On All Saints Day: How To Be A Man

There has been a great deal of talk in recent years about a crisis in masculinity in the Western world.  There are regular complaints that men are not living up to their responsibilities in their families, even as policy makers make it easier for men not to take any responsibility whatsoever.  It has long been argued by the more radical elements of the feminist movement that men are simply unnecessary, and in response to that philosophy the more demonically-influenced elements of the scientific community are attempting to remove the need for male DNA from the process of artificial conception.

We are often told that in the present day, most men are really little more than coddled adolescents, who need to be pushed out of the way in favor of men who think and behave more like women – or to be more precise, a certain type of woman.  We are little more than bumbling oafs incapable of doing anything other than making a mess, giving rise to unnecessary wars, exhibiting bad manners, and acting like misogynist pigs.  Governments seem increasingly bent on blurring the lines between the sexes, both domestically and militarily, in order to serve the false notion that there are no fundamental differences between men and women other than genitalia.

Last evening at the annual Vigil of All Saints at the priory of the Dominican House of Studies here in Washington, the student brothers selected four 20th century saints and blesseds for us to focus on in our meditations. One of these was Blessed Bartolomé Blanco Márquez of Spain, who was executed by the leftists in 1936 during the Spanish Civil War, for refusing to join their forces to fight General Franco.  His last letter to his girlfriend, written the day before his execution, was read out in the darkness of the chapel, a space illuminated only by candlelight, and the reading of these words seemed to touch a great many people – including, it must be said, this scrivener.  For when it was concluded, there were audible sniffles echoing around the nave.

I reproduce the text of that letter here, for your reflection.  It is not only a very modern window into what it means to give one’s life in faithfulness to Christ, but it is also an insight into true masculinity.  Bartolomé was just 21 years old when he wrote this letter, yet despite his youth this fellow clearly “got” what it means to be both a Christian and a man.

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Provincial prison of Jaen, Oct. 1, 1936

My dearest Maruja:

Your memory will remain with me to the grave and, as long as the slightest throb stirs my heart, it will beat for love of you. God has deemed fit to sublimate these worldly affections, ennobling them when we love each other in him. Though in my final days, God is my light and what I long for, this does not mean that the recollection of the one dearest to me will not accompany me until the hour of my death.

I am assisted by many priests who — what a sweet comfort — pour out the treasures of grace into my soul, strengthening it. I look death in the eye and, believe my words, it does not daunt me or make me afraid.

My sentence before the court of mankind will be my soundest defense before God’s court; in their effort to revile me, they have ennobled me; in trying to sentence me, they have absolved me, and by attempting to lose me, they have saved me. Do you see what I mean? Why, of course! Because in killing me, they grant me true life and in condemning me for always upholding the highest ideals of religion, country and family, they swing open before me the doors of heaven.

My body will be buried in a grave in this cemetery of Jaen; while I am left with only a few hours before that definitive repose, allow me to ask but one thing of you: that in memory of the love we shared, which at this moment is enhanced, that you would take on as your primary objective the salvation of your soul. In that way, we will procure our reuniting in heaven for all eternity, where nothing will separate us.

Goodbye, until that moment, then, dearest Maruja! Do not forget that I am looking at you from heaven, and try to be a model Christian woman, since, in the end, worldly goods and delights are of no avail if we do not manage to save our souls.

My thoughts of gratitude to all your family and, for you, all my love, sublimated in the hours of death. Do not forget me, my Maruja, and let my memory always remind you there is a better life, and that attaining it should constitute our highest aspiration.

Be strong and make a new life; you are young and kind, and you will have God’s help, which I will implore upon you from his kingdom. Goodbye, until eternity, then, when we shall continue to love each other for life everlasting.

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Ble

Blessed Bartolomé Blanco Márquez (1914-1936)

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Spandex Heroism in a Relativist Age

Those of my readers who follow me on Twitter know that every month, I put on a Superman suit and take an amusing photograph to use for my AVI – i.e., Twitterspeak for a profile picture.  The fun part of this exercise for me over the past year has not been taking the actual picture, since to be frank I hate having my picture taken and am decidedly not photogenic, but rather getting to play along with the superhero persona.  In a man of my years, joking about a secret identity or kryptonite in my coffee may at first glance seem an example of the perpetual adolescence foisted upon those of us who are, loosely speaking, the children of the “Me Generation”. Yet there is a different purpose at work here, which has more to do with trying to get people to think about what Western culture taught us for centuries about right from wrong, childhood versus adulthood, and about being dominated by passions instead of being governed by reason.

The adult child phenomenon is not new, of course.  It has been with us since the first cavewoman decided not to let her adult son go off and live in another cave once he had reached maturity.   This type of delayed adulthood used to be ridiculed more regularly in the arts, such as in literature and cinema, backed up by a pan-societal scorning of such behavior.  Today however, it seems we have been creating more examples of Lord Septimus and Johnny Cammareri, rather than discouraging men from following such a dead-end path.

