Tuesday, October 9, 2012

What is Manliness?

Much neglected ink has been spilt on this theme, from the epics of the Greeks and Romans to the wisdom of the Bard.  Even the travails of the Hebrews, the prophets and the Galilean fisherman rest like scriptural relics in the catacombs of time, glowing archetypes on the forgotten pages of history.  As Superman, Spiderman, Batman, Ironman, and an unending array of heroes flood hollywood screens and kindle youthful imaginations, the one true man, the man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, remains mostly hidden between the dusty covers of Bibles in hotel rooms.

Meanwhile, many women wonder "Where Have All the Good Men Gone?" and others bemoan the "Demise of Guys".  The male constituency of the 60's flower children now seem like so many Hercules in comparison to today's cultural counterparts.  In America it seems as if the hippies spawned yuppies who gave way to grungies that were overtaken by emos who tried to console themselves by becoming hipsters who drown their proverbial sorrows in video-game addictions.  No wonder there is such a craving for superheroes!

Whatever the cause of this decline, a revolution of manliness is underway.  Harvard Professor Harvey Mansfield published a book on this very topic, appropriately entitled Manliness.  One website that has been gaining traction on the internet boldly announces the title The Art of Manliness. (see also Christian Manliness and Mormon Men and We Have Work to Do).  This revolution calls for recruits of all ages and social circumstances, even erstwhile hippies and hapless modern hipsters (no offense intended).

But this revolution would be hopelessly incomplete and doomed to failure if its telos were only to produce Clint Eastwood clones and NFL quarterbacks.  As much as I admire John Wayne, and as much as I enjoy a good Batman movie (sometimes I feel like I can relate to Christian Bale climbing out of a giant pit), the revolution in manliness only becomes truly purposeful when linked to a higher legacy.  Don't get me wrong, Superman is great, Bruce Lee was a stud, and professional athletes are fun to watch.  Moreover, motorcycles are appropriate means of transportation and Chuck Norris does have an amazing round house kick.  But isn't there more to manliness?

I believe that in many cases ancient virtue anticipates Christian virtue, but when the Lord asked the Nephites "What manner of men ought ye to be?" (3 Ne. 27) he did so after having fulfilled his mission in mortality by suffering for the sins of the world in Gethsemane, forgiving his enemies even from the cross, and rising from the tomb.  He had washed the feet of his disciples and commissioned them to preach the Gospel to all the world.  Similarly, though to a lesser degree, the Lord's revelation to the suffering Prophet Joseph Smith in Liberty jail reveals elements of manliness that are lost, as the Lord put it, on "most men" because of their "nature and disposition". (D&C 121)

Part of the miracle of manliness manifested by Jesus Christ was that in one moment he could meekly clear out the money changers from the temple, and in another moment he could heal the ear of Malchus.  Likewise, Joseph Smith could in one moment rebuke the prison guards like a lion, and in other moments demonstrate the gentleness and meekness of a lamb.  In a similar vein, it was written of George Washington that "In all history few men who possessed unassailable power have used that power so gently and self-effacingly for what their best instincts told them was the welfare of their neighbors and all mankind" (James Thomas Flexner, Washington: The Indispensable Man).  Of captain Moroni it was written "Yea, verily, verily I say unto you, if all men had been, were, and ever would be like unto Moroni, behold, the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever; yea, he devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men" (Alma 48:17)

If that's not manliness, I don't know what is.