued in meaningful and productive activity sure happened, for a time, at Mars Hill ... and we saw how that played out.  I think we need to have some fair warning that the first time in Scripture we see a bunch of men across generations (tacitly noted in the text) pursuing meaningful productive activity out of a concern for legacy was builing some tower on the plain of Shinar.  Sure, there was that family project of building a boat ... but that wasn't quite the same thing. 

As to the process of subjecting isolated people to increasingly unattainable and contradictory demands that set them up for blame-ridden failure is probably also applicable to young women today, too.  In a contemptuous write-up about a Billy Joel album, Robert Christgau once noted that Joel said that anything less than everything was a cheat and that this, Christgau speculated, reflected the overweening entitlement of the Baby Boom generation.  No generational bias there, eh?  But let's go back to Joseph Campbell's "boon" that the hero recovers.  Campbell's debt to Jungian ideals was cleared up within the first fifty odd pages of The Hero with a Thousand Faces. It would seem, paradoxically, that the Jungian stream of influence on popular culture mediated through the likes of Joseph Campbell has made the hero's journey so prescriptive at the level of popular culture that being some ordinary man or woman who is a citizen of a society and works quietly is in many respects off the table.  You can't just be a normal person but a god or goddess whose actions and agency reshape reality as we know it. 

Let's just throw out an idea for people to chew on, post industrial capitalism has no real use for gender differentiation except as a locus for differentiating market demographics.  Never mind the patriarchy theorizing on one side or the endless handwringing about the enervating influence post-gender modernity with its deleterious effect on the virility of men in vague and abstract terms.

If you formulate a rite of passage that has a specific goal in mind and rites of recognition, which was what Driscoll and the leaders of Mars Hill managed to do with Dead Men as the stage two of Pussified Nation, you can create a, for a time, tight knit community of men agreed upon a purpose.  But even here Roberts noted the Driscoll video of "how dare you!?".  He speculates at length as to how and why the shame-based motivational method is popular with conservative preachers and teachers.  This seems less complex or profound than Roberts' posting makes it seem--per Roy Baumeister's taxonomy of male sociality and rites of recognition, if a boy becomes a man by producing more than he can consume, and if participation in a male social unit is predicated on demonstrating that by way of competency and/or group loyalty you have a reason to be admitted into and recognized as part of the group then the shame based motivational speaking approach has a very, very simple goal in mind--it's a warning to those men who may be considered to have failed the goals of production-over-consumption and deserved competency-based and character-based in-group participation that their membership card can and possibly soon will be revoked.  If women have social groups in which the threat of ostracism over a failure to perform successfully leads to shame-based motivational speaking then so it goes, but the implication or invocation of half a dozen reasons as to why men get shame-based motivational teaching and instruction seems overcooked. 
It's not that hard to understand that in a male social system your membership card could be revoked, you could get kicked off the team.

For the most part (as yet) Roberts has not been in a rush to articulate what a positive formulation of male society might actually look like.  In that respect he's less useful than someone like Mark Driscoll was, who at least was point blank enough to say his goal was to find those males he considered capable of forming the establishment of the future, courting their interest, and giving them something to do for Jesus' fame, if for a Jesus who was carefully reverse-engineered to look astonishing like Mark Driscoll's own interests and agendas. 

Roberts said so himself he prefers to not bee tooo very detailed about exactly what healthy iterations of masculinity have to look like because things will look different in each case.  At one level that's prudential, yet at another level it's a fairly epic cop out.

