I recently attended a memorial service for the son of family friends. There must have been 500 people there. The family’s community centers on their church, and many braved the rain and cold to get there on a Saturday morning whether they knew the son or not. It put me in an Ecclesiastes frame of mind, particularly chapter 7, wherein we’re told that it’s better to go to a funeral than a party, “for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.”
That we did, today. In the house of mourning our vision is stretched, not quite to eternity, for us time-trapped beings, but certainly beyond our own animal death. Many at this service did not know the son, but were touched nonetheless. It’s not just about the dear departed, it’s about the bitter truth that the mortality rate is 100%. We “celebrated the life of” the decedent, but we contemplated our own end, too. Our life is but a vapor, which appears for a time and then vanishes away. (James 4:14). The end for each of us individually is closer than we think.
I’ve been thinking about the beating men have been taking in the culture lately. We’re all a bunch of deadbeats, a drag on the species. Too many of us obstinately refuse to be more like women. Masculinity isn’t a thing to desire, in fact it’s “toxic,” and we’re expected to eliminate every trace of it, or else crawl back in our holes and die.
There’s a bright spot here and there, though, little resurgences of valuing men as men, as in this article celebrating the uniqueness of men to the well-being of children: The Marvel of the Human Dad, by Pam Weintraub. She’s the author of The Life of Dad: The Making of the Modern Father (2018). A short excerpt from the article:
“Fathers and their children have evolved to carry out a developmentally crucial behaviour with each other: rough-and-tumble play. This is a form of play that we all recognise. It is highly physical with lots of throwing up in the air, jumping about and tickling, accompanied by loud shouts and laughter. It is crucial to the father-child bond and the child’s development for two reasons: first, the exuberant and extreme nature of this behaviour allows dads to build a bond with their children quickly; it is a time-efficient way to get the hits of neurochemicals required for a robust bond, crucial in our time-deprived Western lives where it is still the case that fathers are generally not the primary carer for their children. Second, due to the reciprocal nature of the play and its inherent riskiness, it begins to teach the child about the give and take of relationships, and how to judge and handle risk appropriately; even from a very young age, fathers are teaching their children these crucial life lessons.
A buy-in to naturalistic evolution is not critical to the validity of the points she makes.
I mentioned in a previous post Rene Girard’s thesis centering on mimetic desire. I can’t yet give you a full report on his I Saw Satan Fall Like Lightning, but let me fill out the summary contained in the foreword by James G. Williams. The idea, he explains, is that we acquire this mimetic desire by aping the desire we see in those who are influential on us, such as, most simply, our parents. Adoption of negative desires leads to conflict and violence.
Without appropriate braking mechanisms (such as by religion and culture) we step up to compete with those influencers, wanting what they want, and thereby open ourselves up to what Girard calls “scandal.” He means essentially frustration, as individuals desire but do not obtain the object of their desire. This frustrated desire causes those affected to identify a subject upon whom to pin the blame for their frustration: a scapegoat. In the Bible, this scapegoating mechanism is symbolized first by Satan. Scapegoating a victim is a means to rid the community of the accumulated tension of scandal. This is a process repeated in history.
The scapegoating mechanism evolved in that the scapegoat, the sacrificial victim, was given exalted status, for a time, in anticipation of the healing he would bring the community upon his death. Girard even explains pagan gods in this way, humans elevated to god status. He explains kingship in the same way: they can take credit for what goes right, but they are scapegoated for what goes wrong.
The Bible turns all this on its head. God takes the side of the victim. He is the victim – the ultimate scapegoat. The Bible unveils the scapegoat mechanism for what it is, and inverts it. As a result of the Gospel story, the concern for victims becomes the new absolute value of societies molded or strongly affected by the spread of Christianity.
You can extrapolate from there. Explains a lot.