Posts Tagged ‘Nathan Hitchcock’


Final Post of Men on the Moon

30 June 2014

If my grandfather were still alive today, he would have turned 100 this month. Raymond Hitchcock made it to 88, having lived a generous, courageous life. There were the remarkable occupational elements of his career: he exercised considerable skill in farming, automobile repair, business management, and real estate. He did everything with great determination. He was and is an icon of manly strength to me. All importantly, Raymond was known for his kindness. He showed tenderness to his family, friends, and neighbors. He demonstrated sacrificial integrity. He told great stories. He was famous as the designated hugger at his local Methodist church.

I mention Raymond Hitchcock as I close shop on this long-standing blog. It was started six years ago as a way to explore aspects of masculinity in the modern world. So often manliness is understood as a kind of oppressive imperative, some kind of social conduct which burdens men with high, even unrealistic, expectations. This blog has tried to show that masculinity can affirm many of the great traditions for men without demanding of them exact codes of conduct and being. Men can walk on the moon.

I close this season of my e-life with gratitude for the men in my life who instilled in me a solid core. My father, my pastors, friends like Mark and Travis and the guys from the Round Table and MKP. Men like Raymond Hitchcock. They affirmed that men can strive to be true men – from a starting point of real manhood. My grandfather had a center, and from that center he lived joyfully.

I wish the same for you, friends and strangers. May you be free men.


Edward Hitchcock on Rocks, the Feminine and Immortality

26 April 2011

Edward Hitchcock (1793-1864), noted geologist, theologian and president of Amherst College, has become, like so many of the lesser polymaths of the nineteenth century, mostly forgotten.  When his name does come up, the lingering Darwinian debates are usually the occasion.  But Hitchcock himself was a fascinating figure – not to mention surprisingly accurate as a scientist – as Nancy Pick uncovers in her delightful book, Curious Footprints: Professor Hitchcock’s Dinosaur Tracks and Other Natural History Treasures at Amherst College (Amherst, MA: Amherst College Press, 2006). 

I too wish to  investigate a new dimension of Hitchcock here: that he was very much a man of his age with regard to his evaluation of femininity.  The dedication to his wife in The Religion of Geology and Its Connected Sciences (1854), read in context of the entire book, identifies femininity as a positive, spiritual force able to lift one beyond the vicissitudes of the natural, physical realm.  Through his wife, Orra, Hitchcock finds romantic resources to understand death as good, and to reassert the value of geology for theological argumentation.

(For those of you wondering, no, I am not related to this particular Prof. Hitchcock.  And yes, I know it smacks of vanity to study authors with the same last name.  Sue me.)

Hitchcock’s bears his heart in The Religion of Geology, not least in its dedication wherein he hymns the virtues of his wife:

Both gratitude and affection prompt me to dedicate these lectures to you. To your kindness and self-denying labors I have been mainly indebted for the ability and leisure to give any successful attention to scientific pursuits. Early should I have sunk under the pressure of feeble health, nervous despondency, poverty, and blighted hopes, had not your sympathies and cheering counsels sustained me. And during the last thirty years of professional labors, how little could I have done in the cause of science, had you not, in a great measure, relieved me of the cares of a numerous family! Furthermore, while I have described scientific facts with the pen only, how much more vividly have they been portrayed by your pencil! And it is peculiarly appropriate that your name should be associated with mine in any literary effort where the theme is geology; since your artistic skill has done more than my voice to render that science attractive to the young men whom I have instructed. I love especially to connect your name with an effort to defend and illustrate that religion which I am sure is dearer to you than every thing else. I know that you would forbid this public allusion to your labors and sacrifices, did I not send it forth to the world before it meets your eye. But I am unwilling to lose this opportunity of bearing a testimony which both justice and affection urge me to give. In a world where much is said of female deception and inconstancy, I desire to testify that one man at least has placed implicit confidence in woman, and has not been disappointed. Through many checkered scenes have we passed together, both on the land and the sea, at home and in foreign countries; and now the voyage of life is almost ended. The ties of earthly affection, which have so long united us in uninterrupted harmony and happiness, will soon be sundered. But there are ties which death cannot break; and we indulge the hope that by them we shall be linked together and to the throne of God through eternal ages (iii-iv).