I think our approach should be a prudential one that brings together a number of considerations: 1) the gender roles on offer within our specific culture; 2) the Christian teaching that has bearing upon male roles; 3) the specific form of our own maleness [emphasis added]; 4) the natural and moral criteria by which the effectiveness of any culture’s gender roles can be measured. I believe that we should ideally practice a form of masculinity that is grounded in our context, enabling us to enjoy kinship with other men in our cultures. These models must be leavened by Christian virtues, which challenge much that passes for masculinity in various contexts, unsettling macho cultures, misogynistic cultures, and many forms of male honour culture. Christian teaching also pushes us towards a masculinity of service. Then we consider the sort of men that we are, and how we best develop and live out our own maleness in our very specific context. Manliness for each of us starts and ends by taking dominion in the selves and the situations within which we find ourselves (this is why Peterson’s ‘clean your room’ is such a good starting point).
Now it's quite possible to suggest that one of the signal problems feeding into a crisis of masculinity in our times (bearing in mind there's always going to be one) can be that the gender roles on offer within our specific culture (whichever one that is) can often (as noted earlier) be impossible to fulfill in light of the specific form of our own maleness.  This tension between the expectations inherent in 1 and the possibilities that can be realized in 3 was something I remember hearing friends from my Mars Hill period expressing extreme frustration about.  There were men who knew what the culturally endorsed script of masculinity was supposed to be and despaired of ever attaining it.  I tended toward the surmise that since the script was unattainable and probably ultimately insane there was no point in even attempting it.  Why try to go do what can't be done?  But there was a tension and the tension, for anyone who heard even two of eighteen years worth of Driscoll sermons, was that Mark (and Grace, too) explicitly and implicitly held themselves up as embodying and successfully attaining the goals and benchmarks of the prescribed modes of masculinity and femininity articulated in teaching and preaching.  That was why as the narrative presented in Real Marriage had time to marinade in the public sphere doubts about whether Mark and Grace Driscoll had really lived up to and lived out any of the ideals they espoused became a real question for members and probably even staff. 

That gets us to 2, ,and the problem being that a great deal of what passes for 2, ,Christian teaching that has bearing upon male roles can often seem to be nothing more than a ratification of a set of categories from 1, the gender roles on offer within our specific culture.  The possibility that the specific form of our own maleness might put us, so to speak, completely at odds with either 1 or 2 is not necessarily something Roberts has addressed but I don't doubt that for those former Mars Hill attenders and members attending gay friendly churches a tension between what 2 was in the teaching of Mark Driscoll and the 3 experienced by men and women with same sex attraction could reach a breaking point.  Roberts 4 is, in many practical senses, a completely meaningless category.  Is the baseline of measurement individual flourishing, social cohesion or something else?  The tensions inherent in 1 through 3, at this point, have been noted. 

The other reasons 4 doesn't particularly matter ... is in Roberts' comment as follows:
I am very much opposed to aligning myself with any one particular vision of masculinity. We should be practicing many different forms of masculinity and practicing these different forms of masculinity in ways that differ according to the men that we are and the contexts in which we find ourselves. Every model of masculinity our there is broken in some way. However, we should work to redeem healthy visions of masculinity in the contexts in which we find ourselves. This will almost certainly look very different for you than it looks for me.
If you refuse to put a label on it then what you're saying can't be pre-emptively dismissed as appealing to an ideology or asset of stereotypes.  At one level that is good inasmuch as you're not attempting to distill everything to be said on the subject down to a set of bromides and formulas.  Granting that there is not necessarily any one ideal for masculinity and that the forms of masculinity on offer by the world are marred by sin is a useful and necessary observation.

But then there is the rather simple and blunt question of why, if this is so obviously the case, someone like Roberts should have any answers at all as to what masculinity in a healthy form is as distinct from what it isn't.  For all sorts of non-Marxists the problem with Marx was not so much that he failed to articulate what the problem was with the capitalism of his time and place, the problem was that as non-Marxists see it, Marx's proposed solution was nothing more than a hand-waiving proclamation that there would be a revolution and things would get fixed.  That is, well, not so different from an eschatological crisis event that ushers in a new utopian era and ... don't we have the oracles of the prophet Isaiah already?  So it is with someone like a Roberts, it's easy enough to point out what the toxic modes of masculinity are, indeed all sorts of progressives have been talking about toxic masculinity for a few years now, so there's nothing much to be said for observing that masculinity can be like capitalism.  The question of what the healthy vision of masculinity is going to look like is less clear. 

