Why Tear Them Down?
There are so many reasons to tear them down. They were erected primarily to intimidate black people in the South. Monuments went up at times we can best understand by looking not at the history of the Civil War but at the history of the Civil Rights struggle in the South. Preserving them has nothing to do with preserving history – books exist, and there is no chance of erasing the Civil War from American history, which is something that precisely no one wants to do. Confederate monuments do not preserve history, but they do seek to preserve white supremacy.
The Southern Poverty Law Center studied Confederate monuments and concluded that they are overwhelmingly placed in order to support white supremacy.
Who is defending them? We have recently seen in Charlottesville and elsewhere that Nazis, the KKK and other white supremacist terrorist groups are the ones literally up in arms defending the Confederate legacy. Those are the people who are stepping up to defend these monuments – all the more reason to tear them down. Nazi support alone is a reason not to do something, and if we find symbols that Nazis and the KKK feel they can rally around, we should tear down those symbols and replace them with symbols that, ideally, Nazis and the KKK will detest.
The South Has A Lot to Be Proud Of
Maybe it’s hard, sometimes, for some Southerners to find things to be proud of, but I think that’s only because a significant number of them insist on trying to be proud of the Confederacy. It’s like a Robert DeNiro fan insisting on being a fan of The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, or insisting that Ben Kingsley’s greatest film was The Love Guru. The same people who decry participation trophies seem to desperately want to erect monuments to that time they were on the wrong side of history and lost a war. I have a lot of family in the South, and they don’t have to dig around for something to be proud of, nor do they need Nazis and white supremacists to tell them about their heritage.
The Right Side of History
Most of the people who risked the most, fighting on the right side of history during the Civil Rights Movement, were Southerners. All Southerners can be proud of what black Southerners have fought for and achieved, and of the white Southerners who marched and fought beside them. But the people who showed the greatest courage, and fortitude, and restraint, and who achieved the most progress in the Civil Rights Movement of the 50s and 60s were Southerners. Where do you think they learned the values that carried them through that struggle? Where did they learn to fight like that?
American music has largely been defined by the South. Jazz, blues, bluegrass, country, folk, gospel and rock music all originated primarily in the South. While hip-hop originated in New York and LA, multiple strands and sub-genres have developed in the South. Most of the music we hear every day would not exist without Southern artists, and that has been true for at least a century.
The South includes places of incredible natural beauty. The Gulf coast, the Ozarks and Appalachian mountains, the Florida Keys, the barrier islands of the Atlantic coast, Daniel Boone National Forest, the bayous and waterways of Louisiana, the Craggy Gardens of North Carolina, and more. The South is beautiful, whether you like historic places or natural beauty. If we made more of these beautiful places into state or national monuments, it would also protect them for generations to come.
Writers and Storytellers
Many of the best American writers and storytellers have been, and are, Southerners. You might think of William Faulkner or Flannery O’Connor, or more recently Cormac McCarthy. We could be here all day listing great Southern writers, and the novels that many consider to be “great American novels” are largely representative of the South as well. In many ways, the voice of American storytelling is a Southern voice.
Tear Them Down and Replace Them
Of course people in other parts of the country have things to be proud of as well. They have music and art and natural beauty and their own history of struggle. That isn’t the point. The point is that the South does not need Nazis and the KKK and other white supremacist bigots to tell them what to be proud of. They don’t need white supremacist bigots to stick for them or tell them how to honor and protect their heritage. And they definitely don’t have to fall back on the Confederacy as the last great Southern moment. The South is good. The South should be proud. Just not proud of white supremacy and slavery.
So tear every Confederate monument down, and replace each one with something to truly be proud of.
As promised, here are all of our 95 tweets, categorized by the kind of argument they are making – ethical, theological and biblical, in that order. (I’ve gone through each of them and updated some of them from our first version) What it boils down to is that there is no ethical justification for Hell whatsoever, no good theological reason to posit a doctrine of Hell, and there are literally hundreds of Biblical passages that do not support an eternal Hell of conscious torment. Given enough time and dedication, we probably could have assembled 190 tweets, or theses, against a doctrine of eternal Hell.
