Monday, February 28, 2011

#88. Understanding Sacred Manhood

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I've been writing this blog about the New Cosmology for more than four years. My intent from the start has been to be a teacher, offering simple and clear ideas about the many details involved in understanding the contemporary convergence of science and religion.

At this point I've written close to 90 mini-essays. If I haven't been able to say what I want to say by now, I probably won't ever be able to. 

Recently, it occurred to me that it might be helpful to offer an overview of all the various topics I think are needed for an accurate understanding of the contemporary science-religion perspective and its new cosmology.

When I began to think about it, however, I realized that there are two big topics I would want to include in the overview which I've not written about in separate posts. One of them has been mentioned frequently (symbols, rituals and sacred signs), although I've never presented what I consider an adequate post along those lines. I've shied away from it because, while I have some practical skill at helping people take part in rituals, I feel much less adequate when it comes to a conceptual discussion of those practical aspects.

The other topic I never got around to writing about is an evolutionary understanding of sacred manhood: the "masculine" seen in the light of the New Cosmology.

This topic may be even more difficult to write about than sacred ritual. As with signs and symbols, it deals with perspectives so radically different from the conventional views taken for granted in our culture that we don't yet have the language for it. But I'm going to give it a try; this post and the next will be about understanding and recovering sacred manhood.


As elementary as it seems, I need to start by saying what I mean by "manhood." It includes not just genes and genitals but "maleness" and the "masculine" in the very broadest sense-- physical, anatomical, psychological and cultural.

"But what," you may already be asking, "has that to do with either religion or science?" My answer? "Everything." As I see it, it's precisely because an understanding of sacred manhood is so different from the conventional perspective on maleness and the masculine that it can provide us with the very context we need for making sense of the convergence of science and religion. So please be patient. Thanks!


The difficulties involved in talking about a contemporary understanding of manhood are quite similar to the difficulties involved in talking about a contemporary understanding of God. For many centuries, Western culture has used the word "God" to refer to an external-only divinity, and there is no easy way to express in everyday words what's meant by an inner experience of what Thomas Berry calls the "numinous source of all things."

We obviously need a better way to talk about the “Ultimate" or the "Great and Holy Mystery" than the language which patriarchal culture allows us. The problem, of course, is that Western culture remains to a great extent stuck in its patriarchal assumptions about the meaning of "God."

It's also stuck in its assumptions about manhood. Just as there are alternative and richer ways to understand divinity than as a reality which is only external to us, so there are also alternative-- and indeed richer!-- ways to understand the significance of human maleness.

In both cases, recovering these alternatives is a major part of the New Cosmology. So this post is about understanding just what "sacred manhood" means, and the next post will be about ways in which sacred manhood is being recovered in our day.


Thomas Berry does a wonderful job in describing the roots of religion in humanity's genetic coding; he makes clear that, thanks to natural selection, our experience of the numinous in nature-- our sense of the Ultimate-- is in our genes. As he explains it, our Paleolithic ancestors were unable to survive in the face of an overwhelming cosmos without a sense of alliance with the Ultimate Mystery behind the cosmos.
The same is true with regard to sacred manhood. But just as our earliest ancestors' experience of the sacred in the natural world was eventually lost in Western culture, so too our early ancestors' experience of the sacred character of human manhood was lost.

Historically, that double loss-- of the divine-within as well as of manhood's sacred quality-- resulted in the attitudes and perspectives we know today as "patriarchy."


We tend to think of patriarchy primarily in terms of male domination of women; the second-class status of women continues to be a major aspect of Western culture in our day. But the loss of sacred manhood along with the loss of an awareness of the divine within us has also brought about two other significant and related features of the Western world. I've mentioned them often in these posts: religious dualism and reductionist science.

Reductionist science sees the world only in terms of matter and logic, from the "bottom rung of the Great Ladder." It's about 500 years old. 

And religious dualism, which is about ten times older, is characterized by its disdain for matter, its hatred of the body, and its fear of the feminine. These are the primary aspects of the Western world's patriarchal culture.

My point here is that patriarchy is a distortion of human maleness. And that we are as much in need of a recovery of primal (sacred) manhood as we are in need of recovery of primal (Cenozoic) religion.

