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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