We did not even scratch the surface of the ethical, theological and interpretive work done to contend against the doctrine of eternal Hell. What we did is draw from our own thoughts as well as places where arguments accumulate, particularly debates around the issue of Hell, and some of the books we have read and are reading.
Obviously, we are hearkening back to Luther’s 95 Theses. We have no expectation that our tweets will have anywhere near that impact. On the other hand, the doctrine of Hell is far worse than indulgences could possibly be. We want to fire the equivalent of grape-shot into the doctrine of Hell and sink it forever, so that no one ever has to feel it is necessary to believe in Hell ever again. Over-ambitions, we know, but it’s a start.
#95Tweets E1: Eternal Hell is not in any way just (restorative) – it eternally severs relationship and eternally prevents redemption
#95Tweets E2: Eternal Hell is the teaching that there are people and things that can never be redeemed, even by God
#95Tweets E3: Eternal Hell is retribution made infinite, and is therefore even less noble than vengeance
#95Tweets E4: Eternal Hell lacks the sole moral underpinning of punishment, which is correction
#95Tweets E5: Eternal Hell is beyond disproportionate – eternal Hell cannot be an earned punishment, no matter what a finite being does
#95Tweets E6: Humans perpetrate horrific, incomprehensible evil – eternal Hell is infinitely worse than any human (finite) evil
#95Tweets E7: Punishment in an eternal Hell would even be unfair to Hitler, who committed incomprehensibly evil but finite crimes
#95Tweets E8: With the effects of poor information, bias, culture, neurobiology, psychology and so on, we do not make free decisions
#95Tweets E9: This amounts to a situation where human fallibility, not even human misdeeds, can result in eternal torture in Hell
#95Tweets E10: As eternal Hell is traditionally understood, mental illness could easily be an absolute bar from salvation
#95Tweets E11: Fear of (eternal) punishment is the most brutal, crass and callous way to seek to encourage good
#95Tweets E12: Fear of punishment is not effective in encouraging good, it only prevents overt misdeeds while being watched
#95Tweets E13: Whatever happens after death, there is no concrete evidence whatsoever that anything like Hell exists
#95Tweets E14: Eternal Hell is the worst possible story ending – for the vast majority, the end is an infinite and insurmountable tragedy
#95Tweets E15: It is morally untenable to expect any person of conscience to enjoy Heaven knowing that others are in Hell
#95Tweets E16: Eternal Hell makes Heaven look a lot like North Korea – worship the ruler or else, and ignore the suffering around you
#95Tweets E17: Believers in eternal Hell must either be hypocritical, saying they believe but not behaving as if they do (1/2)
#95Tweets E18: Or believers in eternal Hell must be callous, understanding the infinite stakes but not caring proportionally (2/2)
#95Tweets E19: The doctrine of eternal Hell encourages either hypocrisy or callousness by necessity
#95Tweets E20: A reasonable person’s response to any possibility of eternal torture in Hell would be constant panic and desperation
#95Tweets E21: A doctrine of annihilation is morally preferable to eternal torture by every conceivable measure
#95Tweets E22: A doctrine of universalism is morally preferable to annihilation, if God is both powerful enough to save and also good
#95Tweets E23: Since Aristotle, we have a strong case that good is not good simply because God says it is
#95Tweets E24: For God’s actions to be good, they must actually be good, not just called good; eternal Hell could only be “good” by fiat
#95Tweets E25: The only crime that might justly warrant a punishment of eternal torture would be…eternally torturing people
#95Tweets E26: Yesterday, about 150,000 human beings died. In traditional Hell theology, we must conclude that the majority are in Hell
#95Tweets E27: Given that being in Hell is to burn, and scream, and beg, and weep for eternity, 1 human being in this condition is too many
#95Tweets E28: If eternal Hell and Heaven both exist, no person of conscience could be at peace in Heaven
#95Tweets #Ethics: For all of these reasons and more, eternal Hell is an ethically unjustifiable belief.
