You should be ashamed if you are male. Or female.

Conservatives frequently lament the cultural attitude that it is a shameful thing to be male. It is certainly a sad thing when half of our population is ashamed of one of its most fundamental characteristics; when large segments of our society believe that men ought to cringe along through life, engaging in spiritual self-flagellation over the shame of being born with a Y chromosome.

A book I’m reading has convinced me that I have been underestimating the problem by half, however. A Return to Modesty is one of the most interesting books I’ve read recently, and I’ll likely be posting more about it in the coming weeks. Wendy Shalit argues that our society’s decision to discard the virtue of modesty is “no less than an attempt to cure womanhood itself, and in many cases it has actually put us in danger.”

A young woman today has basically two options open to her: to pretend she’s a man, or to be feminine in a desperate, victim-like way. There’s Rene Denfield; she’s a boxer, her book jacket announces. There’s Camille Paglia; she’s very tough and even has a taste for gay male pornography! “Take your blows like men,” she advises young women in Vamps and Tramps. Then there are the women whose femininity is expressed by sleeping with a lot of men and then lamenting how much they resent men. Whether a young woman should opt for man or victim, the message sent by our culture is clear: it’s not a good thing to be female.

If you are male, you should be ashamed. If you are female, you should be ashamed. If you’re keeping score at home, we just reduced the options for living without shame by 100 percent…

LTA Blog is a manly blog

This is pretty cool. is an AI-powered website that will analyze any blog and guess whether it is written by a man or a woman. The conclusion for LTA Blog was a 84 percent probability that it was written by a man. Running the analyzer on friends’ blogs yielded reliable results with one significant and rather entertaining exception that I will omit for the sake of the author…

Thoughts on denominationalism

I recently completed a paper on my “Ecclesiological Identity” that afforded an interesting opportunity for thinking through my opinions on a variety of topics. The following is a modified and expanded excerpt on denominationalism.

In A Generous Orthodoxy, Brian McLaren writes, “After protesting Catholic excesses, Protestants started protesting each other. Whenever a Protestant group manifested a problem – complacency, confusion, weak leadership, whatever – a subgroup would arise from within and protest these failures. Then they would break away, often damning the group which they left, proclaiming themselves the truly reformed, truly protestant, truly pure, truly right, truly true, and so on… This competitive Protestant religious market eventually spawned a kind of infomercial mentality, where each group advertised its unique features, seeking loyal customers for their religious products and services.” The list of things upon which I disagree with McLaren is a long one, but on this topic, as on many others, he is an insightful commentator.

As a member of any Christian denomination, it is possible to divide one’s beliefs into two categories: Those shared with all other Christians, and those distinct to one’s own denomination. There can be only one reason for a denomination to exist, and it rests squarely on the latter set of beliefs; those its adherents hold in opposition to other Christians. Any apologetic for the denomination qua denomination must focus on those beliefs, and only on those beliefs. The more important and central a theological belief is, the less likely that it is crucial to one’s denominational identity, and vice versa. If I am asked why I am a Christian, I point to Jesus. If I am asked why I am a Baptist, pointing to Jesus is irrelevant, for any other Christian can do the same. So I point not to Jesus, but to baptism by immersion. If I am asked why I am a Presbyterian, I point not to Jesus, but to government by elected elders.

Does this mean Jesus is unimportant to Baptists, Presbyterians, or any other denomination? Or that one could not start from Jesus to explain one’s Christian faith, and then work back to more specific denominational distinctives? Of course not. However, by setting up a system in which disagreements with other Christians on matters of secondary importance form the basis for group identity within the Church, we are unavoidably disordering our priorities in a way that sets the stage for the “fleshly… jealousy and strife” that Paul criticizes among those in Corinth whose first allegiance was to Paul or Apollos, rather than Christ (I Cor. 3:3-4).

This is not to suggest that our potentials to be a good Christian and a good Baptist (or Methodist, Presbyterian, Anglican, etc.), are necessarily inversely related. It is certainly possible to hold one’s theological beliefs in a proper hierarchy of importance while using a denominational label as a shorthand description of certain of those beliefs. However, denominational identity so strongly pulls towards a disordering of theological priorities and a fracturing of Christian unity that it may not be worth the risk for a people who are called to remember that there is “one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” (Eph. 4:4-6a).

I will close by attempting to respond to one possible objection: “Disagreement is inevitable among Christians who are forced to squint ‘through a mirror darkly’ in this life. If I disagree with your belief about baptism, church government, or worship, why shouldn’t I join with other Christians who share my beliefs?”

I recently heard a Baptist professor talking about how much he valued the fact that Southern Baptists are able to amicably discuss issues such as the extent of the atonement, the proper place for church discipline, and proper modes of worship. Had I asked him why he didn’t mind disagreement among his brethern on such topics, he doubtless would have responded, “Why not? After all, we are all Southern Baptists.”

