Natural Law, postmodernism and modern political debate

Natural Law and it’s importance in understanding modern political thought.

Theologically Natural Law is based on Romans 2:14

“For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves.”

It is integral to almost all Western thought and moral development before around 200 years ago and is in stark contrast to postmodernism.

Natural Law is the idea is that there is something in each of us that knows, as Thomas Aquinas said, “that good is to be done and evil avoided.” The idea being that certain first principles of what is good and evil are ascertainable by everyone through the use of reason even if there might be a second level or category of things that require a more rigorous level of rational thought to determine the principle of good and bad and thus someone might not understand those more subtle issues without moral responsibility.

For Kant, who said “act only in accordance with that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law” Natural Law is integral. This maxim by Kant is a formulation for the understanding of Natural Law principles. First, formulate a maxim that enshrines your reason for acting as you propose. Second, recast that maxim as a universal law of nature governing all rational agents, and so as holding that all must, by natural law, act as you yourself propose to act in these circumstances. Third, consider whether your maxim is even conceivable in a world governed by this law of nature. If it is, then, fourth, ask yourself whether you would, or could, rationally will to act on your maxim in such a world. If you could, then your action is morally permissible.

It is central to the logic of the US founding document. When the US Declaration of Independence refers to the “Laws of Nature and Nature’s God” it is not referring to the laws of physics but to Natural Law. It is an appeal to a universal understanding of the inherent nature of what is “good” and “evil” that all men including Kings are subject to, that universal law that gives the Americans the right to dissolve the political bonds they have with England. Without Natural Law the Declaration makes no sense.

Moral philosophy up until modern times has been Platonist in that we approached moral philosophy the way most mathematicians approach doing proofs, as if they were discovering something already out there rather than creating it. This became the basis of all discourse about morality and ethics. In fact without this assumption there can be no true discourse about morality and ethics. We have to assume we are all talking about something that actually exists on the same plane otherwise there is nothing to talk about. There is a reason that much modern political discourse seems to have people talking past each other. One group believes in Natural Law, that there is this plane of moral reality that we operate within, deny at our peril and are all responsible for while there is another group that believes that the plane does not exist. C. S. Lewis is referring to this in Mere Christianity when he states that such a plane exists otherwise our culture could not judge itself superior to Nazi culture with the right to destroy Nazi culture. Much of the angst of Western thought embodied in the literature of the “Lost Generation” writers is a result of grave doubts about the value of Western Culture in light of the failure of its ideals and the use of its scientific superiority to wage war on a mechanistic scale in WWI.

The Platonist position was held by the ancients as something believed without much argument but in the Christian era it rested upon a solid theological structure. Only if there is a God, an objective outside observer, could there really be said to be truly something “out there” in terms of morality or ethics. Even the Greeks appealed to “God” when discussing metaphysics and ethics. They just meant Zeus. What modern and post-modern (last 200 years) philosophy has realized is that without God all this falls apart.

The spectrum of things covered under this postmodern approach are everything from Grammar to sex. For instance grammar rules, known and used by the educated and unknown and unused by the uneducated, became a social construct that needed to be deconstructed. What is the purpose of Grammar? Well obviously it is to oppress those who don’t know it and to elevate and create privilege for those who do. So serious people in academia taught a kind of moral equivalency in divergent grammars present in different populations and studied those alternate grammars quite seriously. When Moral equivalency is made between what would be morally unequal concepts in Natural Law it is a tell tale sign of postmodern philosophical foundations guiding those expressing these views.

Those who hold to post modernism will do what is necessary to achieve their will to power because they have no moral limitations. Moral limitations they see as artificial constructs created not by the God who created the Universe but created by society as a means of oppressing others and keeping them from acting.

There are several modern issues that focus on this and few could be better to illustrate this than Abortion. It is why in many ways this issue which is surrounded by so much silliness is actually like the canary in the coal mine showing us a fundamental change in the culture and why pro-abortionists are so dangerous in positions of power. Killing an innocent life has been viewed universally as an evil in the Christian understanding of Natural Law.

Christians put an end to part of the Roman law of Pater-familias which allowed a father to decide the life or death of a newborn. But listen closely to the rhetoric of Abortion. The sanctify of the life of the unborn child is challenged by saying that those who oppose abortion are doing what? They are waging a war on women, oppressing women. This is not accidental. This is classic post-modern analysis. Laws against abortion were not civil law consistent with Natural Law saying do good and avoid evil. They were social constructs designed to oppress women. Thus the entire framework of the public debate is in post-modern terms and not in Natural Law terms. The constant march of postmodernism is a march of “liberation” from the social constructs masquerading as this thing called Natural Law.

Under post-modern philosophy which dominates the West and in particular academia, and Marxist ideology, the idea that Natural Law has no basis without God has come to it’s logical end. Politics is “the will to power” and all our mutual understandings about the nature of “good” and “bad” are social constructs, artificial human creations without any inherent existence outside of our mutual agreement. So under this philosophy all societal rules are to be understood purely as a means of one group to oppress another group. The key to liberation is to “deconstruct” these ideas of good and bad and expose who is the oppressor and who is the oppressed.

The conservative in the traditional understanding of that word rather intuitively gravitates to the position of Natural Law because he intuitively wishes to preserve the status quo. In postmodern thinking this is the preservation of existing social constructs. Thus the conservative in postmodern thinking is a participant in oppression. The liberal is drawn to postmodern thinking because he views himself as a liberator and “free thinker” who is as an individual free of the limitations of moral constructs.

How does this work in practice? The problem is that people generally are still under the reality of Romans chapter two. Attacks on social constructs are also attacks on Natural Law understandings and so almost always starts with appeals to some other principle of Natural Law or of reason. Thus in Roe the argument is the need for the Court to balance conflicting rights.