#95Tweets T1: Eliminating a doctrine of eternal Hell does not mean eliminating justice, judgement, punishment, sin
#95Tweets T2: Eternal Hell is entirely unnecessary to any traditional view of salvation, no matter how exclusivist
#95Tweets T3: Eternal Hell does nothing whatsoever to glorify God, unless the powerful torturing the weak is glorious
#95Tweets T4: Eternal Hell is about vindication of an exclusive, violent orthodoxy even at an infinite cost to those left out
#95Tweets T5: Eternal Hell renders God’s love meaningless – no definition of love could include allowing infinite torture
#95Tweets T6: Eternal Hell renders God’s justice meaningless, as eternal punishment cannot be just by any definition
#95Tweets T7: Eternal Hell renders God’s mercy meaningless – eternal punishment which will never abate. Couldn’t be less merciful
#95Tweets T8: Eternal Hell renders God’s sovereignty meaningless. If God is good, God is impotent to save the vast majority of humans
#95Tweets T9: Eternal Hell renders God’s power meaningless, since God’s plan to restore all creation can be foiled by human sin
#95Tweets T10: Eternal Hell renders God’s omniscience meaningless, since God just can’t figure out how to save most people
#95Tweets T11: Eternal Hell renders God’s holiness meaningless, given that evil and sin and torture would be eternal as God is eternal
#95Tweets T12: Eternal Hell teaches of a God with finite patience but an infinite capacity for violence and retribution
#95Tweets T13: Rather than a “day of wrath”, Eternal Hell means that a trillion trillion trillion days of wrath are just the beginning
#95Tweets T14: Eternal Hell means that whatever else God is, God cannot be good by any reasonable definition of the word
#95Tweets T15: Eternal Hell annihilates meaning of all kinds – what is the point of doing anything but fearing eternal torture?
#95Tweets T16: Eternal Hell means we know God primarily as monster – monstrous judge, monstrous father, monstrous creator, etc.
#95Tweets T17: Eternal Hell is far beyond even the most evil we could visit upon any children – and are we not God’s children?
#95Tweets T18: Eternal Hell cedes eternal victory to sin, evil and suffering. God, and goodness, fail utterly for most
#95Tweets T19: In contrast to scripture, Eternal Hell promises eternity to unrepentant sinners
#95Tweets T20: Eternal Hell ascribes infinitude, eternity and finality to pain, horror, despair and terror
#95Tweets T21: A doctrine of eternal Hell puts torture at the heart of the Gospel. God is the tormentor
#95Tweets T22: Eternal Hell makes a mystery of horrific evil – it is beyond comprehension, rather than limited and destined for defeat
#95Tweets T23: Eternal Hell teaches of a God who is incapable of empathy – an image of God the callous sociopath
#95Tweets T24: Eternal Hell ascribes to human sin the power to overwhelm and defeat Jesus’ incarnation, life, death and resurrection
#95Tweets T25: If there is an Eternal Hell Jesus’ incarnation, life, death and resurrection accomplish nothing definitive
#95Tweets T26: Eternal Hell breaks God’s covenants – ex: it is infinitely worse than a second Flood
#95Tweets T27: Eternal Hell means that God calls “good” a creation in which flawed beings can err so greatly they are tortured forever
#95Tweets T28: Eternal Hell means, in justification theology, that First Adam’s sin is more powerful than Second Adam’s obedience
#95Tweets T29: Apparently Jesus descended to Hell, as in the Apostle’s Creed, but left it intact, only saving himself – cowardly
#95Tweets T30: Eternal Hell, if you believe in the Devil, ascribes to him victory in the vast majority of human souls
#95Tweets T31: Eternal life contrasted with annihilation more fully fits the themes and teachings of both the Old and New Testament
#95Tweets #Theology: For these reasons and more, eternal Hell is an unnecessary, horrifying and destructive theology.
