There is no more iconic image of the young boy than the young boy swashbuckling with a stick. People seem to enjoy recounting the folk wisdom that even if you don’t give a boy a sword or a gun, the boy will chew bread into the shape of a gun or break a branch to become a sword. Drawing from this, Eldredge says that the first of the three qualities that define masculinity is the desire for a battle.
The only argument Eldredge makes for the desire for battle as a universal and definitive masculine trait is an appeal to boys:
Little Girls do not invent games where large numbers of people die, where bloodshed is a prerequisite for having fun. Hockey, for example, was not a feminine creation. Nor was boxing. A boy wants to attack something—and so does a man, even if it’s only a little white ball on a tee. He wants to whack it into kingdom come. On the other hand, my boys do not sit down to tea parties. They do not call their friends on the phone to talk about relationships. They grow bored of games that have no element of danger or competition or bloodshed. Cooperative games based on “relational interdependnece” are complete nonsense. “No one is killed?” they ask, incredulous. “No one wins? What’s the point?” The universal nature of this ought to have convinced us by now: The boy is a warrior, the boy is his name.
This is another point in the book where I wonder if Eldredge would have the same opinion if he had raised girls. My second cousins would certainly wrestle and fight with their brothers. They may or may not have played war games, but they certainly were “fierce” (his keyword)…and still are! And even if we grant hockey was a masculine invention, the girl’s hockey leagues are doing just fine for membership, as is women’s rugby.
If we accept the reality that young girls are also interested in violent sports, then the only Eldredge has left is that boys are more likely to play cowboys…but who are girls supposed to play as when they play Wild West? Miss Kitty? With the rise of adventure heroines at the turn of the 21st century, we’re also seeing a rise in the demand for girly weapons. If media can convince girls to play with weapons, then what makes us think that media isn’t driving boy’s interest? So Eldredge’s claim that the desire to play with weapons is not “brought on by violent television” is just false to fact, at least in part.
So I’m utterly unconvinced by Eldredge’s explicit argument.
There is, however, another argument that I often encounter. This is that testosterone increases aggression, and therefore this desire for battle is fundamental to a man. (Eldredge hints at this argument but does not explicitly make it.) That’s a slightly more convincing argument, but is this desire for battle really fundamental for masculinity just because it is more prevalanet in men? Note that schizophrenia and alcoholism are also more prominent in men: why aren’t schizophrenia or alcoholism fundemantal for masculinity? Or, for that matter, why isn’t balding? Just because something is correlated higher in men hardly qualifies it as “the secret of a man’s soul”, as Wild at Heart’s cover advertises.
With all that said, I happen to be a man, and combat is something that is often on my mind. I love fencing, and I’ve been shopping for a boxing, Krav Maga, and/or MMA gym in the area.1 Something about having a newborn baby has especially triggered this desire in me, and I suspect it’s doubly so because it’s a daughter. My wife has not had this preoccupation. It seems silly to ignore our genders when considering this difference. So although I’m totally unimpressed by Eldredge’s argument (especially when it comes to children), I have to admit that I think he’s keyed into something. Now, is that something he’s keyed into Christian? Is it a part of my perfection, or is it an imperfection that needs to be overcome? These questions are totally lost in how Eldredge conflates what is innate with what is good, which is extremely frustrating.2
Eldredge has also keyed into something when he contrasts men’s desire for battle with the “nice guy” image of the Christian male: at this point, Christians are a domesticated species who have forgotten how to be fierce. This is especially true of the mainline and liberal branches of Christianity. However, it is also true of many evangelicals. Although there’s certainly a fierceness in evangelical leadership, there’s a spineless niceness in the masses who attend the megachurch at the service and campus most convenient to them, and then conform to the roles that are scripted for them: first, they’re a kid who doesn’t do anything bad, then they are a young adult looking for a spouse, and then they are a parent raising well-behaved kids who don’t do anything bad.
Gandhi once said that he had no use for a coward: Gandhi was a soldier for peace leading an army of soldiers. In fact, given the choice between cowardice and violence, Gandhi would choose violence. That cowardice Gandhi laments is the niceness that Eldredge laments. And the simple fact is that cowardice can’t be found in the image of God: it’s a shame that it is so easy to find in Christians.
On this point, Eldredge cites a very important verse from Exodus which comes just after the Hebrews fled Egypt. Pharaoh’s army has just been swallowed up in the sea through the act of God, and we have the song of Moses:
I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea. The Lord is my strength and my might, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him. The Lord is a warrior; the Lord is his name.
Eldredge cites this verse with an interesting connection:
If we believe that man is made in the image of God, then we would do well to remember that “the Lord is a warrior, the Lord is his name”.
But it is not just man that is made in the image of God. Woman is made in the image of God, too:
So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
So, while Eldredge proudly says, “the boy is a warrior, the boy is his name”, there is absolutely no reason to limit it to boys. If you want to be in the image of God, then you want to be a warrior. That is all there is to it. It is just as legitimate to say, “The woman is a warrior, the woman is her name.”, and it is a good thing, too. Every Christian needs to be a warrior, because if we are going be Christian, we are going to be bringing all the world and all the powers of Hell against us. Men can’t fight that war alone, and God didn’t mean us to: women fight in that army, too.
It may be bizarre, but I am a pacifist who likes guns, martial arts, and brutal sports. I believe violence requires violation, but it’s not a violation when a boxer jabs another, therefore it’s not violence. ↩
Men’s promiscuity and tendency for marital unfaithfulness are also innate and natural aspects of our masculinty. Are they also good? What’s the difference between our tendency to promiscuity and our tendency towards violence? ↩