Robert Bly says, ‘The wild man is no groovy hippy … It takes discipline, work, reading, delving deep into oneself, preparing an emotional body that can handle grief, ecstasy and spirit … The wild man doesn’t come to full life through being natural, going with the flow, smoking weed, reading nothing and being generally groovy. Ecstasy amounts to living within reach of the high voltage of the golden gifts. The ecstasy comes after thought, after discipline imposed on ourselves, after grief.’1
Robert Bly is one of America’s poet laureates and not surprisingly much of his thinking was being done during the time of what has been called the Flower Power movement, his writing being a critique of that and even of what might be called the spirit of our age. He is regarded as a leader of the mythopoetic men’s movement and if he had met the Apostle Paul would have found that they had much in common. It was St. Paul who said, ‘Suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character and character produces hope and hope does not disappoint us because God’s love has been poured into our hearts…’2
But how can we expect our men to endure suffering when we don’t offer them anything more than a sporting competition or a business competition to sacrifice themselves for? How can we criticise them for lacking passion and endurance when we sell them on a footy game at five years of age and fail to offer anything more at twenty five years of age?
By that stage the jury has come in for most and they’ve had a long hard look at the faces of those much older than themselves who have the feel of people walking a plank—a sometimes cheerful and pretty plank, but a plank nevertheless. Without even asking, they know that—according to secularism and unfortunately according to much of the religion on offer—there isn’t actually anything worth sacrificing themselves for.
‘Hope deferred makes the heart sick,’ an old proverb says, and the demise of the secular vision has opened a door for ruthless preachers of ruthless faiths to fill the void, to convert young and empty hearts. Ironically, the custodians of our society are looking on and complaining about the evils of proselytising, of converting or attempting to convert ‘(someone) from one religion, belief, or opinion to another’.
But what if we have passed on beliefs and opinions to our children that are so weak and untested that we have set them up to be the next proselytes? When your children have been starved of a robust worldview, issuing laws against conversion or proselytising is about as effective as ‘fiddling while Rome burns’.
Parents with obsessive fears create an appetite for the thing they’re paranoid about. We live in a country that’s awash with intimidation when it comes to questions of faith. Another suicide bomb goes off, another priest is convicted of molestation and we are afraid to even broach the subject.
But ‘on the sly’ millions of Aussies are searching for faith, hope and love. I meet these people all the time, people who are eager to talk, who want to have conversations about God, provided they are allowed to say what they think and not be ranted at and not be expected to go to some meeting or something. Having been left with a spiritual vacuum in our souls—we pig out on whatever we can get, including spiritual junk food. The fact is if you starve a country spiritually, they will eat whatever they can get.
And we are starving them by the way. I went to an exhibit in a gallery recently where the artist had attempted to co-opt medieval spiritual imagery into a present day settings. It was embarrassing. The thing was devoid of spiritual mystique, as if someone with a fast food mentality thought they could manufacture spirituality. Even our artists have been affected. ‘Emperor’s New Clothes Syndrome’ is rampant and this kind of art work is impotent in the face of what old authors described as the ‘mysterium tremendum et fascinans’, the dreadful and captivating mystery of the divine.
Faced with this dilemma we have a good case for up-skilling our Aussie kids in the arts of counter-proselytising3. Personally, I don’t like the words ‘convert’ or ‘proselytise’, they bring pride to the table and instead of arguing for truth, we are arguing for a win. Our society is over ‘spiritual spam’, so words like conversation and reflection and discussion are more appropriate, but if our men are to be men, they will need to have some balls (along with grace) in the way they go about this counter-proselytising. And they will need a worldview they are proud of, that stands the test of the pit bull terriers of the laboratory of life for God’s sake.
And where will those balls come from? For one thing there needs to be a deep understanding, appreciation and healthy respect for the sometimes insidious and dark influence of spiritual forces. If that isn’t the case, the anaemic manhood of the secular vision will keep fathering spiritually ravenous offspring who will simply serve the purposes of whichever charlatan sets up shop to offer their spiritual junk food. And while ever we keep pushing that greatest-ever vision of winning some sporting medal or some trophy, we will a keep a segment of our society occupied for a while, but we will totally lose the others.
I don’t mind watching intense sporting matches by the way, but seriously, we all know this world is much bigger, greater and better than that. Or do we? For the sake of Aussie pride, would we rather pretend we are not creating a spiritual slaughterhouse, let our kids go spiritually hungry and eagerly get themselves converted to spiritual junk food?
So it’s back to our question, ‘How can we expect our young men to endure suffering that takes them along the road of hope when all we expect them to suffer for is a trophy manufactured in a shop?’ We leave our men incompetent in the arts of thinking and debating, living and forgiving, and enjoying symbols, rituals and the community life of faith—and yes, even the arts of proselytising and conversion, at our peril.
Sometimes I wish I could say that I had been converted to the Christian faith but I was one of those who can’t ever remember not believing. But if I had been converted to follow Jesus of Nazareth rather than brought up to follow him, why would that have been a crime? There’s many out there hoping someone will offer them something far more spiritual and deep than winning a trophy. If only someone had proselytised Adolf Hitler to a faith of grace and tolerance and mercy.