#95Tweets B1: The overwhelming majority of Bible verses support some form of annihilation; more support universalism than eternal Hell
#95Tweets B2: Gen 3:19: Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, not dust to eternal conscious torment. Death, not eternity, is our default end
#95Tweets B3: The Bible never mentions Hell in the original languages. We (mis)translate Sheol, Hades, Tartarus and Gehenna as “Hell”
#95Tweets B4: Sheol, the realm of the dead in the OT, is nothing at all like Hell, but is clearly where they thought the dead went
#95Tweets B5: Tartarus, sometimes translated as “Hell”, is a prison holding the Greek titans after the Olympian gods defeated them
#95Tweets B6: Gehenna, or Ge-Hinnom, translated “Hell”, was the smoldering garbage-dump in a valley outside Jerusalem
#95Tweets B7: Hades, translated as “Hell”, is imported from Greek mythology, and is simply the realm of the dead, or the god of death
#95Tweets B8: Hades, while still not Hell, is thrown into the lake of fire and destroyed at the climax of the book of Revelation
#95Tweets B9: Genesis and the Gospels compare Satan/sin to a croucher or devourer, never an eternal torturer
#95Tweets B10: In Job, Satan is clearly an ally of God, or at least a colleague, and is busy going to and fro, not torturing anyone
#95Tweets B11: In 1 Samuel 28, “Sheol”, elsewhere translated as “Hell”, is apparently where the prophet Samuel is. Prophets in Hell?
#95Tweets B12: Psalm 139 – God is everywhere, even Sheol, elsewhere translated as “Hell.” No eternal separation
#95Tweets B13: In Psalms, sin = death, perish, consume, destroy – examples are Psalm 5:5-6, Psalm 37:38 – no eternal torture
#95Tweets B14: Sin = death in the Prophets: Jer 12:3, Isa 1:28; 33:12, Ezek 18:4, Nahum 1:2-13, Zeph 1:14-18, Mal 4:1-3
#95Tweets B15: Isaiah 25:6-9, God swallows up death forever, and everyone rejoices. Except the billions screaming in Hell, right? No
#95Tweets B16: The NT dichotomy is clearly between life and death – Luke 20:34-38, John 3:16; 6:48-58, Rom 6:23
#95Tweets B17: Matt 7:21-23 Jesus contrasts those who enter into his kingdom and who do not – no eternal torment mentioned
#95Tweets B18: Matthew 10:28 Jesus threatens Satan’s power to destroy, not eternally torture
#95Tweets B19: In Matthew 24:36-51 the sinner is cut to pieces, destroyed, not tortured for eternity
#95Tweets B20: Mtt 18:34; Luk 12:58-59 Jesus implies that the unreconciled receive finite, proportional punishment
#95Tweets B21: The rich man & Lazarus is not literal – if literal, then all in Heaven will hear people begging in Hell for all eternity
#95Tweets B22: Sin in John = death, die, perish – John 6:50, 8:51, 10:28, 12:25 – no eternal torture
#95Tweets B23: Sin = death – examples are Matt 3:10 and 13:40, and then Luke 9:25, and Acts 3:23
#95Tweets B24: Rom 2:7, 1 Cor 14, 2 Tim 1:10 – the NT message from start to finish is rescue from destruction, not eternal torture
#95Tweets B25: Paul says nothing about Hell – kind of a big thing to omit from every single letter, but he did not believe in an eternal Hell
#95Tweets B26: Romans 6:23 Paul says the wages of sin is “death”, not “eternal conscious torment” – an important distinction
#95Tweets B27: In 1 Corinthians 15:22 the grammar and context are clear that all are made alive in Christ
#95Tweets B28: Galatians 6:7-8 – Paul is pretty clear that there is destruction or eternal life, not eternal conscious torment
#95Tweets B29: Phil. 2:9-11 says every knee will bend and tongue confess, not that most knees and tongues will be tortured forever
#95Tweets B30: Col 1:18-20 – God reconciles with all creation through Christ…or fails miserably to do so if eternal Hell exists
#95Tweets B32: More in the Epistles – 1 Cor 1:18, 2 Cor 4:3, Phil 3:19, Thess 5:3, Heb 10:27, 10:39, 12:29 – still no torment
#95Tweets B33: And more – James 1:15, 4:12-14, 5:20; 2 Peter 2:6, 2:10-12, 3:7 and 10 – sin = death and destruction; not torment
#95Tweets B34: The Bible writers’ worldview does not have a place for the default immortality of a disembodied “soul”
#95Tweets B35: The NT culminates in a new Heaven and new earth where there is no longer suffering – where is the torture exactly?
