by Teresa Donati
Recently we have seen two mass shootings, both by men, white nationalism and hatred showing itself all too clearly in their angered massacres.
These mass shootings in the United States are blamed on failures of gun control, but there are other failures also at issue. Gun control is a must. But so is the need to re-think how women and men think about men.
Men of gentle character and goodness and probity, are overshadowed and indeed, forgotten, or even belittled in popular culture. Yet, good guys do NOT finish last. They finish first in our hearts. By the grace of God, many women have been raised by, have partnered with, have married, and mourned, men whose love and compassion make the world so much better.
I see an example of such men in my own experience. Here, as I often do, I draw upon Paula D’Arcy, telling us that God comes to us disguised as our lives. Stories in our lives can and must be examined for what they mean in our growing toward, and being enfolded by, God.
My story: It was 1974. Lina Wertmuller’s latest film was showing in one of the then-luxury theatres found in suburban malls, with one screen and plush seats. I sat with my husband, many other couples around us, on what was evidently a popular ‘date night’ even for the married.
The film was ‘Swept Away,’ the story of an upper-class woman stranded on a desert island with a lower-class sailor, after a boating accident. At first, the woman attempts to assert her superiority but is quickly overwhelmed by the anger and reaction of the sailor. He gains the control over her that we associate with abusers everywhere.
There is one scene of special importance: the sailor is punishing the woman for her obstinacy and assertion of her will. He slaps her, again and again and again.
As this scene started, my husband, and many of the men around us, were stirring in obviously miserable discomfort and outrage. The women sitting beside them were evidently as distressed as I was, by the men’s reactions. There was much murmuring among us, and I think the women were startled, at least to some degree, by the sight of all these men starting to get out of their seats.
“I can’t watch this,” my husband said, rising to leave. His voice was an angry rasp. I asked him to stay, but he started for the aisle and the door – and other men were doing the same thing! There were perhaps two dozen men who left their seats. They could not stand to see the abuse that was being inflicted on the woman, slap after slap after slap upon her face, to the point of her suffering exhaustion.
My husband’s disgust at the scene, and the revulsion shown by so many other men in the theatre that night, comes back to me vividly as I see today’s news, with its pictures of men armed with weapons of war, using those weapons against women and men alike.
We must look more closely at the good men about us and ponder more deeply the making of a true man of God, no matter what his religion or lack of religion. What produces the man who hates violence? What imbues the strength of men with a will to use their strength to cradle a child rather than cradle a rifle?
The men who make us proud by such actions, surely also are the children any parent would wish for. These are the men Jesus called for.
Let us control guns, yes. And let us think collectively about how we sinfully engender hatred in so many men, by our neglect: we neglect finding ways to correct the forces that turn men into mass murderers.
In addition to questions of war and religious hatred and bigotry of all sorts, all these evils that beset our world, there is one close to us that we can begin with: to instill in boys the qualities shown by the men in the theatre that night. Those admirable men were showing intolerance for abuse, revulsion at senseless hatred, anger at the oppression of the weak.
Teaching men that the strength of their bodies is given them to better accomplish good in the world, is the challenge we face in our families, our country, the world.
What better question for national discussion? How to make men – and women too! – better able to raise and nurture confident, loving, open-hearted children, boys AND girls. How do we help them become men and women who show, by their lives, that they are truly children of a loving God?
We have to think about teaching women to love men who hate violence; and teach them to stand firmly against a skewed ‘dominance’ that maims the character of men. And we must teach men to love women who are not amused or impressed by the false strength of body, compared to the true strength of moral goodness.
The shooters and the shootings tell us we must do this or live in terror of the children we are bringing into the world. The shooters are our nightmare. We need to live out the answers to those nightmares in our own lovingness and intolerance of hatred.
Perhaps it can begin with a simple act of kindness. It can be contagious, giving a smile, a hand, a gentle word. We need to see heroism in goodness, as shown by the men in the theatre that night. We need to teach that goodness is itself a heroic state of being.
Perhaps the big answer lies in the small day-by-day actions that everyone can do, and that can magnify into a better world. It seems so overwhelming a task, yet are we not taught and shown that with God, all things are possible? This is God’s work at its most basic level.
May God, then, make it possible to find the path forward to that goal of embracing heroic goodness. May God make it possible that each of us can, in some way, large or small, help to begin and to continue this holy task, to help sanctify the world and cleanse it of hatred.
Teresa Donati is Professor of Sociology (Emeritus) at Fairleigh Dickinson University, now engaged in full-time writing, including church issues, and Christian fiction.