Toxic masculinity has become the single biggest threat to all complex life on this planet.
We should talk about that.
I almost feel like, if you’re not already nodding your head, and I still have to define “toxic masculinity,” then I’ve already lost you. But here is the shortlist of its symptoms:
- uncontrolled or arbitrary aggression,
- projection of that aggression onto the world, informing one’s social and political beliefs,
- chronic insecurity leading to obsessive “strutting” of one’s own capacity for violence, the fear or paranoia that everyone is out to get me or us (meaning one’s own family, nation, culture, racial group, etc.), resulting in an ethic of constant arms race and preparedness to resort to violence,
- the assumption that life is a zero sum game (i.e. there is only enough land, resources, happiness, etc. to support a few winners, so losers are a logical necessity),
- the assumption that competition is not just a creative and fun way to hone and sharpen each other as people, within clear parameters, but that all of life is fundamentally competitive,
- the assumption that God endorses and rewards only the winners of said zero sum game,
- greed justified by the above anxieties.
And by the way, let’s not get too narrow about who should care about this conversation.
If you don’t identify as a heterosexual male but recognize in yourself traits, drives, interests, etc., which tend toward the masculine, great. Let’s talk about what’s healthy and not healthy.
If you identify as a woman, who recognizes in herself the same, great. That’s what we’re talking about, here.
If you are a traditionally feminine woman, who encourages or exacerbates a certain definition of masculinity by your political beliefs, lifestyle choices, romantic inclinations, yeah, this applies to you too.
The fact that so many toxically masculine people in our society ironically associate their toxic masculinity with Christianity, itself, led me to reflect on how Jesus practiced his masculinity.
Jesus refused power for its own sake.
In the desert, Jesus was tempted by Satan, or the tempter, for forty days (Mt. 4:1-11). He was offered three things:
- Infinite power
- Infinite resources
- Infinite authority
There is no question what Jesus is refusing here. He is refusing the logical conclusion of all unrestrained masculine ambition.
Jesus believed in a creation of abundance.
Jesus wasn’t wowed by people whose manic “drive” or “work-ethic” were directed by a nagging anxiety that this world doesn’t have enough to go around—i.e. that I need to possess as big of a swathe of the world’s resources as I can in order to ensure my well-being. In fact, he came up with humorous images—a camel tries to go through the eye of a needle (Mark 10:25); a man works feverishly to build big enough barns to store a lifetime of inventory and then drops dead as soon as it’s completed (Luke 12:16-21); a man, who identified his entire life with wealth and status, isn’t even remembered by name in the afterlife (Luke 16:19-31)—which would indicate that he found that kind of ambition laughable, asinine, silly.
Jesus rejected the notion that life is fundamentally a competition—a zero sum game—for a scarce amount of resources. He believed that this was a world of plenty. His God, who clothes the lilies of the field, feeds the ravens, and sends rain on those who deserve it and don’t deserve it alike, can be trusted to sustain us, without us all having to devolve into hyenas.
Jesus likely rode sidesaddle on a donkey.
I have to admit, my wife noted this one before me after I told her my blog topic for the week. Truthfully, I don’t know if riding sidesaddle had the same connotations back then as it does today. It was probably a bit of a necessity, given his limited wardrobe options.
But one thing that everyone was well aware of: Caesars rode into town on bronze chariots pulled by war-horses.
Jesus wasn’t impressed (Mark 11:1-10).
Jesus refused to rationalize his way out of right and wrong.
When Pilate asks Jesus the completely vain and immaterial question “What is truth?” (John 18:37), he is using a trick as old as poker nights and parlor rooms. He feels called out, caught in a lie, backed into a moral corner. The one motivation for which he lives his entire life, climbing the ladder of Rome’s politico-military (or we could substitute corporate) hierarchy have been found pathetic and small-minded, his means of achieving those motivations sleazy and backroom.
So what other options does he have now that his own moral compass has been found wanting? Question and relativize the very nature of morality itself. “What is any of this? Fake news? What is truth?” He backpedals, like a college Freshman who didn’t prepare for the oral exam.
Jesus hasn’t said anything to accuse him or shame him in any way. It’s just that the profound solidity and nobility of Jesus’ own character can’t help but be an indictment of Pilate’s own weaseling, ladder-climbing lack thereof when they are in a room together.
Jesus, of course, doesn't have an answer for him (can't have, actually), because for Jesus, truth is not primarily something you speak but something you do. Heal the leper or don't heal. Give to the person in need or don't give. Jesus didn't have that toxic and typically male ability to delude himself by swirling a glass of brandy and philosophizing his way out of doing what is right.
Jesus was not threatened by women who made more money than he did.
I know, if you have only a passing familiarity with the Bible, you might think I’m just bending the story to support my thesis at this point. Not so. Look it up. Luke 8:1-3.
Ever wonder how Jesus and his 12 male disciples could leave their fishing nets and carpentry supplies behind and just roam the countryside preaching and healing paralytics for three years without having to work for a living? They were being bankrolled by a cadre of women. Namely, Mary Magdelene, Joanna, the wife of Chuza (a particular coup as her wealth ultimately came from the household of Herod who, we’ll say, wasn’t Jesus’ biggest fan, and she almost certainly needed to sequester the funds using a great deal of subtlety and craft), Susanna, and “many others” (the Greek for both “many” and “others” is in the feminine, indicating, just as in Spanish or many other Latinate languages, that not a single man is included).
Jesus clearly wasn’t threatened by women of great intelligence, status, or earning potential.
Jesus was nonviolent in the face of violence.
Believe it or not, Ghandi felt that it is morally okay to respond to someone else’s violence with your own violence if you are weak. Weak people should defend themselves with violence. It is preferable to being passive in the face of abuse. But the strong are the ones who can respond to violence with non-violent resistance, or in Sanskrit, satyagraha, at the end of the day.
Ghandi also used to meditate on the Sermon on the Mount every single day before breakfast. He learned all this from Jesus.
Aside from the entire ethic that Jesus taught (satyagraha would be a pretty good summary) this is pretty much his own life’s story itself. Had he been a little weaker, he would’ve called down a legion of angels to cut down those who were accusing and crucifying him (Mt. 26:53). But Jesus wasn’t toxically masculine. He was strong in the real way—not in the jumpy, fragile, insecure way. He was strong in that creative way one achieves only when one’s masculinity and femininity, one’s fire and water, one’s yang and yin are in balance.
He said, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
On a side note, I’ve been informed that, from my wife’s heterosexual female perspective, it’s sexy when a man is so measured and secure in his masculinity that he doesn’t need to fly off the handle in unrestrained aggression, homophobia, sabre rattling, chest puffing, or all the other signs of toxic masculinity with which we are so familiar. Through her eyes, and I doubt she is alone, that kind of feather preening is pitiable, small, sad.
Strong men don’t need to constantly prove that they are strong.
Perhaps I should’ve called this blog: “Be sexy. Be like Jesus.”
Cheers and Peace,