Home > Lessons for the Modern Man, Men and Spirituality > Review of “The Hidden Spirituality of Men” Part 3

Review of “The Hidden Spirituality of Men” Part 3

I have struggled with this post; you may have noticed that I did not post this part of the review last Monday, choosing instead to post Rosemary’s Mother’s Day message link. And I didn’t post yesterday, on schedule, either. The cause of my struggle is Chapter 5 of Matthew Fox’s book on Men and Spirituality, subtitled Ten Metaphors to Awaken the Sacred Masculine. Is it inevitable that when talking about and writing about men and spirituality the notion of warrior has to be raised? The title of Chapter 5 is “Spiritual Warriors”.  I knew it was coming; Fox referred to the notion in earlier chapters, but somehow I was hoping he would thread his way carefully through this swamp and avoid the pitfalls. Sad to say, he didn’t.

OK, I don’t like war. I am probably not a pacifist in the strictest sense of the word. I am currently reading the poetry of William Stafford who refused to fight in World War 2; he had his very good reasons. Had I been a young man then I may have taken up arms against the fascism that had taken over too much of the world at that time. Instead I was born at the very end of that war just days before this country dropped the two atomic bombs on Japan. Perhaps the impact of those bombs somehow vibrated through my young being setting up an abhorrence of war. In any case I have been opposed to all of the wars I have been old enough to fight in; I consider them the highest folly of human-kind and an absurd waste of resources, not the least of which is human life, that most precious “commodity” this planet has yet produced.

So, when I read about spiritual warfare I am repulsed. Intellectually I can understand that this is a metaphor, that the term warrior is meant to represent strength and determination to stand for something good, righteous, just. And yet I struggle. For me war is an act of separation. It is about “us against them”. It is a reinforcement of the duality and a staging of one side of that duality aggressively opposing with the intent to annihilate the other side. But if we live in a dualistic world how can we ever hope to annihilate one side and still remain whole ourselves!?

Fox’s Chapter 5 is a meandering attempt to soften the whole notion of the warrior through anecdotal reports of others who he calls warriors but in my mind are far from it. He begins with Thomas Berry who “talks about the need for ‘the Great Work.’ What is this Great Work? It is ‘the task of moving modern industrial civilization from its present devastating influence on the Earth to a more benign mode of presence.'” I couldn’t agree more! Fox further quotes Berry as saying: “‘The nobility of our lives, however, depends upon the manner in which we come to understand and fulfill our assigned role.'” Again, I couldn’t agree more! But then Fox leaps to: “Noble warriors are called for. The archetype of the spiritual warrior helps to answer in a constructive way two issues raised so far: What to do with male aggression? What to do with competition? How to steer both into healthy directions?”

So, the call here is to “fight” the “devastating influence on the Earth” with aggression and competition in order to move toward “a more benign mode of presence”! Oh, and to do it nobly, of course! This is the age old call to “fight fire with fire”. Berry calls us to move to a “benign mode of presence” and Fox requires spiritual warfare to accomplish this move. I don’t think this will happen. So, from the outset of this chapter Fox falls into the trap I saw him heading toward and when he falls in he loses me. And I channeled my own aggression and sense of competition right into his points, his stories, his style, and his cavalier way of conflating the “warrior” and the “lover”.

Fox attempts to draw a stark boundary between soldier and warrior: a soldier follows the orders of an officer; a warrior follows orders of his soul. He claims “the warrior unlike the soldier is a lover.” And, “the warrior relates to God as a lover.” This chapter is peppered with non sequiturs; in the context of the soldier/warrior argument he states: “I believe the confusion of soldier and warrior feeds militarism and the reptilian brain. It’s also an expression of homophobia, since I suspect that heterosexism is behind much of the continued ignorance and fear of the real meaning of warriorhood.” Huh? What did I miss here in this leap?

