It is weird when you change your mind about something, especially about something where you had strong, logical convictions once. It is weird when you suddenly realize, "I disagree with myself." On one hand, the ability to move people's minds, not just to sway opinion but to actually change people's beliefs about what they think are "facts" is one of the things that really got me interested in rhetoric. Bryant's definition of rhetoric as "Adjusting ideas to people and people to ideas1" always appealed to me. The fact that a person could adjust people to ideas was somehow heartening in a world where so many seem so ossified in in their belief structures. Still, when one is on the receiving end of a rhetorical intervention, one is given a unique glimpse into what happens in our rhetoric.
I realized late last night that I no longer quite agreed with myself regarding the writings of a guy named John Eldredge. Eldredge is someone you hear about in Evangelical circles, especially among men. He writes books that attempt to define a Christian masculinity. I first interacted with Eldredges work in around 2004 when an evangelical group of which I was a part decided to divide us along gender lines. I am not sure what the women used as curriculum, but the men were to read Eldredge's book Wild at Heart2. We read the books and discussed it, and the more I discussed it, the more I really did not like it. I found it simplistic, mysogynist, even barbaric! At the time, it seemed to me that Eldredge was arguing from some Rouseauesque misinformation about noble savages to a belief that men should reclaim their role as cavemen, begin hunting and gathering for food and finding their life-partners by killing their fathers and dragging them back to the cave kicking and screaming. Of course, that is not really what I thought, but that was a pretty good picture of the visceral reaction to the book.
My dislike was so profound, that it spawned some pretty good scholarship on my part. In 20053 , I presented a paper explaining that Eldredge's work contained a hidden mysogyny in that he talked a great deal about the unique qualities of men, and claimed that these unique features of men came from men being made in the image of God. I problemetized this by pointing out that if these qualities were unique to men and not women, and the source is being made in the image of God, that Eldredge is latently arguing that women are not made in the image of God. Then in 20064 and again in 20095 I wrote papers attempting to deliniate the various intellectual currents of the Evangelical mens movements. In both of these papers I argued that there was an undercurrent of paganism in Eldredge's work and labled his work as "syncretic." By the time of the presentation of the 2009 paper I may have begun to change my mind. I still called his work syncretic in the paper, but in the presentation I said that if I did further work on the subject I would call it "anthropological" and that instead of saying it was tied to paganism, I'd tie it to "cultural universals," or Jung's "collective unconscious." [Maybe I'll still write that paper someday, because now instead of seeing what I called a "Jeremiac," "therapeutic," and "syncrestic" division in the Evangelical men's movements I am now seeing a Platonic, Freudian and Jungian distinction.]
So, when a men's group was being formed at my church that was going to be using Eldredge's newer book, Fathered by God,6 it was with great reluctance that I purchased it. I'd already made up my mind about Eldredge and while I did not disagree with him on everything or entirely, I felt like the areas of disagreement were strong enough that they would make me mad too often as I read this new book. I just wasn't interested. I was, however, interested in bonding with the other men of my church so I reluctantly and with entirely the wrong attitude bought the book. I became extremely irate later when I found out we were not actually going to use the book as a guide, but just that it had influenced the discussion leaders. I felt like I had been lied to and tricked into spending money that I really couldn't afford to spend on a book we were not, now, actually going to use as curriculum. I am still a little miffed about it, to be honest.
But then I started reading the book. I am not even sure why. Maybe I was looking for more ammunition to shoot Eldredge down. When he said it was merely a "repackaging" of his Wild at Heart book, I just rolled my eyes. "Go ahead, Johnny," I thought, "rob more people in the name of the Lord by selling them a second book that is exactly the same as the first." It is a serious repackaging. I'd like to think that some of my critiques got back to Eldredge and that he seemed to take them into account in this book. Gone are the statements that seemed to imply that men are different that women because they were made in God's image. This book uses the life of David (from the Bible, Son of Jesse, that David) to draw a picture of the various stages of a man's life: 1)shepherd/cowboy, 2)warrior, 3)lover, 4)king and 5)sage. He continues with his anthropological bent, finding further evidence from literature and mythology for his description of a man's life, but the syncretism that seemed to reveal itself in Wild at
Heart has at the very least lessened and perhaps disappeared as Eldredge uses metaphors and rituals primarily from Hebrew sources and only further evidenced by other mythologies. So, Fathered by God is different.
Or is it? A pretty big thing happenned to be between 2005 when I first read Wild at Heart and reading Fathered by God in 2012. Since that time, I have fallen in love and gotten married and stayed married. People say that marriage changes a person. Of course, I always agreed in the abstract; how could it not? In many, many ways, where the rubber hits the road, it has changed me. It hasn't necessarily changed me in the ways my wife hoped it would. I did not become enamoured of the "place for everything and everything in it's place" philosophy that guides her life. In fact, I bet some of the ways it has changed me are ways she would not have always wanted me to change. I am more scheduled, better budgeted and more precise in my speech because someone else has to come on board with what I'm saying. I am more dominant. I am less passive. I am less angry at everyone in the world because I've realized more than ever before how little many things matter. I used to write papers and study books and teach classes because it was awesome. It's still awesome. Now, however, there is an urgency. I need to expand my borders and control my kingdom because I need to take care of Jamie (my wife). On the other hand, I need to be home at 5:30 to make supper, no matter where I am in my writing or lesson prep. I need to put down the sword and take up the plowshare with increasing frequency. I also need to weild the sword with more ferocity. I think it's going to be even more intense when we have kids (pray for us to have kids). The end result is that right now I am more masculine in a traditional sense than ever before. And Fathered by God touched a soul that wasn't the soul I had six years ago.
A central concept in rhetoric is the concept of kairos. It is the idea of speaking at the appropriate time. Now I also travel in Evangelical circles and hear people talk about kairos as "God's special time," but I don't think that's accurate. It could also be the Devil's special time, when he realizes everything is just right to send you a temptation. Or it could be a used car salesman's special time to sell a car. What it is, is the belief that history and what is going on in the world both constrains and summons particular rhetorical acts. Effective rhetoric is not just good arguments, put in the right order, delivered well, using compelling, memorable language. It also has to be done at the right time. The right things have to be going on in the audience's life. In Bitzer's terms, there has to be the right "rhetorical situation"7. I can't really tell whether it is really a more compelling argument or if I am in a place to be differently compelled. I can't tell whether Eldredge has improved as a rhetorician, or if I have just changed as a person or if it is a little of both. I do know that I think differently now. I know that I am seeing more anomalies in my old worldview and fewer anomalies in my current one8, but is that me or Eldredge?
The truth is that we can't entirely know. When we change our minds or when others change their minds, there are a confluency of factors. Some are under the control of the rhetor. Some are under the control of the auditors. Some are under the control of outside influences.
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Discovering the secret of a man's soul, Walker Large Print
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Rhetoric(s) of the Christian Men's Movement(s). Paper presented
at the Religious Communication Association convention, San Antonio, TX.
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Masculinity. A paper presented to the Religious Communication
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