But ... this is the same Alastair Roberts who wrote about why women should not be priests and had concerns about the cliché of the strong female character inspired by a reaction to a trailer for a movie in which one of the more memorably stupid lines in the trailer didn't actually end up in the theatrical cut of the movie, i.e. Rogue One.  I saw Rogue One, I even liked Rogue One, but what sold me on a matinee wasn't the Jyn Erso character but the fact that Donnie Yen was in the film and I dug Iron Monkey and the Ip Man trilogy and thought Hero was decent.  Before I heard the news I wasn't interested in Rogue One, and then when I heard Donnie Yen would be in it I decided, sure, now this interests me. 

Overthinking It had a more interesting rebuttal to the strong female character cliché more than a decade ago when it hit a notable low in the form of Megan Fox talking about her character was a strong female character in the promotional campaign for the first Michael Bay Transformers film. If Micaela Barnes could be a "strong female character" then the cliché had been drained of practical meaning even in terms of cinematic fantasy.  Now ... there's a case to be made that Optinus Prime was constantly getting saved by late-stage adolescents for the entire franchise but that's an argument for some other context.  One of the more salient jabs in the piece, if Alastair Robert read it he might remember it, too, was made by way of observation--sure, the damsel in distress was a damsel in distress in the old films who had to be rescued by some guy but the some guy was generally played by a Cary Grant or a Humphrey Bogart or, in more recent films, by a Harrison Ford.  So it wasn't all bad. 

Then by Michael Bay's Transformers Micaela is the trophy for ... Sam Witwicky?  Shia Labeouf?  Ladies, we have a problem.  When this is the guy who gets the trophy girlfriend ...  something has gone awry.  Roberts could probably agree something has, in fact ,gone awry, when a whiny petulant weasel-boy with an entitlement complex is the protagonist of a story whose only avenue to participation is, as gets demonstrated by the end of the fifth film in the franchise, functionally a celestially granted birthright dating back to the days of King Arthur.  If anything that particular case study becomes more terrible as the franchise has rolled on.  In the end, the "strong female character" is window dressing for some far more conventional trope to which the female character is generally expected to eventually conform to in the action genre, at least in Anglo-American contexts.  Michelle Yeoh movies are ... not quite the same thing but that's not really something I want to post about just now.

And as Overthinking It's author put things, it was a bit more vividly illustrated why the "strong female character" trope was not just stupid but insultingly stupid to both men and women alike.  Roberts' objections amount to artfully assembled bits of browbeating invocations of clichés about socialization and gendered norms. 

And this is why what he writes, as much as I often agree with it, comes across like a set of useless, generic bromides. It is also why, should an egalitarian read what Roberts has to write about these topics, he comes across like a fusty English man of the sort who doesn't want to just concede he's fundamentally appealing to a series of rote clichés about gender in the foundational nature of what he's ultimately arguing for, and is only able to avoid this charge by dint of being so deliberately vague as to preclude the possibility of being identified as appealing to natural law and essentialist accounts of identity.  Even progressives who fully on board with LGBTQI causes would grant, pretty readily, that the complex of variables that socially and biologically inform sexuality and gender in any individual are complex. 

There could be two ways in which to understand what's presented as a crisis of masculinity in contemporary post-industrial Western society, rather broadly construable at the level of class. 
As noted earlier, there’s an unresolved tension across 1, 2 and 3 that isn’t addressed. There’s a tension between the gender roles on offer within our specific culture at two levels, first with Christian teaching that has bearing upon male roles and then with specific forms of maleness.  I.e. more and more males in the middle class don’t WANT to fulfill their culturally scripted roles as they have been handed down in culture (I.e. the slacker bro).  Males in the lower classes are finding that they CAN’T fulfill those roles or scripts of masculinity that are proffered as the passage into adulthood for men, though it is precisely those masculinity scripts on offer that are least practically attainable for these kinds of men that people in formal teaching positions with academic or ecclesial clout keep making a point of telling men they should be fulfilling.  Depending on the nature of the cultural scripts for manliness on offer the can be, arguably,  roles on offer that are considered inimical to Christian teaching that has bearing on gender roles.   

