Barriers to Teaching Boys How to Become Men

While perusing a secular newspaper this morning, my eyes fell upon an opinion piece entitled, “Who will teach our boys to become men?”  The author bemoaned the plague of gun violence among boys, but he did not suggest a way in which this type of violence could be mitigated.  This is not surprising for a mass circulation newspaper since it is not political correct to point out what the sources of this violence might be.  The secular world has made its own bed and has difficulty in coming to terms with why this bed is so terribly uncomfortable.

Some of the contributing causes listed below may be broad and rather philosophical, but they still have their considerable impact.  Since I am not writing for a secular newspaper, and therefore have no obligation to toe the line, I would like to enunciate a sextet of causes, all of which the secular world views, strangely enough, as positive.

The Ideology of Choice
“I believe in choice,” President Obama declares.  It is an odd statement since no sane person believes in naked choice.  We need judges, umpires, referees, teachers, police officials, and various other authorities to draw the line between right and wrong choices.  Nonetheless people will come to believe that choice is self-justifying and can be applied to situations other than abortion, including swearing, bullying, and shooting people.  In promoting choice as a self-justifying moral act, pro-choice enthusiasts do not realize that they are undoing the moral fabric of society, thread by thread.  It is not an exaggeration to say that gun violence, to some degree, stems from an attitude that is pro-choice without being pro-life.

Closely allied to the pro-choice mentality is the notion that people are naturally good and that the concept of sin is, as Jean-Jacques Rousseau once described it, “a blasphemy.”  The belief in choice rests on the equally misleading belief in people.  Secular humanism is the completely unjustified belief that man is essentially good and should be regarded that way.  It is an astonishing belief that flies in the face of everything we know about human history.  Nevertheless, the belief remains that if weapons were removed, violence would end.  The fault is projected onto the weaponry and away from the violators.  Moral education, therefore, is unnecessary.

In order to secure abortion as a “reproductive right,” feminists had to deny that a father had any right to prevent his child from being aborted.  Not content with reducing fatherhood to a mere political status, many radical feminists sought to do away with the notion of God as a Father.  Such feminists are blithely unaware that in the absence of good fathers, both earthly and heavenly, who can help civilize young boys into becoming men, women will remain targets of male violence.  Thus, feminists work against their own stated aims.  By estranging fathers from themselves, they estrange them from women.  In this way the battle of the sexes goes on unabated.

Liberal Academia
By and large, academia has embraced a pro-choice, neo-Pelagian, feminist philosophy.  Nietzsche, Marx, and Sartre, who have had immense influence in the academic world, were strongly opposed to fatherhood.  In an article in the American Psychologist, the authors urge the “deconstruction of fatherhood,” since, for one reason, it is not essential to the well-being of children. They view fatherhood as a “neoconservative” model that “discriminates against cohabiting couples, single mothers, and gay and lesbian parents.”  It has become commonplace for academics to favor sexual liberty over both sexual authenticity as well as sexual responsibility.

The Mass Media
The mass media is not so much a window to reality as a way of promoting secular liberalism.  Therefore, it presents the virtues (if they can be called that) of “liberals,” while ignoring their faults.  On the other hand, it presents the faults (if they can be called that) of “conservatives, while ignoring their virtues.  Because the media is subsidized by commercial interests, it promotes a philosophy of consumption and individualism.  The media has little internal interest in promoting self-less love, independence, and religious values.  It is not primarily educational, but propagandistic.

The Rejection of God
Blessed John Paul II has stated that original sin is above all the attempt “to abolish fatherhood.”  In rejecting God, society rejects the rightful authority of fatherhood.  It is not surprising, then, that in a world in which both God and Original Sin mean less and less, Philip Pullman, author of the popular book, The Golden Compass, can say:  “My sympathies definitely lie with the tempter.  The idea is that sin, the fall, was a good thing.  If it had never happened we would still be puppets in the hands of the Creator.”  God the Father is rejected because it is assumed that His Authority will crush people’s liberty.

