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Some Thoughts on Masculinity

by P.B.

It has happened again. Once again male man has found a way to avoid appreciating the true talents that the Lord has given to women. This time they probably didn't do it consciously, as they have so often in ages gone past. The result is the same.

In almost every culture womankind is regarded as inferior. Plato said that when a man misbehaved he returned to earth as a woman or some other inferior creature. Primitive tribes gave the husband the right to beat his wife or wives.

Curiously the women's liberation movement, which set out to change this situation, has sometimes had an opposite effect. Men have allowed women to be treated as equals, but both sexes have tended to define "equals" as meaning "like men." Therefore the woman in business or competitive life is often encouraged to ape male qualities instead of bringing to her job the unique qualities of the feminine mind. Men have stopped treating a woman as the Writings say she should be treated with "courteous morality," (CL 98) - stopped respecting her for those more gentle characteristics that draw the sexes together. There is an increased tendency to treat her like one of the boys. Inevitably it is the true feminine that suffers. Small wonder that wives in heaven were afraid when Swedenborg discovered how tenderly they loved their husbands. They didn't want him to reveal that on earth, because it seemed like a weakness which men would exploit. Swedenborg insisted that he must reveal it, for their tenderness must be known: it is the very truth of good, and the goodness of truth (see SD 6110:2).

It is true that the so-called women's liberation movement has had some good results. We have learned to recognize many things that women could have been offering to society for thousands of years. It is true that the sincere genesis of this movement with some was an attempt to have people focus on more interior things in a woman - to stop thinking only of her looks or her ability to cook and keep a house tidy.

It is sadly true that there have been excesses by both sexes in this movement. Some women have gone far too far and have threatened the precious distinctions which the Lord Himself created. On the other hand some men have been so weak that they have been unable to bear the thought of a woman succeeding. A recent study showed that if a wife has a higher-paying job than her husband, he is 11 times more likely to die of heart disease in middle age. He is far more likely to attack his wife with a knife or gun. He thinks he loves her more than she loves him, and the report showed that a significant number reported no sexual activity with their spouses. However, the situation improved dramatically if the wife was in a traditionally "woman's job," such as nursing, even if she was earning more than he was.

I don't want to comment on the study, but we should reflect on the attitude with some men which requires a sense of visible "masculine superiority" in order to function.

What do the Writings say about the wish of the male sex to be the superior one? They show that it was a false understanding of doctrine that led people to think that way. Paul said that the husband should be the head of the wife as the Lord is the head of the church. The Lord is the head of the church, and "man - man and woman, and still more husband and wife together - are the church" (CL 125). It is a desire for domination over women that leads to polygamy (CL 78:4). "In heavenly marriages there is no predominance" (HH 358). Finally, they say that man's pride in his own intelligence leads him to want to be greater than woman. That love, which is a love of something in himself, "won't tolerate an equal." It constantly puts down woman, and leads therefore to scorn for marriage, and an adulterous love (see CL 331:2,3). As one young woman said when she broke her engagement, "He's in love with himself, and who am I to come between?"

These ideas point up a very simple and yet most profound truth. There is only one culture that can restore woman to the place that the Lord created for her, and that is the one in which conjugial love is acknowledged. It must be acknowledged in the heart as well as in words. All other cultures will place women at a disadvantage.

So will New Church organizations unless they enter with the heart into the teachings about conjugial love.

The reason too is simple. A woman is a form of love, and love is silent and less visible than the understanding. The accomplishments of love are also less visible than those of the understanding. Every culture since the Ancient Church has emphasized what is on the surface, what is visible and shallow. Therefore it makes much of man's intellectual abilities, and little of woman's loves.

I don't mean to say that men are shallow, surface creatures. I do mean to say that when we are looking only on the surface it is man's accomplishments that most easily appear. On a deeper plane, the abilities of both are seen, and it is the woman who is loved for her internal beauty, for the wisdom that is her inmost form. "For this cause shall a man leave father and mother and shall cleave unto his wife."

What; then, is the challenge to men in today's world? It is to escape the shallowness of thought that continues to relegate women to a more lowly position. Women's lib isn't going to accomplish that. It replaces one kind of shallow thought with another kind. In such an exchange women once again suffer. So we have today more single-parent homes, and who in general are running those homes, with smaller finances and less support? Women. We have women competing in the marketplace - not in a way that they could compete as women, but as if they were men. That puts them at a disadvantage. We have women staying at home to be homemakers and some people are vaguely contemptuous of this beautiful commitment to building a home in which the church can dwell. Instead of seeing the precious use of providing a home for growing minds and hearts; instead of honoring the talent which binds a home into a place in which the Lord can dwell, people talk about homemaking as washing dishes and doing the laundry.