#95Tweets B36: Almost every verse (all but maybe 2) taken to refer to “Hell” talks of destruction very clearly, and not of eternal torment at all
#95Tweets #Bible: For all of these reasons and many more, the Bible clearly does not teach a Hell of eternal torment.
The Tweeting-Room Floor
Those are all the tweets as we posted them, put back in their categories. What follows is what we called “The Tweeting-Room Floor” – ones that we cut for various reasons. One of the challenges, particularly in the Biblical section, was combining texts and arguments so that we could be more efficient. Taking each passage that we wanted to use individually, we could easily have had 95 tweets based only on Bible verses.
Some were cut because they were weak, or weaker than ones nearby, or could be combined, or didn’t fit with our ultimate plan for putting them out there. If you would like to argue some of these, and we’re sure many of you will, please stick to the ones listed above.
In the Epistles, sin = death and destruction, not eternal torment – Rom 1:32, 2:12, 6:23, 9:22 – no eternal torment (1/3)
Nor can we account for those who hear a ‘false’ Gospel, or who unknowingly have wrong beliefs or practices
Eternal Hell is far worse than the worst human calamities: the Inquisition, the Holocaust, Soviet labor camps, etc.
With a doctrine of eternal Hell we cannot really account for those born before Jesus
Eternal Hell cannot really account for those who never hear the Gospel, which is almost entirely an accident of birth
This means that a vast number of people supposedly tormented in Hell were doomed at random
There is nothing in the mostly-apocryphal story of Satan to explain how he would become such an avid torturer
Jude 1:6-11 “everlasting” is defined as “until final judgement”; then sinners compared to animals who simply perish (1/3)
Jude continues 12-13 with imagery of emptiness, futility, twice dead, fruitlessness, etc. Not eternal torment (2/3)
Jude 1:7 compares fate of sinners to Sodom and Gomorrah – no eternal torment, just destruction (3/3)
Eternal Hell makes all of God’s talk of salvation in the OT into nonsense at best, lies at worst
Adam and Eve are not warned about Hell – seems like a big deal, and something they’d want to warn us about
Neither Sheol, Tartarus, Gehenna, or Hades are the Hell of popular imagination and theology
Jesus uses the example of the tower of Siloam in Luke 13:3-5 – the example is of perishing, not torment
“Hel” in Norse mythology, presides over a realm of the same name, and receives a portion of the dead
In the Gospel of John 10:24-30, God’s judgement looks like death rather than life – not eternal torment
At least 18,250,365 human beings sent to be tortured for eternity in a single year – the pop. of Shanghai or Mozambique (in the years since we first posted, I actually forgot where we got this number, so I cut it and replaced it)
We’ve already said a lot. If we were convinced that the doctrine of eternal Hell was necessary to Christianity, or even strongly supported, then we would have to become misotheists. We cannot possibly worship a God who permits an eternal realm of torment to exist, and would actually have to do all we could to undermine belief in that God.
Fortunately, the doctrine of Hell is merely an infection, albeit one that has been spreading corruption throughout the Body of Christ for a long time. It is indefensible on ethical, theological and Biblical grounds, and it is time to lance the wound and heal. There is no Hell, no good that comes from teaching a Hell of eternal conscious torment, and a great deal of evil that comes from it.
There. Is. No. Hell.
Thank God, and good riddance.
For my purposes, Hell = a place, or condition, of eternal conscious torment.