The public appeal in the case of Abortion was not initially to conflicting rights but to reason and was utilitarian and was particularly dark. Utilitarianism is a particularly useful structure for developing arguments that overturn Natural Law concepts. It has no moral dimension and yet holds appeal because it appeals to what benefits me. In the 70’s when the Abortion debate began the pro-abortion discussion was largely utilitarian and racist. What is the practical impact of lots of babies being born to inner city black teenagers? This was sold on a blatantly racist utilitarian basis to white middle America, and largely white middle America bought it on that basis.

But as the sexual revolution revved up and became mainstream there was a shift to a pure postmodern argument of Abortion being about the liberation of women and the postmodern approach of Roe really found expression in the political discourse. In crude language it is that I can kill my baby because it liberates me and my choices in life and laws that prevent this are not about good and evil but about oppressing women, as a class.

Gay rights are another such contemporary expression of postmodernism, but here things get really complicated because of the public vs the academic face of gay liberation. The Natural Law would look at the physical characteristics of men and women, the way men’s bodies are simply not designed for the kinds of things that gay men do to each other, the disconnection between sexuality and procreation, the inability of gay couples to procreate and conclude that gay relationships are not consistent with natural law. The Natural Law as understood not just by Christianity but every culture in the world for all time is that marriage is between a man and some number of women, one or several depending on the time and place.

The issue is being sold in terms of equal rights, a Natural Law appeal, but that appeal is not logical. The actual argument is postmodern, that laws that define marriage are not based in Natural Law since Natural Law doesn’t exist but are social constructs. The equal protection argument simply fails when it comes to gay marriage. A gay man has an equal right to enter into a marriage because he is free to marry a woman. But what a gay man wants is not a marriage. He wants to engage in a relationship with another man and for that relationship to be recognized by the state as a marriage. That has nothing to do with equal rights. It is a change in the definition of marriage. If we are going to change the definition of marriage then what is the civil liberties (natural law) argument is there for doing this for gay couples and not for the thruple, or the quadruple or the polygamous marriage or the bestiality marriage. There isn’t one. What is actually happening therefore is a classic postmodern approach. It actually is merely a will to power by a group wishing to redefine marriage. Little that you hear in the public debate discloses what is really happening. The conservative who attempts to prevent this change is typically appealing to the ick factor, to social prejudice about gay relationships, hardly the stuff of the plane of common known understandings of what is good and what is evil in Natural Law debates. Often there are reasons for these ick factor intuitions that are based in Natural Law but with gay liberation in charge of media and thus the terms of the debate it is very difficult to maintain clarity since clarity is not in the interest of those advancing the gay agenda.

But the postmodern gay agenda is much more complicated. First, postmoderns say marriage itself is the mother of all oppressive social constructs. So marriage redefinition is a temporary goal toward greater liberation when marriage itself is seen as a social construct and not as something created in by God in Eden and deconstructed so that everyone of either sex is free to have sex at anytime with anyone they want of either sex. One of the background things that few pay attention to is queer studies in Academia which say that the very invention of heterosexuality and homosexuality as concepts are only about 150 years old (true) and there has never been a word in any language in any culture before the 1860’s for men who preferred sex with other men. There was a word in almost every language for the person who did penetrative sex and a word for the one who received the penetrative sex. Even today in some cultures such a man may engage in penetrative sex of other males and he will not in any way view himself as gay or bisexual. Gay and straight are in fact social constructs in postmodern terms and as such the categories “homosexual” and “heterosexual” in strict post modern terms are a means of putting people in these categories while at the same time oppressing homosexuals and creating the concept of the superiority of heterodoxy. This led to any sexual activity involving opposite sex partners being given high status whereas any same sex sexual activity was given low status. This heterodoxy replaced the Natural Law position of Christianity that held that sex within marriage was given high status and sex outside marriage was given low status. The gay straight bi paradigm actually facilitated oppression of gays at the same time that it created them. This means gay straight and bi lack substance in both postmodern and in Natural Law understandings of moral and ethical structures of society but abandoning them under postmodern thought and abandoning them under Natural Law understandings result in very different outcomes.

Perhaps the most dangerous shift culturally is in the courts. The shift there preceded the shift in the general population and coincided with the shift in the intelligentsia and in academia but lagged behind the shift in philosophy and the arts. The courts once clearly viewed themselves as instruments of the Natural Law. As an example, The Texas Supreme court when establishing the rules for common law marriage within the text of the decision quoted extensively from the King James Bible. Today courts view themselves in postmodern terms and so deconstruct cultural norms ensconced in law by declaring them unconstitutional restrictions on liberty.

Most of the “culture wars” are not about what they are about. The right appeals to longstanding prejudice rather than Natural Law arguments because the great unwashed are largely ignorant of the importance of Natural Law foundations to the civil discourse. The left appeals essentially to libertarian Natural Law arguments but the left is anything but libertarian and they eventually frame the debate in postmodern terms. Increasingly postmodern arguments are becoming the more immediate frame for these arguments. A good example is the recent Hobby Lobby case where a closely held company, run by five people all members of a deeply religious family agreed to pay for sixteen methods of contraception in their company provided insurance but based on religious grounds refused to pay for birth control methods which work as abortifacients to end a pregnancy drawing a distinction between contraception and birth control. Thus religious freedom was set against a mandate to pay for abortifacient birth control. The debate has been framed from the beginning as a War on Women skipping any kind of Natural Law appeal and relying on the deconstruction of religious liberty as a social construct being used to oppress women. The opposition rather than being able to rely on Natural Law arguments has generally been more effective with public opinion using utilitarian arguments, saying the employer (meaning the consumer of the business and the other employees) shouldn’t have to pay for something that gives them no benefit.

The abandonment of Natural Law has important consequences for the nature of public discourse. It means that increasingly public debates over public policy will be debates past each other’s points of view and therefore more rancorous. It also means that as postmoderns and Natural Law adherents jockey to appeal to a public increasingly ignorant of first principles the debates will become increasingly disingenuous and less and less about what they really are about. Those who have goals of dismantling Western Civilization have become more bold of late but still must hide their ultimate goals as they work a slow dialectical dismantling of what they see as the oppressive moral constructs of Western Culture. Those who understand their goals and sound the alarm appear to be forever being ridiculed in the given debate as fear mongers and yet proven right in each time a few years later by each succeeding wave of change as the moral constraints of Western Civilization built through the common rational foundation of Natural Law are gradually dismantled.