What is it that a woman loves in a man? A young woman's beauty, which attracts a man, is matched by his "morality" (see CL 44). It is the morality of a young man that a woman loves. If he is a moral man she is safe with him. Not only is she safe from bodily seduction, but her affections and thoughts are secure from harm. He will treat them with "courteous morality," even as he regards her beauty "with a fond eye" (CL 98).

Women also love knowledge, understanding and wisdom in a man (CL 91; cf. 90). Loving his knowledge comes first. Later she loves his judgment - his intelligence, or understanding. These are impressive things. We are proud of them, we men. Women are proud of them in the men they love. But by them we seem to be superior. It is because of this that heavenly wives somewhat sadly observed to Swedenborg, "You men glory over us on account of your wisdom, but we do not glory over you on account of ours" (CL 208).

But it is the third in that trilogy that women love - true wisdom. Listen to this beautiful teaching: "Conjugial love is proper to man [male and female]. It can also be called native and germane to man, because man has within him the faculty of being wise, with which this love makes one" (CL 96).

Now I don't have time in this talk to explore the obvious main point that the Writings are making - that a woman loves a man's use. Not his occupation, but his use, his total effect on others - the way he puts his understanding to work in human relationships. This she loves, with this she is conjoined, and it is the core of her marriage love. This is the church, which is said to be formed first with the man. It must be formed first with him if there is to be order; for when truth is put to use by the masculine mind, the wife delights in it, and secretly conjoins herself with it, and wraps it around with her love (see CL 125, 130, 142, 238, 239; cf. 156 - "The church and conjugial love are constant companions.").

I want to draw attention instead to the fact that wisdom with a man teaches two things, two things that contain the secret of our challenge to be masculine.

First, it teaches that the wife alone is to be loved, and that adulteries are filthy, and to be shunned. Men receive love from their wives, "especially according to that wisdom from religion which teaches that the wife alone is to be loved." Such love is "concentrated; and it is ennobled, and remains in its strength and is steadfast and enduring" (CL 161e). "This is the wisdom with which conjugial love binds itself; for it binds itself by shunning the evil of adultery as the pest of the soul, the commonwealth and the body" (CL 130).

It is also the secret of eternal youth. Young men and women, once old and infirm on earth, were seen in heaven, and the angels said, "They have all been restored by the Lord to this flower of age because they mutually loved each other and from religion shunned adulteries as enormous sins" (CL 137:7).

Secondly, we show true masculinity as we use wisdom to understand our wives truly. In many places in the Writings the husband is said to be the understanding of his wife's love. I think we could express it a little differently: A true husband understands his wife's loves.

Reflect on that for a moment, and ask yourself how easy it is for a husband to go through life not understanding his wife's loves. He tells himself he loves her; he is thoughtful and considerate in many ways, but he is not very aware of what her secret hopes and dreams are in life.

You see, a wife does not reveal her loves. From innate modesty and inborn wisdom she shields them from her husband when he is in cold. From wisdom too she knows that if he is to discover them he must do it for himself. He must want to do so; he must inquire into her feelings, spend many of his quiet moments wondering what beautiful feelings are moving her.

I truly think one of the heartbreaks of a world which cares not for conjugial love is that women find their most valuable, their deepest offerings are not even known, let alone loved.

Therefore the true love of marriage is to seek to understand the heart of this person you love. She wants this of her husband more than anything else - an understanding heart, which probes the depth of her being and senses the wondrous things the Lord has put there.

It is a knowledge that is permitted to the husband only. And this is my point: It is only when men strive for this type of understanding that the true beauty of the feminine mind will be seen, and she will be loved for the things which the Lord Himself made her to be loved for.

That is the challenge of the New Church man. Can he reach upward to that kind of masculinity? Can he avoid the pitfalls of shadow-manhood? Will he resist the temptation to judge a woman by standards that belong to the understanding or to this world alone, which will, as all cultures have done, relegate her to a lesser place in society?

Or can he see that the Lord has made woman so beautiful that he must be inspired to seek after true wisdom - to understand the loves of the woman he has chosen, and when he sees them, to bring them forth into use.

The New Church alone can meet that challenge, because the internal form of the feminine mind is now revealed. That is why the Lord can raise up conjugial love anew after His advent, for that love is from Him alone, and is with those who are made spiritual by Him through the Word (see CL 81e). Then, and then only, will men and women walk together on the path to heaven, and men will truly be men.

- New Church Life 1984;109:11-15

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