Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Do we need a "Letter to Men"?

In 1995, Pope John Paul II wrote the much acclaimed (though not so much by 3rd wave feminists) "Leter to Women". In my first year of seminary, my theology professor made passing mention of the absence of a corresponding "Letter to Men".

I suppose there is a certain logic in that fact; a letter dedicated to the female sex may be interpreted as a kind of papal affirmative action. Yet papal letters are not prizes or tokens, and it was exactly an expected critique of the "Letter to Women" that it is mere tokenism and not, by secular feminism's standards, a sign of real progress towards their goals.

The "Letter to Women" was not mere "verbal candy," and neither, I think, would be a "Letter to Men." Now, men are as much in need of assistance in understanding the uniqueness of our Christian vocation, and in the interpretation of our history, as women have ever been. How does a Christian male live the counter-culture of Jesus Christ in this society? Our society is criticized both by feminists for its male-dominance, and by the Church for its lack of respect for gender difference and complimentarity. How do men authentically affirm our sex and honor our God-given "masculine genius" while challenging prejudices and malformed structures that continue to place unfair burdens on women? What is the "masculine genius?"

As regards the last question, there is a corresponding question whose answer might be a prudential reason not to release a "Letter to Men" at this time: the question of authority. Is there anything in tradition, in nature, in science, in philosophy, in revelation to suggest that men (as men) have a unique call to authority?

The reason why I suggest that this may be a stumbling block to writing such a letter is not because I know what the answer is and I know that a lot of people will not like the answer. Rather, it is because I do not think that the uniquely Christian understanding of "authority" (which appears quite upside-down from a secular standpoint) has made any headway in popular western culture. Thus, the Church and her controversialist readers would be talking about "authority," but they would be meaning quite different things.

more later

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