Deconstruction of the Social Constructs of Gay, Bi, and Straight

Forty years ago I was in a sophomore English literature class and was reading a poem that would begin a change in how I see the world. That change wouldn’t come to fruition until this year. It was the epic poem, “In Memoriam” in which Tennyson gives tribute to his fallen friend, Arthur Hallam. I wept with Tennyson for his lost friend and I knew that I and the young men around me were missing something powerful and good. It introduced me to a kind of friendship that I didn’t know existed between men, a kind of friendship that rarely if ever exists today.

A century ago a young adolescent who felt a deep loving connection to other boys, who may even have felt some sexual arousal when considering other boys, would not have contemplated whether or not he was gay because the categories of gay straight and bi simply didn’t exist for anyone except a few academics. These categories are about 150 years old and are social constructs, as anyone in queer studies on any college campus will tell you.

A social construct is any jointly constructed understanding of the world. It is a social mechanism, phenomenon, perception, idea or category created and developed by society held by a subgroup or the whole society that is ‘constructed’ through cultural or social practice. It is not something that is “real” in the usual sense of that word, in that it has no existence outside of our agreement that it describes the world. For instance, real property, the ownership of land by an individual, is a social construct that is foreign to many nomadic tribes. Any good sociologist, historian, anthropologist, or for that matter psychologist who looks at the experience of men in history objectively know that at no time in the past and in no place in the past before about 150 years ago did anyone understand themselves and their relationship to the rest of humanity through categories of homosexual, heterosexual or bisexual and there were no words in any language that described the concepts inherent in these terms.

The good news is that although social constructs are powerful and have powerful impacts on us, they are not fundamental unchangeable things or parts of our human nature and thus can be “deconstructed” by the individual not just the culture. The first premise of post modernism is that social constructs are for the purpose of the oppression of one group by another and thus the duty of the enlightened is to deconstruct all social constructs for themselves and others as an agent of change. Thus the claim that a man cannot impact his “gayness” is strangely at odds with the very Catechism of postmodern liberation that it is derived from. Virtually all of the functionality of postmodern social theory is dependent upon the ability to deconstruct social constructs and liberate myself from them. In fact, some in queer theory admit that gayness is a temporary phenomenon because it is merely one social construct replacing a previous one and thus will be deconstructed in its turn.

Now here is the REALLY good news. Social constructs in this setting are attempts at developing categories for understanding human, and thus our own, behavior. Some post modernists believe all we can ever have is social constructs and there is never anything “real” underlying them. I am not a post modernist. Personally I am a Christian and like many people of faith I believe in Natural Law. In addition, in questions of Ethics and philosophy and truth seeking I am a Platonist. I believe there is truth and moral law actually out there to be discovered and understood. Our attempts to categorize our world through constructs (jointly constructed understandings of the world) are inevitable but these attempts will, to varying degrees, come close to reality or differ from it. Since the categories gay, straight and bi are quite new creations of a few German psychologists of the 19th century and only came into common usage in the West almost 60 years later sometime in the period between the Great Wars, I think it quite reasonable to assume that these constructs are faulty. Even the “gay” community itself struggles with them almost comically adding letters and categories to the rainbow through the years. It is time for a real Gay liberation movement, one in which we all, gay straight and bi, liberate ourselves from the confines of these social constructs, a liberation from the categories of gay, straight and bi themselves. The implications of such liberation are multifaceted for both individuals and the culture.

Social constructs are often created by the culture we grow up in and we mainly accept them without much objection or thought, but I invite you to consider that in fact these constructs do not describe reality well, that you need not be bound by them, and that you can deconstruct these categories and release yourself from their grip. This process is something that can do wonders for several issues faced by those with unwanted same sex attractions (SSA) and help men with opposite sex attraction (osa) to let go of a false sense of privilege.

First, the issue of identity. If a man with ssa can abandon this construct it means he is not gay. Other people may identify this way, they may like fitting into this kind of construct. In fact most men, particularly those who identify as heterosexual like the construct because it has conferred status to them. I would however encourage men in the straight category to also consider that this status has been unwittingly a burden. There were two categories that appear in languages all over the world in modern and ancient times. One was the one who penetrated and one was the one who was penetrated. In some cultures men who penetrate but who have been exposed to the heterosexual gay bi categories still view themselves as heterosexual. But under Natural Law the two categories most used were sex within a marriage and sex outside of marriage. These two categories also existed in some form or another in almost all cultures. One was “good” and one was “bad”. With the loss of this Natural law social construct “straight” men could view almost any sexual activity as “good” as long as it is heterosexual. That has been a trap for many men who have traded the long term intimacy of marriage for a predatory kind of sexuality that is not particularly distinguishable from what gay men engage in. By abandoning these categories there is no need for me to see myself as gay or straight or bi anymore. I am a man. I am a man with complex urges and needs but those complex urges and needs do not place me in some faulty category.

Second, the closely related issue of belonging. I am a man. I belong with other men. My biology is not a social construct. It is an undeniable permanent aspect of my personhood. Those who like the social construct “transgendered” may think they can change their sex, but they can’t. Neither can I. I belong to the tribe of men. I cannot take myself out of that tribe, that club. In common parlance, I got my man card at conception and nobody can take it from me, not even me. That means men share a common bond and a commonality that is vital and essential to our nature. I belong with other men and so do you. For any man who has struggled with a sense of, “do I have what it takes?” or “am I enough?” this is deeply reassuring.

