We truly live in a world where discussions are held with bludgeons and steamrollers rather than with finesse and subtlety. The way things have gone when discussing “muscular Christianity” with Deacon Little has brought me to say that I am through with it all, not because he has “‘won” and I have “lost”, but because we seem to be talking past each other. He has not modified any of his sayings in the light to new elements I have introduced into the conversation. The ball is in his court.

My observations also go for the troll(s) (“Martin Pryor” aka “Prior Martin”, “Countess Olivia” and “Countess O”) who try to abuse my blog for purposes known only to him (them). I will add that trolls have personality and other psychiatric issues, and no discussion is possible with them. It is simply best not to feed them or react emotionally.

Fr Jonathan, my brother priest, has written Called to have muscles, to which I commented:

I need to study this question further. Like you, I thought “muscular Christianity” was about the question of chivalry and the fighting of just wars against clearly evil enemies like Hitler or present-day terrorist organizations. Who would not kill or incapacitate a man whose intention is to kill your child – or you? Actually, it is about the cult of ultra-masculinity that is prevalent in America. This is why I wrote an article describing the “cult” of masculinity in the English public school of 50 years ago. Manliness is measured by keen commitment to competitive team sports and a suspicious attitude in regard to art and beauty, the rugby-player philistine.

I suppose that experience in my life gave me a certain frugal lifestyle, more tolerant of cooler temperatures than many others. I am something of a “hard bastard” who gets great pleasure out of a few days in my boat on the sea or a river and camping aboard, the boat being an open dinghy with a boom tent. I take pride in saving money by bivouacking in my van rather than paying inflated hotel bills when travelling. But, my physical condition is average. I am not interested in the “muscular” image that seems to give its name to “muscular Christianity” rather than the question of willingness to do one’s duty for one’s country in time of war or “pro aris et focis” as the old Romans used to say.

I am disappointed that Deacon Little twists the meaning of just about everything I say, and takes my “caricatures” personally. He does refer to the Wikipedia article on “muscular Christian” that refers to the kind of man who is committed to competitive team sports and builds up a “Charles Atlas” body, a hard chiselled face – something not unlike the Aryan soldier “Ubermensch” portrayed in old Nazi propaganda. When I mention that, I am accused of “Godwin’s Law”: assimilating anyone I don’t like to the Nazis. That accusation is unjust. I don’t concern myself with Nazism except as a subject of historical study, but the underlying philosophy in Europe at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th that Hitler exploited to get into power. I have already written such qualifications to my assertions, but the subtleties have been ignored.

For Deacon Little and some of his friends who write comments on his blog, I am an effeminate pansy because I refuse the image of the rugby-player philistine. If he is not prepared to be subtle and nuanced in his ideas, I will not be prepared to continue the conversation – which seems at this stage to be futile.

I think we are all agreed about the moral rectitude of self-defence (even if it means killing) in an imperfect world when we are faced with evil persons, groups or nations. Normally, priests should not bear arms but rather help the victims of war. Perhaps a day might come when we all need to carry a gun to defend ourselves and innocent people against terrorists and criminals. We can only do what the law allows us to do. If being armed becomes necessary, I’m sure we can do so discreetly in our English fashion, since we are culturally different from the Americans. But that is much less a problem of “muscular Christianity” or the caricatures thereof.

That’s my input…

In short, Fr Jonathan is concerned for the question of the just war, defending what we believe to be right. Deacon Little seems to be concerned for the self image of the strong and masculine man – self-consciously * so – and confusing the issue with the question of self defence by means of arms. It is my belief that the two issues should be separated. Many servicemen who gave their lives for King and Country in the first and second world wars were average men from cities and farms alike. They did their duty and we will remember them. But they were not all super-machos!

* In his article and another in his blog, Deacon Little perverts my meaning. I mean by “self-conscious” the same mentality as those who are “come-out” homosexuals or believe that they are persons of the opposite sex trapped in the wrong body. The “self-consciousness” I mean is the element of the “ideology”, meaning the world view of the person who is unable to think critically for him or her self.

Fr Jonathan is a priest as I am, Deacon Little perhaps aspires to the priesthood. As willing as we are to do our duty if we are called to do so, we should be more concerned for the pastoral dimension of our calling, helping the victims of man’s inhumanity to man depending on the situations in which we live.

You don’t need to be the Incredible Hulk to be a good priest! I hope the nonsense will be dissipated so that we can discuss things as balanced adults.

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6 Responses to Subtlety

  1. Warwickensis says:

    Dear Father, I replied to your comment on my blog thus:

    Indeed, Father. I do struggle to understand this “Muscular Christianity” but then perhaps this is the difference in U.K and U.S Culture. To be seen to be strong is important in Evolutionary Game Theory and plays a part in how we “do” politics. Think of Cesare Borgia for example. To be seen to be strong is important in political leadership. The Borgias kept their power whilst they were seen to be powerful. The principle remains even today. As an Englishman, I don’t quite understand how this works in the American mind, but then our histories are so different after the eighteenth century.