In this chapter Fox rambles on with several stories about people he has known or interviewed who he believes are spiritual warriors. As I read them I kept waiting for how they waged war. For the most part they are or were strong in their beliefs and generous of spirit; they worked diligently to move humanity toward a “more benign mode of presence.” But I did not see them waging war. As one example he tells the story of Bhante Dharmawara, a Buddhist monk, meditation teacher and healer. He quotes a friend of Bhante’s as saying: “‘There is no heart that doesn’t melt in his presence, and people leave him with their minds open to the infinite possibilities that living a life of awareness can bring.'” And then Fox say: “A spiritual warrior indeed.” [and here's another non sequitur] “Bhante served and transformed his fear and aggression into such peace-sharing and peace-giving that even the wild animals respected him.” I wonder how Bhante would feel about this “spiritual warrior” label.

Am I overly sensitive here about waging war for the sake of peace? Hasn’t every war ever fought been in some way justified by the call for peace? For me the term “spiritual warrior” is a divisive term. It contains the word “war” and implies warfare. War separates. Peace requires a joining together. How can an act of separation ever bring people together? How can any kind of fight move humanity toward a “more benign mode of presence”?

In Chapter 6: “Masculine Sexuality, Numinous Sexuality” Fox regains my attention and respect. (And, don’t get me wrong here; I may argue with this notion of spiritual warriors and still respect Matthew Fox. In fact, I think he struggled himself with Chapter 5; it doesn’t flow well, the non sequiturs are examples of his struggle to make his point. His stories of people, e.g. Bhante Dharmawara, do not make his point. But enough on Chapter 5!) In chapter 6 Fox presents an excellent argument for men to get in touch with their sexuality as a gateway to their spirituality. This may be the best part of the book to this point. And he waxes eloquent at the end of the chapter as he concludes:

“I believe, beyond being heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual, that we are pansexual. Ultimately, embracing the archetype of the lover means recovering our pansexuality, which nurtures and feeds all our relationships, including our humanly sexual ones.

“Sexuality is sacred because it is bigger than all of us. That is also why it is irrepressible, funny, fun, amazing, surprising, generative, serious, playful, mystical, and unpredictable. It is one area in our relationship with the cosmos and with Father Sky that has never fully succumbed to anthropocentric mastering and control. Sexuality thrusts us into a relationship with the cosmos. Which is a big part of its appeal. A big part of our staying alive. A big part of the joy of living.”

It is good that Fox follows chapter 5 with a chapter on the Numinous Sexual Man. Robert Moore places the Lover archetype on the opposite end of the Warrior archetype axis in his quadrilateral model. It is a direction of growth and evolution to move from the warrior stage to the lover stage. Isn’t it more likely that we can love our way toward a “more benign mode of presence” than fight our way toward that high state of consciousness? Can’t we channel our aggressive and competitive tenancies into a pansexual, generative relationship with the cosmos? I, for one, would like to try; I’d like to throw out the whole notion of war, warfare and warriorhood as we move toward a higher stage of consciousness.

  1. May 15, 2010 at 9:20 pm

    Hm. I’m not so sure that I can agree with the doing-away with the term “warrior”. Not all warriors are male, just as not all warriors are violent. The Warrior archetype doesn’t have to be aggressive at all. I’m incredibly non-violent, but nearly every person you ask would tell you that I’ve got a very strong Warrior spirit. It’s something that is part of who I am. Many warriors are the defenders. They do the protecting of the less able members of their (for lack of a better term) “tribe”; they also do the dirty work of enforcing the rules that said “tribe” has established.

    At Between the Worlds, we have a security force that oversees the safety and security of the Gathering. They are the ones who take on the ill feelings of the outside to keep those of us at the Gathering safe and unharmed. Most of them (including my husband, one of the High Priests of the Brotherhood) have military training. They understand that a successful Warrior is one who doesn’t have to fight physically.

    Some of the most calm and centered people I’ve ever met are also the most potentially dangerous; they all have black belts of some sort of martial art. They have all taken these lessons, which include more than the physical exercises, to ensure the safety and security of their “tribes.”

