The Myth of the Macho Christ

The Myth of the Macho Christ August 17, 2015



Last week, I talked about the masculine qualities of protecting the weak, and exercising self-control, sexual and otherwise.  One reader responded:

If an affinity for babies and not having sex is manliness or courage or masculinity then some anemic nerd virgin gamer who babysits his cousins on the weekend is literally more manly and masculine than Achilles or Alexander the Great or Gengis Khan, since they fornicated. It’s absurd, but it’s truly the best approach to manliness people can come up with today. Actual manliness is unacceptable, so it has to be redefined as babysitting and not having sex. But described with real strong words. People want to throw men a bone because they care about their sons. But they can’t. They fail because actual manliness and masculinity imposes on women, and that’s officially out of bounds.

In charity, we’ll overlook the facts that Alexander the Great almost certainly had sex with men, and is best known for sitting down and crying, and we’ll  address the point that the commenter meant to make: that “actual manliness” means having sex whenever you want it; that “actual men” get women (and other weak people) to do what the men want, because that’s what’s best for everyone; and “actual men” don’t have time for little, feminine things, like children, or other people, or inaction. His point is that men have, until the last few decades, been admired mainly for their muscle and their ability to dominate.

So I asked:

What’s your opinion of Jesus? I’m sincerely curious. He didn’t fight back like a real man would. He just let them hang him there. And He was one of them virgins, too. Thoughts? Still holding out for a more masculine savior?

He responded:

No, I’m not saying virginity or holding babies precludes masculinity, but that it doesn’t define it at all. Not having sex didn’t make Jesus masculine. Sacrificing himself to crush the enemy and prevent group extinction is masculine, though, like Thermopoly. Maybe Alexander the Great was a bad example, but what about Achilles and Gengis Khan? The point is that virginity and taking care of babies isn’t manliness or masculinity. It’s the exact opposite—both virginity and holding babies are archetypal feminine things.

There’s a lot of confusion here.

First, there’s the statement that virginity is an “archetypal feminine thing.” I’m having a hard time  picturing a world where the women are all real women by being virgins, but the men are all men by being not-virgins. Even if we’re getting sheep involved, it just don’t add up. 

He also, possibly willfully, misunderstood me. No, there’s nothing especially masculine about taking care of babies or being a virgin. I never said there was. My point was that there’s nothing especially masculine about despising babies, and nothing especially masculine about despising virginity. That there is something very masculine about having the power to kill and rape, and deciding to use your strength for something else, instead.

The confusion here is a very old one. I mean very old, as in pre-War In Heaven-old. It’s the classic mistake of falling for a parody — of confusing a distortion for the real thing. We’re too smart to do the opposite of what we should do, but we’re dumb enough to fall for a disastrously bad imitation.

I remember hearing a Metropolitan Opera broadcast of Don Giovanni, where some gabbling announcer said, “You know, despite everything, you really have to admire the Don. I mean, look how he stood up to that statue! He really held his ground and didn’t let it push him around!”

Yarr, this is true. And then the demons with torches dragged him down to Hell, and the opera ends with a cheerful chorus of survivors, singing, essentially, “Boy, did he deserve it.”  The opera opens with the servant Leporello complaining about what a terrible boss he has, and at the end, he creeps off, presumably to find an employer who uses his noble birth justly and wisely, rather than as a license to murder and rape.

One of the main services that Christianity provided to the world (besides, you know, salvation) was to correct our model for femininity and masculinity, which got distorted almost as soon as the first man and woman were made. What needed correcting? Well, before Christ, the rest of the world was still laboring under the pagan delusion, the lapsarian distortion, that women are weak and that men are basically penises with swords. That’s what we revert to, when we listen to the distortions of sin. 

And what was the correction that Christ give us?  He gave us woman clothed with the sun, queen of the angels, crusher of serpents. And a savior who poured out His life, not as a symbol, but for real. Who made Himself powerless, immobile, transfixed on the cross, open to shame, to spitting, to insults and humiliation. When Jesus died on the cross, no one said, “Look at this display of strength!” They saw Him fall; they saw Him overpowered. They saw Him dead. Ecce homo.

What do we know about this model of masculinity? He chose to let it happen. He had strength, and He chose to put away His strength, His manhood (never mind His Godhood). He chose to reserve it until it could be used the right way. He didn’t come to make unmistakable display of His power and might. There are still millions who don’t see it! He came, instead, to strengthen us, to protect us, to empty Himself out so that we might have life.