Hitchcock finds in his wife virtues much in line with anyone concerned with doing the science of geology: she “portrays” and “renders” nature through her artwork, which came with great “labors and sacrifices.”  She has no similitude with “female deception and inconstancy.”  Instead, just like the natural order itself, she has divulged her secrets and been reliable, even as reliable as the clockwork of the geological record itself. 

More outstanding, in my analysis, is Mrs. Hitchcock’s super-natural virtues: that she provides cheering counsel, that she relieves her husband of cares, that she makes geology “attractive to the young men,” drawing them to the beauty of the earth by graphical portrayals.  Her devoted love has been so trustworthy that Prof. Hitchcock finds in his wife a basis for immortality.  Just as he looks through the geological record to find God, so he looks through his wife to discover the “ties which death cannot break.”  In her and with her and beyond her lies the truth of the spiritual realm, the eternal frontier of the kingdom of God.

Trepidation in the face of death could very easily be understood as the real theme of The Religion of Geology.  Hitherto Hitchcock’s literature was more plainly apologetical, following William Paley’s program of natural theology to defend Christian doctrines like the existence of God, the veracity of Genesis as pure historical fact, and the reliability of the scriptures in general.  His apologetic continues in The Religion of Geology, but something has changed.  He writes the book in his advanced age; medical problems have forced him to look not at, but beyond fossils and sedimentary layers in order to find assurance of eternal life.  The secrets of geology, when divulged, should reveal the goodness of God.  But for Hitchcock one brute fact manifests itself contrarywise: the history of the world has been a history of death.  That our own physical deaths will have been preceded by billions of prior deaths suggests the great counterfactual to the goodness of God and His creation.  The harmonization of the perfect benevolence of God with the existence of evil on earth “is the grand problem of theology” (248).  Where is God’s purpose in the repeated extermination of every life form on earth?  More to the point, Where is God’s purpose in the dissolution of the Hitchcock family?  Death appears to vaunt itself as the great Dis-order in the midst of divine Order.

Hitchcock cannot draw a line between death and God’s goodness.  So with regular intervals in The Religion of Geology, he appeals to a sort of transcendent reasoning, claiming that humans in their fallen condition would not be perfectly happy in a perfect, deathless world.  That kind of world would be the greatest torment.  Instead, God brought evil upon the creation in its natural state, giving humans “a world as is adapted for a condition of trial and preparation for a higher state, when both mind and body would be delivered from the fetters that now cramp their exercise” (110).  Geology can only suggest this; faith must claim it.  In this case the physical realm points beyond itself, indeed, against itself, to yield the spiritual reality.  “Death shows us that we shall ere long be introduced into a second act, and affords a presumption that other acts-it may be in an endless series-will succeed, before the whole plot shall have passed before us,” claims Hitchcock.  “And if thus early we can catch glimpses of great benefit to result from these evils, what full conviction, that infinite benevolence has planned and consummated the whole, will be forced upon the mind, when the vast panorama of God’s dispensations shall lie spread out in the memory!” (111).  Who will deliver Hitchcock from his body of death?  Oddly enough, death itself must rescue him from him from death.  Only the physical enemy itself is the savior, the “essential means of delivering this immortal being from his ruin and misery” (248).  In this way Hitchcock adopts the common but perverse logic of Christians of the Victorian period. 

But to the point: Returning to the dedication to his wife, Hitchcock’s words about the “female deception and inconstancy” having been turned to “cheering counsels” in his wife make more sense.  Femaleness as such does not reflect the spiritual.  Rather, her inner, spiritual, feminine resources have made her into a glorious creature.  United to her in love, knit to her feminine consolations, it is impossible for Hitchcock to imagine anything but immortality.  His wife is nature’s secret: that beyond death, beyond deception, beyond the womanly body, there is eternal life.  “Early should I have sunk under the pressure of feeble health, nervous despondency, poverty, and blighted hopes, had not your sympathies and cheering counsels sustained me,” says he.  She has delivered him thus far, and she will guide and accompany him to his heavenly home.   She patches the death-gap between creation and revelation.  Verily, through her feminine talents she illustrates for him the secrets of the created order. 

