"In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise... We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”
- C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, “Men without Chests”
We’ve all heard the phrase #toxicmasculinity floating about in our very broken culture today. The twitter mobs and social media giants would have us believe that all men by their very nature are lust-filled, porn-addicted punks who only see women as objects to satiate our hunger. Therefore, masculinity must be emasculated.
But we men need to know that our masculinity is not toxic. Fallen though we are, struggling as we do with the temptation to use others, we need to know that at the core of who we are as men is a unique gift meant for the world. This includes and in fact springs straight out of our passion, our strength, and yes, our testosterone. This powerful drive in us men is no more toxic than fertility is for a woman. The challenge is... how do we possess this power rather than become possessed by it? How do we direct our passion rather than be misdirected into the self-indulgent, self-destructive addiction of porn?
We Don't Pornify, We Protect
We have to go back to the beginning, when we were first given the proper direction of our passion and the right trajectory of our testosterone. It’s all in the Book of Genesis! There were three words given to the first man in the Garden of Eden; shamar, abodah, and dabaq.
Shamar means “to guard or protect.” Genesis uses the word to show how Adam is called to “care for” the Garden. It’s the concept of sheltering or being a steward of what we love. This call to protect is inscribed in a man’s very DNA. It's stitched into the fabric of his bones and his muscles, which are gifts to be used in service not selfishness.
Our "shamaring” refers not only to Adam's relationship to the Garden of Eden, the earth, but that of Eve; to the Lady who will be the shining jewel of that place and space. When we use porn and consume women as sexual objects we are not the caretakers we were called to be in the beginning.
This first word, shamar, can stir in man a thirst for battle, bravery, boldness. We should feel this swell up in our hearts when others are threatened, especially woman. We don’t pornify but we protect what we love.
The second word for us to discover in order for us to become the men we were born to be is “abodah.” Genesis uses this word to reveal how Adam (and every man) is called to “cultivate" the Garden. This means we are not made only for the battle (be it with our own addiction, or some threat from a hyper-sexualized culture), but we are made to build. We are designed to sow the seeds of life, literally and figuratively. We men must cultivate life in this Garden of the world, removing the stones of a cold love, or a dominating use of women, lest we become stones ourselves. We are made to be lovers with hearts of flesh. We’re made in the end ultimately for Beauty! And the beauty of woman given to us now is meant to prepare us men for the Beauty of Heaven! The character of Faramir, a warrior-poet from the epic story The Lord of the Rings says:
“War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.” (J.R.R. Tolkien, "The Lord of the Rings")
This kind of love is a constructive love (not a destructive lust) that makes love present in relationships, in marriage and in family.
The third word for us to embody to become men destined for greatness is “dabaq.” This Hebrew word found in Sacred Scripture means "to give.” This idea of man becoming a gift is the watermark behind the entire Universe, for God Himself is the Giver of all good gifts. But we can only give what we ourselves have received. As the saying goes, you can’t give what you don’t have.
A wise old German theologian once wrote that:
"From the point of view of the Christian faith, man comes in the profoundest sense to himself not through what he does but through what he accepts. He must wait for the gift of love, and love can only be received as a gift... One must wait for it, let it be given to one. And one cannot become wholly man in any other way than by being loved, by letting oneself be loved...” (Pope Benedict XVI)
If We Have Been Steeped in Porn, We Have Work To do
So we must receive first this gift of love. Only after we receive can we men give ourselves. We must become that place where grace can meet us open and ready for the human vocation of love and relationships. Only here can we discover true freedom from a "toxic masculinity” that only grasps and is never gift, that only takes and doesn’t allow itself to be taken in by love. This is work brothers! If we have been steeped in the lies of porn, if we’ve let ourselves be defined by the hashtag “toxic masculinity”, then we have work to do. Let’s go back to the beginning to discover that primordial call to the tonic of masculinity! The world, our wives, our children, our churches, our friends need us to become who we were born to be!
A final word from our German theologian:
"Love looks to the eternal. Love is indeed ‘ecstasy,' not in the sense of a moment of intoxication, but rather as a journey, an on-going exodus out of the closed inward-looking self toward its liberation through self-giving... toward authentic self- discovery and indeed the discovery of God...” (Pope Benedict XVI, "Deus Caritas Est", 6)
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