RGC3: What is a Man? Redefining Male Success

Millennial editor Robert Christian has a new article at Notre Dame’s Church Life Journal. He writes:

Theodore Roosevelt once said, “I abhor the creature who uses the expression that ‘a man must be a man’ in order to excuse his being a vile and vicious man.” Certain vices and failings remain closely identified with existing definitions of manhood. Men seek power and control. They view women as objects to be acquired and used. Material success defines their worth and virtue. Men are free from the weakness of emotional dependence. A ‘real man’ is rational and self-interested, without pity for those who cannot or will not stand on their own two feet. Clothes make the man (or his car or house or corner office). Men use violence to protect what is theirs.

But do we really want a society full of emotionally vacuous men who dehumanize others, define their sense of self-worth based on superficial metrics, and turn selfishness into a virtue? For the Christian, the obvious answer is “no.” But even for the average American, this description of what constitutes a ‘real man’ would likely be viewed as far from ideal. And it is clear that changing social norms, brought on by the empowerment of women and socioeconomic changes, among other factors, are redefining what it means to be a successful man (which is not to say that the aforementioned view of manhood was ever undisputed). But if these changes do not purposefully reject the individualism, materialism, consumerism, chauvinism, and the preeminence of self-interest that has made the common definition of male success so incompatible with genuine virtue, the gap between the two will persist and men will be pressured to conform to social expectations that divert them from living lives of genuine virtue, joy, and fulfillment.

Men are not cavemen nor are we devoid of free will. If we value the authentic flourishing of men and the people around them, we need to define success differently and develop social norms that reflect this redefinition….

While some may prefer the traditions of past decades when it comes to gender roles and defining success, we are entering a new era. One can respond with nostalgia, but a better way forward would be to reimagine how we translate Christ’s call to love in today’s world, a perennial challenge.

The full article can be read here.


Around the Web

Check out these recent articles from around the web:

Poor Sanitation in India May Afflict Well-Fed Children With Malnutrition by Gardiner Harris: “An emerging body of scientific studies suggest that Vivek and many of the 162 millionother children under the age of 5 in the world who are malnourished are suffering less a lack of food than poor sanitation.”

Love People, Not Pleasure by Arthur Brooks: “People who rate materialistic goals like wealth as top personal priorities are significantly likelier to be more anxious, more depressed and more frequent drug users, and even to have more physical ailments than those who set their sights on more intrinsic values.”

How to deal with darkness by Matthew Warner: “If you struggle with pride, fall in love with humility. If you struggle with always being right, explore the wonders and freedom of admitting you’re wrong. If you struggle with lust, learn to value self-control and the dignity of others. If you struggle with envy, embrace admiration. Angry? Binge on forgiveness. Selfish? Commit to serving others.”

Learning from Bodies by Nora Calhoun: “If we let bodies speak to us in their own language, by being present to them and offering the gifts of touch and physical care, we can learn what is truly at stake and why it matters.”

Corrupting citizens for fun and profit by Michael Gerson: “Rather than building social competence and capital, politicians increasingly benefit when citizens are addicted, exploited, impoverished and stoned. And that deserves contempt, not applause.”

The age of entitlement: how wealth breeds narcissism by Anne Manne: “Even thoughts of being wealthy can create a feeling of increased entitlement — you start to feel superior to everyone else and thus more deserving: something at the centre of narcissism. They found this was true of people who were, in real life, better off.”

Parenting with Smartphones by Amber Lapp: “There are no rules, few guidelines to help us set boundaries between work and family life when we work from home. The freedom, the flexibility, the lack of script is both the blessing and the curse.”

Helping girls worldwide requires a united stand by Malala Yousafzai: “We are stronger than those who oppress us, who seek to silence us. We are stronger than the enemies of education. We are stronger than fear, hatred, violence and poverty.”

Choosing Transformational Marriage by Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig: “Marriage lasts wherein the couple allow themselves to be transformed by it, and faithfully commit to that transformation, re-orienting the way they relate to one another and the marriage itself by willful habitation to the virtues of charity and kindness.”

Jihadists claim Baghdad blasts as Iraq rallies behind Christians by Jean Marc Mojon: “Until Saturday, there had been a continuous Christian presence in Mosul for about 16 centuries.”

 


Pope Francis on Consumerism, Environmental Ecology, and Human Ecology

Since his election to the papacy, Pope Francis has made the care of God’s good gift of Creation one of the central themes of his pontificate. This is in a certain sense not surprising, given both the environmental legacy of his papal predecessors—Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John II, in particular—and his choice of the name Francis.  The pope explained that one of the reasons he chose the name Francis was to recall the environmental ethic of St. Francis of Assisi and to lift up this central element of the Church’s tradition.

Yesterday, however, Pope Francis recognized World Environment Day at his weekly audience with some of his most insightful and prophetic words to date on the Christian vocation to “cultivate and care for” creation (Genesis 2:15), as he discussed the way in which the “culture of waste” harms both “environmental ecology” and “human ecology.” This is a powerful and challenging message for all people of faith and goodwill, especially those of us living comfortably in the so-called Global North.

In his weekly address, Pope Francis reflected on the second creation story of Genesis and explained:

“[T]he verb ‘to cultivate’ reminds me of the care that the farmer has for his land so that it bear fruit, and it is shared: how much attention, passion and dedication! Cultivating and caring for creation is God’s indication given to each one of us not only at the beginning of history; it is part of His project; it means nurturing the world with responsibility and transforming it into a garden, a habitable place for everyone.”

