Harvey Mansfield, Harvard professor of politics and 2011 Bradley Prize winner, just wrote a provocative piece on the distinctive characteristics and faults of men for The Weekly Standard. It’s entitled “Manliness and Morality” and I commend it to you.
Several years ago, Mansfield penned the highly controversial book Manliness (Yale, 2006), also worth reading, though the professor operates from a non-evangelical framework and sometimes writes in a swashbuckling style. Enjoying the freedom only tenure can bring, Mansfield has questioned gender absolutes in the academy and suggested that men and women are different. These are fighting words in many circles today. I have benefited from his insights and applaud his courage, even if I have some essential disagreements with him.
Differences Between the Sexes
In “Manliness and Morality,” Mansfield notes that “Men are more adventurous and aggressive than women. This is true for good as well as ill.” He goes on to say that “Many think that admitting such differences will hurt the chances of women to gain for themselves formerly male occupations that require initiative and drive. It certainly seems strange that being capable of rape can make a person better qualified for greatness, but it’s probably true. Yet it’s not surely true; some women do have these manly qualities and do succeed.”
He also calls attention to the potential vulnerability of women, suggesting that “Being mothers, they are closer to their children, and usually suffer more from divorce.” He goes on to say that “The enforcement of law and morality is done mainly by men or by women with the strength of men. Martial arts! But it’s better usually to call the police. Women need men to save them from men.”
Read the whole piece. You could also read the book, noting as you do that Mansfield presents his argument in a style that is sometimes bombastic. His points at times require more fleshing out, more substantiation, than he grants them. Mansfield’s insights are based in his observations, not in Scripture. They resonate, however, with certain tenets of the Christian worldview. From start to finish in the Bible, men are appointed as leaders of God’s church and their homes (with 1 and 2 Timothy providing the essential New Testament data on the matter). As they go, so go their families, churches and societies. When men excel in righteousness, others flourish (see, in a general sense, Israel under David’s reign—1 and 2 Samuel). When men fall into gross sin, others suffer (see the book of Judges). The sins and strengths of men have an outsize impact on others.
Toward a New Male Order
All of which leads Christian men, men captured by the gospel of Jesus Christ, to realize that this is an age of tremendous opportunity. Godly men have a remarkable chance in this day to show how the Holy Spirit transforms a man. When God gets a hold of a man, he doesn’t merely tinker with him, making him cuss less and smile more. When God saves a man, he looses him to destroy sin and bless his family, church, and society. Christian men are not normal men who sleep less on Sunday and wear Dockers with no creases. Christian men are transformed men, other-worldly men, residents of a new kingdom, servants of a great king, as Randy Stinson and Dan Dumas make clear in their insightful and challenging A Guide to Biblical Manhood (Southern Seminary, 2011).
Opportunity Amidst Tragedy
This very day, every man—whether a global leader or an unknown tradesman—has an opportunity to show the world that the gospel does not kill pleasure or aggressiveness. Rather, as Edwards has shown, it frees Christians to experience true pleasure and to act in manly ways for a far greater cause than ourselves. We grieve the trajectory of modern men, and we feel special pain for the wives and children who are, through no fault of their own, deeply damaged by the sins of men. In a broken world, we pray to God to show the world a better way, a greater joy, and a magnificent Savior, who delights in taking sinful men and turning them into agents of his glory.