At first glance it seems strange that so passionate a dedication to his wife would accompany Hitchcock’s commentary on geology.  I suggest that the book hardly makes sense without the dedication.  In his wife the aged professor finds a feminine spirit through whom he can acknowledge the goodness of God in the face of death.  He finds a woman in whom nature’s corruption is revealed to be nature’s means to immortality.  Indeed, Mrs. Hitchcock frees her husband to again laud the religious value of earth science:

Misunderstood or misinterpreted though this science has been, [geology] now offers her aid to fortify some of the weakest outposts of religion. And thus shall it ever be with all true science. Twin sister of natural and revealed religion, and of heavenly birth, she will never belie her celestial origin, nor cease to sympathize with all that emanates from the same pure home. Human ignorance and prejudice may for a time seem to have divorced what God has joined together. But human ignorance and prejudice shall at length pass away, and then science and religion shall be seen blending their parti-colored rays into one beautiful bow of light, linking heaven to earth and earth to heaven (177-8).


Tall and Bearded: Augustine on the Resurrected Male Body

5 March 2010

Early Christian theologians were concerned to maintain a real sense of continuity between this life and the next.  If the resurrection of the flesh meant that the male/female differentiation was erased, then it stood to reason that men and women should downplay their gendered characteristics here in their earthly life.  That was not an option for those trying to preserve a gendered hierarchy.  Patristics scholars have done work on what how the theological argument was addressed toward women.   I want to offer a few ideas on the resurrected male body in Augustine’s City of God.

Augustine of Hippo in the 5th century addressed the doctrine of the resurrection of the flesh, which was widely held in Christian communities but still considered scandalous by many.  In book 22 of City of God he addresses many of these objections and misconceptions, including the idea that the resurrection would mean an elimination of maleness and femaleness.  Not so, says the bishop.  They retain their bodies, including the genitals and basic bodily features.

One preserved feature of the male body is its size.  Augustine defends the resurrection of infants and children, claiming that God will fulfill their full bodily stature according to the “seminal principle” in them (22.13-15).  They will be raised in the full bloom of youth, around age thirty perhaps, after the model of Christ.  But does that imply that all be raised after the pattern of Christ in a very literal sense, viz., Jesus’ exact size?  Men and women would then all be the same height and weight.  Augustine does not allow this, claiming that the preservation of the fleshly material in the resurrection will not permit men with large mass to be raised without their full stature (22:14).  They will, presumably, be taller than women.  The sheer physical ratio is kept in the eschaton.

Beauty is also valued prized by Augustine, and he mentions male bodies as possessing this beauty in a very ornamental way.  Women’s bodies will be beautiful too, beautiful in a way that “excites praise” rather than lusts (22:17).  Their breasts and vaginas and wombs will be aesthetically pleasing in a pure way, not desired for pleasure or function.  Nevertheless, it seems that Augustine highlights even more strongly men’s bodies as those possessing beauty.  In particular, men are raised with their nipples and beards and rough skin (22.24).  Since these features do not serve any real function, thus unnecessary to the human constitution (as proved by the fact that women’s bodies are different), nipples and beards and rough skin are to be understood as ornamental, as beautiful adjuncts to the resurrection body. 

In short, the male body in Augustine’s vision of the resurrection holds onto key masculine features.  Whether the basic size of the male body or its decorative aspects, it is to be raised powerful and beautiful, and celebrated as distinctly male.


William Herschel on Talking One’s Son out of Industry and Integrity

13 February 2010

Richard Holmes, in his fine book about the years following the British Enlightenment, Age of Wonder, describes a series of correspondence between the renowned astronomer William Herschel and his son, John (pp.387-390).  Even beneath his father’s enormous shadow, John had done pretty well for himself, becoming a Fellow at Cambridge University and achieving some advances in calculus that appeared to be supplanting Newtonian theory of fluxions. 