What has been in effect the systematic emasculation of the Western male is an outgrowth of the type of parental coddling which began to take root in society in the 1980’s and ’90’s, and which continues to hold sway over our society at present.  It insists, paradoxically, that all children are special, while simultaneously looking at children as the disposable products of sexual intercourse.  It is a mindset which led, among other practices, to insisting that all children being given a prize for simply performing in a competitive event, even if they were absolutely terrible at whatever they were supposed to have been doing.  It was only natural that out of such circumstances a type of genetic male would emerge who would not want to go out into the cold, cruel world, when it was so much nicer to stay home and read comic books, smoke weed, and play video games in your parents’ basement.

In my case however, being a superhero in social media is rather an effort to try to make people think in modern terms about ancient topics crucial to the survival of our civilization as a whole, such as virtue, human dignity, and standing up for those incapable of doing so for themselves.  Woefully too often young adults, thanks to the poor state of education in most of the Western world at present, did not learn many of the ancient myths which lie at the foundations of our civilization, as our forbearers did. They have not gleaned the lessons to be learned from tales of badly behaved gods and brave, impetuous humans, which allowed children transitioning to responsible adulthood to come to discern what was right and wrong, what was worthy of praise and what was worthy of punishment.  Whereas reasonably educated men of a century ago would have immediately understood someone being referred to as a Prometheus figure, today “Prometheus” only conjures up images of the latest installment of the “Alien” movie franchise.

In a contemporary context however, even if our shared cultural narrative of the past few thousand years has sunk below the radar, one thing that most of us experienced, even as educators abandoned the classics in favor of the touchy-feely, “everyone is special” nonsense of the past thirty years, was Saturday morning cartoons.  We saw characters like Johnny Quest or Action Man or the members of the Justice League fighting against naked evil, in ways which echoed the ancient myths, even if we did not realize at the time that we were revisiting these old stories.  These were not men who moved between shades of gray, but rather who recognized that there are indeed moral absolutes, good things and bad things, and behaved accordingly.

Today even these heroes have been tainted by the psychology of self-centered shoe-gazing, which is not only a disappointing state of affairs, but also antithetical to human experience.  They are often little more than confused children riding around inside giant bodies.  As the present incarnations of long-established superheroes have come to look more and more like the steroid-swollen monsters that now saunter around our professional athletic fields, without a care as to their own moral character or how their behavior will be perceived by the public – particularly the children who look up to them – we have seen our culture’s sense of moral absolutes commensurately shrinking.

In the myths, like in the old comic books and cartoons, there is always a transition from seemingly ordinary fellow to man of action, which is meant to parallel the transition from boyhood to manhood.  That transition determines whether the protagonist becomes who he is meant to be, or whether he remains a background player in someone else’s story.  In the process, two important changes have to take place to avoid the traps of relativism, indecision, and perpetual emotional infancy, for of course irrational children are ruled by fleeting whims and temporary emotions; rational adults learn how to control these impulses, and harness them to bring about good ends, or at the very least thwart evil purposes.

First, if you are willing to suffer through the transition, you will find that you are capable of far more than you thought possible. No matter what your resources, and no matter how easily you may be able to accomplish certain tasks or exhibit certain talents, it is in moments of crisis when you come to learn how very fragile the little plastic bubble you have created for yourself to live in happens to be.  Indeed, returning to the underlying theme of this post, making this change is rather like removing one of those impossibly difficult plastic clamshells that are molded around action figures hanging on a display rack in a toy store. When that bubble bursts, and that packaging is cut away, you have to learn to cope with the world outside if you are going to be an adult, and not a child.

Second, if you do indeed survive that bursting of your bubble, you have a choice to make. You will have to decide whether you are willing to take a long, hard look at yourself, freed from all of that self-reflective cocoon you were enveloped in.  You will have to come to see, not what you thought that you were, nor what others told you that you are, but rather who you actually are.  That can be a very difficult process, particularly for those who have no grounding whatsoever in anything other than the legalized hedonism which our society has worshiped for some years now.

Yet the reward of taking on this challenge, stepping out of the comfortable, and doing a frank assessment of yourself, is that you will unquestionably be the better for it.  You will be increasingly dissatisfied with and indeed incapable of going back to the way things were before. Once being safe and coddled is not only no longer possible, but no longer wanted, the actual man will and must appear.  He cannot be sealed back into that comfortable package, once that package has been cut open and he has had a chance to examine himself closely in the light of day.

