MEN ARE FORMED, NOT BORN

The news of men has not been good of late. My friend Tommy died last week. The last I heard he was in the Roanoke Rescue Mission. But in the end, he was homeless, doing crack, meth, and heroin. The drugs took him at 52.

There’s the porn epidemic. As Catholic writer, Benjamin Wiker, has said, “Our sexual environment is about as polluted as China’s air, and the harm caused by such pollution is just as scientifically demonstrable.”[1]

Then there’s the swelling cohort of insecure, indecisive, incompetent young men whose directionless energies are squandered in endless pursuits of, well, that’s just it, nothing special. As Auguste Meyrat recently wrote, they are “hapless chumps” who can “make observations, crack jokes, ask questions…but they cannot make theses and support them.” Women may “friend-zone” these guys, but they won’t marry and have children with them.[2]

And its common knowledge that one of the greatest common denominators for mass shooters (not counting jihadis) is that they are young, alienated men, with absent, abusive, or just irrelevant fathers.

Males are born, but men are formed. And our culture is failing to form them.

Cultural trends for the last forty years mitigate against it. “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle,” founding feminist Gloria Steinem said, and a whole generation of women believed her and did without. That movement, along with constant media mockery of men as sleazy sex addicts or buffoonish oafs, removed much of the motivation men had to become something other than overgrown boys.

Healthy masculinity, the kind that gets tough when the going gets rough and tender when it doesn’t, has also been undermined by hypocrites like Bill Cosby and pedophile priests. But they are only the most famous of a multitude of men who hide predatory natures behind a faith and family friendly mask.

What’s to be done? Specifically, what can the church do? The most important thing we can do is buy into my thesis: Men are formed, not born.

There are definite attributes and specific disciplines that separate the men from the boys that can be passed down from one generation to the next. They have nothing to do with physical or sexual prowess and everything to do with character formation. We can work out the details of how to do that later, but we must buy in first. We must believe that positive masculinity can and should be formed in young men by older men.

Too many fathers and too many church men assume that “boys will be boys” and just let them raise themselves or worse, “let their Momma do it.” That’s not meant as a slam on moms who sacrifice endlessly for their children. But the truth is that young men do not respond the same way to women as they do men they respect. As a result, we have a generation of “feral children,” who—wishing they were real men—have mistaken real masculinity with owning powerful weapons and hyped-up pick-up trucks. Or else mistaken it for feminine virtues that, while admirable, aren’t masculine and therefore do not satisfy the innate need of a male to achieve manhood among other men.

My friend Tommy grew up a feral child. His father abandoned him early in life and rarely offered anything other than criticism for his son’s failings. Like all of us, Tommy made choices for which he alone was responsible. He had multiple opportunities to turn his life around. But I can’t help wonder how his life might have turned out if the right set of men had taken him in and committed to train him how to be a man.

[1] https://www.catholicworldreport.com/2017/08/04/sexual-pollution-is-a-scientific-and-destructive-fact/

[2] https://www.intellectualtakeout.org/article/ts-eliot-poem-describes-modern-males-perfectly

EL PASO, DAYTON, & GILROY

EL PASO, DAYTON, & GILROY

Editor’s Note: The most shocking thing about the three mass murders that happened last week is that they are no longer shocking. Heart-breaking, yes, but not shocking. Of the comments and opinions I’ve read on these events, John Stonestreet’s, President of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, were the most coherent. I’m reprinting them here for your edification. Links to the podcast, the response by Marvin Olasky, of World News Group, and an article I wrote on the topic last year follow. DS

El Paso, Dayton, and Gilroy

The Heart of the Matter

John Stonestreet, Breakpoint, August 6, 2019

“If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds,” Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote, “and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them.”

Of course, there are evil people. We know that far too well, especially after this past weekend. In fact, that there are evil people out there is the one thing, maybe the only thing, everyone still agrees on. We disagree on who the people are: The evil shooter. The evil racist president. The evil progressives who want to take our guns. So we go on and on, identifying who the evil people are—always them—and we go on and on missing the real problem right in front of our face.