These six causes profoundly affect the culture we live in.  Because they operate in tandem, they have considerable power.  There are courageous voices raised against them, but they tend to be either silenced or ridiculed.  As a consequence, a painful irony remains.  We bemoan violence, especially among boys, while we ignore their causes.  Working toward a solution to the problem requires a strong counter-cultural attitude, a willingness to challenge Sacred Cows.  It is not enough to countenance the naïve non-solutions that are currently being proposed.  Rather, we must understand the whole situation afresh and, in spite of the stranglehold that political correctness has on culture, work to help young boys to become men by opposing the obstacles that have been placed in their path while affirming the values that are needed in order to make this transition successful.

Donald DeMarco


Donald DeMarco, Ph.D., is a Senior Fellow of Human Life International who writes for the St. Austin Review and the Truth and Charity Forum. He is Professor Emeritus at St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo, Ontario and adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, CT.

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour

    Liberalism is the child of the Enlightenment and it was a fundamental principle of the Enlightenment that the nature of the human person can be adequately described without mention of social relationships. A person’s relations with others, even if important, are not essential and describe nothing that is, strictly speaking, necessary to one’s being what one is. This principle underlies all their talk about the “state of nature” and the “social contract,” and from it is derived the notion that the only obligations are those voluntarily assumed.

    Later, Bentham declared, the idea of “relation” is but a “fictitious entity,” though necessary for “convenience of discourse.” And, more specifically, he remarks that “the community is a fictitious body,” and it is but “the sum of the interests of the several members who compose it.”

    • Ford Oxaal

      If natural law is discoverable through reason, then maybe the enlightenment folks got some things right, and it’s incumbent on us to discover the errors. Perhaps one of those errors is casting the “social contract” as between individuals rather than as between families. I think that small change would cut off many false branches of reason.

      • Michael Paterson-Seymour

        Unfortunately, natural law and human reason are insufficient.

        As Jacques Maritain explains, ” “Integral political science . . . is superior in kind to philosophy; to be truly complete it must have a reference to the domain of theology, and it is precisely as a theologian that St. Thomas wrote De regimine principum. . . . The knowledge of human actions and of the good conduct of the human State in particular can exist as an integral science, as a complete body of doctrine, only if related to the ultimate end of the human being. . . . The rule of conduct governing individual and social life cannot therefore leave the supernatural order out of account.”

        Maurice Blondel, too, says, “we must never forget that one cannot think or act anywhere as if we do not all have a supernatural destiny. Because, since it concerns the human being such as he is, in concreto, in his living and total reality, not in a simple state of hypothetical nature, nothing is truly complete (boucle), even in the sheerly natural order”

        This is what Pascal meant, when he said, “Thus, without Scripture, which has only Jesus Christ for its object, we know nothing and see only obscurity and confusion in God’s nature and ours.”

        • Ford Oxaal

          Don’t know about what Maritain is saying, but Aquinas makes sense. I would add that the supernatural order is itself a matter of reason: through reason we can discover the premise “I will to be”. To will not to will to be is contradictory and irrational. It is therefore reasonable to seek eternal life. I am just saying that reason can be taken further than it has. It has been bottled up by subjectivism, relativism, and skepticism, all of which can be shown to be philosophically unreasonable — it’s just that so far, that job has not been well done — until now. I put up an e-book by David M. Shaw, “Philosophy in Defense of Common Sense” which I think does the job. At any rate, I think philosophers caved to Hume et al. prematurely, Kant was too complicated, and here we are at the bottom of the skeptic’s barrel — unnecessarily.

        • msmischief

          “For when the Gentiles who do not have the law by nature observe the prescriptions of the law, they are a law for themselves even though they do not have the law. They show that the demands of the law are written in their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even defend them”

  • publiusnj

    e reality is that the phrase “become a man” means less and less in the general culture today. Sure, women can get annoyed at their former husbands become deadbeat dads, but why should a man stand up for “archaic” family obligations when the general culture (from the latest commercial portraying men as dumb to the latest law allowing gay marriage) says that the heterosexual male role in a family is essentially superfluous and can even be done without (as in a lesbian “marriage)? If he pays any required child support or the (increasingly disfavored) alimony, he is as good a citizen as any…and he has exercised (or allowed his ex to exercise) choice.