Third, masculinity. I am masculine. I can’t help myself. My masculinity may be different from yours. It may be creative or artistic or musical or graceful or intuitive or intellectual or awkward or shy or boisterous or athletic but all I can be is masculine, because I am a man. Other ideas of masculinity are just social constructs.

Fourth, friendships. I may have a deep longing for close intimate friendship. I may enjoy affection with my male friends and feel a deep emotional closeness like David and Jonathan. I may like to lean against a friend’s shoulder or against his chest as we talk or let him do the same in the same way John leaned against the breast of Jesus. I may like to have lots of friends and my only desire is to have fun and laugh with them and all I want is a firm handshake. If either is my impulse it is a masculine impulse because it is my impulse. You see each of those are perfectly acceptable masculine behavior according to social constructs in different parts of the world, so ignore which one may be the social construct in your part of the world and do what your heart leads you to do. Fear of masculine intimacy as historians will tell you is also a new social construct and not coincidentally coincides with the development of the gay straight bi categories. The fear of masculine connection however is a sad and destructive social construct in the West and any man who can, should consider setting overcoming it as a goal for personal growth.

This is the last bit I will leave you with. Fear of physical affection and emotional intimacy combined with the social construct of gay, straight and bi in this culture is, I believe, the reason many many men see themselves as gay and see heterosexual marriage as beyond them and see friendships that would truly meet their deep needs as impossible or even un – Godly. It is tragic and it is an evil in our day.

One of the reasons so few men accept the invitation to step away from the gay life is the perception that the alternative is a life of deep isolation and constant sacrifice. But if you can shed that social construct and begin again to ask the meaning of the very desires that carried you a gay or bi identity, you may find that your life is not cursed and that instead what is opening up to you is a life of true liberation and blessing through healthy, deep, nonsexual connection with men.

What follows is not mine. It is however a tremendous essay about friendship that first appeared as a social media post by a Capuchin Friar from Australia in 2009 so the perspective is Christian. He mentions St Aelred who wrote extensively on the beauty of deeply connected friendship and has been labeled by many as gay. The notion is idiotic because it makes about as much sense as labeling him a Republican. It is a concept that would have had no meaning to him. The Friar who wrote this essay remains anonymous but he asks some deep important questions. This essay is a lament in its own way but also an invitation for men with ssa to leave your old social constructs and begin to experience a freedom in how you live your life. I encourage osa men to take the same invitation toward a deeper walk into masculine integrity and masculine connection both of which require an abandonment of similar constructs

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“Once upon a time, there was friendship. Once upon a time, society accepted that the love of friends could be the single most important thing in a person’s life, and they did more than just accept, they celebrated the fact. Throughout history, discourses and sermons have been written in praise of friendship. When Alfred Tennyson’s friend Arthur Hugh Hallam died tragically young in 1833, he spent the next seventeen years writing the great poem “In Memoriam” as a memorial to his friend; and Hallam is a first name used among the Tennyson family to this day. Looking further back, we can see Damon and Pythias, Pylades and Orestes, David and Jonathan…

Perhaps the change was the fault of Freud and Oscar Wilde; and then again, perhaps not. But today no love is accepted as valid that is not in some way sexual, and even if we set out to reject the sex-obsessed outlook of today’s society, we think in those terms despite ourselves. When St Aelred writes of “this most loving youth”, we all say to ourselves “oh yes” in a knowing way, sure that we have guessed the smutty truth.

What a waste! What a wicked denial and perversion of love! God has made friendship – did not Christ have his own beloved disciple? – and how dare we corrupt it and deny it! Of course, we must not despise sex: sex is holy, divinely ordained as a way of love and procreation – but it is not the only love. Friendship is not “mere” friendship, not a second-best; still less is it a repressed substitute for erotic love. It is a love in its own right, powerful, holy, overwhelming. A world with Eros but without friendship is a world full of isolated, self-obsessed couples, of love unshared – a sad thing indeed. And we are heading that way.

The denial of friendship is an evil thing and evil in its effects. When my pulse beats faster at the sight of my friend, when his presence feels like a bolt of electricity – is this really sex in disguise? Am I to run away – which would be a tragedy – in order to preserve my chastity, or am I to try to overcome my revulsion and make a pass – which would be worse? Modern society seems to give us nothing but this harsh choice between a cold heart and a hot body. Who knows how many of the impressionable young are led into ultimately unendurable vices precisely because they cannot face what seems the only available alternative? And when, as is inevitable, they have destroyed friendship by turning it into something it is not, what choice do we give them but to repeat the error, each time more desperately? As if one could see the stars by diving ever deeper into the mud!

Let us accept friendship. Let us accept it as a true and passionate gift of God. Let us accept it in others without reading anything else into it – “repressed” or not. Let us rejoice if it is given to us, be glad if it is given to others. Jonathan loved David not because of what he could get out of him, but because he was David: let us celebrate this motiveless love of the Other, an echo of the pure love of Heaven. We ought to love everyone like that: but one should at least start somewhere.

And if, like Aelred, we have made the mistake of seeking a physical consummation of a love that does not require it, then let us, like St Aelred, not recoil from that love but go forward, transcend that error, until the love becomes a redeemed and radiant thing that others will see and rejoice, giving thanks to God.”

