Culture At Large

Ministry to the child-men

Andy Rau

I've seen a lot of interesting online discussion this week about Child-Man in the Promised Land, an article by Kay Hymowitz that argues that single young men today are trapped in a state of endless adolescence, failing to mature into productive members of society. The evidence is pretty damning. From Hymowitz' essay:

...the new SYM [single young male]... he's immature because he can be. We can argue endlessly about whether “masculinity” is natural or constructed—whether men are innately promiscuous, restless, and slobby, or socialized to be that way—but there’s no denying the lesson of today’s media marketplace: give young men a choice between serious drama on the one hand, and Victoria’s Secret models, battling cyborgs, exploding toilets, and the NFL on the other, and it’s the models, cyborgs, toilets, and football by a mile. For whatever reason, adolescence appears to be the young man’s default state, proving what anthropologists have discovered in cultures everywhere: it is marriage and children that turn boys into men. Now that the SYM can put off family into the hazily distant future, he can—and will—try to stay a child-man. Yesterday’s paterfamilias or Levittown dad may have sought to escape the duties of manhood through fantasies of adventures at sea, pinups, or sublimated war on the football field, but there was considerable social pressure for him to be a mensch. Not only is no one asking that today’s twenty- or thirtysomething become a responsible husband and father—that is, grow up—but a freewheeling marketplace gives him everything that he needs to settle down in pig’s heaven indefinitely.

As a male who falls somewhat into this category—I don't spend my weekends cruising bars and don't read Maxim, but I've got a World of Warcraft account and a few boxes of comics in the closet—essays like this make me feel somewhat defensive. (And I'm not alone; see this response to Hymowitz.) But reading the article again, I see that her message is not "young men these days are idiots because they play too much Halo;" what she's saying is that our culture is profoundly failing to offer single young men a purpose that extends beyond their own lives. The article closes with this observation: "Young men especially need a culture that can help them define worthy aspirations." Think about what Enron taught young people about the value of landing a respectable job, and what our nation's divorce statistics teach them about the value of marriage and family.

As Christians, we recognize that the gospel of Christ offers exactly the purpose that's missing in these mens' lives. So how is it that a generation of single young men is finding their life's purpose in beer, sex, and videogames? Why is the church failing, along with mainstream culture, to present a compelling alternative to the self-absorbed life?

What should the church be doing? What is your church doing to reach the "child-man" demographic?

(See more commentary at Boundless.)

Topics: Culture At Large, News & Politics, Social Trends