This is the new model of manhood. This is the kind of strength we’re talking about when we hold up Christ as a model for men. We glory in the risen Christ, but it’s the crucifix that we hang in our homes and above the altar.

If I were a man, I wouldn’t like it, either.

So I don’t blame the commenter for trying to go back to the old pagan ways, where men are expected to be walking, fighting, self-serving penises. That’s a hell of a lot easier to understand than the crucified Christ. Even my dog can understand that model of masculinity.

Even a doglike man, or a doglike woman, or a doglike angel can fall for a distortion, a grossly simplified counterfeit. This is what Eve did when she was offered wisdom, and instead chose information. She chose the clever counterfeit. This is what Adam did when he had Eve to advise him, and instead used her as someone to blame. He chose a clever counterfeit.

This is what Satan did when he refused to serve. The angels were created to glorify God, but Satan mistook his free will a sign that He was too good to serve God. He thought his freedom meant he was made to be independent of God.

God knows, he’s on his own now.

Hey, men. It’s really easy to go raging around, hitting stuff, yelling at people, and stuffing your penis into anything that doesn’t fight back.  It’s really easy to impose on people, especially if you are bigger than the people you’re imposing on.

But that’s not what Jesus did. That’s not what Jesus did.

As long as we were talking about opera, let’s remember the Marriage of Figaro, where the faithless count uses his wealth, his power, and his charm to seduce his way through the first four acts. He only repents of his philandering ways when the masks are removed, and he discovers that the woman he was trying to seduce was his own betrayed wife in disguise.

The moral of this story, for those who have ears to hear is: look out for those disguises. Watch out for those counterfeits you think you want so badly. Maybe you’ll be lucky, and it will be your long-suffering spouse under the mask. Maybe she’ll forigve you, and maybe you’ll repent, and maybe all will be well.

Or maybe you’re not in an opera, and when the mask is pulled away, you’ll see who you’ve really fallen for. And then the demons come to take you away to your chosen home.

photo credit: ::paixão. via photopin (license)

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  • MightyMighty1

    Dang girl! Well done.

    I didn’t see those comments, but you seem to have a couple of guys who are just enraged by everything you say. There’s this ongoing theme of “I hate women because I am sexually frustrated, which couldn’t possibly be my own fault/problem.”

    Somehow this post seems to be seguing with the first half of Anna Karenina, which I’ve read this week. All the men seem confused on what is strength, and what is show, and so far I can’t tell if any of the women are less confused on the issue.

  • Chris W

    The confusion is there because the call to lead a chaste life is not masculine or feminine, it is human.

  • Kadee

    Amen and amen.

  • Jack_London

    Well intentioned, Mrs. Fisher, but I fear you miss a thing or two. It is precisely because of his Cross that Christ is the fulfillment of what we consider “macho,” not the antithesis of it. Recall that it was those that saw him die, St. Dismas the “thief” (likely a murderer and a revolutionary) and the Centurion, both men of violence, who proclaimed Christ’s divinity amidst his suffering. Similarly, it has been the suffering Christ that has that has gained the most evangelical mileage among cultures most closely associated with war, especially in Western Europe. The Roman soldiers converted in droves and painted the cross on their shields and banners, just as the Anglo Saxons a few centuries later exalted the Crucified Christ as something akin to a Viking Warrior in poems like the Dream of the Rood. In the early Feudal ages, the warlike ways of the European gentry, which were condemned by the clergy for their gangland behavior and permissive attitude toward rape and violence were converted into holders of a semi-sacramental knightly office, which sanctified both war and violence by translating it into a kind of martyrdom in the image of the suffering Christ (surely legions of fighting men journeying to the Holy Land with the Cross on their surcoats was no accident). Contrary to what you say, warlike, “macho” men throughout history looked at Christ on the cross and did in fact venerate him and his display of strength. It was the cowardly, effeminate men, who did not, hiding their faces in fear lest they hold their own manhoods cheap at the sight of the bleeding God. This is where I think both and your reader suffer some confusion.

