Modern Day Barbarians: (A Word to Young Men, Part 1)

I find intriguing the times when someone comments about a given feature of culture, and though the commentator does not make his observations from the perspective of a Christ-follower, his assessment of the times converges well with biblical truth. Ideas that are true may not originate with Scripture, but if true they will be consistent with God’s Word.

Take for instance young adults in our culture. Scripture does not see young adults as goofballs living in a “time out” between childhood and adulthood, although our culture has adopted this posture without so much as a whimper of protest. I wrote an entire book called Raising the Bar confronting this issue.

Then I came across the article by Terrence Moore called Wimps and Barbarians. I keep returning to the article due to his insightful commentary on young men in our day. I encourage you to read Moore’s words in their entirety HERE. I simply want to take two articles to comment from the perspective of a Christ-follower on his commentary. His words will be set apart in quotes, followed by my thoughts. The section headings that follow are my own.

Moore’s article details the two extremes we see lived out in the majority of young men (in the church and outside, by the way) in Western culture. He notes:

“Manhood is not simply a matter of being male and reaching a certain age. These are acts of nature; manhood is a sustained act of character. It is no easier to become a man than it is to become virtuous. In fact, the two are the same. The root of our old-fashioned word ‘virtue’ is the Latin word virtus, a derivative of vir, or man. To be virtuous is to be ‘manly.’ As Aristotle understood it, virtue is a ‘golden mean’ between the extremes of excess and deficiency. Too often among today’s young males, the extremes seem to predominate. One extreme suffers from an excess of manliness, or from misdirected and unrefined manly energies. The other suffers from a lack of manliness, a total want of manly spirit. Call them barbarians and wimps. So prevalent are these two errant types that the prescription for what ails our young males might be reduced to two simple injunctions: Don’t be a barbarian. Don’t be a wimp. What is left, ceteris paribus, will be a man.”

AN INTRODUCTION TO TODAY’S BARBARIANS

“Today’s barbarians are not hard to find. Like the barbarians of old, the new ones wander about in great packs. You can recognize them by their dress, their speech, their amusements, their manners, and their treatment of women. You will know them right away by their distinctive headgear. They wear baseball caps everywhere they go and in every situation: in class, at the table, indoors, outdoors, while taking a test, while watching a movie, while on a date. They wear these caps frontward, backward, and sideways. They will wear them in church and with suits, if ever a barbarian puts on a suit. Part security blanket, part good-luck charm, these distinctive head coverings unite each barbarian with the rest of the vast barbaric horde. Recognizing other barbarians by their ball caps, one barbarian can enter into a verbal exchange with another anywhere: in a men’s room, at an airport, in a movie theater. This exchange, which never quite reaches the level of conversation, might begin with, ‘Hey, what up?’ A traditional response: ‘Dude!’ The enlightening colloquy can go on for hours at increasingly high volumes. ‘You know, you know!’ ‘What I’m sayin’!’ ‘No way, man!'”

In my syllabus I tell young men not to wear ball caps in class. When I work with a worship band of young men I ask them not to wear caps when they lead worship. Am I being a prude? No, I am trying to help these men learn respect, and learn to be men not BANS (half boy half man).

THEIR DIVIDED LIVES

“Among the most popular barbarian activities are playing sports and lifting weights. There is, of course, nothing wrong with sports or physical training. Playing sports can encourage young males to cultivate several important manly virtues: courage, competitiveness, camaraderie, stamina, a sense of fairness…. [But] Today’s barbarians act as though they never leave the playing field or the gym. They wear the same clothes, speak the same language (just as loudly), spit and scratch themselves just as much, whether on the field or off…. As a result, they live almost a divided life. On the field, they can be serious, competitive, eager, and disciplined. Off the field, they are lazy, careless, disorganized, and disaffected. Such a divided life is the hallmark of barbarism.”