Myths and stories about ordinary men doing amazing things, whether they originate on the island of Ithaca or in the town of Smallville, are meant to encourage and warn.  They ask us to try to be more than we believe  – or have been told – we are capable of, and to choose to do good rather than follow evil.  They serve as guideposts for those of us who do not wish to be babied our entire lives, neither by society nor the state.   They strip away the enthronement of childish, incontinent aspects of human nature, so in the ascendancy at present, which ask us to sit by and do and say nothing, for fear of disturbing someone else’s phobia or fetish.

My hope is that the joking, spandex heroism I display in social media is something which causes you to sit up, take notice, and laugh.  Yet I am also trying to get you to think, not only about who and what you are, but about whether the lessons and messages you have been fed by our contemporary society are actually true.  Are you going to stand up and be counted, or are you going to go along to get along? For in the end I suspect you will discover, as I have, that the chimerical values of the present age are simply a means of keeping an entire population in perpetual docile, childish ignorance.  And whatever it may appear on the outside, you cannot be a man, super or otherwise, unless you learn to reject that kind of relativism.

Outtake

Setting up a test shot at the (messy) Fortress of Solitude

Where Have All the Men Gone?

Like many intelligent men of my acquaintance, I’ve always carried something of a torch for Nigella Lawson, the well-known British television cook, popular author, and media personality.  I’m not sure whether it’s her exotically maternal beauty, or the way she brings an intelligent sensuality to the enjoyment of good food, or just that slightly husky, posh voice that sends the heart a-fluttering, but there you are.  If, as has been commented before, Dame Helen Mirren is the thinking man’s actress, then Nigella is clearly the thinking man’s foodie.

Thus when I learnt of what took place recently between her and her husband, PR guru and promoter of exceptionally bad art Charles Saatchi, at my favorite restaurant in London, I was absolutely appalled.  If there were no pictures of the event, one simply would not have believed it.  Mr. Saatchi, who is 70, is not exactly superhero material either in size or anything else, and one would think that a lady as intelligent as Ms. Lawson would not have allowed such an event to take place.  If someone had asked me what I thought would have played out in such a scenario, my prediction would have been that the moment the bounder reached to grab his wife’s throat, she would have jumped up from the table and left.  Instead, she simply took the assault he dished out.

Ms. Lawson and her children have apparently moved out of the home she shared with her husband, who has been cautioned by the police.  Fortunately she is in a position with respect to family, friends, and resources to get help, which sadly many victims of domestic violence are not.  I hope that both of these people get the help they need, since as we all know these cycles of abuse tend to repeat themselves.

Yet what I want us to think about in this situation is not why these incidents of domestic violence happen among supposedly educated people, or how to address them, since to that end I would direct you to an excellent piece on these questions by Conservative MP Dr. Sarah Wollaston in today’s Torygraph.  I want to ask a different question raised by the incident and specifically by these photographs, which might not occur to you at first glance.  Specifically: why did not a single man in that restaurant stand up to defend Ms. Lawson?

In asking this question I am not in any way discounting the ladies among my readers, who of course have an equal moral obligation to do something to aid someone in distress if they are capable of doing so.  After all, we only recently saw the incredible bravery of three British women who tried to aid the victim of a brutal murder carried out on a British soldier by Muslim fundamentalists in London.  Nor am I advocating a change to the judicial code, whereby one has a legal obligation to involve oneself in other people’s domestic disputes.

Yet we should not need a written code provision to tell us that when he sees someone physically assaulting a lady in public, no matter the identity of the assaulter, a gentleman intervenes.  How a restaurant full of management, waitstaff and patrons, let alone passersby outside where the couple were sitting, could simply stand there and do nothing EXCEPT TAKE PICTURES, simply boggles my mind.  It is clear that many of us men need to take a long, hard look at ourselves, and ask what has happened to our sense of honor, in standing up for those who are not in a position to do so for themselves, particularly women and children.

If this attitude strikes you as rather old-fashioned, then good: it’s meant to.  It seems we have so emasculated ourselves as a culture that, bizarrely enough, treatment of women has grown worse, not better.  She has become simply another sack of finite genetic material, and not a beautiful gift from God, as Eve was to Adam, meant to be treasured and protected.  Whatever our supposed multi-cultural sophistication today, the fact remains that if you choose to stand by and do nothing in a situation like this, then please do not have the gall to call yourself a gentleman, let alone a man. A real man does not allow weaker people, particularly the ladies, to be taken advantage of by bullies.

A society which does nothing to help its weakest members is one riddled with relativism and sophistry, which Edmund Burke would recognize as lethal to its survival. So yes, fellow, you should open AND hold the door for women; allow them to go through the doorway ahead of you; pull out their chair for them when they want to sit at table, and so on.  Most of all, however, you should never look the other way when you see your sister in distress.  For even if no one sees you walk by or avert your gaze, you can be sure that the Man Upstairs certainly has seen it.  And He is the most impartial of all judges.

Nigella

This should never have happened.