Solzhenitsyn’s point wasn’t, as some argue, that people aren’t really evil. Far from it. His point was that to assume evil exists only in them (whoever our “them” is) and not in us, is just plain wrong. Rather, as he continued: “… the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”

The finger pointing that immediately followed the mass shootings in Gilroy, El Paso, and Dayton started before any facts were known, and came even quicker than usual. (Let’s pause there… “than usual.” What a tragic way to talk about mass murders.) The finger pointers had already decided who the bad guys were, and many of us joined in on the chorus. So, we tweeted and reported and assumed the evil ones belonged to the other side while hoping they did not belong to ours. If it’s discovered the evildoer does belong to us, we know how to twist and contort and accuse in order to explain any connection away. But, if he belongs to them, we also know how to leverage the tragedy to indict the entire lot.

I say this as a 2nd Amendment guy. I fully agree that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Read the online manifestos of these young men and tell me that they wouldn’t eventually find some other way to carry out their violent fantasies. Even if gun control were the answer, how would we ever go about implementing it? Does anyone really think someone so radicalized to that degree of hatred would trade in their weapons for a gift card?

At the same time, the idea that “the best way to stop bad guys with guns is with good guys with guns” needs to be reconsidered. At face value, I fully agree. What I fear, however, is that those who repeat this idea are working off of old math. When bad guys are willing to target innocents, even children, at schools, movie theaters, churches, festivals, and Wal-Marts… what then? In Dayton, the good guys showed up in one minute, one minute, and the bad guy still killed nine people. Facing that sort of evil, how many good guys with guns will we need to protect us? Where exactly will we need them? Everywhere? That’s called a “police state,” and it’s the inevitable end of any society that sinks so deeply into moral chaos.

If that is our fate, make no mistake, we’ll have brought it on ourselves. And by “we,” I mean us and them. As the progressive left finds new ways to deconstruct the family, reconstruct morality, and scandalize the innocence of children at every level and in every area of culture while demonizing their evil other by state force and financial leveraging, the libertarian right demands unfettered license to say whatever and think whatever and post whatever on 8chan while demonizing its own evil other as the cause for all so-called ills.  All this while the church faces scandal after scandal of its own making.

Yet, we wonder how lonely young men without meaning or moral formation or fathers, who have no way to fulfill their pornographic-fueled fantasies but have access to plenty of self-medication options, could be driven to white-supremacist or progressive extremism.  We need to ask what it is about our culture that’s producing these young men bent on killing and chaos. And we need to ask: Where is the church?

Do we really think we are immune to the historically repetitive realities that have marked every crumbling civilization since the dawn of time? Do we really think we can keep our freedom in a society not only without virtue, but without any of the “little platoons” that form virtue?

Can freedom be sustained where virtue is not flourishing? Chuck Colson asked this every time he spoke the last few years of his life. The answer to Chuck’s question is still, of course, no.

As Chuck said, it’s either the conscience or the constable. Unless we are willing to look at us, to as Solzhenitsyn said, “destroy a piece of our own heart,” our future is increasingly obvious.

Only Christ can restore this mess. We must be about His work of restoration.

Breakpoint Podcast; Marvin Olasky, World News Group Editor in Chief; Is Your Son the Next School Shooter?

 

AN ALIEN IN YOUR DRIVEWAY

AN ALIEN IN YOUR DRIVEWAY

If an alien from outer space landed in your driveway and asked, “What are all those buildings in your town with pointy spires and crosses on top? What is that about?” Could you answer accurately?

That’s the question C.S. Lewis—author of the Chronicles of Narnia—and Oxford College Chaplain, Walter Hooper, knocked around one day. “We wondered how many people, (who did not flee) apart from voicing their prejudices about the Church, could supply them with much in the way of accurate information. On the whole, we doubted whether the aliens would take back to their world much that is worth having.”

Hooper and Lewis were speculating because at that time, in the mid-twentieth century, several autobiographies of former bishops and preachers had flooded the market explaining why they could no longer accept the faith. Lewis believed that much of the ignorance of true Christianity was due to the flood of “liberal writers who are continually accommodating and whittling down the truth of the Gospel.”