A few years ago, we posted #95Tweets Against Hell through Two Friars and a Fool. Since then, TFF has gone into what looks like semi-retirement as Aric, Nick and I have moved on to other projects and other phases of our lives, but I am still proud of the work that went into the 95 Tweets, and I think maybe it is time to post them again. We got some response last time, but what I really want to do is to provide resources for people who are presented with a theology of Hell, who understand intuitively or in an incomplete sense that it doesn’t make sense, is possibly even evil, and is certainly counterproductive, but they haven’t done the nerdy homework on the issue.
Well, we have. Big, big nerds. So, today, I’m going to start reposting our 95 tweets, with the hashtag #95Tweets, through my Twitter account @AndAFool. You can follow the account or the hashtag, and then when I’m done posting all 95 of them, I’ll repost all of them to this blog for reference.
As before, I welcome discussion, even argument. I think that the theology of a Hell of eternal conscious torment is morally bankrupt, theologically unjustifiable, and is not taught by the Bible even if one takes a relatively literalist view. In fact, the longest section of tweets against Hell comes from the Bible, and we had to cram references together to limit it to only 95 total tweets. It could have easily been 200 tweets, but we like the 95 for obvious reasons.
The tweets will once again come in three sections, just like last time – ethical and philosophical arguments against Hell, theological arguments against Hell, and finally Biblical arguments against Hell. They’ll be marked out for reference, since 95 is a LOT of tweets on the same topic, with #E for ethical/philosophical arguments, #T for theological, and #B for biblical.
So, enjoy. I know I will.
Here’s a picture of Mary punching the Devil in the face.
We begin with a manly picture of our first profile in positive masculinity. I decided to start with someone who is only somewhat famous – really just a regular Scotsman who somehow became embroiled in a conflict with the man who would be SCROTUS. I came to know of my hero Mr. Forbes through Full Frontal – first in their piece on The Original Trump Haters, and then more fully in their Web Extra: Michael Forbes: Trump Kryptonite. If you are interested, you can go backwards in time and see that he has been featured in a couple of documentaries as well, including You’ve Been Trumped.
In brief, here is the story. Trump arrived in Scotland with the intent of building a golf course and started throwing his weight around – primarily the weight of his ego of course, and his presumption that money can buy anything. He received a classic Scottish warm welcome, being referred to as (apologies for the brogue):
a custard-flavored jobby, leather-faced piss jar, mangled apricot hell-beast, bawbag-eyed duck bumper, glaikit heidbanger, touped ducktrumpet, knuckle-braind fart lozenge, blinkered plum, huffy wee duckin bampot, utter cockwomble, degenerate corned beef face syrup wearing wankstain, rug-wearing thunder nugget, duckin walloper, uncooked pastry, hamster heedit bampot, duck-knuckle, rotten orange ducknut, onion-eyed flap dragon, wee orange rodent, mop-headed fud, cock-juggling thundercunt, witless ducking cocksplat, gerbil-headed, woodstained, and haunted spunktrumpet…
among other colorful terms. (And yes, I enjoyed listing all of those.) Like I said, classic Scottish hospitality extended to anyone of Trump’s stature. Surprising no one, Trump’s plans did not go well, and hit a solid wall of manliness when he came up against Michael Forbes.
Michael Forbes is a local farmer, part-time salmon fisherman and quarry worker who owned land that Trump wanted for his golf course. Trump demanded that Mr. Forbes sell the land, and Mr. Forbes told Trump to shove it. Many times. Went to court to say it, and won. Ultimately, Mr. Forbes would literally chase Trump surrogates from his land because he was tired of Trump’s nonsense and would have no more of it. This led Forbes to experience some, in my view quite well-deserved, fame. He has appeared in a couple of documentaries and has been interviewed many times.
A self-described shy person, Michael Forbes lives in his farmhouse with his mother and his wife Sheila. He stood up to someone who has successfully cowed the entirety of Republican leadership in the US and a large segment of Democrat leadership as well; someone who rode rough-shod over 17 other Republican candidates in the primaries; someone who has made a brand out of being intimidating and implacable in getting what he wants – the ultimate deal-broker who, if nothing else, can surely build a damn golf course in Scotland.