When the Oppressed become the Oppressors

Let’s please be honest. If I am a healthy happy gay man there is no rational nexus between my decision to pursue a life as a gay man and another person’s decision to pursue change through faith or therapy. So why are so many gay men so viscerally livid at the thought of another man making and living out that decision? Because of the path that the gay man took to get to where he is. With a few rare exceptions any early adolescent who realizes he is gay is going to wish it were otherwise. Life is complicated enough without being different and no young person hates anything worse than being different. So most young people will go through a period of trying to change. They will try mental discipline. They will try praying away the gay. They will try pastoral counseling. They will try heterosexual sex. Based on a recent study this works for about 60% of the adolescent boys who do this in part because sexuality in early adolescence is quite fluid. However, when none of this works, they draw a logical conclusion. I was born this way and I can’t change. There is something called the natural fallacy. If it is natural it is good. O course just because an urge is natural doesn’t mean it is good whether by good we mean moral, healthy, or beneficial to society. I may have an urge to take my neighbor’s life or car or home but that doesn’t make it good no matter how natural it is. But most people operate under the natural fallacy and so the young man who has “tried everything” and finds he has not changed applies the natural fallacy and thus he gives himself permission to ignore 1700 years of Western Civilization and conclude that his homosexuality is a good thing since it is “natural” and inborn. The problem is Reparative Therapists and many men who have benefited from RT say it isn’t inborn and it can be reversed. If that is true, it isn’t inborn and it can be reversed, then suddenly the loose logical structure which allowed him to abandon any teaching or intuition that homosexual sexual acts were not morally “good” collapses and he must reexamine his own philosophical foundations upon which he is basing his very way of life. This produces one of two responses. Deep introspection from which he may decide any one of a number of life directions, or a juvenile temper tantrum of hate spewed anger at anyone who would suggest that his metaphysical foundation for his moral house of cards is false. That hate filled tantrum is becoming an all out war on the right of self determination, self actualization, religious liberty, and rights of conscience as gay rights groups seek to ban Reparative Therapy for men who want access to it. http://time.com/2907989/bornperfect-gay-conversion-reparative-therapy/ The refrain I would like to begin repeating to the gays who object to Reparative therapy is, “If you don’t believe in it then don’t use it, otherwise leave the other men who do use it alone.” It remans to see what manor of carnage the gay lobby and their fellow travelers in the media will do to several hundred years of the development of individual rights and autonomy but the coercive nature of the laws being proposed indicates that the gay lobby has more in common with their inquisitional medieval counter parts imposing their version of orthodoxy of thinking and behavior than they do with any liberation movement.

What Are You Really Angry About?

I am indebted for this to Fawn Weaver and the Happy Wives club for her essay on how to never argue with your husband. What she shares is not only good marriage advice it is good advice for living. It helped me connect the dots between authenticity, anger, wounds and self based shame statements. All things I have learned through therapy, Journey into Manhood and the work of John Eldredge. In her essay Mrs. Weaver described an appearance by Rosie O’Donnell on the Oprah show. Now before you male readers give up on me thinking “what could I possibly learn about being a better man from these two women?” It turns out quite a bit.

O’Donnell was on Oprah’s show talking about her recent ouster from the show “The View” after an altercation with Barbara Walters. Here is how Mrs. Weaver described the discussion.

“Oprah asked, “Do you regret that moment?”
“Yes, I do,” O’Donnell responded. She said she regretted using her words as weapons and how her out-of-control rage “scared” Walters.
What O’Donnell said next confounded even the talk-show host herself: “For me, at that moment, if I had been braver, I would have just cried and said, ‘You really hurt my feelings.’”
Clearly dumbfounded, Oprah clapped her hands as if having one of her famous aha moments and said, “That is so interesting! That you would say, ‘If I had been braver, I would have just cried.’ Because oftentimes crying is perceived as the weak thing to do.”
She then asked O’Donnell why crying would have been braver than yelling and saying hurtful words.
“Because then you’re vulnerable. Then the authentic feeling that I had, [which] was pain and hurt and rejection [would have come out].” Instead, as she told Oprah, she put on the same armor she’d chosen to protect her since she was a child. She shielded her vulnerability, and masked her hurt feelings, with anger.”

This is probably one of the most important things men need to understand about how we misuse our anger. Anger is one of the “accepted” emotions for men. It is one of the few that do not feel emasculating and so it is one of the few that we allow ourselves to feel around those who we love the most. As a result anger often is one of the most destructive in our lives because of when and how we use it. That is because it is often not the real emotion that we are feeling.

When I am feeling angry, usually there is something underneath it, something that came first. There is some vulnerable part of me that is exposed that I am trying to protect. The Godly purpose of healthy anger is to give me the strength and determination to set healthy boundaries. But what happens in my most intimate relationships is supposed to be mostly about authenticity and bonding – vulnerability and connection. Most men use anger in their most intimate relationships to build walls and to disconnect in order to protect the parts of themselves they hide deny and repress from exposure – to others or themselves.

I use anger to cover up, to provide a fig leaf to protect and hide something of myself that might otherwise be exposed. Am I feeling fear? Sadness? Disappointment? Insecurity? Anger both hides these vulnerable embarrassing “weak” emotions from others and from me. It prevents me from feeling vulnerable. My anger is actually shame based anger. Once I begin to understand that I begin to understand that shame based anger gets me exactly the opposite of what I really want and that is the real tragedy.

What is it that I am really needing when I am angry. Someone had hurt me. Someone has done something to disappointment me. Someone has not respected me or not valued me. I want to communicate my hurt to someone who loves me so they will hear my heart and not do it again. But instead of showing them my heart I use anger to hide and to protect and to defend my very wounded and vulnerable self, the needy part of me that is simultaneously needing to say “you hurt me, please don’t hurt me again” and through my anger instead saying “I don’t need you.”

There is also an important internal dynamic. I have a message that I am receiving an external message. “They don’t value me.” “They don’t see my worth.” “They don’t honor or respect me”. But the reason the message resonates and the reason that this is the message I hear is because I carry wounds in those areas. These trigger parallel messages in me that I may have carried for a long time, messages from my past. I am not valuable. I don’t have value. I am don’t have respect. One of the difficulties that so many young couples have early in marriage is that young love consists mostly in projection and transference of other people from your past onto the other person so it is very easy for something they say to trip the wire that sets off one of these long buried booby traps. So what I initially feel isn’t anger, it is sadness, hurt, and of course the real enemy – shame.

