|Mayor Rob Ford
Two things have struck me this past week.
The first is the train wreck occurring in Toronto around Mayor Rob Ford caught in the use of drugs and a new allegation regarding prostitutes. The videos of the imploding mayor ranting during a city government meeting have gone viral on the web. It is painful to watch as Mayor Ford is clearly a man out of control yet one who will not resign his office and someone who therefore, in effect, is holding an entire city and its government hostage. Yet, what particularly struck me was a news commentator reporting on the situation who made the observation that regardless of whether one agrees with the mayor or not he is showing that he certainly has a “huge pair”. First of all, I will say that I think that the commentator’s remark was unacceptable and unprofessional and secondly, I will leave it to the reader to surmise to what the commentator was referring.
The second incident of the past week is a video news report I saw on the “game” called knockout. This game involves a teenage male running up to an unsuspecting person, often from behind, and hitting the person in an attempt to prove that he is powerful enough to knock the person out. It does not matter if the unsuspecting victim is male, female or an elderly person. All are fair game. There are videos of these random attacks that are very disturbing and people have died as a result of these violent outbursts.
I would propose that both Rob Ford’s ranting and the knockout game demonstrate a crisis in anthropology and particularly masculinity in our society. Both are a misuse of power and neither gives testament to true courage, strength and determination or having a “huge pair” as the news commentator erroneously remarked.
Rob Ford boasts that he has done great things for Toronto as mayor and maybe he has but he (at least on the videos I have seen) seems utterly enable to recognize that sheer exercise of power alone does not make the mayor … or the man. Yes, he is defiant but his defiance should not be lauded but condemned because it demonstrates a profound and dangerous ignorance. The human person (and therefore human community) is not just will to power and damn all other considerations! Life is not just about ambition, achievement and reaching the highest possible position with any means justifying the end or any side activity excused as long as it does not interfere with the final goal and the exercise of power. Ford’s implicit claim that his drug use should be excused, overlooked and hand-slapped because of what he has achieved for Toronto demonstrates a truly stunted view of humanity and yet, sadly, a view that is not uncommon.
Enter the young men participating in knockout. The goal of the game is to prove that you are “strong enough” to knock someone out. I am sure that there are numerous sociological, cultural and historical forces behind such an act of violence yet it cannot be denied that this game fundamentally equates manhood and masculinity with the ability to exercise power and achieve ones purpose – i.e. knocking another human person to the ground. Nor also, should any of these sociological forces excuse this violent action. It is wrong and cowardly to attack an unsuspecting person. Yet, these young people seemingly fail to perceive this and that needs to be recognized for what it is – again, a truly stunted view of humanity and what it means to be a human person and a man.
Rob Ford and these young men participating in knockout are one and the same.
I have heard it said that the next great issue facing the Church to which we must bring the light of the Gospel is that of anthropology. What does it mean to be a “human person” and a subset of that question is what does it mean to be a man? Rob Ford and the young people participating in knockout demonstrate the fault line of this great issue. We should not pass these incidents by as unrelated and tangential curiosities in the cultural landscape. Together they witness a profound shift and loss in an understanding of the human person that has the potential to and already is shaking all levels of society and human understanding and to which no person or group is immune.
As Christians we must address this loss and fault line running through our times but we need to be authentic in how we do so.
A truly critical component of the New Evangelization is the proclamation of the Christian understanding of the human person as fully revealed in the person of Christ Jesus himself. Our world stands in desperate need of this proclamation, yet it is not enough to rest on past laurels. We can certainly draw inspiration and direction from our heritage in Christ and Christian thought but simply repeating old pat phrases will not do. We need to proclaim to a new time and a new need what it means to be a human person in Christ and this means that we must, as they say, “have some skin in the game ourselves.” In order for any proclamation of the dignity of the human person to be authentic, we must first of all encounter Christ in the totality of who we are and we must allow the light of the Gospel the process of penetrating and transforming every single aspect of our very selves. This alone will enable us to avoid the double pitfalls of a stunted understanding of the human person and of an inauthentic and shallow proclamation that can easily be recognized by the lack of fruit it produces.
Rob Ford and the young men participating in knockout demonstrate the profound fault line running through our understanding of the human person and, at the same time, the profound need for which so many are yearning – a true understanding of the human person and what it means to be a man. They show what happens when this understanding is lost. They are very sad characters. Only an authentic answer can satisfy this need and that can only be found and gained through a continuing encounter with Christ.
The New Evangelization cannot be faked. The Gospel in every age always demands that we have some skin in the game and only this authenticity can answer the stunted view of humanity and the crisis of masculinity present in our time.