At the level of the middle and upper classes there can be a crisis perceived in the way that those men who could embrace the scripts of masculinity on offer in 1 are simply not doing so or, for Christians, the men who are embracing the scripts on offer are doing so in a way that violates 2, or that insists that 3 is completely up to what amounts to consumer power because it doesn't really exist and 4 is right out.  For those who are part of those classes that are capable of shaping cultural discourse that's not seen as a problem and, if anything, the problem is perceived as an unwillingness on the part of any number of groups to not regard 3 as a consumer option. 

The crisis of masculinity at a more general level of presentation within Anglo-American Christian discourse could be construed as a crisis of the failures of the underclass males to live up to roles expected of them in category 2, though roles in 1 are dwindling in the post-industrial West in terms that fit 2 and if males are caught on the horns of such a dilemma in which 1 and 3 don’t seem possible or 1 is obtained via 3 in a way that subverts 2 then we’ll get a bunch of males making the social and economic decision to do that, as the neo Reformed have been bleating about for decades.
Roberts is, however, aware that capitalism and its attendant social changes have had a role to play in the emergence of things like feminism.
§  1. a. No, I think that would be a simplistic claim. Male tyranny is part of the picture, but there is a lot more to it than that. Much contemporary feminism wouldn’t exist were it not for the technologically advanced capitalist society that we live in. The Industrial Revolution and subsequent developments led to the radical disruption, destabilization, or breakdown of the gendered social orders that preceded it. These old orders often involved a great deal of abuse (much as the new order involves a lot of abuse), but it wasn’t the supposed structurally abusive character of the old patriarchal order that gave rise to feminism, so much as the situation that arose as it crumbled before other forces (as Marx observed, wherever the bourgeoisie gained the upper hand, they ‘put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations’). Familial bonds and the societal structure arising from that were eclipsed by detached market relations between individuals. Labour rapidly migrated from the domestic and related realms to the capitalist workplace. As a result, women were increasingly marginalized and the household, no longer the primary site of production and social reproduction, became a reservation ever more detached from the meaningful life and activity of society.
So if we get all those women married off and back in the kitchen things will get better? The proposal that industrialization and capitalism combined to marginalize women might be a contested way of reading history there.  We're a century past the suffragette movement and some of those figures were admirable and some of those figures were basically terrorists.  Whatever was thought lost with the emergence of modernity, modernity isn't going away. 

This next part could be particularly contentious for at least some feminists and a number of women I know.  Roberts proposed there was a trade off ... :

Women have traded the sort of sexual power that they generally enjoyed in less developed societies for an independent economic power that allows them to compete more directly with men as detached, yet weaker, individual agents. In both societies, women had to deal with male power, which can often be abusive, but feminism is in large measure an adaption to a situation where the dynamics of male power creation have seriously unsettled the sorts of order that exists in less developed societies. The Industrial Revolution was a sort of radicalization of the male libido dominandi, through which it became increasingly untethered from the female creational calling. Where the male libido dominandi so sets the terms, women are faced with the choice of merely submitting to their marginalization, finding some way to tether the sphere of male action more firmly to the sphere of female action so that they might better overlap and intertwine again, or abandoning traditional female spheres to compete on men’s terms and realms, and perhaps feminize male realms a bit. The chosen trade-offs mean that women are largely competing at a disadvantage on the same terms as men, rather than exercising a different species of power over against them. It means that, rather than being arrested, a radicalized libido dominandi is made a largely unrivalled principle of society’s life, even though in the long term it is probably unsustainable.
b. The virtues are manly because they are the virtues that are sine quibus non for the realization of mature manhood. While such virtues can clearly be found in women too, they are not so distinctively prominent in the firmament of ‘womanly’ character. Manliness is, in practically every society, recognized to be a matter of realized agency. A man must ‘prove’ himself to be a man, while women’s entrance into womanhood generally takes a different sort of form, in which tests and demonstrations of agency are less prominent (although some measure of proof of agency is necessary for demonstration of adulthood). Self-mastery, competence, honour, and other traits like them are all features of well-developed agency, of a man’s capacity to function as a force out into the world. Manliness also takes masculine traits and elevates them to a more honed and realized form, ensuring that virility is expressed in a self-controlled but powerful manner. Manliness enables men to realize the calling that especially falls to them, as the task of dominion and subduing the world are placed more heavily upon the shoulders of men, while the tasks of fruitfulness and multiplication are placed more heavily upon women. [emphasis added]
At this point I've written a lot on the matter, more than I had initially intended to, but I would propose that the tricky phrase in the end of this excerpt is "the task of dominion".  If the dominion mandate was not revoked by given difficulty (i.e. an impossibility) of fulfillment then perhaps we could note that the desires and aims of men and women are subjected to mortality and judgment, whatever those desires and aims might be at, if you will, an archetypal level. 

