Back in 2018, Oxford Dictionaries chose “toxic” as its Word of the Year. It was chosen from a shortlist that included politically inflected words like “gaslighting,” “incel,” and “techlash.” Originally, Oxford had considered “toxic masculinity” until it realized how widespread “toxic” had become. So many different issues in our culture today seem to be tied together with the word. The Word of the Year reflects “the ethos or preoccupations” of a particular year, and how it highlights changes in English as a language. The Oxford folks believed “toxic masculinity” to be a preoccupation of our times. Simply being a normal, healthy male can be viewed as “toxic.”
“Toxic” is derived from the Greek “toxikon pharmakon” or “poison for arrows.” In its first few centuries, “toxic” referred to literal poisons. But as concern about toxins increased over the years, so did the metaphorical uses of “toxic.” “Toxic” began to be used more frequently in the 1980’s in many self-help books. But more recently there has been an explosion in the use of the phrase toxic masculinity. The only grouping that has occurred more frequently over the years in online news sources and blogs has been “toxic chemicals.” Be warned, men, to be masculine may be considered poisonous by some.
Mona Charen in her indictment of modern feminism argues that Second Wavers “were determined to change what women wanted altogether… The worldview of second-wave feminists was completely wrong about women, history and human nature – and left a lot of wreckage in its wake.” Part of the fallout was “toxic masculinity.” John Stonestreet has observed, “much of contemporary life, especially our public discourse, is, if not literally poisonous, then spiritually, culturally, and emotionally poisonous.” This includes toxic masculinity.
Considering this wreckage, Dennis Prager asks, “Is America still making men?” Every society has to ask, “How do we make good men?” Young men who are tutored early in life are taught how to channel their natural drive and aggression in a positive manner to make the world a better place. But if maleness is already seen as “toxic,” how is a male Christ-follower to live in our present cultural climate? Here are a few suggestions:
First: because we’ve inherited our sinful nature from Adam, we can admit that we’re “toxic”. David declared, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Ps. 51:5). For me, this means that I must be vigilant in keeping my heart open to the Lord. I can appear to be clean, but there is often toxicity within my heart. Jesus said, “What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean.’ For from within, out of men’s hearts, comes evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance, and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean” (Mk. 7:20-22).
Second: don’t waste your time defending enculturated views of maleness. Learn to walk humbly as a follower of Jesus. Allow the Spirit of God to model godliness in your life.
Third: learn to simply practice the presence of Jesus in all circumstances. Let the light of his presence shine through your words and actions. Strive to live an integrated and authentic life. Live in repentance, praise, and gratitude.
Fourth: live as a servant of others, attempting to always put others first. For me this has meant being truly interested in the stories of others.
Fifth: continually cry out to God to be merciful toward our nation. Pray that you might be an instrument of healing between men and women, especially in your extended family.