The patriarchal expression of maleness has been a historical reality for only the last 2% of human history. On a walk from one goal line of a football field to the other, 2% is the last six feet of that hundred yard walk. Sacred manhood was the norm for 98% of human history-- 98 yards of our walk down the length of a football field.

Historically, then, this link between Cenozoic religion and primal manhood is fairly clear. When we recognize it, we can see that, for a renewal of contemporary religion and spirituality, our cultural understanding of sacred manhood has a central place.


The link between patriarchy and religious dualism is no less clear. 

Patriarchy may be somewhat more political, and religious dualism more psychological, but they come from the same need for control-- of the material environment and of other human beings-- generated by the patriarchal male's disdain for matter, fear of the feminine and hatred of the body.

From the unitive perspectives of the New Cosmology, it's especially clear that patriarchal dualism is the very opposite of the unitive worldview; it is the opposite of that cosmo-the-andric unity I've mentioned so many times in these posts. Whether we think of it in terms of scientific reductionism or of religious dualism, the distorted form of manhood we call "patriarchy" separates us from the rest of the natural world and from the world's numinous source.


Probably the most difficult idea to deal with here is the question of the origin of patriarchal manhood. Where does that male fear and disdain of matter, body and feminine come from originally?

This is an especially difficult problem because of our cultural assumption that the patriarchal form of manhood is, and always has been, the only natural one. Bringing long-submerged ideas into consciousness is never easy; and because we are, as Thomas Berry says, "doubly estranged," the very idea of a possible alternative to patriarchal manhood is only very slowly becoming part of our new cultural perspectives.

Over the years, I've found one relatively easy way to understand it. In terms of a historical perspective, we can think of patriarchy-- including both religious dualism and scientific reductionism-- as a reaction to the loss of primal (natural, sacred) manhood.


What exactly was it that got lost? What was especially sacred about maleness for the first several million years of human history? That's the main question in this post.

I need to put in a good word first about the term "patriarchy." At least since the 20th century, "patriarchy" has primarily been a label for the suppression of women's rights; but originally it didn't refer to a social evil. The Hebrew patriarchs, for example, were honored as men who were responsible for the welfare of their people-- much the way, even today, we honor George Washington with the title "father of our country."

"Patriarchy" in this original sense meant being responsible for others, providing especially for those less able to take care of themselves, such as women with children, the sick and the old. This was the very essence of the male role in the human community from the time of our earliest ancestors. For two million years, it meant that to be male was to be a hunter.

We know from the sciences of anthropology and archeology that the Hunting Culture persisted for 98% of our history. The final 2% of humanity's cultural development saw the discovery of agriculture in the Neolithic period about 10,000 years ago and the invention of writing, social organization and cities about 5,000 years ago. What we call "civilization" is only the final one yard of our walk down the football field.

It's difficult for us today to understand that, prior to the Neolithic and Civilization periods, hunting was a religious activity. For all those several million years, obtaining food for the life of their people was the very essence of sacred manhood.

For countless centuries, natural selection shaped males-- physically and psychologically-- for that task of being a hunter. But when the Neolithic-agricultural period of human history began, males gradually lost their several-million-year-old sacred role in human life.
What we call "patriarchy" today can be seen as a reaction to that loss. 

When we look at human manhood in light of these stages of humanity's cultural development, we see that in the modern, negative sense, patriarchy-- with its religious dualism, male superiority and suppression of women--goes back at least five thousand years. No wonder the people of Western culture-- women, no less than men-- take patriarchy for granted!

A way to summarize this historical perspective is to say that patriarchy is a backlash, a negative response to the loss of sacred manhood during the Neolithic period of the Great Mother Goddess. Patriarchy was an misguided attempt to restore meaning and significance to manhood by negating the "evils" of matter, body and women.
What constitutes the essence of sacred manhood, then, is the very opposite of that rejection of matter, body and feminine. It means to give oneself, as a hunter, for the life of the people.

As I've said, it's not easy to appreciate that hunting was once a spiritual activity, the religious work of our male ancestors. But we can more easily understand today that hunting was how human males participated in the cosmic process, that it was a sacred task carried out "on behalf of all and for all."