But no, turns out, he can’t. Because of Michael Forbes, today’s profile in positive masculinity.
We are awash in toxic masculinity. This has probably almost always been the case in recorded history, but now is a time when we have plenty of critical abilities that enable us to notice how toxic things have become. Just like ancient Romans sweetened their wine with lead, there has been plenty of toxicity that we’ve ingested because it seemed right at the time. But now we know what that lead does. Maybe I pushed that metaphor too far.
In recent years, toxic masculinity has felt like a resurgence – maybe I’m just becoming aware of what was going on all along. But there’s no doubt that many forms of toxicity are being given tremendous attention right now. It starts at the top with President Puss-Grabber Himself. And we have the toxicity of Breitbart and the
alt-right neo-Nazis. Not long ago GamerGate was a hot topic, so hot that it spilled out of gamer culture into pop culture, driven by the surprising (to me) force of toxic masculinity in gaming.
There’s a whole new lexicon produced by toxic males: Men’s Rights Activist, incel, Red Pill and Blue Pill (and Purple Pill), cuck, MGTOW, “Social Justice” used as an insult, ignorant misuse of terms like alpha male, beta male and omega male, Manosphere, ignorant misuse of “Cultural Marxism,” hypergamy, gynocentrism, and so on. It’s a jargon-fest over there in Toxic Masculinity Land, and it functions how jargon always functions – to strengthen group cohesion and insulate the group from others. The miasma just swirls around as the Douchebag Ouroboros eats his own tail. (But not fast enough.)
I put significant time looking into the Men’s Rights Movement and related movements and groups – watching YouTube videos, reading articles and blog posts, watching recorded debates and so on. Probably a few dozen hours in total. And I’ve come to the conclusion that whatever positive aspects might be mixed in with the MRA and related groups are so mired in toxicity as to be irrecoverable. There are a handful of good, valid-seeming points they try to make, but they make it amidst a vile combination of racism, sexism, violence, rape apologism…it’s really just appalling. Even looking at featured voices in the ‘movement’ (whom I will not name because of their biliousness), one just scratches the surface to find a Nazi screed or call for violence against women – even from the women who are part of the Men’s Rights movement. It is, to paraphrase a turtle story, trolls all the way down.
On the other end of the spectrum from toxic masculinity, we have gender non-conformity; the queering of male-ness and breaking of the boundaries around what was traditionally considered male. Personally, I welcome this, but not everyone does, nor will most people in the near future. We are not close to a society where the majority of men are gender non-conforming, but I think we are currently experiencing a society where the majority of men aren’t clear on what the heck they’re supposed to be doing, much less why. The rise of toxic masculinity has occurred, in large part, because men have not stepped up to define ourselves in positive ways. On the surface, the cultural story as experienced by a significant number of men has either been “men are terrible” or “don’t let those nasty women call you terrible, here join this toxic movement.”
So I’m going to be writing about men who embody ways to be positively masculine. That is, neither terrible nor toxic, but masculine, each awesome in their own way. I’m choosing examples that are not perfect. These aren’t supposed to be boundary-shattering men who redefine what it means to be a man, because that’s too high a bar and no one outside of liberal enclaves will even want to do something like that. These are just some cool non-toxic dudes to emulate if you want.
In Aristotle’s philosophy, if one wants to learn wisdom one must seek out the phronemos. The phronemos is one who is already wise, and one can learn wisdom by emulating such a person. Wisdom is one of those things that is really hard to teach, even for Aristotle, but he thought about it like Justice Stewart thought about pornography – you know it when you see it.
These men I’ll be profiling are each to be like a phronemos in the quest for positive masculinity. It’s difficult to teach, and difficult to define, but I do think we can know it when we see it.
“You cannot pass,” he said. The orcs stood still, and a dead silence fell. “I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor. You cannot pass. The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udûn. Go back to the Shadow! You cannot pass.”