    No, the Warrior Spirit is not all about violence and it shouldn’t be. But that doesn’t make it something that isn’t going to happen. Enlightenment doesn’t automatically change human nature. There will always be people who think that they’re more important, more enlightened, more entitled than their fellow beings and who will attempt to use that feeling of “more” against their fellow beings. That’s when the Warrior within all of us should be able to rise up to restore the balance that should be.

    • May 16, 2010 at 12:12 am

      It might be possible for some people with a sophisticated sense of self to hold the warrior motif in balance (although, to be honest I can’t see why you’d want to), but unfortunately there are plenty who cannot. For these people, the search for the spiritual warrior can have some very unfortunate consequences.

      In the context of an “alternative” spirituality, we see this with James Ray’s “spiritual warrior” sweat lodge deaths. In contemporary Christianity, it has recently been discovered that John Eldredge’s best-selling book Wild at Heart (which is saturated with the spiritual warrior) is used by the violent Mexican Christian drugs cartel, La Familia, to provide a model of masculinity which results in being, quite literally, murderous.

      The fact that so many people wish to retain the spiritual warrior while re-framing it as somehow noble and peacekeeping/non-violent speaks to society’s deeply ingrained acceptance (and even glorification) of violence. (This plays out in various forums, and not just the obvious like gang violence and economically-motivated wars, but also less obvious like the physical punishment of children and brutal farming of animals: the “norm” in all these circumstances is actually very extreme, but most people are too conditioned into violence to notice.)

      • May 16, 2010 at 9:36 am

        Thank you, Joseph, for your powerful and deeply thoughtful response to Jeremy. This is so much better coming from you than me, his cousin! Your bringing James Ray into the discussion is an excellent example of trying to “fight fire with fire.” Even the best trained “warriors” get burned or burn others despite their best intentions!

      • May 16, 2010 at 11:28 am

        Oh, don’t even get me started on James Ray. The faster he goes to jail, the better off the spiritual community will be.

        I’d suggest Kerr Cuhulain’s Wiccan Warrior and Full-Contact Magick as a better basis for my point of view. And I’m not talking about “Warrior” equating to “Masculine”; I know plenty of female Warriors.

        And I’m not advocating violence in any sense. I’m advocating defense. There’s a very large difference. You can’t get rid of the Warrior side without the same things happening, just like you can’t switch over to a matriarchal society without it turning into the patriarchal society we have now, just with a different gender in charge. It falls on those of us who can hold the Warrior in balance to teach those who can’t.

  2. May 15, 2010 at 7:51 pm

    I agree with you both, Richard and Joseph, about the ‘war’ aspect of ‘warrior’ as being something that cannot lead individuals or societies to peace. But maybe there is another aspect to the warrior that Fox is talking about that has nothing to do with war. Maybe English/American just doesn’t have a good word for ‘empowered one’ because we so often think of ‘power’ as meaning ‘power OVER someone or something.’

    In a reading I did recently with a client she received a message from a spirit guide who was a warrior but the message had nothing to do with others and everything to do with her inner confidence, strength and empowerment. In the weeks since then she has tapped into this energy often to move her through tough situations and to keep her focused on her ‘soul work,’ which might relate to Fox’s distinction.

    I am probably a real pacifist but my experience of this woman’s empowerment following meeting her warrior guide has caused me to look for another way to language the energy she is tapping into. What can we called an ‘empowered one’ who is not looking for the ‘other’ with whom to wage war?

    • May 15, 2010 at 8:17 pm

      I think “integrity” works well as the good word: it implies the “nobility” and “strength” of the warrior, without the “war”.

      I lived for five years in New Zealand, and the Maori have the word “mana,” which I also like:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mana

  3. May 15, 2010 at 4:28 pm

    I agree: let’s do away with the term “warrior” as part of any metaphor to do with men.

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