    • We also have the cult of physical fitness in England and the rest of Europe. It was built into the public school system in which I was brought up, with the image of the rugby player who despises art and beauty. The English system also has fine culture built into it with love of the Humanities and art as well as mathematics and the sciences.

      The cultural diversity between us and the Americans goes back to an extent with the War of Independence that left George III cussing and swearing, but mainly to the Civil War and the legacy from the Confederates. There is also the image of the cowboy. Many were highly skilled workers and cattle farmers. Others turned to drink, gambling and banditry. Clint Eastwood and John Wayne kept the image alive.

      I was bowled over by reading about Deacon Little’s commitment to gun clubs and various other men’s activities in Georgia, the Carolinas and thereabouts. Their “thing” is shooting. Mine is sailing and exploring, as well as music, woodworking and mechanical things. Each to his own. You certainly have your hobbies too – they keep us sane! I wonder if American gun clubs and bragging about owning this or that “piece” is very edifying for clerics, like us English spending too much time in pubs or playing golf. I would be more indulgent if he wrote about guns like I write about boats – recognising hobbies to be less important in life to family life and our vocation and bread-winning work.

      A few days ago, I was wakened by what I thought to be fireworks. Why set off fireworks in the morning, in the daylight? I later learned that it was the beginning of the duck shooting season. We have something of the Hill-billy mentality in Europe, but war is declared against innocent animals and birds. The intensity of the bangs was incredible. I can only imagine the carnage – “All in a day’s sport, stuff of life”! I least sailing doesn’t harm anything. My wife too feels very awkward by the hunting type. I have once taken part in a fox hunt with a pack of dogs – and was very happy to be told that the fox had got away. It was fun, a great afternoon out in the forest, but the fox’s cunning took something away from my feeling of guilt.

      Of course, not all Americans are the same. I have been to the USA four times, of which three times in the South (Tennessee and Florida), once in Maryland and Washington DC – including a foray into rural Pennsylvania and Amish country. They are welcoming and less cynical than us Europeans, to the point of naivety, but loyalty is often disappointingly absent. They are not all machos or gun-slingers. Other Americans are becoming more worldly wise and cynical like Europeans – with the experience of being abused by religious cults and fundamentalism. I have greatly enjoyed my visits to America, and that experience has broadened my own mind.

      • Warwickensis says:

        I wonder if there is a reaction against “squeamishness”. I deplore fox-hunting and all forms of animal cruelty. Yet I eat meat. This was found to be intolerable to one of my Facebook friends (a former pupil no less) who “unfriended” me on the spot because I was not convinced by her arguments and would not convert to veganism on the strength of them. That perhaps is inconsistent of me.

        I suspect what worries Deacon Little the most is the liberal squeamishness of not challenging behaviours and practices which lack common sense, such as the incomprehensible succession to strident “transgenderism” which has been instrumental in going so far as legislating against Common Sense. In that sense, he is right. In the Church, we cannot bless homosexual relationships as if they were marriages because they are not marriages in the ecclesiastical sense, yet do we refuse to bless remarriage of divorces for the same reason. We don’t hear people speaking up about that, and perhaps this is due to squeamishness.

        Squeamishness is often perceived as “unmasculine” – you should see me around spiders and blood.

        Do you think that Deacon Little could be addressing this rather than trying to pursue a “Roger Ramjet” persona? I think he probably is, which is why I will be very interested to his reply which, I hope will seek to clarify rather than react in hostility to this conversation.

      • My position about killing animals: OK if they are for eating or because they are truly vermin and harm our food animals or our hygiene. Also the euthanasia of animals that cannot be treated for their disease or injury. If the killing is done as humanely as possible. I find the veganism lobby very distasteful. I too eat meat and fish. I am the son of a veterinary surgeon, and have seen many disgusting things as a child like operating on cows or autopsies. My dad would simply say “If you want to puke up, it’s outside”!

        Still, I can be squeamish about many things, for example the stench of putrefaction, above all bad smells. I too appreciate a sound moral position and common sense about things like homosexual “marriage” and transgenderism – also the corresponding duty to help people in these situations. For example a girl thinking about having an abortion should be able to receive financial help to bring the child into the world or give the child to an adoption agency. Adoption should be made easier too. But, for Deacon Little, I don’t think these moral issues are the main motivation for his apparent agenda.

        Still, we should be patient. He might at this very moment be writing an article on the moral and philosophical basis of these questions. I would hope so for the sake of the “gravitas” of his ministry in the Church.

