In a period of two weeks, the treacherous nature of our western culture was put on display by two events. The first was the ‘We Believe: The Best Men Can Be’ ad by Gillette, one of the world’s leading razor brands. The second, the news that the state of New York passed a bill legalising abortion up to birth. One ad, one law one tumultuous culture
A Toxic Ad
Gillette recently launched a new controversial ad that tackles the often heated issue of toxic masculinity. The ad begins with some men looking at themselves in the mirror as a news report plays in the background reporting #metoo allegations. You can see the add here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=koPmuEyP3a0. The ad continues to different scenes that confront bullying and sexual harassment against women. The advertisement has sparked massive amounts of controversy. Many have praised it for bringing these relevant issues to the forefront, while others accused the company of shaming men, virtue signalling and hypocrisy, leading thousands to boycott the company altogether. In a play on its famous tagline, ‘the best a man can get’ the ad’s narrator asks, “Is this the best a man can get”.
To be sure there are some significant issues with the ad. It portrays sexual harassment and bullying as a male-only issue. While it may be to a lesser degree, men also experience both sins, and not only from other men. Women likewise suffer bullying at the hands of other women. I would have much preferred the ad to address sexual harassment and bullying as a whole. It was a poor generalisation of men at best.
But I also believe (see what I did there?) the ad has a strong central message – we need men to call other men to a higher standard of masculinity. In my view, the ad is highlighting one of the significant needs of our western culture – godly men. Men that use whatever God gives them, power, position, prosperity, to serve those around them. And likewise women. This is a human problem, not a gender problem. This is a sin problem, not a masculine problem. As a father I seek to train my son to grow up, take responsibility, love and serve others and be the best possible man he can. I attempt to model to my daughters what a good godly man looks like so that they will be able to spot a man worthy of investing their future lives to in partnership with serving God and others. While I may fail in these at times, I do believe the premise that men should help raise the standard for other men is important and most effective.
As a pastor, I also know that no man has ever come away from constant criticism and discouragement a better man. The feminist movement began by calling women up, not putting men down. It was, and in many ways still is a significant movement. Women need encouragement to be all they can be as women. And this encouragement should come from not only other women but also men. When the feminist and #metoo movements cross this line, it can and does have devastating effects. This is why the ad had such differing responses. Some read the advertisement as an all-out attack on masculinity. I didn’t interpret it so much this way but rather an essential call for men to call out other men when they sin and to call them to a higher standard of masculinity and manhood.
Men. Step up! Be better. Use whatever God places in your hands, to serve those he puts in your life. Love women. Serve Women. Value women. Don’t abuse, use, harass women.
A Tragic Bill
Last week in New York, a tragic new bill ironically titled “Reproductive Health Act” was passed. This law will allow abortion to be legal up to the point of birth and even makes room for non-doctors to conduct the procedure. My heart grieves. It really does. Even the idea of framing abortion as a procedure makes me feel glum. To be direct, I’m not sure what made me more incandescent, the passing of the law, or the celebration that followed. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo labelled it a historic victory and organised for major state landmarks such as the World Trade Centre be lit pink in celebration.
Much of the rhetoric from the pro-choice movement has been about women’s health. Women’s health of great importance during pregnancy. My wife has had 4 children, and her health is crucial for us as a family. This issue comes 1) when you pair a mother’s health against a child’s. They both matter because both are human and persons. 2) When preserving life and health is defined as all factors including physical, emotional, psychological, familial and even age. It’s not that these don’t matter it’s that any perceived amount of stress in these areas are grounds to terminate the life of a child.
Surely there is no debate as to whether the child is a life? (https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/we-know-they-are-killing-children-all-of-us-know) As a pastor, I am reminded of this reality in two distinct ways.
Firstly couples share their sonogram with me with ultimate joyfulness. Why? It is proof of life? It’s proof there is a living person they will one day hold in their hands. Secondly, and more dishearteningly, couples share their grief-stricken news that they are struggling to get pregnant. Why do they grieve? Because they are unable to experience new life in the form of a child in the womb. Both are common and natural expressions that reveal the truth that life is in the womb. Therefore even if the people passing these laws believe that these laws are necessary to preserve a mother’s life and health, surely the decision to pass such a bill is at the very least a sobering decision. But this is not what was expressed at all. It was jubilation and celebration.
A Tumultuous Culture
Our culture is at a crossroads, and we are confused. The message of the Gillette ad tells us to value human life and dignity and to see all people equally. The message of the law tells us that one life is more valuable and the other more expendable. One urges us to call out the wrongful use of strength, position, and sexual desire. That abuse and harassment are wrong and need to be called out for what they are. That we should stand up for victims of such crimes. The other tells us that murder is not a crime but a procedure and to not call it for what it is. Even further, that we should celebrate it.
What we see here is what theologians have long coined as the ‘Incurvatus in se’. That is ‘turned inward on oneself’. Developed most likely by St Augustine, it describes a life that is lived inward for oneself rather than outward for God and others. Martin Luther popularised this theological phrase and wrote specifically of it in his Lectures on Romans stating.
“Our nature, by the corruption of the first sin, [being] so deeply curved in on itself that is not only bends the best gifts of God towards itself and enjoys them, or rather even uses God himself in order to attain these gifts, but it also fails to realise that it so wickedly, curvedly, and viciously seeks all things, even God, for its own sake.”
Over 500 years ago Luther’s description could not be a more accurate one of our western culture today. This is not merely a culture of death as some have called it. It is a culture of me. Everything points to what is best for me. It’s #mefirst. Why do men abuse and harass women – #mefirst. My pleasure, my desire, my will, #mefirst. Additionally, its why abortion is celebrated – #mefirst. My health, my life first. It is what Augustine and Luther called ‘Incurvatus in se’. Self bent in and towards itself.