But as a man unless I have been very intentional about living an authentic life, these emotions are deeply disturbing. So disturbing I cannot allow myself to feel them at a conscious level. So they are kept in shadow, in the subconscious, impacting my behavior certainly but in ways I am unaware of. The level of awareness depends on how much I have allowed God access to my hidden places. I am likely in many cultures to view emotions like hurt as feminine emotions or something as a man I am not supposed to have or at least not supposed to admit to so I am used to not allowing myself to admit to or even feel them. What I am aware of is anger. What I am willing to admit to is anger. What I am willing to show is anger.

If I have done some work in the area of wounds and emotions, if I have allowed God’s grace to operate in my shadow areas of my hidden emotions and feelings, then I may use the anger rightly and I may allow myself to fully feel the anger without lashing out but start asking the right questions. Where is the anger coming from? What lies behind the anger? What are the emotions that I am really feeling that anger helps me avoid. I may realize that behind the anger is something else. Fear, sadness, shame. If I can’t work through that on my own there are men in many of the communities like JIM, or JOEL who can who has done this kind of work and can help lead me through it and help me ask the right questions and eventually I can find my joy again.

Recently I found myself in a situation and processed these exact emotions. Again I have a debt to pay to David Pickup for giving me understanding about the kinds of questions to ask myself to help me process myself through this. The actual process took less time to do than it will take you to read but each step is important because each step helped free me from the lies that these kinds of shaming experiences bring up. It is important to note that an adult cannot be shamed by another person. We can only shame ourselves, but the process of self shame in response to a trigger from our past is often so automatic and swift that it is difficult to distinguish it from being shamed. The distinction is important though because with wisdom and understanding and a sometimes a little revelation of the truth from God it can be stopped or undone.

I am part of an osa men’s group that puts on weekends modeled after the John Eldridge weekends that he does in Colorado. They are based on the book “Wild at Heart” which takes a very spiritual look at wounds but also borrows heavily from the early pioneers of men’s work and the same Jungian psychology of the male psyche that is a framework for much of the best ssa interventions I am familiar with. Of course Jung borrowed heavily from male bonding and initiation ceremonies and understandings from cultures around the globe noting the universal themes in male interaction and development.

There are two sessions in the weekend that I see as crucial and that are usually presented by a good friend of mine. I won’t go into a lot of detail here, but I feel a strong connection to those sessions. I judge that I have a much deeper understanding of the material as intended by Eldridge. I believe I know how Eldridge who was trained in developmental psychology developed his understanding of the material because of my familiarity with developmental psychology and the men who Eldridge quotes in his book and my familiarity with their work. My friend does not have any of that to call on. I am also a skilled teacher and public speaker and an empathetic presenter and judge that I would do an excellent job of presenting. I have made the offer to present to the leader of the group many times. Each time he has always indicted that he wants me to present at some point and that it would be logical for me to present these sessions yet each time I have asked there has been some reason for me not to present “at this camp”. It has been disappointing but I am usually very happy to let others take a lead position and step back and be in a support position. Part of that tendency to prefer to stay in the background has been because I believed shadow messages from my past that I don’t have a lot to offer so I should stay in the background. More recently though I have begun to believe more and more that God has equipped me through everything I have been through and a desire to offer all of myself and not hold back has begun to come forward in me. That is a relatively new passion but I am feeling it more and more.

This week right after the camp the leader of the ministry at dinner was describing a conversation he had with one of the women about the women’s camp which is put on by some of the wives of the membership in the men’s group. He had encouraged one of the women to step forward and to ask to present at the women’s camp. He described how that as he encouraged her that she shared how she thought things were being missed in the presentation and that she thought she could do a better job. He described with some glee how he encouraged her then to step up and push to present next time and how happy it made him to see her gather her courage to possibly do that.

Well I began to get angry. But I have been in this work long enough that I knew that I needed to look behind that. What was behind that anger. What I realized was that behind the anger was hurt. The message I heard whispered in my ear was, “why doesn’t he encourage you like that?” “what does he see in her that he doesn’t see in you?” And that was quickly followed by, “he doesn’t value you.” “He doesn’t trust you.” And these messages triggered shame statements from the past such as, “I have nothing to offer other men” and “no matter how hard I try if someone knows my stuff I’m never going to be as good or as valuable or as worthy or as… fill in the blank …as a straight man to him.” Oh that last one bites. With a history of friends abandoning me after telling them what I struggled with that last one really bites.

So the real emotions are sadness and shame and they come from those old messages and the anger is shame based anger. So what do I do with those true feelings? Well first I don’t need to deny that I am feeling them. I am feeling sadness and I am feeling anger but they are not coming from a healthy place. They are based in shame. I am not going to beat myself up for feeling them. That would just be piling on more shame. I am not going to pretend I am not feeling them or say do what so many in the Church advise, “just stop it because it isn’t “Christ like” to feel those bad emotions which piles on more shame. All that would only feed my ssa. I allow myself to feel and I address the shame and the beliefs that have brought up the shame and the shame based sadness and shame based anger.

Now that I know they are coming from shame I need to address the shame statements at the root of the shame. Are those statements true? It is important to be able to articulate them. They basically are of three types. Do I have value in an intrinsic way? Do I have something of value to offer other men? Do I have value and something to offer in the eyes of this particular man who triggered the hurt and anger? That is where the work I am doing with David Pickup has been helpful.

The first question to ask of the shame statement is, is it true? Is the statement, “I am worthless” true? Well just objectively no it isn’t true. I have intrinsic value. God, the most objective source imaginable says I have value. Since He says I do I must. And there are people in my life including the leader of my group who have been very consistent in loving me that have shown me I have value so I must have value. So is the statement “I don’t have anything of value to offer other men” true. Well in my gut I say it is not true. The second stage is to come out of my emotions and think rationally, come let us reason together, and ask what is the objective evidence. Well the evidence is that I have a lot to offer. I have been able to help many men in both group settings and individually, both ssa and osa men. It simply is not true. And I have been assured by God that He has equipped me for the challenges I face and there is no more objective authority than God. And the leader of the group has talked to me about the influence I have on the men in the group so he sees me and the value I have to offer other men. So the next step is to ask why. Why did I believe those lies? And that takes me to the wound. That is the many times my father and my peers have treated me in disrespectful, hurtful, or dismissive ways. I can ask myself, did I deserve that and no I didn’t.