He wrote to his famous father in 1813, explaining that, out of a sense of obligation to acquire an independent livelihood, he would pursue either research in pure mathematics at Cambridge, or become a lawyer in London.  William Herschel took this news poorly, writing back that it would be “crooked, tortuous and precarious” to forsake the “superior” studies afforded John over his life.  Clearly these sciences were not nearly adventurous or practical enough in the mind of William. 

Surprisingly enough, William recommended in the place of mathematics or law a career in the Anglican priesthood.  This must have sounded ludicrous to John, as neither he nor his father had much interest in Christianity.  But according to William, “A clergyman… has time for the attainment of the more elegant branches of literature, for poetry, for music, for drawing, for natural history, for short and pleasant excursions of travelling, for being acquainted with the spirit of the law of his country, for history, for political economy, for mathematics, for astronomy, for metaphysics, and for being an author upon any one subject in which… [he is] qualified to excell.”

A bewildered John responded that he hardly believed any Anglican doctrine, but an inveterate William kept pushing.  Without concern for his son’s religious integrity, he again wrote, saying, “The most conscientious clergyman may preach a sermon full of sound morality, and no one will enquire into theological studies.” Unsurprisingly, John was horrified at this.  Was his father discouraging him from self-reliance in an occupation and encouraging him to live hypocritically? What manner of manhood was this?

Only after the threat of a total breach of relationship did William desist.  John did practice law in London after all, followed by a full Fellowship back in Cambridge.  But William would have the final victory, as John came back to the astronomical life in 1816, minding his father’s telescope. 

It hardly seems believable that a father would talk his son out of a life of industry and integrity, which were in other circles (and to this day are) marks of manhood.  For the new nobility of 19th century Great Britain, however, industry and integrity were hardly virtues.  They were the explorers, the speculators, the scientists and professors.  Such men were above mere labor or repose, religion or morality.  They were reaching for the stars – and no self-respecting father of this caliber would have it otherwise for his son.


On Reformation, Karl Barth, and Manly Theologizing

31 October 2009

reformationhammerHappy Reformation Day, for those of you delivered from the concurrent secularized-Catholic holiday.

Perhaps the greatest modern reformer was Karl Barth (d. 1968), whose protest against natural theology and insistence upon Christ-centered Christianity was, in its own way, a prolonged hammering of theses against church doors.  I find it interesting the way that one commentator describes Barth’s work:

To some, his writing appears to be an attempt to create a world of theological reality by sheer power of language, convincing by overwhelming rather than demonstrating.  To others, it seems an act of wilful defiance of modernity – doing at inordinate length what the Enlightenment had disallowed: talking of God with fluency and delight.  To others, again, the cumulative power of Barth’s writing can seem an exercise in unbridled – male – forcefulness, its repetitious and boundless energy wearing down the reader into submission  (John Webster, Barth [London: Continuum, 2000], 52).

Indeed, Barth’s Church Dogmatics are “overwhelming,” “inordinate,” “unbridled” and “repetitious” even as they are “fluent” and filled with delight.  I think there is something to the claim that Barth’s manful energies were more often than not expressed quantitatively. 

This avalanche method is nothing new, considering the frustrations of the pope with the 16th century reformers.  With the advent of the printing press, it was impossible to burn books and pamphlets fast enough to keep them at bay.  Even John Calvin, himself unwanting for words, griped that the Lutheran theologians were simply writing too much.  Which leads us back to Barth, whose demanding style feels much like a submission hold.  Moreover, like the more radical Zwingli, in him there is something unrelentingly iconoclastic, a systematic breaking of rival avenues and false gods. 

Yet I wonder if there is also something simple in the midst of Barth’s style, the economy of concepts and the summons to purity in Church Dogmatics, that also has something forceful, even masculine, about it.  Barth writes about Martin Luther’s program, which, marked by a certain theological restraint that he describes as “manly, healthy, and simple” (Karl Barth, The Theology of John Calvin [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995], 102-3).  Luther restrains himself from excessive complexity.  He restrains himself from the violence of pan-iconoclasm.  Like a real man, his extrovertive force is matched by an internal gravity.  The same could be said of Barth.  Not that this sense of restraint hardly makes his writings any less dominant and terrifying.  There is much to be lauded – and feared – in this reformational manliness.