    Alexander notwithstanding, who was in many ways the historical archetype of the classical manly man (men who took lots of male lovers weren’t as pansies, but were considered to be ultra-manly, like the mythical Heracles) and was *actually* best known for conquering most of the known world, there has been, both in scripture and in pagan texts, a bit of a proscription on unrestrained sexual activity. In scripture, male promiscuity is linked with “uxoriousness,” a feminizing trait that is seen as a weakness, not a strength. Samson, the strongest and most violent of the Judges, loses his strength because his lust for women blinds him to their treachery, just as Herod Antipas, a weak and effeminate figure in tradition, is manipulated into murdering John the Baptist through the whim of a pretty girl. Even the classical pagan authors attest to this. Achilles, a creature of lust and rage, might be the hero of the Iliad, but his heroism is met with sharp criticism from Homer precisely because of his willingness to be dragged into a feud over a woman. Even the mighty Heracles himself, the very patron of violence and promiscuity in Ancient Greece, was done in by the ignorance and treachery of his wife, Deinaira, because his own libido and rage brought him under a woman’s control, not the other way around (arguably, Don Giovanni can be read in this light too. Heroic has he might be initially when facing the ghost of the Commendatore, his bravery turns in the fear and horror as soon as he takes the hand of the father who’s daughter he seduced. He stands up to the Commendatore not because he knows what he’s doing in facing judgment, but because he doesn’t know what he’s doing).

    I fear that many well-meaning Christians, desiring to understand masculinity in a Christian light, essentially make the same mistake. Men are drawn to sex and violence (penises with swords, as you so exquisitely put it). This is no mistake, any more than it is that a man’s capacity for both generation and destruction reside in the same place. I think in recent times, Christians (or maybe just moderns in general), have expressed some unease with this reality, and have adopted a kind of “feminine primary” sense of masculine virtue, whereby a man needs a woman to justify his being a man. This is the “white knight” myth or “chivalry lite,” (which is based on a 19th century Romantic conception of chivalry, not the authentic medieval conception), that enjoins men to act like men insofar as women and children are concerned, but condemns them acting so in other circumstances. It is partially right, but I believe it misses the core of what Catholic anthropology is really about. Recall that God created Adam outside the garden, and it was only after he had wrestled the world, imposing his will on creation through his strength and intellect, that God gave him Eve. He did not struggle with the wild because of a woman, but because it was in his nature as a man to do so, and because of his obedience to God. Similarly, it is these propensities within a man, to create and destroy, or rather to create *by* destroying, that are sanctified by the Cross. The ultimate act of love is also the ultimate act of violence, just as the ultimate act of destruction is also the ultimate act of creation. This is the mystery of the Cross, which the pagans saw (though darkly), as well as a particularly masculine statement of it. The glory of God is man fully alive, and the glory of man is the Cross.

    • Antiphon411

      Well stated.

  • What the “questioner” is missing is that what our Lord is offering is quite honestly, much better than “sex”. What He is offering and is giving is True LOVE. Love beyond comprehension of the world. Much more than “feeling”, the real pure reality of LOVE. Something pure and everlasting where man & woman never change, are ever the same and the love between is eternal. THAT is macho. For THE Man to tell you, wait until I take you for all eternity, is as “Macho” as macho can be.

  • Simcha,
    Jesus isn’t the definition of masculinity or a role model simply because he died on a cross. (And I know you know that.) I wish you would have touched on it more. Lots of “men” before him and after him died on a cross at the hands of the Romans. Dying means nothing if your life means nothing. The self-sacrifice alone didn’t a model man make, it only elevated the message of his life and Resurrection.

    What made Jesus a male role model is how he lived and ministered. He chose to change the societal paradigm. Showing men, that one man, yes, one, can make a difference. He chose to love the poor, love children, associate with women in a time when they were deemed property or part of the dowry. It’s not just the sacrifice that defines a man. It’s the control he has over his emotion, courage, and conviction with which he leads his life. Jesus showed what was possible through faith in God and what power that belief had. He showed us that one man, or just one of his apostles with the faith the size of a mustard seed could move mountains. He served the poor, healed the “unclean,” and brought a new train of thought to wake a whole entire society out of its archaic paradigms.

    Though he wasn’t what society then, or now, would call a “father” since he had no biological children, with everything he did he modeled what masculinity should be. He honored his mother. He helped his father. He forgave. He healed and brought forth life with his words and deeds. He was the true servant leader.

    Jesus did display his true power and might. He certainly did. Not to win wars and wing the sword, no, but His death on the cross is exactly a display of strength! The man who could do no wrong, who gave his whole ministry to others, he was the one that was killed and hung up there for all to see. I doubt God would have chosen to just have him chained to rot in a prison where no one could see him. That wouldn’t have driven home the message of his whole life and purpose would it? It was the crowd seeing the flawless man in his prophecy fulfilling sacrifice on display. That’s what made it earth shattering. Because they knew what he did his whole life. They knew who He was. That’s why his Resurrection was climactic, and why so desperately the Jews and Romans tried to cover it up.