Although this is the responsibility to which God calls all people of faith and goodwill, Pope Francis went on to observe that this vocation is often compromised by an insatiable overconsumption of material goods and the “culture of waste” that has risen around the world. The pope observed:

“[W]e are often driven by pride of domination, of possessions, manipulation, of exploitation; we do not ‘care’ for [creation], we do not respect it, we do not consider it as a free gift that we must care for. We are losing the attitude of wonder, contemplation, listening to creation; thus we are no longer able to read what Benedict XVI calls ‘the rhythm of the love story of God and man.’ Why does this happen? Why do we think and live in a horizontal manner, we have moved away from God, we no longer read His signs.”

In addition to recognizing that overconsumption harms “environmental ecology,” Pope Francis called attention to the fact that materialism also compromises “human ecology.” The Pope said:

“Men and women are sacrificed to the idols of profit and consumption: it is the ‘culture of waste’….Yet these things become the norm: that some homeless people die of cold on the streets is not news. In contrast, a ten point drop on the stock markets of some cities is a tragedy. A person dying is not news, but if the stock markets drop ten points it is a tragedy! Thus people are disposed of, as if they were trash.”

The Holy Father called particular attention to the way in which the “culture of waste” disposes of excess food when many around the world are starving, and declared, “We should all remember, however, that throwing food away is like stealing from the tables of the poor, the hungry!”

In response to the human and ecological challenges posed by rampant overconsumption and habitual disposal, Pope Francis recognizes that the interrelated challenges of protecting “human ecology” and caring for “environmental ecology” in the face of systemic overconsumption are “not just a matter of economics, but of ethics and anthropology.” Given this observation, the Holy Father concluded by asking “all to make a serious commitment to respect and protect creation, to be attentive to every person, to counter the culture of waste and disposable, to promote a culture of solidarity and of encounter.”

In light of this message, there are several ways in which Catholic millennials—particularly those of us in the United States—might respond to this call:

Distinguish Between “Consumption” and “Consumerism”: Humans are undeniably corporeal and, as such, require a certain amount of material goods. Although the consumption of resources is thus necessary—and even natural, according to Aquinas (ST II-II, Q. 66, Art. 2, ad. 2)—the proper consumption of resources is distinct from the principle of consumerism that drives much of modern economics. In her book The Story of Stuff: How our Obsession with Stuff is Trashing the Planet, our Communities, and our Health–and a Vision for Change–which builds on the original short online documentary The Story of Stuff— Annie Leonard describes this distinction, saying:

“While consumption means acquiring and using goods and services to meet one’s needs, consumerism is the particular relationship to consumption in which we seek to meet our emotional and social needs through shopping, and we define and demonstrate our self-worth through the Stuff we own.  And overconsumption is when we take far more resources than we need and than the planet can sustain…. Consumerism is about excess” (129).

Connect the Dots between Consumerism and Environmental Degradation: Although we might not think about it when we purchase things at the store, consumerism is one of the largest contributors to environmental degradation. This is because the resources needed to sustain a consumerist society must be extracted, transported, processed, and disposed of at rate that is having disastrous impacts on both the planet and our climate. This is particularly challenging for us as Americans, given how much we consume.  The Scientific American reports that although the we make up only 5 percent of the world’s population, “the U.S. uses one-third of the world’s paper, a quarter of the world’s oil, 23 percent of the coal, 27 percent of the aluminum, and 19 percent of the copper.” At this rate, another Scientific American piece points out, five earths would be needed for everyone in the world to live an average American lifestyle.

Highlight the Connection between Creation Care and Protecting Human Life and Dignity: Pope Francis’ observation that consumerism harms both “environmental ecology” and “human ecology” builds on the Church’s repeated affirmations that the Catholic commitment to protecting human life and dignity is intrinsically dependent upon the care of all creation. In view of this, Catholic millennials might help more Catholics resist consumerism by not only highlighting how this ethic harms the environment, but also by pointing out that human life and dignity cannot be fully protected without a safe and livable environment.

Embrace the Virtues of Prudence and Temperance: The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes virtues as “firm attitudes, stable dispositions, habitual perfections of intellect and will that govern our actions, order our passions, and guide our conduct according to reason and faith” (no. 1804). The Church traditionally recognizes four cardinal human virtues (prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance, no. 1805-9), and attention to prudence and temperance is particularly germane to addressing consumerism. Prudence is the application of “practical reason” to a particular situation in order “to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it” (no. 1806), while temperance “moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods” (no. 1809). As such, these two virtues can help people of faith and goodwill to thoughtfully discern and live by patterns of consumption that neither cause widespread environmental degradation nor compromise the Catholic commitment to protecting human life and dignity.

Imagine a New System: The world’s economy is largely premised on the assumption that endless economic growth fueled by insatiable consumerism is both possible and desirable. However, today’s message from Pope Francis—which is consistent with the Church’s long social tradition—questions both of these suppositions and calls for an alternative vision that values “human ecology” and “environmental ecology” over the endless acquisition of material goods. Towards this end, Catholic millennials have an opportunity to re-imagine what a sociopolitical and economic system that is more consistent with the Church’s authentic teaching might look like. Pope John Paul II offered a prophetic starting point for this vision in his encyclical Centesimus annus, and this framework could serve as an important starting point from which people of faith and good will might read the “signs of the times” and discern how we might create an economy that better cares for creation and protects human life and dignity:

It is not wrong to want to live better; what is wrong is a style of life which is presumed to be better when it is directed towards ‘having’ rather than ‘being’, and which wants to have more, not in order to be more but in order to spend life in enjoyment as an end in itself.It is therefore necessary to create life-styles in which the quest for truth, beauty, goodness and communion with others for the sake of common growth are the factors which determine consumer choices, savings and investments (no. 36).