Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Shaming men into virtue: a text-book case from Matt Walsh

Matt Walsh writes:

How can we expect our children to be righteous, to be generous and disciplined and faithful and godly, if their own father has not provided a demonstration of those traits? How can we demand virtue in others that we can hardly locate within ourselves? How can a real man rely on his wife to carry this burden alone or primarily? We, as men, are called to be the spiritual light to our family. When we engage in weak, shameful, selfish and childish behaviour, we dim the light. After a while, the light goes out altogether and our family is left to stumble around in the darkness. This is one of the many reasons why we need to reject porn and other vices, all which serve to lessen us, emasculate us and extinguish the light.

Well it is true, of course, but is this really the best way to inspire men to take up their role, as Walsh puts it, of 'leadership'? And what kind of 'leadership' does this, in fact, suggest? So far, it is just one of example. An example of suffering. Sounds a bit like a doormat, doesn't it?

Fathers and husbands should be sources of wisdom. But wisdom is the final product. The ingredients are knowledge, experience, and faith. Many of us have almost completely neglected two of those components and are just hoping that one day wisdom will miraculously sprout out of our heads like a magical beanstalk. I don’t think it works that way.

'Many of us' is an interesting phrase. The reader is invited to identify himself in it, but it is also a generalisation about men in general. Men combine ignorance with arrogance. Hang on a mo! Are these the people Walsh thinks have a divine mandate to the role of leadership in their families? Does that make sense?

CS Lewis says that Heaven is an acquired taste. I think something similar could be said of fatherhood and family life. The average 18-year-old, especially in today’s culture, has no taste for it because he simply cannot conceive of what it means to find actual joy in serving and leading others. He seeks only superficial pleasure and cannot comprehend any other kind. This is how most of us live until we have families.

At one level this is demeaning to the minority of men who do not live hedonistically and irresponsibly before marriage. They do exist. I know quite a few. What are they supposed to think when they read this? Which they are far more likely to do than the other kind. But don't worry: they are used, from the mainstream Church, to the patronising assumption that they are, nudge nudge, all deep sinners and have characters shaped by this reality.

At another level, the tone Walsh has adopted is far more dangerous. It displays absolutely zero sympathy with or comprehension of the boys and young men who have fallen into the habits of the dominant culture of our time. They cannot comprehend the pleasures of family life? I confess this makes me angry. Walsh is talking about young men who have been deprived of family life in their own childhoods, who long for family life as adults, and who are prevented from establishing anything resembling traditional family life by economic and cultural conditions which they are powerless to change. Walsh's response is to blame them. Right, yes, those unemployed guys in the sink-estates, they are the ones who passed the Divorce Act in 1968, who destroyed blue-collar jobs in the 1970s, and taught women that to accept the authority of a husband is shameful. They did this somehow before they were even born. Yes, blame them, Matt, it seems to make you feel better. But it won't help them out of their problems, which are real problems, not just middle-class hang-ups you can snap out of.

So what has Walsh not said in this post?

He has said nothing about the nature or purpose of male leadership, or the (presumably, good) qualities of men which adapt them to take this role on. The suspicion of many readers, whether they articulate it this way or not, will be that he doesn't have a real conception of male leadership at all, but just thinks men ought to allow themselves to be exploited: this is, after all, the message of the majority culture. This is, of course, part of what has created the problem Walsh identifies with the hedonistic young men, because it makes family life unattractive.

Walsh sees at least the symptoms of the problem, and does his best to make it worse. Catholic apologists really should stop doing this.

See my post on The Economist on the 'man crisis', and the label 'Patriarchy'.

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  1. Even more precisely, he is talking about young men who have been deprived of family life, at least in the United States, largely because their mothers unilaterally decided to divorce their fathers for reasons the Catholic Church (of which Walsh is a member, not that you'd be able to tell by most of his writings) would consider frivolous, i.e., abuse or adultery (actual adultery, not mere porn usage, contra Walsh). In other words, they have been deprived of family life because their mothers listened to people like Walsh.

    As you say, Walsh might be a hair more credible if he reminded men that leadership of their families is not merely some kind of crushing, Stoic obligation to be borne with quiet resolve, but a divinely-appointed mission that entitles men to the submission of their wives and the obedience of their children; that a wife's refusal of that submission is offensive to God; that "next to God [wives] are to love their husbands, to esteem them above all others, yielding to them in all things not inconsistent with Christian piety, a willing and ready obedience"; and that a worthy husband leads and rules his family, in part, by reminding them of their obligations and chastising them for their failures in observing them diligently. Of course none of this would endear Walsh to his audience, largely repellent evangelicals of the sort Dalrock skewers at his blog on a regular basis.

  2. Agreed!!! I have not lived a hedonistic life either. But I am yet to get married. It is by no means because I do not want to get married. Mainly, it is actually because I can't find an actual Catholic woman who agrees to the entirety of Catholic teaching. They are rare (if they even exist)!!

    Almost every woman I have met is high on feminism. Its either reproductive rights or advancing her career goals. When feminism is not quiet the issue, the particular women live pretty hedonistic lifestyles. Drinking till they have to be carried out by their friends is hard to get attracted to. Or getting to know that she has already slept with a ton of guys is also a downer. How is a guy supposed to feel like "its OK" when they themselves haven't crossed the line amidst much temptation to do so?

    So this male blaming has to stop. Not saying that the problem is entirely with women. I would say the problem is with Men who exploit women (they exist), women who have become hedonistic or worldly (they exist), and Church clergy who don't say a single thing about it from the pulpit while society disintegrates!!!!!!!!!!!! The only ones truly capable of coming to know that the current culture is messed up is our Catholic clergy. Yet, they remain silent. By the time the average man or woman in this society figures out that they are suffering from some bad personal philosophical positions that they hold, they have either screwed up so badly that marriage is a stretch. OR, they are way beyond the age of marrying.

    Maybe I am being harsh, but I strongly feel that the Catholic clergy should be doing much more and saying much more to fix this collapse. Instead, all I hear about is clergy trying to act as if failure is inevitable (i.e. lets try to find ways to integrate those in cohabitation, adulterous unions etc.)

    Sorry for the rant....

  3. Sean W: Your comment was very interesting but did you leave a "not" out? I would have thought abuse or adultery would be non-frivolous reasons to separate from one's spouse. Also the quotation you used "next to God, wives are to love their husbands...", do you have a source for that? I'd be interested to read more.

    1. I did indeed! Would that I could edit my earlier comment.

      That quote comes from the Roman Catechism (i.e., the Catechism of Trent), in the "Holy Matrimony" section, under the heading "Duties of a Wife" (near the bottom of this page:

    2. Thanks for the reference!

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Thanks, James, I got your message. It is to avoid such accusations that I use real examples of people talking this way and not just say vaguely 'some people say'.