My main point is that while the Paleolithic hunting culture is long gone, the male need for significance, for participation in life by meaningful action, is not.

What constitutes the sacredness of manhood is precisely that spiritual meaning and significance of giving oneself "for the life of the people." 

And, as Thomas Berry says in his essay on reinterpretation that I described in the previous post, redemptive sacrifice is a primary characteristic of the cosmic emergence process. It's how evolution works.


I'm aware that I've presented a very big picture and that understanding it takes a lot of effort, so I considered ending this post right here.

But besides this historical perspective, I have one other way of understanding sacred manhood that I think is helpful, so I've decided to include it in this post rather than trying to incorporate into a later one. 

You might like to take a break before continuing to read on. I'll leave some space, to mark the place, when you come back to it.

*** space ***

As you may have guessed, my second way of understanding sacred manhood make use of the "tools" of the four-fold perspective which I have referred to in many previous posts. This too takes effort; it can get complicated and once again I ask for your patience!

Long-time readers will remember that the essential insight of the four-fold perspective is that we can be conscious in four different ways. And, as with so many other important understandings in this time of great transition, we don't yet have a commonly accepted language to talk about these four ways our minds work.

I've described a number of different versions of the four-fold perspective in previous posts. They include images from the Native American Medicine Wheel and from the Hebrew Bible's Wisdom literature, as well as the language used by teachers and thinkers as diverse as C. G. Jung, Ken Wilber, Michael Dowd and Karl Rahner.

As I noted in post #82 (Moving Up the Ladder), even the classical elements (earth, air, fire, water) make good tags for talking about how our minds work, as do the four directions (north, east, south, west), the four seasons (winter, spring, summer, fall), and the four times of day (midnight, dawn, noon, dusk). I think the simplest words to work with are body, mind, soul, spirit, however, especially when used in conjunction with the Jungian terms.

We are flooded with riches! We can easily get lost in all these treasures, so I want to make my main point as clearly and simply as I can with regard to the efforts needed for an understanding of sacred manhood: the patriarchal mind limits itself to two of these four ways of being conscious.


Using Jung's terms, it is the Sensing and Thinking functions which are considered masculine in the patriarchal perspective. That's body and mind in the older wording. We can see right away that restricting reality to only physical matter and logical thought is a perfect description of the limited perspectives of Western culture's reductionist science.

For Patriarchy, the Jungian Feeling function (soul, our awareness of connections) is considered feminine and therefore of no importance, while the Intuition function (spirit, the big picture of life's significance) isn't even acknowledged.

Nature imagery especially helps us to see what's missing from patriarchal manhood: fire and water, day and evening, the warmth of relatedness and the healing flow of meaning.

This imagery helps us to see why some of the essential religious perspectives of sacred manhood-- expressed, for example, in Native American prayers such as "All things are our relations" and "Great Mystery, we see you all around"-- simply make no sense to the severely limited dualistic view of the patriarchal masculine.

This lack of any sense of relatedness or significance explains why Western culture is only gradually coming to see the importance of human rights not just for some but for all, and to value environmental awareness. The two modes of human consciousness most needed in our present situation-- the Black Bear's big picture and the Green Mouse's sense of connectedness with all things-- are precisely what's missing from patriarchal manhood.


As I've said, understanding all this takes a lot of work! I hope these historical and psychological perspectives on humanity's cultural development and on four-fold consciousness are helpful in providing a positive understanding of sacred manhood and the importance of its recovery.

If I were presenting these thoughts in a college classroom it would take five or six sessions, since there would be so many comments and questions. There would be objections too, of course, since there's something here to upset almost everyone.

But objections and questions, about even the smallest details, are what help us clarify these basic ideas. I invite you to share yours.

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1 comment:

Sam said...

While trying to eliminate numerous spam comments, I inadvertently deleted all comments at the END of the posts up until #90. BUT... they are still preserved in the collections of comments found in posts #32, #67 and #83.

One set of comments, however-- for posts #84 to #89-- has been completely lost. If you happen to have copied any of them, I'd much appreciate your sending a copy to me so I can restore them. Thanks.