    In my opinion, his death and Resurrection was the elevation and celebration of his life. The image so as not to forget his story and lessons. But above all what is the true strength he shows at the end? Not the sacrifice itself, but his magnanimous ability to forgive and commend himself in faith to the Father in the face of his own death. There’s the real power. That’s the real man.

  • Mike Day

    I understand the point being made, and this may be splitting hairs, but this all seems to hinge on the premise that the crucifixion was a passive activity.

    What traditionally defines masculinity is being the initiator of action, as we see in the Theology of the Body. In the complimentary embrace between man and woman that reveals the fullness of what it means to be human in the image of God, the gift of the man must be willfully given (usually) in order for it to occur. The wretched antithesis of this dynamic is when the gift of the woman is willfully taken by the man. Both require a “macho” strength but one is a heinous misuse of his masculinity while the other is the pinnacle expression. “Initiating” and “imposing” are very different but the two have been made synonymous because of a lack of virtue to guide the will, hence your reader’s confusion.

    So, I don’t know if it’s fair to say that Christ “put away His manhood” and let us take his life, he initiated a gift that generates abundant and eternal life which is very “macho” and manly. That is why He is the “groom” in this supreme act.

    I think it would have been fair to respond to the reader by saying Christ DID fight back. But the victory He fought for was for all and not just Himself and that is the difference.

    Again, this may be just splitting hairs, but there is some truth to modern conceptions of masculinity (however slight); it’s just severely distorted like every other sinful inclination.

    • Clare

      You may like (if you haven’t already read it) the Anglo-Saxon “Dream of the Rood”, which depicts the crucifixion in a very traditionally heroic/epic manner, which fits in with Saxon culture but was apparently fairly similar to early Christian views of the crucifixion, affective piety being a later development. I’m rather a fan of the Anglo-Saxon view of masculinity, which, yes, celebrated heroism in warfare, but also emphasised the need for loyalty and responsibility – so much more mature than the kind of laddish machismo that passes for manliness in some quarters…

    • rozdieterich

      I think Mike Day’s point is important: Jesus was a manly initiator throughout the Passion story. Although Jesus was “taken” to the Cross, if you read the Gospels carefully, you’ll see that he was determined to make the sacrifice his Father was asking of him. Pilate practically tied himself in knots trying to find a way out of ordering the crucifixion.

      I think where this conversation has gone a bit awry is that “worldly” understandings of masculinity and femininity have clouded the discussion. “Macho” isn’t a synonym for masculine any more than “effeminate” is the same as feminine.

  • anna lisa

    I have to admit that I loved what you wrote and then equally loved how much the guys stepped up to the plate to defend the manly act of the man who went to the cross. I suppose it’s easier to act, by at least engaging the enemy with physical strength and prowess with a weapon than to contain all of that manly power, and be led like a sleep to the slaughter.

    I love the depiction of Jesus at the Sacre Couer in Paris. Anemic depictions of Christ are a let down, and a sugary lie.

  • dabhidh

    “Actual manliness” has nothing to do with conquering or not conquering or having sex or not having sex. It has to do with choosing to do that which is right. Which includes having sex and abstaining from it, starting fights and walking away from them, taking care of yourself and laying down your life for another. And it always involves loving other people, especially children.

    • NC Alpheratz

      That’s certainly a definition of properly executed human excellence. Not sure if it is explicitly masculine.

      • dabhidh

        It seems to me that anything that’s a perfection of human behavior would be something that could be performed by men or women if it were called for. But generally (at least in a traditional context), men have to decide whether to pursue a woman sexually, whether or not to pick a fight, whether to keep healthy and sober or whether to eat chips and drink beer, and whether to try to save others at risk of their own lives. These choices all involve areas that men are particularly liable to fail in. Women in general tend to be less inclined to be promiscuous and aggressive and more conscious of their personal health. Women are not any less inclined to risk their own lives for another, but any man that stands by and lets a woman die for another’s sake would probably be scorned even in our supposedly more egalitarian society.

  • Antiphon411

    The author’s comment about Alexander the Great is rather ridiculous and unfair. Alexander married twice (polygamy being customary in the Macedonian royal dynasty and, I believe, among the nobility): Roxane and Stateira. He produced an heir by the first wife and was apparently quite infatuated with her. He also had a mistress, Barsine.

    There is ambiguous evidence for any homoerotic attachment, above all to his companion Hephaestion, though it would not be surprising, given the cultural context. We should not, of course, confuse the homoerotism of the Greeks with the homosexualism of today. Alexander was no mincing, lisping fairy. If anything, as one commenter points out here, homoerotic attachment is more a sign of hyper-masculinity among the Greeks.