Nothing much has changed. Today, many people reject Christianity because of prejudice. They’ve been disillusioned by a bad Christian or injured by a fraudulent one and rejected the faith out of anger. And a spate of recent statements and books by former evangelicals such as the late Rachel Held Evans, and former pastors Rob Bell, and Joshua Harris contributes to confusion. “If professionals can’t follow it, how can I?”

But as Hooper writes in his preface to God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics by C.S. Lewis, “…it is impossible to decide whether Christianity is true or false if you do not know what it is about.” Spiritually hungry skeptics must ask themselves, “Am I rejecting something I fully understand? Or am I using negative examples as an excuse not to investigate it?”

If you are ready to learn what Christianity is about, Lewis’ book, Mere Christianity, is a good place to start, as is Lee Strobel’s, The Case for Faith. But if you prefer talking it out among friends you would enjoy the Alpha Course. It’s a ten-week introduction to basic Christianity that’s designed to encourage questions and build friendships with others on the same journey. Our church is hosting its ninth Alpha Course this year. If you come, we promise to feed you well, treat your questions with respect, and above all, not treat you like an alien from outer space.

REBUILDING SHALOM ONE COMMUNITY AT A TIME

REBUILDING SHALOM ONE COMMUNITY AT A TIME

The ground was thick with men as far as the eye could see, men so jam-packed the mall from the Capitol steps to the Washington Monument that it was hard to move. The year was 1997 and we were there for one purpose: to reaffirm our commitment to the seven promises of a Promise Keeper.

Promise six, reads: A Promise Keeper is committed to reach beyond any racial and denominational barriers to demonstrate the power of biblical unity. Fast-forward twenty-one years and our results are mixed. Despite our best intentions, we still self-segregate in schools, in churches, and social settings. On the national scale, Mr. Obama came to power with great promise for racial reconciliation but left a legacy of nursed grudges. Mr. Trump came to power with the support of white nationalists. As Chuck Colson said, the Kingdom of God will not arrive on Air Force One.

Race relations isn’t the only area where our society is fraying, cultural coherence is also unraveling. Once-strong voluntary associations like the Elks, the Masons, the Lion’s Club, Veterans’ associations, and Rotary find it more difficult every year to recruit and retain members.  Even Promise Keepers, which packed one million men into the mall that day in 1997, has waned. Robert D. Putnam’s best-selling 2000 book, BOWLING ALONE: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, explained that even though more people than ever were bowling, fewer were participating in leagues. This meant they were not nurturing the social networks and civic discourse necessary for a healthy society.

Some argue that social media and soccer moms have filled the gap, but Facebook is not equal to face-time (no, not that Facetime) when it comes to creating healthy community. In fact, I would argue the reverse.

If shalom, the God-blessed flourishing of all people in all communities, is what we want, we must stop bowling alone. And the church should lead the way. Community that builds bridges of understanding, dredges grudged-up swamps, and nurtures the common good (look it up under “love your neighbor as yourself”) is only built by people from different backgrounds and social networks talking face-to-face and working on projects together. You can’t do that on Facebook or gaming with some guy on the other side of the planet.

But you can participate in community building events and associations in your town. And no doubt your church has planned community building events for 2019. I urge you to engage in as many as possible and bring friends. Small groups focus on strengthening the bonds in the body of Christ as well. Commit to one, whether it’s Sunday morning or mid-week.

Rod Dreher, in his sobering work, THE BENEDICT OPTION: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, wrote: “The first Christians gained converts not because their arguments were better than those of the pagans but because people saw in them and their communities something good and beautiful—and they wanted it. This led them to the Truth.”[1]

May God use the beauty of our community to do the same.

[1] Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option, New York: Sentinel, 2017. P. 118.

IS YOUR SON THE NEXT SCHOOL SHOOTER? How to Prevent Your Worst Nightmare

IS YOUR SON THE NEXT SCHOOL SHOOTER? How to Prevent Your Worst Nightmare

The school shootings just keep coming, as we should have guessed by now they would. Without the intervention of teacher Jason Seaman, Noblesville, Indiana would no doubt have been the third mass shooting in a school in 2018, preceded by Santa Fe, Texas, that took ten lives, and Parkland, Florida that took seventeen and wounded seventeen more. May Seaman’s tribe increase.