But if not all Christians presuppose the legitimacy of what’s colloquially known as The Cultural Mandate then that’s part of the problem.  IF the expectation of manliness is defined ultimately toward a teleological view of maleness that envisions men as having an obligation and opportunity to subdue the world and exercise dominion then any man who sees his role as NOT exercising that dominion or defining that dominion differently could be misunderstood.  I.e. there's an eschatological question lurking within a dominion mandate as to what the dominion mandate is for if the world in this present form is passing away.   If the world in its present form is passing away, if we are enjoined to not love the world nor the things of the world, then there's a tension within an application of the a cultural mandate or dominion mandate as an outworking of the commands from Genesis in the creation account. 

The idea that men have the burden of establishing dominion and subduing the world while women have more a burden of fruitfulness and multiplication sounds great to people already disposed to take the dominion mandate as applicable regardless of any potential eschatological break that may have been introduced by Christ's death on the cross. 


There's a difference between writing thousands or tens of thousands of words about what would be beneficial to young men in their character formation and giving them some kind of job.  At that level of practical distinction a Christian conservative or traditional response at the level of theory to defend a traditional role of some kind can simply be "be warm and well fed" if there's no concrete assistance.  That there are young men who are willing to eat but not work is granted. :) Those guys have always been around, too.

POSTLUDE 2-12-2018

Not that Roberts is in any way unique expressing concern about how contemporary culture produces childish men but when the benchmark for functional adulthood can so regularly be conceived as being in terms of married life and childrearing for men and women alike it's a script that gets ... predictable.  There have been times over the last twenty years I've listened to and read socially conservative Anglo-American Christian scholarship and social analysis and have wondered whether or not at some level they would, if it weren't going to violate the first table of the Decalogue, throw in Hera as a goddess to be venerated.  That the goalposts of functional adulthood so steadily get cast in terms of married life and childrearing isn't so much a bad thing as a predictable script.

That social conservatives tend to focus verbiage and attention on those men who are presumed to be in a position where they "could" marry but don't rather than discuss practical instruction for those who for various reasons may feel they can't marry is something I've noticed over the last ... twenty years.  Within the scene of the former Mars Hill there wasn't a shortage of men who wanted to be married but the perennial vexation of many of those men was that they couldn't find a woman willing to marry them.  There could be a point at which what socially conservative Christians might want to do instead of keep talking about all the reasons that men who "could" marry aren't marrying and thus putting off adulthood, they could take a page from Richard Baxter's writings and lay out all the reasons that a man should not consider getting married. Despite the fact that the apostle Paul did not lay down a law amidst writing what he thought was beneficial regarding marriage and non-marriage, socially conservative Anglo-American Christians have seemed pretty determined to argue that, basically, Paul was wrong or that Paul was really arguing that unless you are called by God to smuggle Bibles to non-white people in a foreign country where Christianity is not the state religion you should just become a real grown-up already and get married.  In earlier epochs of Christian life it seemed there was some understanding that if a man was not cut out for marriage there was a fairly large body of literature advising those men on how to live in a Christian way ... although that body of literature might not necessarily be largely or distinctly Protestant, perhaps. 

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