Now for the second class of questions that delve into the question of am I trusted by this man, or once I tell a man of my ssa will I never quite measure up compared to another osa man. Deciding if this is true or not is a lot tougher. My emotion are more difficult to get out of the way because there is a lot of hurt historically around this. So that is part of what makes it difficult and I have a lot and I do mean a lot of bad experience around this. Ok, let’s assume this is true for “some” men. The next question is, why? Does this have anything to do with my shame statement? Does this say I am not valuable? Does this say I am not as valuable as an osa man? Does it say that I don’t have as much to offer as an osa man. The answer is no. So although some osa men may not be able to get past my ssa that isn’t about me its about them and I still have a lot to offer other men. The only thing left is does this man not trust me to present and from his letter I have to conclude that for the present the answer is yes. So the question is why? Not why does he not trust me but why does he not trusting me bring up shame statements and why does he not trusting me matter to me? Well I have had a lot of people in my life who should have been there for me who let me down when the rubber sort of hit the road. So there is a template there where I am used to this kind of thing bringing these statements up. But are they TRUE. The answer is no they aren’t. They are lies. Even if this one man doesn’t trust me with a particular task it really doesn’t matter. That is his problem not mine. I have nothing to prove to him and nothing to accomplish here. His opinion has nothing to do with who I am and my value and what I have to offer. It is just his opinion. That’s all. The belief that his opinion matters is a lie. Renounce the lies. They have no power over me.

The next question is where did I learn these lies? The answer is beginning with my father but mostly this was a peer wound. I learned from friends and those who hurt me that I was nothing to them. Did I deserve that? No I did not. Knowing that these are lies, that they have no power over me, knowing that they have limited and caused me unnecessary pain, what do I feel? The answer is anger and sadness. But this anger and sadness are not from shame. They are from a place of assertion and awareness of my value and that I am valued. From that place I am no longer controlled by the lies and the shame from my past. I am no longer angry at my friend and mentor because I know that it is the lies and the deception that is the source of my hurt and that is where my anger is directed.

So is it ok to feel sad or angry or hurt. Absolutely. The key is authenticity and the most important person to be authentic with is myself. Authentic emotions are always ok but it is what I do with them that needs to be controlled. Let yourself feel sad or angry. Let yourself feel your genuine emotions. There is nothing wrong with them. Let yourself feel them with someone who understands and can validate you’re right to feel them. The key is to live authentically with others and with yourself. But sometimes that means asking yourself some tough questions.
Don

 

Caricatures of Masculinity

James Hellweg, otherwise known as the “Ultimate Warrior” in the WWE world died too young and his death is tragic as is any man’s death before his time. He was an entertainer who was very good at his chosen craft. The probability is that we will find out his heart was damaged by years of steroid abuse although there is a small chance of some kind of inherent unrelated health issue. But I cannot salute his work or his contribution to the culture. Modern masculinity in America is deeply damaged and Men seek adventure, a cause to fight for, a battle to engage in, comrades to fight with. In our modern world men are neutered and tend to seek out vicarious and largely meaningless substitutes for this noble instinct. Most professional sports are a means to vicariously release some of this energy but in many ways they simply are like The Secret Life of Walter Mitty in that living out your masculine journey vicariously through others as “fans” of other’s achievements breed shallow men, weak men, lost men. Professional wrestling is perhaps the worst of these because it is such a caricature of authentic manhood. The scripting and the bombasity makes the whole enterprise so much more destructive of the character of the men who live out their masculine journey vicariously through it. The tragedy is that young boys and teenagers and yes grown men idealize a form of masculinity that is in every imaginable way false. But in a culture where real masculinity is a rare commodity, where The General Norman Schwarzkopf’s are so much more rare than the Dennis Rodman’s, where celebrity is no different than fame, it is no wonder that the fatherless generation of boys in men’s bodies flock to this masculinity in hyperbole.
I enjoyed wrestling when I was eight or nine but soon outgrew it. The homoerotic aspects of the professional version of the “sport” are particularly notable because of the nature of the exaggerated masculinity that is so similar to a variety of gay fetishes.  The idea that grown men seek vicarious meaning by watching professional wrestling which is more scripted entertainment than sport is testament to the lack of any genuine understanding of masculinity by many modern males and the emptiness in most men’s lives and their desperation for some kind of adventure. The adulation given by seemingly normal men to these men whose bodies are obtained by obvious abuse of steroids in order to sculpt them into some kind of grotesque icons of a gay fetish ‘type” is equally problematic. To the men who watch this stuff I hope they eventually find a cause in real life that transcends the smallness they feel in their own lives that draws them to it and find a way to live out that adventure in a world of reality and stop deifying icons of masculinity worthy of little boys.

The Gold in the Shadow

I learned, mostly through a revelation of God’s love for me, why God doesn’t “zap” people and allow us to “pray away the gay.” God gave me a gift which was a deep love of men and a capacity to minister to men who were broken with deep empathy and tenderness. It was built into my character. Into my genes. God meant it for good. But I have an enemy who knew the power of that and God allowed Him to sift me, to bring suffering which distorted that gift for a time and caused me to have deep neediness around other males and to take from them instead of give.

When the gift was restored in me it was like a new birth and the gift was not merely a natural inclination, it was truly a spiritual gifting as well. Now my spirit soul and body, all were united in giving and restoring broken and wounded men instead of using exploiting and sexualizing them. Everything that made me vulnerable to ssa was a gift and every tough experience that grew out of my seeming differences from other boys and young men was a gift too, because I now know that my wounds and pain were oddly similar to those of men who had truly good dads and good moms and I have used all of it, every instance of rejection or pain or humiliation to enrich the lives of others and to enrich my own capacity to give love, healing and blessing and to receive love, healing and blessing.

