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Saturday, 4 February 2017

A Load of Bull

I grew up with a partially correct thinking that a bull is that particular species of beast which can be found at the arena of any Spanish city, both chasing and evading the smartly dressed Matador who is there to torture the life out of it with his use of decorated spears. Personally, I believe that the term Bullfighting is a misnomer. The type of bull in question is the male gender of cattle, of which the more familiar female cow provides us with our daily supply of pasteurised milk. I have actually visited a bullfighting arena whilst on a package holiday with a college friend way back in 1972, the first ever trip abroad without my parents and a year before my first ever backpacking trip into Italy in 1973.

Mt college friend refused to join me for that day trip to Barcelona. Instead, he preferred to remain in the growing popular Mediterranean resort of Tossa-de-Mar on the Costa Brava, just south of the Pyrenees, where our hotel was located. I think he had a point. I was keen to sample some foreign culture, which to my mind was the foundational basis for future backpacking. He was more aghast with the thought of witnessing torture as a source of pleasure. And torture it was. Bullfighting? The animal has always been herbivorous. A bull will only charge when its territory is invaded and its harem of females are under threat of competition or harm. In the ring, the bull's attempts to charge was always frustrated by the far greater agility of the slim-built matador, who watched the beast's life slowly ebb away in full sight of the cheering crowds. I went away having just learnt that the matador wasn't the star hero that the Spaniards make him out to be. Now had he fought a hungry lion or tiger like the ancient Roman gladiators did, then I guess that would have been more of a nerve-tingling, edge-of-the-seat entertainment. 

It was during the years that followed when I became aware that the word bull was not just reserved for male cattle. Rather it applied to other male species of mammal, mostly herbivorous, which include the rhinoceros and the elephant. Plant-eater the rhino may be, but having one of those charge at you has been proven fatal, as without the spears and a crowd of cheering spectators, a cattle bull can also gore a human to death as well. Among marine life, the male whale and dolphin, both mammals, are also referred as bulls. It looks to me that the bull is the male of any large, bovine-type mammal often having the capacity to kill a human. Going by what I have seen throughout life, the bull looks to be synonymous with masculinity.

During my school days, male respect was based on physical strength, an athletic prowess and the ability to co-operate well in team sports. Throughout the year, three team games were played by all the boys - Football, Rugby, and Cricket. The snag was that I did not have good team co-operation, although I did enjoy playing cricket to a certain extent. But attempting to play rugby was nigh impossible when I wasn't even taught the object of the game - to score a try by passing the ball over the touchline without passing the ball forward, and then convert the try by kicking the ball over the crossbar of that H-like structure at both ends of the pitch. In addition, the goal-kick, aiming the ball randomly over the crossbar without having to score a try beforehand, also added points to the score. Indeed, if only I knew all that whilst at school. Chances that I might, just might, have performed better.

The culture of the day was that rugby was a he-man's game, the ultimate of masculine team sports, especially if rain has muddied the pitch. Aside from a determination to win, perhaps together with performance enhanced by a degree of aggression, the display of all other emotions on the pitch was well off the cards. When a try was scored, there was no congratulated hugging from team mates. If one got hurt, unless his injury was serious enough for treatment, the player just got back up and continued playing. In rugby, British stoicism and stiff upper lip reigned supreme. After all, the game originated here in the English town of Rugby in Warwickshire. So it was not surprising that the game, throughout my youth in particular, carried such English characteristics. This was emphasised not long after leaving school, by a national newspaper which published a thesis of the game as a whole. The article opened with a bold headline which read:

The British bulldog. Yes, it's back to the bull again, although I can't exactly equal the bulldog in strength and prowess as the bull of a rhino, elephant, cattle, or for that matter the Blue whale bull, the largest ever living animal of any kind existing on this planet, or that of the orca, perhaps living right on the top of the marine food chain. Against such creatures, in conflict the bulldog wouldn't stand a chance! And that despite that the bulldog was originally bred for bull-baiting, which peaked around the year 1800 before its abolition in 1835. As such, this dog has always been the symbol of British masculinity, particularly in the portraying of Winston Churchill.

And by reading national newspapers such as the daily Mail, columnists such as Richard Littlejohn, only a couple of years ago criticised the BBC for firing Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson for throwing a punch at programme producer Oisin Tymon, as well as calling him "Irish" and "lazy" when he failed to come up with the roast beef dinner Clarkson had hoped for after a full day's work. Littlejohn, along with fellow columnists Amanda Platell, Kate Hopkins, and perhaps Piers Morgan as well, all in their own way expressed the promotion of the great British Bulldog in which these writers saw Clarkson as an ideal candidate - courageous, stoic, unemotional, strong-minded, as characteristic of national pride, self confidence and optimism. As an example, Littlejohn has not only criticised the BBC over Jeremy Clarkson's dismissal, but also poured heaps of praise on the presenter for being characteristically British - rough, tough, sometimes crude but always fair, and something of a bigger-than-life hero not unlike John Wayne of Western legend.

