Ours is not an age greatly attached to the truth, something apparent in the way we misuse our language. We use the word ‘austerity’ to describe the doubling of the national debt over five years. We use words which confer victimhood, such as ‘groomed’ or ‘radicalised’, to describe the free choice of adult criminals to join the child rapists and murderers of the so-called Islamic State. We use ‘extreme’ to refer to policies which aim at the preservation of the way of life desired by the majority of the public in Europe and America, and ‘moderate’ to refer to those people who would prefer to see it destroyed but have not yet taken up arms in a bid to do so.
Nowhere is this more the case than with the sexes, an arena in which an American man in a dress can be awarded Glamour magazine’s ‘woman of the year’ award while simultaneously an online witch-hunt sought to shriek those who saw this as odd into silence.
A lack of faith has removed our inner core of conviction. Instead of each individual making their peace with God, they now parade their lives in public and assess them by the happenstance feedback of strangers. Words with long established meanings have come to have often quite opposite implications in modern parlance because the concept the word used to describe has changed beyond all recognition under the relentless pressure of our contemporary egoism.
This is certainly the case with ‘manliness’. In the modern world, manliness is often presented as a combination of sexual incontinence, physical vanity, emotional vulnerability and a lack of fixed ties1 – properties at one time stereotyped as homosexual. In contrast, our forebears understood the word to mean personal humility, marital fidelity, moral courage, emotional stoicism, deep loyalty to principles – properties considered typical of fathers.
The separation of fatherhood from the common concept of manliness is one of the great tragedies of our times. Across society this crisis of manliness does not just present itself in the dreadful rates of marriage breakdown and fatherless children, it has given us a fatherless nation.
Christians are called to fatherhood. Married men act as fathers within families, priests act as fathers to the churches and we all have a duty to be fathers to society more widely. In all of these respects, fatherhood means calling one another to account, speaking truth from love, nurturing those around us through our example and our adherence to the truth. It is a role which demands courage. Dare we face down an increasingly hysterical society and tell the truth when it might cost us our public position and our livelihoods? Will we stand in the breach, or will we wait our lives out for someone to do so for us?
All of these thoughts are ruminations on reading quite a magnificent apostolic exhortation by the Bishop of Phoenix, Thomas J. Olmsted to the men in his flock. The link is here, I beg you to read it – it is practical, learned, theologically rich and like all truth plainly stated, as refreshing and invigorating as a bucket of cold water to the face.
The battle against the prince of lies which Bishop Olmsted identifies as central to a man’s mission on earth must be waged in his own heart, but also in society more widely. For my part, I shall seek to adopt the seven practices which he suggests form good habits in the text. I shall also try not to baulk when it comes to being a good father both within my marriage and my wider life, however many times in the past I have emulated St Peter and denied Christ, or at least his teachings, three times before the cock crowed.
Malcolm Muggeridge once wrote that “it is truth that’s dead, not God.” I am convinced that the most courageous act any Christian man, any man for that matter, can perform today is to assert the truth to the Pharisees and fantasists destroying our culture, our language and our country. God bless Bishop Olmsted for his call to arms, and may God bless all of us in our efforts.
( 1This sounds fanciful, but see for instance any of Daniel Craig’s James Bond films. Bond is usually a good bellwether of society’s view of manliness at any one time.)