This isn’t an original idea – I know that in Misspent Youth for example, your attributes change as part of the game – but attribute decay is something I have been using in Servants of the Secret Fire, my Middle-Earth RPG that I’ve been poking around at forever. I also just brainstormed an attribute-change system for another person’s game, so it’s on my mind.
In brief, the idea is that your attributes, or ability scores, or whatever the name is in the game for you character’s basic capacities, change over the course of the game. In Servants of the Secret Fire, that change is through decay which I’ll discuss below, as an example of this idea in practice.
To begin with, a character in Servants of the Secret Fire has five attributes: Bearing, Grace, Might, Wisdom and Wits. They’re in alphabetical order, but also in order of priority when conflicts arise, and they each interact in different ways that don’t matter for the purposes of this blog post. Those are the five attributes, and many other things in the system derive from them, just like the classic six ability scores in D&D or attributes in 99% of RPGs out there. Not trying to innovate here.
But one of the design goals for SotSF is to model the moral structure of Middle-Earth as Tolkien wrote about it. It isn’t just any generic fantasy world – it is a particular world with particular assumptions behind it. One of those assumptions is that evil is powerful but limited. Here, my mind goes to a W. H. Auden quote from his review of The Lord of the Rings that I love, which includes the following: “Evil has every advantage save one; it is inferior in imagination.” Evil is less flexible, and those corrupted by evil are unable to see beyond their own machinations – and that is how they are overcome.
In order to bake this into the system, I decided that each attribute would decay to a lesser attribute, and that this would reflect moral corruption, or the influence of the Shadow. It would make it possible to see corruption as an incremental loss of creativity and capacity, which I think fits well with Tolkien’s moral universe. (The decay breaks the alphabetical order, but no-one’s perfect.)
Bearing decays into Dread. Where you once had a magnetic personality and a larger-than-life presence that could inspire, you are now only able to coerce and threaten. We see this in the Orcs and the way the treat each other, or in Sauron overwhelming power that only manifests as fear.
Grace decays into Quickness. For Grace, imagine the way that Elves move through the world, both physically and interpersonally. This decays to mere Quickness, like the Orc stabbing Frodo in Moria, or Gollum lunging for the ring.
Might decays into Force. One might use Might to defend the weak, or even as Boromir does to plough through the heavy snows on Caradhras. But it decays into Force, useful only for violence and to impose your will on others.
Wisdom decays into Cunning. As an example, we can look to Saruman of Many Colours versus Gandalf the Grey, and then White. Saruman literally comes from Angl0-Saxon for “cunning man”, and he retains his ability to create engines of destruction but loses the insight and deep lore that made him a Wizard. He still knows how to do things, but not whether he should.
Wits decay into Subtlety. Instead of broadly useful cleverness that would let you solve a puzzle, or a riddle, you only have the ability to hide and dissemble and subvert.
Functionally, each decayed attribute is the same as the previous one but with diminished options.With Bearing, you can do four or five things, but with Dread, you can only do one or two. If this was an Apocalypse-style game, you would simply crossed off some of your moves. Your options narrow, so that you can still be powerful and formidable in a conflict, but you are less of a person.
I like this system, in part, because it reflects my own view of morality and my own experience of the world and other people. People who are evil are so often people who see few possibilities. People who resort to violence often do so, in my view, because of a lack of creativity and imagination. As someone committed to nonviolence in my own life, I have had this conversation many, many times. I say I’m a pacifist, and people ask what I would do in a certain situation, where they can only imagine doing nothing or using violence. My response is that I have an infinite number of options minus two – I can’t do nothing, and I can’t resort to violence. And then I list a bunch of other options off the top of my head, because I’ve practiced this kind of thinking.
Evil is so often justified as necessity, but to me, it is just a failure in the person in question. They have allowed some of their capacities to decay, to become corrupted, until their options narrow and their imagination is strangled. This is so common in the world that I wanted to reflect it in this game.