And as one who has voted Remain in last year's Referendum, I now belong to a larger group known as the Remoaners, and even the editor of the Daily Mail newspaper now refers to us with such a title. Maybe the paper has a point. After all, the British are reputed worldwide as being a nation of moaners. We even have an edict here: Mustn't grumble. Instead, according to these writers, we are now a generation of snowflakes, of which columnists Amanda Platell and Melanie Phillips described us as emotional, mawkish, sentimental, and lacking of masculinity, courage and principle. Indeed, I now wish I was good at rugby at school, and maybe even joined a rugby club as a young adult.

It goes to show what a misconstrued meaning of masculinity these writers have. The Biblical meaning of the word is quite different. There is just two words making up a whole verse in the Bible, and those two words are Jesus wept (John 11:35). And surely, if there was ever the finest example of what masculinity really is, one has only to look to Jesus of Nazareth. And Paul reflects the human nature of Jesus Christ when he exhorted the churches of Galatia in his letter:
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control 
Galatians 5:22.

This means that true masculinity is about love and concern for the welfare of others, which is quite a contrast to having pride and confidence in self. And with such other fruits as gentleness, the total opposite of the "rough, tough and often crude" mentality which is erroneously defined as masculinity. True masculinity involves self-control - a virtue lacking in Clarkson when he punched Tymon - just because he did not get what he wanted. Self-control is the ability to remain calm when wronged. But this virtue is not to be confused with the stiff upper lip. Self control involves showing love and kindness despite being wronged.  The stiff upper lip is nothing more than keeping anger and frustration bottled up - which is detrimental to health and can lead to suicide. Clarkson would never have struck out at the producer if he also had the virtues of kindness, goodness, faithfulness and patience. These are definitions of true masculinity.

The fruit of love contains all eight segments of the Holy Spirit. 

A real man is someone who doggedly journeys to work each day at a job he hates because of a neurotic and foul-tempered boss - in order to keep up with his mortgage payments and to feed and clothe his family. It is the love he has for his wife which motivates him to climb out of his bed early on a cold winter morning to head for his car for the drive to work or attend to his outdoor job. His love for his wife is a fruit of true masculinity.

True masculinity involves fulfilling the vows made at the wedding altar. It means staying with her even if she falls ill and permanently loses her mobility and ends up in a wheelchair, and as such, he finds it too inconvenient to take foreign holidays he once so loved. True masculinity is refusing to leave his wife for a far better lifestyle - even if staying with her means the loss of his children to Social Services. True masculinity will always see his wife as beautiful as the day he married her, even after age has taken its toll. True masculinity is showing love and compassion which can be costly. True masculinity is offering friendship to someone who has a different opinion. As such, for example, I have at least two friends, and no doubt, others whose friendship I value highly, yet who are patriotic and have voted Brexit. It means showing kindness, goodness, patience and faithfulness to someone who differs in theological issues. That is masculinity, which also involves not un-friending someone on Facebook and then blocking him and his wife too, just because they perceive life in a different manner. To block someone on Facebook is not masculine at all. Rather it is craven cowardice.

True masculinity can only come with a true love-relationship with God. The Bible even delivers an acid test - that anyone who loves God loves his fellow believers too, and anyone who claims that he loves God but hates his brother is still in darkness (1 John 2:9-11, 3:15). With still the flesh at work within me, it is true that I can, and do get impatient and angry with somebody else, whether believer or unbeliever. That could be the reason why John exhorts his readers to love one another (e.g. 1 John 4:11) - which corresponds with Paul's letter, especially to the church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 13). This love can only come with the residence of the Holy Spirit within. My own experience in life has shown a strong desire for forgiveness and reconciliation whenever I fall out with someone, especially at church. This desire for reconciliation and friendship restored can only come from the Holy Spirit within, which I find far more beneficial to mental and physical health alike, than pride - the insistence that I'm in the right and therefore sticking to my guns. Pride is not masculinity. Admitting that I was wrong is masculinity.

You want to be controlled by the Holy Spirit within? Then read your Bible everyday, and allow the Word of God to dwell richly within you (Colossians 3:16). Here lies the real power source for true masculinity - without the British Bulldog spirit.


  1. Hi Frank,
    what I find with the Holy Spirit is that it's fruits are not confined to gender, as there is no male nor female in Christ. However, where you say that allowing the Word of God to dwell richly within you is the real power source for true masculinity - I agree that the fruits of the Spirit have to be in all of us in order for us to be like Jesus, whether male or female. There is nothing to be achieved, or proud of, by being 'aggressive', and I think that being cruel to any animal is horrific.
    I hope Alex is well, and I am sure she is happy being looked after by her caring husband.

  2. Dear Frank,
    Now that I am saved, my epitome of the ideal man is Jesus Christ, Who was 100% man as well as being 100% God. Whether male or female, we cannot be all God intended us to be without loving Him and showing His love toward one another. This is a daily struggle and will not be perfected until we reach glory, but our Christian walk should bring us closer to those ideals.
    I have never seen a bullfight, nor do I so desire, despite having studied and performed the Latin dance Paso Doble, which is supposed to represent the movements of the matador and his cape.
    Thanks as always for the excellent post, and God bless,

  3. Dear Frank,
    Yesterday was the American Superbowl, the professional football championship. Millions were glued to their televisions to watch what they consider the ultimate display of masculinity, with no thought how meaningless teh victory really is or how childish and immature some of the players act. As you pointed out, real masculinity is something completely different.