Edward Taylor: Becoming a Man Again

25 February 2009

[This follows the previous post]

How does Edward Taylor return to the world of men, the world of the masculine, after playing the woman? Taylor never trades places with God, making God feminine, as Clendenning suggests. No, the ultra-masculine God reissues Taylor his masculine identity because of his willingness to undergo feminization/humiliation. Taylor receives his manhood back, restored and amplified.

We find this in a drama related to gynesis – but this time a distinctly masculine drama. Consider the fascinating (and overlooked) metaphors of circumcision and emasculation in the Preparatory Meditations. The first, the ritual of circumcision, Taylor invokes in all its biblical richness (see meditations II.10 and II.70). A man must be separated from his sinful, gentilic identity, symbolized by the foreskin. But this means having a real part of one’s manhood cut off, just as Jesus Christ Himself was cut off from God at the cross:

  The Infant male must lose its Foreskin first,
  Before Gods Spirit Workes as Pulse, therein
  To Sanctify it from the sin in’t nurst,
  And make’t in Graces Covenant to spring.
  To shew that Christ must be cut off most Pure.
  His Covenantall blood must be mans Cure. (25-30)

Male blood – whether in the type represented by infant circumcision, or the reality in Jesus Christ’s crucifixion – needs to be shed in order for God’s glory to be granted to him. The effect of this bloodshed is not just forensic justification but total male restoration. This happens ultimately because of Christ, and at Christ’s hands: with His circumcising power He initiates men. He has authority to reshape (not unman) Taylor.

The more radical measure, of course, would be that of emasculation, the very procedure the Puritan minister cannot bear, and pleads against. Relevant here is the work of maverick theorist Gary Taylor, who has claimed to find in western literature the ubiquitous theme of castration. “This is a specter that has haunted men for centuries,” he says, “the fear that manhood will become, or has already become, obsolete, superfluous, ridiculous, at best quaint, at worst disgusting.” One need not invoke Freud to understand Puritan fears associated with such de-sexing. More than surrendering a certain physical vitality, emasculation would imply a forfeiture of one’s claim to authority in home and church. How is Taylor to head his family, his church, his town, if he comes away from worship without his genitals?

His anxiety materializes most acutely in the image of the purse. Rather than the accessory we today associate with women, the most literal meaning for a Puritan audience would have been the money bag. Thus when Taylor implores, “Yet may I Purse, and thou my Mony bee” (I.2.29), or asks, “Am I thy Gold? Or Purse, Lord, for thy Wealth”? (“Another Meditation at the Same Time,” 1), he presents himself as the empty wallet, and God the financier who provides the gold coinage of grace. The purse, I maintain, has nothing to do with the female personae. It is a male object – truly, the male object to the colonial mind. The English word “purse” derives from the French bourse, also translatable as “testicles.” Accordingly, the Puritan man was generally in charge of the home finances, thereby associating the money bag with his manhood. Jokesters of the era regularly made puns about “coins,” “stones” and “purses” in the seventeenth century, and, most suggestively, Daniel Patterson’s glossary of Taylor’s poetry straightforwardly defines “purse” as “the scrotum of an animal.” So the Westfield minister fears for his manhood, and with good reason! He has met the living, all-masculine God before whom no competitor can stand.

