Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Chivalry was Never Alive

A blog I keep an eye on and occasionally read is Hermeneutics. A guest blogger, Ruthie Dean, just posted on how women are fueling the "man problem." In a nutshell, the man problem is that there are very few men who are ready and willing to marry women. There are too many boys who are not being responsible. Dean's point was women are encouraging boys in their behavior in hopes of getting married. I thought this was a great post and a great point. I'm glad someone is saying this.

Dean has her own blog, and on her Hermeneutics post, she linked to a post that Michael Dean wrote on regarding chivalry. (I assume last name menas they are married?) His point: chivalry isn't dead. Men need to "man up." Being a man includes reading your Bible, getting a mentor, growing facial hair and pursuing a woman.

People who personally know me, know I'm very interested in this issue of manhood and gender relations. I don't want to come across as judgmental, but this topic needs to be dealt with in a serious and thoughtful manner. If we don't take captive our thoughts on this subject then we are in some very serious danger. Hence, I am critiquing Mr. Dean's post. I don't want to take away from the discussion but the way he frames the discussion, I believe, has some serious errors. These errors will send us down the wrong road. This post is an attempt to try to better frame the discussion regarding manhood and chivalry.

Michael's Definition of a Man is unBiblical
Manhood is not defined by behavior. Another way to say it, behavior is not where we find the definition of manhood. If we just point to behaviors as being the conditions for what makes a man, we're not getting to the heart of the issue. We're looking at shadows, not the thing in itself.

Dean says, do, do, do and do. Anyone can do what he suggests. It doesn't take a man to pursue a woman, grow facial hair, get a mentor or read your Bible. Furthermore, it doesn't take a Christian to do any of these things. Non-Christians can read the Bible just as well as Christians, sometimes better. Lastly,  some men grow beards, get married, hopefully read their Bibles and have a mentor. These are good things. Just don't make it a part of the definition of a man.

Chivalry was Never Alive
I define chivalry has being respectful toward women. If we think chivalry was alive at some time in history then we are not considering how serious the fall of man was. Let's start with the beginning of the world. Was Adam chivalrous when he followed Eve into sin? Was Jacob chivalrous when he stole his brother's birthright? Was Judah chivalrous when he committed adultery with Tamar? Was David chivalrous when he committed adultery with Basheba AND had her husband murdered? And we're only talking about the ancient world here. Let's skip the gospels and New Testament for the sake of time. Here's just a short list since then: Henry the VIII, Charlemagne, Pope Alexander VI, Charles I and Benjamin Franklin (I don't need to go into the detail on his exploits...). These are just a few people in western history who did not act with chivalry.

One could object by pointing to people like Joseph, Jesus, Paul and George Washington. They had chivalry. They were respectful to women. My response is that these men are the exception to the rule. The world is full of bad boys. There are very few good men. Men have always been rare.

The Problem with a System of Chivalry
Sin is deeply entrenched in us. Even paradigm examples of men are problematic. A good example is David in the Old Testament. The problem with thinking that chivalry isn't dead or is dead but was once alive is that it assumes we're are capable of being good people. This is unBiblical. No man is good. All have fallen short of the glory of God.

One may object that chivalry as a system doesn't have to do with the heart, but with how one behaves. In a sense, it has to do with manners. My response is that if that's what chivalry is all about then I don't want it. I don't want to just have good manners, have good behavior. I want something deeper then that. I want to have chivalry as a virtue. But just keep it at that. Don't make it into a system for life!

What is Manhood? 
Manhood is defined by the human Jesus Christ. That means a man is perfectly balanced between being respectful and telling the truth. It means a man are perfectly balanced between being merciful and just. It means a man is perfectly loving.

Ladies, there is only one man. He is Jesus of Nazareth. Flee to him. Do not look to earthly men for safety. Do not entrust yourselves to us. It is in only Christ you can find healing, safety and peace. The rest of us boys will, and have, failed you. It doesn't mean you don't get married, but you can't put your trust in men, you must put your trust in the Lord.

Chivalry as a System
My personal opinion of chivalry as a way of life is that it is philosophically poorly based. It assumes that man is good. It assumes that behavior defines personhood. None of these assumptions I agree with nor do I want to do anything with them. This is different then seeing chivalry as a virtue, as a part of one's character. But it is the opposite way. Instead of behavior defining chivalry. It is the disposition of one's heart that defines it. Dean may have been trying to promote chivalry as a virtue rather then a system. I could easily be wrong in my critique. Regardless, it is important to remember that we can't let good things like the virtue of chivalry to become an all-encompassing system for how we ought to live our lives. The more I think about this, Dean is probably not promoting that. Sorry Dean...

I would love to hear people's thoughts on this issue. It is a hard and important topic that we must work through carefully and thoughtfully. This is just a blog post. You could write a couple books on this topic.


  1. I, too, enjoy the topic of gender relations, so here are some thoughts. Chivalry is an ideal, a concept of respecting women with a set of rules that has changed over the years with how to carry that out. I would argue that chivalry does exist, even if it's not carried out well. The concept of perfection exists even though no one can attain it. If you can point out one person as being chivalrous, you have to argue that it exists.

    While, yes, all men have fallen short, God also calls us "saints" and "righteous" and asks us to be perfect as he is perfect. Clearly no one is capable of doing this 100% of the time. And while we can't always be doing what's right, that doesn't mean we stop trying. No, the rules of behavior concerning chivalry do not come from the heart, but that doesn't mean that they can't be a reflection of the heart. The Bible says we are known by our fruit. Yes, there is some fruit that looks good on the inside but is nasty on the outside, but I have never heard of a fruit that's rotting on the outside and edible on the inside.

    No, this isn't an argument for trusting in men, everyone needs to put their trust foremost in God. But it doesn't mean that there can't be moments of chivalry and times when humans don't disappoint... Behavior doesn't define personhood, but personhood does determine behavior. My challenge to you, let the concept of the system be motivation for virtue. :-)

    On a completely different and random note, I do prefer the cultural behavior of "chivalry" from the past to the outright degradation of women that's totally acceptable in this generation (even if the chivalry of the past wasn't completely a virtue from the heart). Just saying. At least the system instills a concept of the need for respect.

  2. "The world is full of bad boys." That is the most brilliant line I have ever heard in this whole discussion of men and women relations.


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