And we are all Christians. There is certainly a place for disagreement and discussion, with divine revelation as the final arbiter between varying opinions, but I have to wonder what the Church would look like if we were willing to extend to all those who have been purchased by the blood of Christ the same grace we extend those who share our denominational label. What if we were simply members of the Church seeking the truth together (and it must be the truth we are seeking, unless we want to end in jelly-spined ecumenism), rather than Baptists, Presbyterians, or Methodists defending our religious identity from those on the outside?

Worth reading: Boys Adrift

My earlier post on my most formative books reminded me of another book I read recently that didn’t affect my foundational worldview enough to warrant inclusion on the list, but which I nonetheless highly recommend. Boys Adrift by Dr. Leonard Sax is the best examination I’ve seen of the various factors contributing to, in the words of the subtitle, “the growing epidemic of unmotivated boys and underachieving young men.”

Anyone who has spent much time around young men knows the problem Sax is describing, but he provides plenty of statistics to back up the anecdoctal evidence (only 42 percent of current college students are male; one in three men ages 22-34 lives at home with his parents). At a prominent seminary where I have taken some classes, faculty recently put out a request for missionaries. I am told they intentionally worded the appeal to emphasize the danger and excitement of the proposed mission, in the hope of attracting male volunteers. Seventeen students signed up. Seventeen of them were women. One professor explained the result by noting that it’s hard to power a Wii on the mission field.

Sax suggests five factors that are creating a generation of young men who don’t care that they don’t care, discussing changes in schooling, video games, medications for ADHD, endocrine disruptors, and a lack of male mentoring. It’s a fascinating and disturbing book, backed by copious references to peer-reviewed research. Well worth the read. (Also worth reading is Sax’ Why Gender Matters.)

My four most formative books

It struck me recently that I can easily list the most formative books I’ve ever read. I was surprised to realize how significant a gulf exists between these four books and any other competitor. I’ve been interested, affected, and challenged by many other books, but when it comes to the formation of my basic worldview, there are no close competitors. (With the exception of Scripture itself, which ought to be awarded pride of place in the ranking, but which I’m excluding in the interest of brevity.) The following books are listed chronologically, based on the first time I read them.

Orthodoxy, by the inimitable G.K. Chesterton, a man who could say more with an offhand witticism than some authors manage in a whole book. Chesterton’s brilliant mind combined with a slightly madcap passion and deep appreciation for life to create an unusual apologetic that reminded me of the appellation “Happy Warrior,” a title that has always held a peculiar appeal for me since I first read it years ago in some forgotten article. On an intellectual level, his defense of his faith offered a more organic compliment to the formal arguments with which I was familiar. (I heartily recommend anything else written by Chesterton, in particular St. Thomas Aquinas: The Dumb Ox.)

Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis. Though written as an apologetic, this book has influenced my theology more than any work other than the Bible itself.

Iron John: A Book About Men, by Robert Bly. It’s a mythology-filled book by a non-Christian based on a Brothers Grimm fairy tale, and anyone who wonders why men aren’t showing up on Sunday morning needs to read it (and then go watch Fight Club).

Existentialism and Human Emotions, by Jean-Paul Sartre. Before I am stoned as an infidel for including one of the 20th Century’s foremost atheists on my list, allow me to offer a quote in my defense:

But when the existentialist writes about a coward, he says that this coward is responsible for his cowardice. He’s not like that because he has a cowardly heart or lung or brain; he’s not like that on account of his physiological make-up; but he’s like that because he has made himself a coward by his acts… [A frequent complaint is] as follows: “After all, these people are so spineless, how are you going to make heroes out of them?” This objection almost makes me laugh, for it assumes that people are born heroes. That’s what people really want to think. If you’re born cowardly, you may set your mind perfectly at rest; there’s nothing you can do about it; you’ll be cowardly all your life, whatever you may do. If you’re born a hero, you may set your mind just as much at rest; you’ll be a hero all your life; you’ll drink like a hero and eat like a hero. What the existentialist says is that the coward makes himself cowardly, that the hero makes himself heroic.

We are the product of our choices. When I choose to look at that pornographic popup ad, when I choose to gossip, when I choose to dwell on bitterness, I am creating the person I will be tomorrow. While Sartre’s atheism yields only a fumbling in the dark, pointless choices creating meaningless men, our choices are made with Jesus Christ as both means and end; but we are shaped by those choices nonetheless.

Coming soon!

It’s been about a year since I closed up shop on my last blog, The Cultural Report (no link as it is now defunct), but it seems I just can’t lose the urge to blog… Hence this new endeavor. For those who were familiar with The Cultural Report, my new blog will be a bit different. I viewed TCR primarily as a news blog, and I posted about a dozen times daily, providing links with snippets of commentary.

I’m currently envisioning this blog somewhat differently. I simply don’t have the time to link a dozen articles a day, and, anyway, others already fill that niche far better than I can. Instead, this blog will be primarily devoted to original commentary, which will be posted at a slower pace.

More than that, I’m not yet sure…