Malcolm Gladwell, who wrote on school shootings in the New Yorker in 2015, believes we should expect more. His article developed a theory based on a study of riots by sociologist Mark Granovetter. Each new shooting lowers the threshold for participation. The Columbine shooters broke the storefront window. Others less brash but emboldened are now rushing in and looting the place.

“In the day of Eric Harris, we could try to console ourselves with the thought that there was nothing we could do, that no law or intervention or restrictions on guns could make a difference in the face of someone so evil. But the riot has now engulfed the boys who were once content to play with chemistry sets in the basement.”[1]

Time will tell, but if the 2018 trend indicates anything it is that Gladwell is probably right. As each new incident splashes across the media, more low threshold shooters will take up arms.

Arguments for gun-control will continue to gain steam, communities will seek to harden their schools, and law enforcement improve response times, but those things only address the symptoms of this growing social pathology.[2] We need to get to the roots. All school mass murderers have been boys or young men. The question is: What can we as parents and grandparents do to prevent the development of future predators?

Several common denominators emerge from analysis of these boy-shooters, labeled thus because even if they are in college, they have missed essential developmental steps to manhood. Besides access to guns, which Americans have always had, they are: The desire for revenge; the desire for fame; the need to feel powerful; the copycat phenomenon; narcissistic individualism; mental illness. Those personality disorders are on the rise.

How can parents, grandparents and community leaders interrupt the downward spiral of narcissistic revenge in a boy’s life that leads to mass murder? Obviously, we want to introduce our sons to Jesus Christ, to teach and model for them what it means to follow the Prince of Peace. Beyond that I offer the following suggestions.

First, parents need to be parents again, not friends. You can be friends later, great friends, once your son has achieved manhood, but not before. Until that day he needs leadership willing to exercise controlling authority in his life that will set standards and expectations for behavior with fairness and consistency. From the time the terrible twos strike until he walks across the stage to accept a diploma he needs boundaries and expectations enforced with positive affirmation and memorable discipline.

The reason for that is straightforward. Freud taught that everything wrong with us is our parent’s fault, that if we can only sort out how they wronged us we’ll be alright. The humanists followed with the theory that children are born basically good, innocent blank slates who only need to be shown the good to want it. If the child does wrong there are always reasons, excuses, mitigating factors. It’s not his fault. The psychological health of American boys has been in precipitous decline ever since those theories caught on in the 1960s.[3]

A more reliable and ancient record of human psychology—the Bible—teaches that all children are born with free will and a narcissistic proclivity to choose self over others.

Child and Family Psychologist John Rosemond reported on the connection between that proclivity and violence in his PARENTING BY THE BOOK. The best social science reveals “the characteristics that typify people who possess an abundance of self-esteem:

  • An overriding sense of entitlement (“What I want I deserve to have”)
  • Low self-control, especially when frustrated
  • Apt to explode toward others when they don’t get their way
  • A criminal/sociopath mind-set, distinguished by the belief that the end justify the means”[4]

Training this out of a boy requires teaching him that bad behavior is his fault and he will be held accountable for it. His morals need forming and his instincts need restraining until he is civilized.

Second, if your son doesn’t have a father in the home make sure he has several in the community. Coaches, scout leaders, church men, teachers, ROTC leaders and male mentors of all kinds. Boys need men to show them what servant-leadership looks like, how a real man handles setbacks and disappointments. If you aren’t part of a church with strong male role-models in it find one and pray for God to lead you and your son(s) to the right kind of mentor. Keep him involved in healthy community, whether he wants to or not.

Third, keep him involved in healthy activities that channel his aggressive energies and provide camaraderie. Loneliness in the social media age is becoming pandemic. Screen time is not the same as face time with flesh and blood friends.[5]  Boys, even those who aren’t naturally athletic, have more built-in aggression and competitiveness than girls. If baseball isn’t his game perhaps Karate, Jiu-Jitsu, or golf, or tennis, or chess, or any number of other things will hold his attention. He needs to achieve with other boys and be affirmed in his achievement.