    And now that the combat arms have been opened up to gays and females, what do the old drill sergeants’ shouts about being a man mean any more? And what call to arms will replace it? Why should any boy who finds himself drafted put himself out for his country any more than his girl or boyfriend when it comes to getting ready for war? Indeed, if he’d rather be a hairdresser than a grunt, isn’t that an equally valid way to serve his country?

    • supineny

      Still, if the world put as much collective effort into hairdos as it did on warfare, human suffering would be reduced.

      • Bono95

        Not if they use mustard gas for hairspray or machetes and army utility knives for trimming hair. 😀

      • publiusnj

        A fond sentiment indeed. However, I doubt the World would be any better off. Frou-frou is as frou-frou does and it does not do much to alleviate suffering.

        • supineny

          the point isn’t that hairdos will save the world, but that wars ruin it.

          This traditional idea of manliness — that they are stoic, strong, brave and selfless when they gladly go to fight for their country or cause — these are values held by a lot of men still. In fact, they are values that are held by men in the most dysfunctional countries on earth where wars and dictatorships are the constant state of affairs.

          Lament the predicament of the drill sergeant if you wish, but the drill sergeant does not make anyone a refined or subtle thinker, he doesn’t encourage innovation. He doesn’t help make the world a place worth fighting for, he just trains fighters.

          Civilization requires other sorts of men as well.

          • Bono95

            I appreciate a good hair stylist as much as the next person, but how does doing hair make you a refined or subtle thinker?

      • Bono95

        “All we are say-ay-ing……… is Give Hair Grease a Chance” 😀

  • Bono95

    “My sympathies definitely lie with the tempter”
    Gee, Mr. Pullman, I’ve heard other sympathizers of the tempter express the above statement more artfully (maracas + chanting + piano + “Pleased to meet you, hope you guessed my name!” repeated ad lib), but I suppose no matter how you say it, the tempter will have the same greeting for all of your ilk when you meet him and the nature of his game is no longer so puzzling. I suppose he will have something else to say if you withdraw your sympathy and join up with the Creator though.

  • Dr. DeMarco failed to point out the role played by the state which is doing all it can to keep boys from becoming men, e.g. federal welfare that promotes women to live without men, federally-funded contraception and abortion that attempt to absolve men of the consequences of their actions and separates them from their children, state and federal promotion of homosexual “marriage”, federal military open homosexuality, etc.

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  • Peter

    Is man basically good, or not? Instead of postulating a simplistic either/or choice, which polarizes the debate over man’s nature and misses the mark of truth, I think it is closer to reality, and a wiser discourse, to embrace the fullness of man’s nature by admitting that we have elements of both elements of light and dark in our nature. We should not deny the presence of sin in our nature, but neither should we deny the presence of the good in our nature. The mistake Rousseau makes is not so much in embracing the good that is really present in the heart of man, but in rejecting the very real presence of sin. Making the inverse mistake is still a mistake.

  • supineny

    “Nonetheless people will come to believe that choice is self-justifying
    and can be applied to situations other than abortion, including
    swearing, bullying, and shooting people.”

    People don’t want to be shot at, or bullied. Therefore they will not support the idea that one is ‘free to choose’ these things.

    I think the real issue here is that you don’t think people should think certain choices are legitimate –like getting an abortion.

    So many commentators on this site really only care about the ideological horrors of ‘freedom’ ‘choice’ ‘relativity’ etc when they apply to a very short list of hot button issues, basically concerning fertility and homosexuality. I suspect them to be humans and therefore obliged to make choices, exercise freedoms and make useful comparisons.

    • Bono95

      Choices, freedoms, and comparisons in and of themselves are good or morally indifferent things. They become evil when used for evil, but stay or become good when used for good. For example, the “Right to Choose.” A woman can either have her innocent baby murdered, OR she can carry it to term, give birth to it, and put it up for adoption if she herself can’t take care of it. If she partakes in the baby’s death, she made a bad choice, if she allows the baby to live, she made a good choice.
      The reason these commentators are only talking about “choice” and “freedom” on hot-button issues is because it is on these issues that buzzwords and propaganda are being shoved down everyone’s throats by the leftists in the government and media. There’s no debating for or against anyone’s right to steal, drive recklessly, slander, cheat, etc. because the leftists apparently still have enough shreds of decency not to try to justify or make “good” these evils.
      As G.K. Chesterton once said, “Men do not differ much on what things they call wrong, but they differ radically on what wrongs they call excusable.”

