Philip Zimbardo and Nikita Duncan have written a marvelous little book called “The Demise of Guys”. In reality it’s little more than an expanded version of this TED talk, and is far more diagnostic than prescriptive. Still, the first step in fixing anything is determining the extent to which it’s broken, and what some of the causes of that brokenness might be. If exposing dysfunction and it’s underlying causes is important, these two shine bright, relentless sunshine on the state of men, and what we see isn’t pretty. Each chapter is a short, footnoted documentation of some aspect of male identity crisis. Chapter titles themselves are enough to give you an orientation to the problem: “Get Everything, Do Nothing”, “Unstable Role Models, tarnished trust”, “Where’s Dad?”, “Why buy the cow when you can have the milk free?”, “School’s Out – now what?”, “High on Life, or High on Something”, “Back away from the doughnut”, “Just Press Play: Porn and Video Games”, “Dynamics of Porn”, “Chronic Stimulation, Chronic Dissatisfaction”, “Billy is in his room”… and many more.
Here are a few quotes:
“…society is not giving the support, means or places for young men to even be motivated (towards good citizenship, healthy relationships, positive self-care)… All of society – from politics to media to classroom to our very own families – is a major contributor to this demise because they are inhibiting guys intellectual, creative and social abilities right from the start.”
(Many men)…”love to excape the so called real world and readily slip into alternative worlds for stimulation. More and more they’re living in other worlds that exclude girls – or any direct social interaction, for that matter.”
“It is predicted that women will earn 60 percent of bachelor’s, 63 percent of master’s and 54 percent of doctoral degrees by 2016.”
(Relationship with) “…girls equals likely failure; safe equals the retreat into online and fantasy worlds that, with regular practice, become ever more familiar, predictable and, in the case of video gaming, more controllable.”
There is oh so much more to share, but perhaps you get the point. The convergence zone of technology, obesity, global economics, and dysfunctional families and educational systems are creating the perfect storm of a “world system” which erodes the male identity. All of this reminds me of Ephesians 6 and the “cosmic powers” of which Paul speaks. These powers aren’t always personal demons – sometimes they’re systems that become entrenched in cultures and remain blindly accepted or tolerated in spite of the fact that they’re destroying people. Such systems, throughout history, have ranged from temple prostitution and female circumcision to the celebration of smoking, in spite of its known health consequences. Presently there are numerous systems in place that are each, individually, destructive. Taken together these systems have a negative synergy that make things even worse.
The church can play a role in addressing this and, just off the top of my head, here are some things we can and must do:
1. Cast a vision for holiness as wholeness. I’ll address this more fully in a separate post, but the reality is that we’re boring an entire generation to death in the church, through the language we use, and the emasculated vision of successful Christian as nothing more, really, than “sin management”. In truth, we’re called to help each other live abundantly, body soul and spirit, so that out of a wise, robust, healthy, joyous, and full life, we can become servants to our world. This of course is what Jesus had in mind when he said we’re called to be rivers – pouring blessing into the world. Instead we’re offering people escape from hell as the big benefit for following Jesus. It’s a benefit, surely – but our failure to address the here and now, the kingdom and the whole person, is pushing the church into the land of meaningless activities.
2. Turn of the TV, and the Internet, and your Video Games – and fill the void with something real. It’s vital to see that we don’t yet know what’s happening to our brains as we begin spending more time in the virtual world than the real world. We do know this, though: the real world is where real intimacy, and transformation, and meaning happen. So all of us need to invest in relationships, and spend some time learning new skills like rock climbing, or dancing, or skiing, or playing on a soccer team, or doing whatever it is you do.
And now, without commentary:
3. Dads need to be strategic about spending time with their sons, both talking and doing stuff. It’s never too late for this.
4. Get outside.
5. Step away from the doughnut.
7. Eat real food.
9. Work at enjoying a real relationship with God – this can become the staring place for other great relationships.
10. Find ways to serve.
The book I’m reviewing makes me sad because I see the effects of these dysfunctions all around me. Increasingly I’m convinced that the church’s limited view of holiness, which addresses the spirit to the neglect of the soul (mind, will, and emotions) and body, is part of the problem. But a life deeply rooted in Christ begins with transformation of the spirit and spirals outward until everything, spirit, mind, will, emotions, food choices, exercise habits, socialization processes, sexuality, are all transformed, made new in Christ. I’m looking forward to seeing how following Christ wholly can help address this crisis.
I welcome your thoughts….