Fourth, interrupt immersion in killology, the phrase coined by former military psychologist David Grossman to define the process by which an average young person is groomed by the military to take human life.

Humans, like many other creatures, are not hard-wired to kill other humans, at least not in cold blood. They must be conditioned to do so. The military figured this out during WWII and developed training regimens that included brutalization, classical conditioning, operant conditioning and role modeling to overcome it. Brutalization desensitizes boys to violence. Classical conditioning, associating violence with pleasurable things like soft-drinks, sex, and laughter, makes them enjoy it. Operant conditioning trains them to do it without thinking. And role modeling shows them it’s socially OK. Much of the entertainment targeted at young men does the same thing, but without the built-in restraints in the military command structure.

Does that mean that every boy who plays World of Warcraft is a potential school shooter? No, but as Grossman reports, “Today the data linking violence in the media to violence in society are superior to those linking cancer and tobacco.”[6]

If your son or grandson is interested in war-stories, he’s like millions of others who’ve been inspired by military heroes. But if he is immersed in killology he could become quite dangerous without warning. Limit his screen time while giving him other things to pursue.

Fifth, watch closely during those critical years of early adolescence for signs of toxic social situations. Some boys are naturally more resilient, and we don’t want to create more snowflakes. But some situations are more damaging than others. Boys need a few successes under their belts to strengthen their confidence in social situations. If they haven’t had those successes, they need a social environment that won’t poison them with anger and resentment until they can accrue them. Mental illness often begins here.

Sixth, if your boy does need counseling or is diagnosed with a mental or emotional illness, all is not lost. Get the help he needs, but in the meantime, remove all firearms from your home.

School shootings have become a waking nightmare for America and it isn’t only the families of the victims who hurt, but the families of the shooters as well. Do whatever it takes to keep it from being your worst nightmare too.

[1] https://medium.com/@spencerbaum/mob-psychology-the-riot-effect-malcolm-gladwell-and-shirley-jackson-4bf2ec6ef427

[2] (See Gun Control on Daneskelton.com).

[3] John Rosemond, PARENTING BY THE BOOK, p. 36.

[4] Ibid p. 54.

[5] https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/05/01/606588504/americans-are-a-lonely-lot-and-young-people-bear-the-heaviest-burden?utm_campaign=storyshare&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social

[6] David Grossman, Ph.D., Director, Killology Research Group, Jonesboro, Arkansas. Adapted from a speech delivered at Bethel College, North Newton, Kansas, April 1996.

 

GROWING UP IN GOD’S UNIVERSITY

The interview was disturbing. The young woman I was counseling was in deep-dish trouble. Her relationships were dysfunctional, she was up to her armpits in debt, and most of her decisions were based on a daily reading of her horoscope.

But the most troubling thing is that she had grown up attending church. She was supposed to know how to manage life. But she didn’t. Her spiritual journey included a lot of lessons to help her feel good, but very few to help her live as a true follower of Christ. I should not have been surprised.

In 2005, University of North Carolina sociologist Christian Smith and colleague Melinda Lundquist Denton published The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, revealing that most teens adhered to a pseudo-religion Smith dubbed MTD, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. Its tenets:

  • There is a God who created everything and watches over us.
  • That God wants people to be good as defined by most world religions.
  • The goal of life is happiness and feeling good about oneself.
  • We only need God when we have a problem.
  • Good people go to heaven when they die.

In other words, the moral part is superseded by the therapeutic. Purity of heart, Christlike sacrifice for others, repentance, forgiveness and the pursuit of righteousness and the rule of God in life[1] aren’t in the picture. Feeling good trumps everything.

Smith’s follow-up research published in 2011 showed nothing had improved. Though 40 percent of young believers said their moral beliefs were grounded in the Bible or other religious feeling, it is unlikely that those beliefs were biblically consistent. And 61 percent “had no moral problem at all with materialism and consumerism.”[2]

Those teens are grown up now and most of America follows MTD.

