Picnic on the Mountain

Once upon a time, a foolish young man (myself) decided to climb a mountain. It was in Italy, at the base of the Dolomite range. The summer was new and the young man feeling hoppy. He had heard that others climbed it, but he paid no attention to their rules and laws (which they called advice). He wanted to walk his own way. So he went straight up it. After a few days of tortuous climbing, teetering starvation, scrapes and cuts, and near death experiences, he came to the top – only to find a family of five having a picnic with a neat blanket, drinks, and a little dog in tow. Their car was parked in a nearby parking area and they were taking pictures of the gorgeous view. The young man didn’t know that people had come before him and built a path and then a two-way paved road to the top of this mountain.

The story is true. I was the fool who climbed a mountain the hard and long way, only to find others had gone before me. I recall this story as I see Christians taking a similar route when approaching cultural matters. On issue after issue, Christians go about things as though they are the first one’s ever to attempt the matter. And, after decades of struggle, they arrive merely where others have been having their family picnic for generations.

Enter: Violence and Manhood.

Recent events have shown how unfamiliar is the Christian community with its surrounding neighbors – the gun-owning community. If you were to ask some Christians, you’d think gun-owners are all reactionary, hateful, foaming-at-the-mouth barbarians. What they do not know is that it is a natural, informed, calm, methodical, self-policing, courageous, and prepared group. Sure, there are bad apples, just as in every family, culture, or group. But the difference here is that the bad apples give rise to the need for good ones.

The same is true of manhood. Throughout all known human history, in all locations and among all peoples, manhood has been defined as including bravery and courage, defense and protection, self-sacrifice and duty, honor and battle, and using one’s strength for good. This idea is suspect today. In fact, many reading this will naturally (perhaps reactionarily) disagree, with ready examples of men not being protective but destructive. Yet, the harmful barbarism of some men is precisely the need for the protective bravery of other men. Good men would not have to sacrifice themselves if bad men did not try to sacrifice others. None would mount a defense if others weren’t trying to attack. Men wouldn’t need selfless courage if not for those who desire to inflict harm. And such has been the paradoxical history of manhood – its need arises from its violation. Where it is avoided, there it is most desired. When violence attacks, defense is called upon. And when men put off defending, they create a situation for it.

As Chesterton said in Orthodoxy:

“Let us follow for a moment the clue of the martyr and the suicide; and take the case of courage. No quality has ever so much addled the brains and tangled the definitions of merely rational sages. Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die. “He that will lose his life, the same shall save it,” is not a piece of mysticism for saints and heroes. It is a piece of everyday advice for sailors or mountaineers. It might be printed in an Alpine guide or a drill book. This paradox is the whole principle of courage; even of quite earthly or quite brutal courage. A man cut off by the sea may save his life if he will risk it on the precipice. He can only get away from death by continually stepping within an inch of it. A soldier surrounded by enemies, if he is to cut his way out, needs to combine a strong desire for living with a strange carelessness about dying. He must not merely cling to life, for then he will be a coward, and will not escape. He must not merely wait for death, for then he will be a suicide, and will not escape. He must seek his life in a spirit of furious indifference to it; he must desire life like water and yet drink death like wine. No philosopher, I fancy, has ever expressed this romantic riddle with adequate lucidity, and I certainly have not done so. But Christianity has done more: it has marked the limits of it in the awful graves of the suicide and the hero, showing the distance between him who dies for the sake of living and him who dies for the sake of dying. And it has held up ever since above the European lances the banner of the mystery of chivalry: the Christian courage, which is a disdain of death; not the Chinese courage, which is a disdain of life.”

Such have been the long musings of men throughout the ages on the issues of manhood, defense, and violence. That some within the Christian community appear just now to enter into this conversation without much awareness of or reference to its long history, does not mean none have ever pondered these thoughts or ventured these actions or embodied this lifestyle. But the mountain paths are old and well worn. Find them and make your way up. Come have some food and drinks.




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