From the Editor—Friday Reflections

October 26, 2018

Manly Codes of Conduct

Are there Benedict Options for Young Men?

Legend has it that radical feminists once proclaimed, "A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle!" This could be a stand-up comedienne's punch line in a joke about a blind date with a jerk, but as a statement of human needs, it is laughable. Granted, it reflects the attitude of some women, including some who have had very bad experiences with men, but is it true for all women, for many happily married wives and mothers?

Since many women still need men, the new target for rejection by feminists has shifted to manhood or masculinity. A 2015 documentary, The Mask You Live In, claims that "Be a man!" are the three most destructive words you can say to a boy because they promote "toxic masculinity." So is the new slogan: "A man needs masculinity like a fish needs a bicycle"?

"Toxic masculinity" is masculinity gone bad, not masculinity itself, which is an endowment of the male, just as femininity is an endowment of the female. Commonsense and experience show that manhood takes work and is healthiest when young men are mentored by older men.

Tony Esolen ended his Touchstone conference talk with a call for "patriarchal groups," groups of men mentoring younger men. This could include "fraternal groups"—Boys Scouts of yesteryear. Other forms are all-male schools and colleges. But some all-male high schools today are problematic, including those that are supposed to be Christian but are liberal rather than bracingly orthodox.

Young men are looking for paternal or fraternal affirmation, not from their mothers or sisters. One of his questioners, inspired by reading Tony's articles, declined to send her sons to an all-male high school that was deemed unsuitable and homeschooled them instead. Now she wondered whether she, a woman, should have been their teacher. Her decision was affirmed, and it was noted that she had taught her sons within the structure of her family, with her husband's support. She wanted her sons to grow up to "be men." And mothers can assist them by emphasis, reminder, and affirmation of manly virtues.

What about other "patriarchal groups"? And how might they fit into the development of various expressions of the much-discussed "Benedict Option"? Is there a place for patriarchal groups within it? Monasticism, including St. Benedict's, of course, is both fraternal and patriarchal, with brothers and abbots. The idea of a robust Christian community, whether in a parish or monastery, should include men's groups if it is to have a future.

This week Benedict himself was summoned forth in a surprising place:

In response to pressure from clients who were demanding a CoC [Code of Conduct] before they would do business with him, Richard Hipp, the founder of the widely used SQLite database engine, adopted the Rule of St. Benedict as the guiding principles for his community. The move angered many in the tech community . . . .

Hipp explained:

After looking around at contemporary CoCs, Hipp found them to be "vapid.""I felt like they were trendy feel-good words that had no depth," he said. "I could compare them to pop music, which sells millions of copies this week, but next year is forgotten." He was looking for something more enduring, like Mozart. "What is the Mozart equivalent of a CoC?" he asked. He considered, among other things, Ben Franklin's 13 virtues, the Ten Commandments, the Noahide Laws, Micah 6:8 from the Old Testament, and Mother Teresa's prayer from her 1985 speech to the UN GeneralAssembly. "None of these provided a framework for governing the interaction of a community," he explained. "But the 'Instruments of Good Works' from the Rule of St. Benedict seemed to fit the bill."

There you have it. If the godly monks are welcome among the geeks, perhaps it's because geeks care about what works and doesn't work in the real world. Young men, help is on the way! You might even learn to catch fish, and ride bicycles.

Yours for Christ, Creed & Culture,

James M. Kushiner
Executive Director, The Fellowship of St. James


James M. Kushiner is Executive Editor of Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity, and Executive Director of The Fellowship of St. James.