"Really Nice Guys"
I am working through "Wild at Heart" and finding exactly what I thought I would find.
I am working through John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart. Last week I speculated Eldredge’s influence for manhood is king David and not our King Jesus. Though, I do expect David to eventually be mentioned, he was not mentioned in the first chapter. Alas, what is most influential for Eldredge in this first chapter are movies.
Eldredge says, “I am looking for my heart.” He is searching for authentic masculinity. But, the masculinity that he finds is is one of his own making, one of his own desires. Masculinity for Eldredge is what he desires - a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and to get the girl. He says, “I am convinced these desires are universal, a clue into masculinity itself.” For him, every man has these desires. Any other desires that men would have is a result of the “Western expansion against the masculine soul.”
“Having spent the last thirty years redefining masculinity into something more sensitive, safe, manageable and, well, feminine, it now berates men for not being men… if they try real hard they can reach the lofty summit of becoming… a nice guy. That’s what we hold up as models of Christian maturity: Really Nice Guys.”
The “Nice Guy” caricature gets derided by muscular Christianity. However, even though “being nice” may not be a Christian virtue, patience, kindness, gentleness, are. These characteristics is what every Christian should have, not just the woman-kind.
The Rugged Outdoorsmen
He begins the chapter in the wilderness, hiking the rocky mountains. “Man was born in the outback… and ever since then boys have never been at home indoors… the core of man’s heart is undomesticated, and that’s good.” Quoting a Northface ad he says, “I am not alive in an office. I am not alive in a taxi cab. I am not alive on a sidewalk.” This type of masculinity may appeal to some men, but it does not describe all men.
“I am not alive in an office…” Is there no life in the office? Is there no life in suburbia? Is there no life in the city? What about lawyers who come alive in the courtroom? What about the artist who comes alive in their studio? What about surgeons who come alive at the operating table? What about a gardener who comes alive in the city’s garden? Are these men not men? Are these men feminine because they come alive not in the great outdoors?
He does not hold back his disdain for men who live in the city.
“It is fear that keeps a man at home where things are neat and orderly and under his control… For reason I hope to make clear later, most men hate the unknown and, like Cain, want to settle down and build their own city, get on top of their life.”
“Moses does not encounter God at the mall.” Neither does Jacob, or Elijah, or John the Baptist. Neither does our Lord Jesus (Eldredge’s only mention of him in the chapter). The United Nations predict, “68% of the world population projected to live in urban areas by 2050.”
Eldredge strongly suggests one does not encounter God in the city, but only in the wilderness. With the majority of the population projected to be living in cities, Eldredge is painting a bleak future for humanity. If men cannot encounter God in the city, what will become of them? How will they come to know God, the one in whose image they bear? I don’t think Eldredge has thought his position through.
A Battle to Fight
John Eldredge presents three desires he says are universal for masculinity: a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue. These desires are far from universal. Though one would believe they were given, they are common tropes used in many books, television shows, and movies.
For Eldredge the first desire is not just desire, but an identity, an innate characteristic. He says, “Aggression is part of the masculine design, we are hardwired for it.”
The persona a person wears, whether it is the cowboy, the soldier, the athlete - these are identities. These personas are what defines masculinity. Why? Because they look like the warrior God of the Bible, who is aggressive.
“If we believe that man is made in the image of God, hen we would do well to remember that ‘the LORD is a warrior; the LORD is his name’ (Ex. 15:3).”
Eldredge agrees men and women are both made in the image of God. So, the question I would ask Eldredge, how does one determine which of God’s characteristics are masculine and which ones are feminine? If women are made in his image also, could they not be warriors too? Would they not also have similar masculine characteristics in certain degrees? He would probably agree. And yet, would belittle a man who would have degrees of feminine characteristics in his personality.
From where does Eldredge get his understanding of men being aggressive, desiring battle? Not from the stories of God, or the life of Jesus, or the teachings of the apostles, but from movies.
“Flying Tigers, The Bridge on the River Kwai, The Magnificent Seven, Shane, High Noon, Saving Private Ryan, Top Gun, the Die Hard films, Gladiator - the movies a man loves reveal what his heart longs for, what is set inside him from the day of his birth.”
Again, Eldridge uses universal language to describe his particular tastes for every man. What about other movies and television shows that are not as aggressive but are just as popular: the Star Trek series, Hacksaw Ridge, A Hidden Life, The Titanic…? Some of these have an anti-aggression motive behind them, and one a love tale. And yet, these were popular, not just with women, but also men.
What the world desires, what the world loves, should not be what informs our masculinity. John the Elder says,
“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.” (1 John 2:15-16)
An Adventure to Live
Scarce is the beliefs of the Christian tradition in this section of the book. Eldredge would discount anyone who chooses an adventure (life) that looks different from his own. He uses another movie as an example: Legends of the Fall. It is a story of three brothers coming of age during the early 1900s. One heads off to the city, “Yet something inside him dies.” Another dies early in the story. He was “tender… literate, sensitive, timid… he was not ready for battle.” The other brother was “wild at heart,” bold, fierce, and violent, and in the end get the girl.
No man wants to be the first two. But every man Eldredge knows wants to be the wild man. And every woman wants to marry this wild man.
“Compare your experience watching the latest James Bond or Indiana Jones thriller with, say, going to Bible study. The guaranteed success of each new release makes it clear - adventure is written into the heart of a man.”
It is telling where Eldredge’s priorities are - not in the revelation of God in his Son Jesus Christ, but in Hollywood movies.
A Beauty to Rescue
In this section there is not much from Eldredge, other than, “The hero gets the girl”. Tropes within tropes we often see in books, television, and movies. Part of Eldredge’s problem is a misunderstanding of manhood and womanhood. He correlates his universal manly desires with womanly desire, I assume universal too.
A woman does not want to fight to be fought for. As a prize to be won and possessed?
A woman wants to share in the adventure. Women don’t desire to create their own adventures in life?
A woman wants to be the beauty that is rescued. Are the desires of men women’s only value?
“All we’ve offered the feminine soul is pressure to ‘be a good servant.’”
From his description of feminine desires, all that Eldredge is offering women is to be servants to the desires of men.
“What if? What if those deep desires in our hearts are telling us the truth, revealing to us the life we were meant to live… his true nature, which he has been given by God?”
The desires of our hearts are immensely deceitful. It takes abiding in Jesus and his words to know what it means to be human, truly man, truly woman. When we derive our identity from our desires, we fall into the same trap as the world. We will misuse and abuse the people around us. We will discount and belittle those who are different from us, have different desires than us. Men will abuse women using them for our own base desires. When we are informed about who we are from Hollywood, we will begin to live like Hollywood, and the people who promote it. When we look like Hollywood, we don’t look like Jesus, and our image is broken.
What does masculinity mean to you? What do you think informs your concept of masculinity or femininity?