      • supineny

        at last you agree with me.

        exactly, the specious argument made by the present author (and others on this site) is precisely what you agree is absurd: They’re saying that these words and concepts can and therefore will be used to justify any and all behavior. Which, of course, is ridiculous. No one thinks that — so who are they arguing with? No one, they joust with straw men.

  • hombre111

    This is based on an article you read this morning? Shows it. You might be right on some points, but do a little research before you write your next piece. Your readers deserve a little effort, sir.

    • RMW

      What is the article lacking that you are criticizing it? I feel Dr. DeMarco’s long experience as educator, writer and keen observer of academia and the world at large is research enough.

      • hombre111

        I have been a teacher, writer, and parish priest for forty eight years. But, when it comes to such a question like, why is it so hard for us to teach a boy how to become a man, I would hesitate to simply rattle off my personal conclusions about the woes of a liberal world. I would want to look at some research first, and see how my pre-fabricated conclusions fit with the evidence mined out by other educators and sociologists.

        • Casual Observer

          How much evidence do you need? The evidence is easily observable and is front of our eyes. Anyone with common sense can see it. Remove the scales from your eyes. Isn’t 40 years of Godless liberalism enough?

        • Proteios

          The ‘mass media’ section of this article is spot on. There is an abundance of evidence that modern feminism has hurt more than helped women. Fact1: single mothers 1950 ~ 8%. 2010~48%. Pay disparity still exists. Women in poverty has skyrocketed. Female suicides are way up.( sorry, I can’t recall numbers on those). No numbers on objectification of women, but that ones obvious. It seems that feminism should be judged by whether it is successful or not. I see a few pluses and a lot of minuses. The media touts the agenda, but overlooks the negatives. They won’t get fixed if the problems are just ignored.

          • hombre111

            Good post.

  • poetcomic1

    It began with William of Ockham
    And if I see him I think I’ll sock ‘im

  • Great post, Dr. DeMarco. I just posted yesterday at about not allowing our boys to use bad language. Unfortunately, a lot of our fellow Catholics justify the lowering of standards for boys. Jesus was a Boy. He should be our sons’ model.

  • Keith Parkinson

    “It is not an exaggeration to say that gun violence, to some degree, stems from an attitude that is pro-choice without being pro-life.”

    If that’s not an exaggeration, then we have to go stronger. How does “useless hyperbole” work?

    None of this article makes any sense. Do things have to make sense to be published by Crisis, or do they just have to broadly follow the company line?

  • Great article.

    I think that in a republic there is certainly a tendancy toward extreme self-autonomy- or, as the author called it, “naked choice.” Since we make up our own rules, we can technically do whatever we want. For the first century and a half or so of America’s existence, this wasn’t a problem because we were still a religious nation. We may not have had a king, but we had a God- so there were still things that we weren’t allowed to do.
    Then something changed in Western society. Maybe it was the growth of science in the 19th century or the humanistic hubris that came out of the mass production of the industrial revolution. For whatever reason, Americans (and the rest of Western civilization) came to see the full potential of human endeavor, for better or for worse. Rather than accept this as a grave responsibility, I think that American society has behaved with the giddy abandon of a 19 year old whose parents have left him alone for the weekend.
    At this point, with sex and drugs and junk food and just generally being lazy and good for nothing, we are still behaving that way. But maybe the author is right, and our “chickens are coming home to roost.” The consequences of our sins manifest themselves with all the violence and the collapse of effective support structures. So the question, moving forward, will have to be whether we see the error of our ways and get our minds right, or die as a drunk in the gutter.

  • If ever the dog continues to actually disobey, the intensity level is increased.

    Unique home may prove to be tidy and staged beautifully,
    but could be it clean?

  • Eileen T Peterson

    Thank you for words of wisdom