You see this in the BANS of our time: they can talk about sports all day long, but to engage in thoughtful conversation on matters of theology or on issues that actually pertain to life and godliness, even Christian young men tend to fail miserably. Well, except for those young men who will argue theology as if it were a sporting event and who will not relent until they “win.” These are the young men who think because they have a job and show up for work they are therefore men. No, a boy at age 12 can run a paper route; that does not make him a man. Having enough motivation to show up at a job just to make money does not make a man. And, if you can talk eloquently about your ball team but have a hard time engaging in respectful conversation about things that are not trivial, you are a barbarian.

DISRESPECT OF AUTHORITY

“Barbarians, strictly speaking,” writes Moore, “Have no manners. They shout out to each other in public as though the world were a playing field or a rock concert. To complement the shouting, there is a recognizable barbarian posture, carriage, and comportment. They slouch in their seats…. A particularly annoying barbarian habit is not looking you in the eye. He will look this way and that, shrug his shoulders, move his body in different directions, but rarely just stand in one place, look you in the eye, and say something intelligible. Speaking to adults used to be one of the first lessons a child learned. Proper speech and posture and other signs of respect helped to bring him into the community of civilized human beings. No longer.”

I have met with many young men in the role of a father for young ladies on our campus. I have discovered that there are young men training for ministry who have a hard time looking you straight in the eye and talking to you with conviction. They are rare, thankfully, but they do exist. If you are a young man, do you find conversation with men much older than you to be difficult, especially on important topics?

TREATMENT OF WOMEN

“Young males, of course, have always been rough around the edges. But in the past, their edges were smoothed, in part, by being introduced into female company. Boys learned to behave properly first from their mothers and later around other women and girls. They held open doors, pulled out chairs, stood up when a woman entered a room, stood up in public places to offer their seats, took off their hats in the presence of women, and carefully guarded their language so as not to offend the fair sex. All that is gone. In no other aspect of their conduct is barbarism more apparent among a large number of young men these days than in their treatment of women. Not only do they not show women any special regard. They go out of their way to bother them. A woman does not like to be yelled at by men in passing cars or from dormitory rooms…. In short, the company of women no longer brings out the best in young men. Around the opposite sex, the adolescent and post-adolescent males of today are at their worst.”

Boom. This is in fact true, including among believers: young men who relate best to young ladies via sarcasm and by picking at them (and there are a remarkably high number of young ladies who seem not to mind!). Men PROTECT young ladies; they do not pester them.

So we have a telling description of one extreme of young men today. Do you know any? Do you see them around you, at work, in your church? Most of these young men do not even know how pathetic they are acting because there are no older men in their lives to confront them. But mark my word, these men do not want to wake up one day in their 50s still floating from job to job, in and out of marriages, strangers to their own children. But many young men are heading that way. Challenge these young men to be MEN, men who protect, who have conviction, who take the harder path, who see long term, and men who long to learn not from other barbarians, but from men.

Part two will examine the other side-the wimp.

Note: this was adapted from an article first posted at alvinreid.com

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  3Comments

  1. Rob   •  

    Nice post. Keep writing about this topic! as a young adult pastor, i don’t see alot of the “barbarians” in our midst. more the other end of the spectrum. any idea why? i appreciated your last post on the definition of wimps as well.

  2. Mike Mowery   •  

    Great post. I am a pastor in my late 40’s and I see these barbarians all throughthe youth groups and young adult ministries. Sadly very little is being done to call these guys out of barbarianism. Instead, we are told that we are out of touch with our culture. That’s possible, but few will admit that much of our culture has lost touch with civility.

  3. Alvin Reid   •  

    Rob, I think it is because in the church we have a much greater issue with the neutering of men than the moral equivalent of steroid abuse in the church. I think the wimp issue is a much bigger one, and the response i get from young men (mostly positive and asking from help, some unhappy and revealing their wimpiness at times) is in response to the wimp factor.
    Even in my evangelism class I tell my students that the issue they face is not being overbearing and rude in their witness. People in the church are far more likely to wimp out in sharing their faith than to be overbearing and boorish.
    Doc

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