  • Jan Rogozinski

    There are numerous historical errors here. To take one–Alexander the Great definitely is not “best known for sitting down and crying”; he’s best known for conquering Egypt, Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Iran, and parts of Afghanistan and northern Indian –you know, Afghanistan and Iraq, from which the American army recently was driven out in ignominious defeat.

    Through Pius XII among popes and every Catholic and Orthodox theologian prior to the 1960s, it was understood that we are not all fungible, as modern Nihilist Catholics teach. I.e., God blesses every foetus, but he does not bless every foetus with identical gifts. The human race is an enormous symphony orchestra comprised of many different instruments playing to the glory of God. It is NOT a dozen sopranos singing the same note.

    Yes, a few women recently are said to have become army “rangers,” but they’re one in a trillion. With rare exceptions, men are physically different than women and can do many things no woman can do. (For example, men but not women can father children.)

    Since 99% of Americans opine without knowing anything about the subject, it is seldom admitted that the one fundamental difference between Catholicism and Orthodoxy is precisely the attitude toward masculinity. The eastern folk at no point in history every praised strength, military prowess–you know, knights and chivalry.

    Hence, when the Muslims invaded during the seventh century, they did not resist but invited the Muslims in. When the Muslims moved west through North Africa , the pagan Berbers fought them; the Greek Christians simply gave up.

    Surprise! When the Muslim armies took Spain and marched toward Paris, they were stopped in 732 at Poitiers. All of a sudden, they had run into Western Christians, who did not give up. They threw the Muslims back into Spain and then began to reconquer Spain. In 1099, they went on Crusade to rescue the Holy Land from a Muslim regime that resembled ISIS. (It is significant that the same folk that think men should be women also think it was wrong to try to REconquer Palestine from the Muslims.)

    The result of Eastern Christian contempt for manliness is clear: Soon there will be no Christians in the Middle East. They still are contemptuous of courage and sacrifice. Instead of fighting ISIS (as e.g. the Kurds do), they flee to Europe and America and go on welfare.

    My, aren’t they lucky that Roman Catholics, clergy and lay both, warred against Islam from 700 on, first against the Caliphate, then against the Ottoman empire. If Catholics were as pussilanimous as Eastern Christians, the latter would have no place to flee to, since the entire world west of China would be Muslim.

    So if you want a world without Christianity, keep spreading the heresy that denies the holiness of the masculine-only virtues of resisting evil and fighting to defend those that are weaker than one is.

    I wonder who infected Middle Eastern Christians with this, the worse of all heresies. After all, Jesus and his disciples never condemned and sometimes praised the Roman soldiers and officers they met with. No one can find word one in the “Bible” condemning going to war to obtain justice and defend the faith. Something went wrong somewhere as Greek theology developed after 300.

    In the case of modern “Catholics,” there can be no doubt: It is Satan himself that has infected them with the Castrating Heresy.

    • name

      Why don’t you tell a mother bear how fighting to defend those weaker than one is is a masculine-only virtue. Or tell Joan of arc.

  • jtsharpe

    “Well, before Christ, the rest of the world
    was still laboring under the pagan delusion, the lapsarian distortion,
    that women are weak and that men are basically penises with swords.
    That’s what we revert to, when we listen to the distortions of sin.”

    I have to quibble with this. The women’s half of the “lapsarian distortion” is not the notion that they were weak, which is mere biological fact, but the notion that their worth and power stems squarely from their genitalia. Hence, the most sacred of them were either Vestal Virgins or temple prostitutes. Coincidentally, this is also the pagan distortion modern women are lapsing into, if the cult of vagina-worship is any indication. Even the two halves of the trending version of the feminist lie, the sex-positive school and the “sex is rape” school, can be understood in this paradigm.

  • Gwen

    It refers to various titles for, and descriptions of, the Virgin Mary. The woman clothed with the sun is from the Book of Revelation (12:1); queen of angels is from the Litany of Loreto (; crusher of serpents is from Genesis 3:15. This picks up on the idea of Mary as the new Eve, as Christ is the new Adam: they reveal fundamental truths about femininity and masculinity but, in them both, femininity and masculinity are transfigured into something more glorious than our fallen conceptions of them.

    • Gwen

      I guess the argument is that, apart from being the mother of Jesus, she also has a number of iconic and symbolic roles in Christian thought. Calling her the Queen of Heaven says something different from calling her the untier of knots or the crusher of the serpent. In the specific context of a post about gender, I think the idea is that Mary represents ideal femininity and that ideal femininity is not just about motherhood (although motherhood comes into it) but also involves power and glory.