I wouldn’t change any of it. It couldn’t take the risk. How could I knowing without all that I wouldn’t be me and I have grown to love and appreciate the me I have become flaws and all. Yesterday I sat across from a dear friend and spoke a truth into his life, that he was of infinite worth, that he deserved to be loved just because, that he didn’t have to earn love and he didn’t have to be perfect to be loved. A few years ago I couldn’t have done that because I didn’t believe it or know it myself. I am who I am and where I am because of everything God has allowed in my life and the destination has been worth the ride, and the ride isn’t even over yet.

The Sacred and the Profane

One of the things I appreciate about  Joseph Campbell is that he showed me the Christ in Paganism.  Listening to Campbell you realize He is there, woven into pretty much every pagan mythology waiting for the astute missionary to find Him.  Campbell by the way is no Christian and was not going looking for Christ, but looking for the things that are commonalities in all faiths.  In a sense, anyone looking at his writings could probably find their own faith recapitulated in many others.  The coincidence of Christ figures in paganism however is so apparent that some have postulated that Christ is some kind of amalgam of past pagan faiths, particularly the devotion to the Roman God Mithra, which somehow merged with some other pagan stories and Jewish traditions to form Christianity borrowing bits from each other.  To believe that kind of thing it helps to be a little like the Mel Gibson character in the 1997 movie “Conspiracy Theory”.  Everybody keep that tinfoil on your heads please.  

From a purely Christian worldview the presence of core Christian truths embedded in other faiths should be no surprise.  If I take the most fundamentalist kind of approach, I could recall how Eve was deceived in the garden.  Eve had added to the command of God, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.'”  From a Christian point of view, deception in religion is not going to generally be whole cloth but will be by degrees.  A core truth about the world will be distorted, overemphasized, or in some way used to draw people away from a relationship with the true God.  From a more pluralistic point of view we can take from Paul’s admonition that, “since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made,”.  From that, it might be assumed that a bit of truth about the universe could have been gleaned by people sincerely seeking after a higher power, even if, as Paul observed in the next verse, they generally get it wrong.

I am a mathematician and we deal in what is as close as humans can get to what Schaffer called true truth.  A mathematical truth is far more reliable than say a truth gained by observation since a mathematical truth can be determined to be true even if all I know with certainty is that I am a nexus of thought.  Euclid’s proof that there are infinitely many prime numbers will still be true even if you, my car, my house, Europe, the Milky Way Galaxy and the rest of the universe exist only in my imagination.  One of the things that often happens in mathematics is an unanswered question will lead to the development of new inquiries in mathematics that turn out to be much more interesting and important than that posed by the original question.  That was the case with Fermat’s last Theorem.  Men trying to solve Fermat’s problem developed a great deal of mathematics that was much more important than the problem originally posed by Fermat.  That is the treasure in the mystery of unanswered questions and so with the mysteries of God.  There is gold in asking the questions even when we don’t get the answers we were expecting.

I was recently discussing the concept of the spirit with an eclectic group of friends, Protestant, Catholic and Mormon and the question of the preexistence of the spirit came up.  It occurred to me that this is a topic that Mormons and Eastern faiths rather neatly put in a box but that orthodox Christianity really doesn’t address very clearly because the bible doesn’t seem to address it very directly.  Of course, there is bound to be something about it in the CCC.  There always is.  But as I pondered the question driving to work this morning driving past the bucolic fields of grass and ranchland I suddenly realized something profound about myself.

I thought about the miracle of conception, the egg and the sperm being offered up by the woman and the man.  I thought of the analogy of the seed being placed in the ground.  I thought of the way that Jesus used that to parallel our own new birth.  I thought about our own culture and how it treats sexuality and I had a revelation of sorts.  The egg and the sperm are not merely bodily fluids.  They are sacred.  There is, dare I say it, something analogous to the Eucharist going on here because they confer life when united.  Like the penitent in adoration of the Eucharist who, as a part of the bride of Christ, longs to be united to the body of Christ in the Mass for the life it will bring, the sperm longs to be united with the egg for the life it will bring.  Sexuality in the context of marriage is holy and my body engaged in sexuality in that context is engaged in a holy feast of celebration.

Some Jewish traditions understood the sacredness of the body and my sexuality and expressed it in the most clear terms possible. “It is prohibited to waste seed . This is the most severe of all sins in the torah. Those who spill seed in waste, not only do they commit a major sin, they also place themselves in excommunication. Referring to them the verse says “your hands became filled with blood”. It is as if he kills a person.” (Kitzur Shulcan Aruch 151)

I don’t agree with this rather severe view.  In reading more about this tradition, I realize it is based upon a belief that the soul of the preborn child exists within the seed of the male. “It comes out, all souls who were to be his children now intermingle with the sitra achara. He takes holiness and turn it to impurity, good into evil (Kaf Hchaim 240)”.  But I do appreciate the reverence it shows for the body and for the act of a man and a woman uniting in intimate physical union.  In particular I am not an advocate of men gritting their teeth and “white knuckling” their way to avoiding masturbation for fear of sin.  What I am speaking of is a different way of seeing yourself and your body as a sacred part of yourself.

I could speak at this point about the lack of teaching on the spirituality of the body in the protestant church, or the way as men we compartmentalize our spirituality and our sexuality or even the issue of duality and the tendency to view the physical realm as bad and the spiritual realm as good, but instead I am going to get a bit more personal.  How does this knowledge impact me now?  All of me, all of me, matters to God.  I carry eternity inside me.  I am reminded of my favorite quote from  my favorite Anglican, C. S. Lewis.

“It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor.

The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken.

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.

All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations.

It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.

There are no ordinary people.

You have never talked to a mere mortal.

Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat.

But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”

I have to disagree with Lewis on one count.  I think we spend far too little time considering that we too are made for eternity, that we too are not ordinary people, that we carry eternity inside us.  Catch a glimpse of that glory alive inside you and a part of you and it will change you.  It already has.