  2. ed pacht says:

    Somehow I find the concept of ‘muscular Christianity’ to be the antithesis of Christian living. Didn’t St. Paul declare, “When I am weak, I am strong”? Didn’t the Blessed Savior, and the holy Martyrs, for that matter, present themselves to be dispatched by unworthy men? Even the Old Testament repeatedly calls God’s people to put less trust in their own strengths. Gideon was told to whittle his army down to an impossible few. A prophet declared, “Not by might, not by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD.” I’m sorry, but ‘muscular Christianity’ sounds to me more like the declaration of the King of Tyre (traditionally seen as a symbol of Satan) in Isaiah 14, with his repeated “I will … I will … I will be like the most high.”

    I’ve considerably altered my one-time doctrinaire pacifism, and tend to reserve judgment on what others do, and am able to appreciate the reasoning behind ‘just war’ theories, but still find it impossible to conceive of there being such a thing in this present fallen world. Even WWII, though opposition to Nazi horrors seems only right, inevitably led to the firebombing of Dresden and the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I can find myself conflicted about the rightness of violence in defense of another, but, Father, your readers are not universal about violence in self-defense, as I am not with you on that. I cannot justify taking another’s life merely to defend mine. Am I entitled to value my own life over another’s? I can only see that as hubris.

    • Finally, Deacon Little has unwillingly encouraged me to do some investigating. This is interesting and revealing, not so much a question of the just war or defending our faith, families, etc. It really is an ideology. See The Brutal Legacy of the Muscular Christian Movement.

      I may have given the impression of blaming the Americans for this “movement”, because it is in fact British and Protestant German / Prussian. This article has cleared up many doubts in my mind due to ignorance of the historical “muscular Christianity” movement. The difference is that it reached its logical conclusion and mutation into a neo-pagan ideology involving ultra-masculinity and eugenics between the years 1933 to 1945 and was discredited. The English version was much milder but has also outlived its usefulness in most of the public schools and the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. The American version has remained as a more “working class” manifestation like in Nazi Germany. Godwins Law again? No, because Nazism was only the extreme conclusion of a long development of its underlying ideology before it started killing people.

      The collusion with eugenics makes Europeans bristle. In parts and some circles of the USA, the only thing wrong with this ideology involving race segregation and violence is that it was defeated, not because it was morally wrong. This is a serious accusation, but one that cannot be ignored. I understand these thoughts and fears, fuelled as they are with concerns about mass Muslim immigration and globalism, the spectre of Orwell’s dystopia.

      In Victorian England, the concern was for a strong and masculine ruling class via public school education, harsh discipline and competitive sports. Corporal punishment was an essential part of this view. This view is essentially Darwinian and Nietzschian. This cult of masculine strength would eliminate the “less fit”, and thereby grew the need for eugenics, imperial domination and exploitation of indigenous people in the colonies. The British Army in India was at times no better than the Nazis almost a hundred years later. This ideology is no longer “politically correct” or tolerated in England, but it is in the USA, where it has acculturated. It is seen that competition is an essential element of “muscular Christianity”, thus sports like rugby and American football.

      Football is a modern equivalent of gladiatorial combat, but above all the fighting of a war, one team against the other. No man can be an individual person. He is a part of the team. I remember at school the aggressive conversation in the locker room – “We’re going to slaughter them”, as if the intention was to kill the members of the opposite team. The ideology of rugby and football spreads into military life and business – winner takes all. Is this Christian? Perhaps to a Calvinist who believes that wealth is a sign of grace, that a human being is worth the money he has in the bank. The Workhouse of Victorian England was a by-product of the ideology. The inmates were worked hard and were fed on gruel, and had to show gratitude for it – read Dickens’ Oliver Twist. Modern business management runs along these lines, but it doesn’t pretend to be Christian.

      The article to which I link quotes George Orwell:

      “Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting”.

      Traces of “muscular Christianity” remain among some football players who pray for strength at the beginning of the match. Nowadays, football has become big business and is far from prayer or the words of the Gospel. It seems that “muscular Christianity” is very far from being mainstream either in Europe or in North America.

      It is not insignificant that Deacon Little is interested in Calvinism alongside “muscular Christianity”. Most people are trash and not worth bothering with (unless money can be made out of them) and the elect are very few. This is the self-appointed global elite. Newman had noticed this tendency in Charles Kingsley, and Kingsley wrote the famous quote that sparked Apologia pro Vita Sua: “Truth for its own sake is not a virtue of the Roman clergy”. That being said, many “muscular Christians” were opposed to Calvinism and vice-versa. Calvinism involves individual salvation, and “muscular Christianity” with its emphasis on the collective is a direct precursor of Fascism (the State over the person).

      It would seem to me that “muscular Christianity” is a thing of the past with little relevance today. There is also the opposite extreme of modern “liberalism” and “political correctness”, the kind of politics in the western world that is suffocating us and has to be rebooted before it causes World War III and general civil war. In the end, the serpent eats its own tail like the Oozlum Bird flying up its own rear end. That’s it from me on this subject.

      In medio stat virtus!

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