That isn’t the way Church is supposed to be. The Church should be God’s university on planet earth, a learning center for Biblical life lessons, a place where each member is constantly growing up into maturity in Christ.[3]

Healthy Churches equip believers to discern between wisdom and the world’s empty values.

Consider some examples: What do you think about climate change?  How about a nuclear-armed Iran? What about health care? College debt? How about the Virginia Tax Code? And what about education? Helping the poor? Sex-ed in schools?

Simple answers elude us. How should a serious Christian respond? Can the Bible help?

The Bible doesn’t always teach us what to think. But it can teach us how to think. That’s what it means to develop a Biblical Worldview. Christians truly educated in God’s university know how to ‘think Biblically’ on issues from Abortion to Zoning laws. In that sense, a healthy church produces better parents, better students, better leaders, better workers and better citizens because it produces better thinkers.

PLAYGROUND FAITH In a Toys R’nt Us World

PLAYGROUND FAITH  In a Toys R’nt Us World

Our church took a step of faith this month, spending about $10,000 on a new playground that should serve us for another twenty years. But the faith had nothing to do with raising money. Being a frugal bunch, we had been setting aside funds for capital improvements for years. No, the faith had to do with spending it on play-equipment in the first place. The way things are going in America, playgrounds could become a thing of the past, relics of the baby-boom gone bust.

Consider the trends: Seventy-year-old icon of childhood, Toys R Us, just closed all 800 stores, blaming the Amazon insurgency along with Wal-Mart and Target for its market decline. They were also over-leveraged, but the root of the problem is declining demand. “Most of our end-customers are newborns and children,” they said in a statement, “and, as a result, our revenue are dependent on the birthrates in countries where we operate. In recent years, many countries’ birthrates have dropped or stagnated as their population ages, and education and income levels increase.”[1]

Bottom-line, men and women aren’t getting married as often or as young as they used to. When they do they aren’t having as many babies, if they have any at all. Breakpoint’s John Stonestreet reports that the U.S. fertility rate is near 1.77 children per woman, or below the replacement rate necessary to sustain our population at current levels.[2] Children are expensive to have and costly to raise, we reason, and that’s true. But the more we treasure our treasure the less we value life.

The roots of this lie in the sexual revolution of the 1960s and the advent of “the pill,” when we divorced sex from marriage and devalued children in the process. But it has greater ramifications than the closing of a toy store chain. The supply of young workers that keep an economy growing and social programs funded declines as the population grays and demand for social services increases. Financial crises loom as this population mega-shift occurs.

But there’s more to it than that. Having children pleases God and drives spiritual growth.

From the Genesis mandate to “be fruitful and multiply,” to Jesus’s command to “let the little children come to me,” the Bible is a pro-children book. “Children are a reward from God … a crown to the aged,” wrote Solomon.[3] Ask any grandparent and you will hear “Amen!”

Raising children from diapers to diplomas is the most demanding thing anyone can do, and the most spiritually rewarding. Kids expose our selfishness and call out service: will I buy that new boat or put money aside for braces? Volunteer to coach soccer or stay in bed on Saturday mornings? Children also challenge our moral inconsistencies: “Daddy, should you really be driving that fast … on the way to church?” Most uncomfortably, children reveal our character flaws just by sharing our DNA. It’s humbling to realize that those little ones who “look just like Daddy!” also share his penchant for show-boating, self-pity, arrogance, and mendacity.

Finally—and this is only a partial list—children teach us total dependence on God. Ask any parent who has ever said, “My child will never (fill-in-the-blank),” and they will tell you that there is only one God and we aren’t him. We have no ability whatsoever to control outcomes in the lives of our little ones. God created them, gave them free will, and allows them to use it. Sooner or later—and the sooner the better—we release them to him and pray, trusting when they fall that he will raise them up, and rejoicing when they succeed.

So, building playgrounds is an act of faith. But having babies is even greater. May God bless us all with more of both.

[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2018/03/15/toys-r-uss-baby-problem-is-everybodys-baby-problem/

[2] http://www.breakpoint.org/2018/04/breakpoint-toys-r-us-to-close-down/

[3] Psalm 127:3 & Proverbs 17:6