The time has come for me to confess something: I am a Philadelphia Eagles fan.
This 2017-2018 season was the proudest I’ve ever been of my team. I held my head a little higher each time I read a news story about players baptizing each other, holding team Bible studies, and mentioning Jesus at press conferences. And yes, the Super Bowl victory was a nice bonus.
But my pride quickly turned to embarrassment after I learned that a bunch of out-of-control revelers, most of them young men, celebrated Sunday’s win by wreaking havoc on the City of Brotherly Love.
It’s hardly a secret that our society is undergoing a crisis of masculinity. Sunday’s post-Super Bowl chaos is a vivid manifestation of this problem, and the potentially devastating consequences of not addressing it.
Speaking at a men’s leadership conference in Phoenix, Arizona over the weekend, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput discussed some of the factors that have contributed to this fractured masculinity, and a solution that he believes could repair it.
In a nod to the explosive #MeToo movement of 2017, Archbishop Chaput warned that “real reform of male behavior will never come about through feminist lectures and mass media man-shaming by celebrities and award ceremonies.”
Instead, what every man needs is “something to believe in that transforms and gives meaning to his life; something that directs all of his reasoning and desires.”
To illustrate the awesome potential of properly cultivated masculinity, Archbishop Chaput told the story of the Knights Templar, a Christian knightly order that formed in Jerusalem following the First Crusade.
“Knighthood in medieval Europe began as a profession of heavily armed male thugs — men obsessed with vanity, violence, and rape. It took the Church and royalty centuries to tame and channel it,” he noted. “But it provided the animating ideal at the core of the [Knights Templar]: To build a new order of new Christian men, skilled at arms, living as brothers, committed to prayer, austerity, and chastity, and devoting themselves radically to serving the Church and her people, especially the weak.”
Chaput’s description of these medieval Christian knights reminded me of Eagles players like Carson Wentz, Nick Foles, Zach Ertz, Torrey Smith, and Chris Maragos. Here is a group of modern men who have formed a brotherhood geared toward virtuous living. They’ve used their strength, talent, and fame as a way to edify their fellow “knights” and inspire others to live nobly.
Sadly, however, there are too few knights in our modern culture. As the Philly riots demonstrated, it is more common to see men who use their God-given strength to destroy and oppress.
Archbishop Chaput concluded that this is because many men have no common good to which they can attach themselves, no hierarchy they view as worthy of their submission.
“Men need a challenge. Men need to test and prove their worth. Men feel most alive when they’re giving themselves to some purpose higher than their own comfort. This is why young men join the Marines or Rangers or SEALs,” he explained. “They do it not despite it being hard, but exactly because it’s hard; because it hurts; because they want to be the best and earn a place among brothers who are also the very best.”
The crisis our culture is facing won’t be solved by attacking men or masculinity, but by promoting a specific type of masculinity—something like the hard-earned masculinity of the medieval knight.
The failure to identify and encourage true, virtuous masculinity will only lead to more deadbeat dads, workforce dropouts, vandals, and predators. It will only lead to more of the toxic behavior on display in Philly last Sunday. After all, men who get stupidly drunk, pillage gas stations, uproot lamp posts, and flip cars after a football game likely do not have wives waiting at home or children to provide for.
We need to stop treating men as a problem to be dealt with and instead encourage men to live up to their incredible potential as protectors, defenders, providers, and builders.
The only force strong enough to slay the dragon of toxic masculinity is knightly male virtue. Perhaps that’s sexist to say, but I’d rather offend a few people than see society burned to the ground.