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A New And Better Kind Of Man

A New And Better Kind Of Man June 22, 2021

If you haven’t gotten around to reading Jesus and John Wayne, K du Mez has a shortened adaptation of her essential argument over at The Daily Beast. In this version, it’s not evangelicals rallying around their lodestar John Wayne, but falling hard for Mel Gibson in Braveheart:

When the film was released, in 1995, evangelicals were in a time of transition. Their political and cultural values had been forged during the Cold War era, but by the 1990s the Cold War had come to an end, “traditional” gender roles were in retreat, and with the Clintons in the White House, the Religious Right seemed in disarray. All of this made for confusing times, and an evangelical men’s movement emerged in force to address this confusion. Seeking a path between an outmoded machismo and the emasculating impulses of modern life, organizations like Promise Keepers promoted a “soft patriarchy,” a kinder, gentler model of masculine authority. Across the nation, millions of men sang and prayed together at rallies where they promised to lead their families and their nation. To some evangelicals, this softer patriarchy felt a bit too soft. Appearing at the height of the evangelical men’s movement, Braveheart offered a more vigorous model of Christian manhood, one that would better equip men to fight the ascendant culture wars.

From thence to the adoration of Trump was the obvious step:

In fact, Trump embodied the rugged warrior masculinity that many evangelicals had come to expect in their political leaders, in terms of ruthlessness if not actual physical form.

Every time I come across this sort of description of Mr. Trump I have to chuckle. I think it is the word “rugged” that undoes the whole theory. Was anyone looking for a “rugged warrior” in 2016? Isn’t the warrior terminology, however fatuous it sounds, something that Americans of every religious persuasion love? I’m sure the existence of a multi-billion dollar gaming industry is an anomaly and people are really happy to get rid of all warrior talk in politics. Anyway, the election was so long ago that no one can claim to remember (five whole years!). Of course, all that anxiety about the economy and immigration and abortion and China–all the usual troubles–in the end only amounted to a hill of racism and misogyny and that the people who rallied to Trump have put themselves beyond the proper bounds of human society, but that ground has been well-trod so never mind. Anyway, I happened upon the new and improved vision of masculinity yesterday, and I feel duty-bound to alert you to how life is now.  Over at the New York Times a father is feeling pretty bad about how his son doesn’t care too much about volunteering:

One of the main things I failed to instill in him is the habit of volunteering. I have been told that many people do this through organized religion, often by joining a church. Unfortunately, we are liberal, atheist cosmopolitans. We’re the kind of people who occasionally go to a protest, discover that it’s crowded, head home, stop at a new place for vegan tacos and feel good about ourselves, but not quite as good as we wanted to.

I assume the timing of the piece, around Father’s Day, was an effort to remind parents of the importance of decent, slightly less selfish, civic parenting. And certainly, I appreciate the light, self-deprecatory tone. Who among us has managed to properly bring up our children to care about other people? It’s an uphill slog, which is why, incidentally, so many people do benefit from organized religion, like church. It’s nice to have a little bit of divine aid for an impossible task. For the rest of everyone, however, there is a new subscription box:

After a three-month virtual program at the Silicon Valley start-up accelerator Y Combinator (which launched Airbnb, DoorDash, Instacart, Coinbase, Twitch and Reddit), Ms. Jackley raised $1.25 million for Alltruists, a subscription service she started this month that aims to make me a better parent, and, more important, feel like one.

Mmmhhhmmm. It’s the feelings about things that matter the most. We all know that. Oh, and also the spending of the money:

She’s joining the market for deconstructing religion that would impress Friedrich Nietzsche. I’m already spending each night meditating with Laszlo via the Headspace app, which gamifies our path to enlightenment. (Current run streak: 25 days; total time meditated: 30 hours; average duration: seven minutes. Total days without mentioning meditation in conversation: zero.) I’ve also considered a subscription box called Days United that helps Jewish, Chinese and Indian families celebrate a variety of holidays. (I don’t know much about Lag Ba’Omer, but I’m interested now that I know it can involve making s’mores.)

All joking aside, this is tragic. The person struggling along with his child, having to invent everything over from scratch, accessing the wisdom of the ages through an accumulation of apps is held up by the NYTimes as some sort of guide to troubled and anxious parents. He, having received a free box from this doyen-entrepreneur probably earned actual cash to write this advertisement, sorry article. So anyway, the person who invented the box is totally equipped to guide families along in feeling better about their social activism. She used to be “evangelical,” at least for a while, and then she did some time as Muslim and traveled the world and stuff. Eventually, she and her family were able to chart their own course:

When they came back, they started what they called “Home Church,” an hour on Sundays when the whole family would sing, pray and read a religious story. This, Ms. Jackley figured, was something she could sell to the spiritually curious, a potentially huge market: In 2020, for the first time, Gallup found that fewer than 50 percent of Americans belonged to a church, synagogue or mosque, down from 70 percent in 1999.

I wonder why that is? I wonder why so few Americans belong to a church? There must be a reason, but probably no one can know what it is. Anyway, a relation of Mark Zuckerberg also likes this subscription box because it turns out it’s not enough just to post on social media that you believe in certain kinds of causes:

“Having been on the front lines of Facebook, I’m a huge advocate of using social media to communicate your passions. But a lot of people think that’s all they have to do,” Ms. Zuckerberg said. “Any family that buys this box has moved past slacktivism.”

Wow, what a glorious vision for the future. I know that if I were to sit my sons down and explain to them that they need to care about other people more and that they are going to read a little pamphlet and then build a little house out of tiny blocks and then make a key chain for the homeless (that was the focus of the first box–homelessness….to the tune of fifty dollars insert string of amazed emojis here) they would be totally transformed out of their awful selfish toxic masculinity and be all like, ‘wow mom, now I care about other people!’

So anyway, I understand that this new and better masculinity is the way things are now, and I will try to keep silent about it. But it’s going to be hard for me because, well, it’s so pitiable, so cheap, so much a handful of dust, such a decadent and feeble vision of our common humanity.


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