Published in Church and Life (1826) 30.11.2011-21.12.2011 No 18 Pg 2
As Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy moves on to its explosive crescendo, with its do-or-die battle for Middle Earth, the question that has raged from the beginning of the Fellowship becomes ever more important – the only way that the allied victory can be won, is if they first can win over the hearts of men.
It was man’s spiritual failure, his inability to be consistent that first brought about the war of the Rings, and now as the future of Middle Earth stands on a precipice, the question asked by those who gather against the power of Evil, is whether men can be men; can they believe and commit to something – and can they be relied upon to stand up for what they believe in, and bring to completion what was begun?
When we look at our television screens today, far too often we are confronted with images of what it means to be a man that sets a standard so low that there is little for a boy to aspire to be, other than for him to feed himself, or be fed, and see how tall he eventually grows. To be a man today is so often confused with the amount a male can ingest of alcohol, or spew forth in vulgarity or crudity, or his potency to ‘deflower’. There is in this so much a sense of wildness; a sense of gender searching for guidance. So pathetic has this image of maleness become that men now appear in the media as parodies of stupidity. In one recent television advertisement we see a so-called ‘man’ dressing himself up with female sanitary napkins, being caught out role-playing a comic-book ‘super-hero, only to find his girlfriend opening the door, her parents close behind, and the party ready to be introduced for the first time. Apart from the very strong implication that the young ‘man’ and young woman are sexually intimate, and not married, the ‘man’s’ behaviour is indeed so puerile, that one wonders not only as to his level of sanity, but also to the mental state of the young woman who has decided to share her life with an obvious imbecile. Advertisements promoting brands of alcohol also pitch to a man who would seem by behaviour and appearance to be but a few generations out of the cave. One wonders what the man of the early 20th Century would have thought of such cultural and public stereotypes of manhood? It would seem that an era of political-correctness has brought our society to the level of exulting the lowest common-denominator; the rationale behind this being that if we exult the higher standards – some, perhaps many, may be challenged by these standards that are being set, and that are subsequently being demanded of them. Should we thus offend the lowest common denominator? Evidently not.
Compounding this situation, young men of society today are bombarded with sporting heroes and actors who publicly have their moral indiscretions paraded through various forms of media. A young man grows into a society where movies and television have blurred ‘art’ with what was in the very near past, pornography. Drug-addicts, philanderers, adulterers, thieves, convicted rapists, have all been forgiven, because they were once, or still are – ‘cultural super heroes’. Too often today we speak of a generation of helpless men, men who are no longer responsible for their actions, but who are mindless slave-like amoebas to their uncontrollable impulses. We have new terms such as: ‘gambling-addicts’, and ‘sex-addicts’; for men who the media attempt to have us weep for; men who are victims of ‘good fortune’; men who cry out and ‘deserve’ a second chance, even though the vast majority of society, still labour and sweat for their first. In the past when standards were at least expected – such men where commonly known as wastrels and rakes; today they are bleeding heart victims. Sadly also, too many people perceive it to be humorous, and use the quip: ‘boys will be boys’ to explain away drinking to excess, or lewd public behaviour – few wishing to call disreputable and ill-disciplined behaviour for what it is – base. If one passes comment against such behaviour, one risks being termed – ‘kill-joy’ or worse.
In addition to this circus-like menagerie of male role models, and perhaps as the root-cause of the problem, we have the increased frequency and tragedy of broken and fatherless homes; homes in which children do not have a father to provide an example of what is meant by male love, attention and nurture. The ramifications of such a social problem are all too obvious, and need no further extrapolation. Walk into the nightclub district of our cities – and you wonder where the father is, to ensure his son is not playing adult games; or how on earth a young girl is walking with drunken men. A loving father would have prevented this.
So what does all this have to do with the Supreme Irony, spoken about in Part I, and its contributing lack of church attendance?
A major study undertaken by the Swiss Government in 1994 (and subsequently published in 2000), highlighted some astonishing and poignant conclusions, about men, role-modelling and fatherhood. The Research was entitled, “The Demographic Characteristics of the Linguistic and Religious Groups in Switzerland”, and was authored by Werner Haug and Phillipe Warner (of the Federal Statistical Office, Neuchatel, published by the Council of Europe Directorate General III, Social Cohesion, Strasbourg, January 2000). Importantly the findings of this study were mirrored by similar research in theUnited Kingdom.
Haug and Warner’s research with regard the generational passing on of religion, concluded that: “It is the religious practice of the father of the family that, above all, determines the future attendance at or absence from church of the children”. So influential is the father’s role-modelling in the passing on of the Faith, that the Report highlighted that in a domestic situation in which the father is an irregular Church attendee and the mother regular, only two percent of the children from such families studied eventually became regular Church attendees on reaching maturity. Of a domestic situation with the father being the regular Church attendee and his wife an irregular attendee, 44 per cent of the children of such families studied became regular Church attendees when they reached maturity. What was obvious from this extensive study was that the old adage rang true: nothing is more powerful for children with regard the passing on of religious values, than the domestic image of them seeing their father on his knees praying.
Being a man – being a husband – being a father, obviously is far more than the images society offers us. Haug and Warner’s study points toward the father being a lightning rod for the passing on of values to his children. The disparity between the paternal and maternal role modelling and the influence of religious transference, in this study at least, is far too great to be ignored. Society needs to re-consider how the fathers of the future are formed. Can we realistically expect from any boy, that he become a leader of his family, of his Church, of his community – and an example to others, if we do not first provide him with a sound example? Women who value religion, must also stop and think, when they choose a husband and a prospective father of their children, whether this man will have the mettle to lead the family in Faith; for obviously it is vastly more difficult without the father’s assistance. As a Church, and as a nation – we not only wait to see what lies in the hearts of men; we must demand more of our men.