There is no doubt as to Taylor’s need to confess his discredited manhood. In meditation II.18 the beleaguered minister confesses that he is a “Pouch of Sin, a purse / Of naughtiness,” and, by the end of the poem, having exhausted all manner of cultic and sacrificial devices, he comes up with the true offering: Shall I my Sin Pouch lay, on thy Gold Bench My Offering, Lord, to thee? I’ve such alone But have no better . . . . And shall mine Offering by thine Altars fire Refin’d, and sanctifi’d to God aspire? (43-45, 47-48) His wealth, his purse, his very man-self, has been splayed upon the sacrificial table. He voluntarily submits, even humiliates, himself. But he pleads for God to refrain from permanently rejecting (or excising) his manhood. In place of his dilapidated offering he prays, Lord let thy Deity mine Altar bee And make thy Manhood on’t my sacrifice. (55-56) At the last minute, by design, the incarnation is invoked. Jesus Christ’s deity is Taylor’s altar, and, more importantly, Jesus Christ’s “Manhood” is the substitute in lieu of Taylor’s own. Christ’s manhood is acceptable, for, exchanged for the Christic substitute, it harmonizes perfectly with the divine. Taylor is spared. He has kept his purse – but now with Christ as his “Mony” ringing within it. The holy coins, replete with honor and authority, fill the poet’s container.

Again in meditation II.9. This time Taylor compares himself to Moses, who must endure the fiery glory of the Lord.

  I long to see thy sun upon mee shine,
  But feare I’st finde my selfe thereby shown worse
  Yet let his burning beams melt, and refine
  Me from my dross, yet not to singe my purse. (55-58)

The radiance of God fascinates and threatens Taylor. He recognizes that the “burning beams” are for the purification of his wealth, his coins, but still he fears that God will “singe my purse.” The literal meaning simply plays out the metaphor, wanting his money refined in such a way in that everything else is not ablaze in the process. Still, in Taylor’s paradigm, this can only mean the fear of permanent damage and dissolution through psychospiritual emasculation. Exchanging one’s coins for purification’s sake is one thing; having one’s sack burnt off quite another. Submitting to circumcision one thing; facing irreparable de-sexing something quite different. Fortunately, God has not neutered him, or, if he has, has done so temporarily in order to fill his purse with gold. Taylor remains the bag, the container. Christ has become the gold coins, Taylor’s new manhood, Taylor’s new wealth.  He can now return to his home, his church and town with a new, robust, manly authority direct from God Himself.  If gynesis emphasizes Taylor’s renewed authenticity, the divine masculization shows that authenticity to be (for him at least) the ground of earthly male authority.


Edward Taylor: Playing the Woman

21 February 2009

puritansculptureBecoming a female is no new thing for male devotional writers in the Christian tradition.  Theologians and mystics have often resorted to feminine alter (“altar”?) egos to speak of their response to a proactive, authoritative God.  American Puritans did the same thing by reading biblical erotica in terms of the believer’s spiritual intimacy with God.  Edward Taylor embraces this tradition through an anagogical reading of the Song of Solomon in his Preparatory Meditations, interlacing it with the New Testament motif of the Church as the bride of Christ.

Consider how Taylor chooses to emphasize metaphors of womb-like receptivity.  He writes, “My Silver Chest a Sparke of Love up locks,” explaining how when the penitent’s chest sees Christ’s beauty, “Her Downy Bosom opes” (I.4.1,5).  More often this receptiveness is construed in terms of a “Cabbinet,” where the body houses the soul, and the soul houses Christ:

     Oh! that my Soul . . .
     Might be thy Cabbinet, of Pearle of Price.
     Oh! let thy Pearle, Lord Cabbinet in mee
I’st then be rich! nay rich enough for thee. (I.2.13, 16-18) 

This “Cabbinet” is a shoddy home for Christ’s presence, but Christ overlooks its poverty and deems it acceptable.  God is at work in this implantation.  As Michael North puts it, “The pearl, God’s donation, comes sperm-like into the soul; its growth into full glory is implicit in it, promised in the original donation.” Sperm-like indeed: “The Soule’s the Womb,” Taylor says plainly in II.80.31, and “Christ is the spermodote.”  Taylor wishes to bear God’s holy seed (II.4.25-26), pregnant with divine glory.

Albert Gelpi explains how this was an acceptable pattern of Puritan humility for Taylor, who, among the “Christian poets who saw their manhood broken by God’s holy lust,” became women before God.  God reigns in supreme power, righteousness and honor, so if masculinity is characterized by potentia, then one may deduce that God himself is the masculine by which all other things become feminine.  Even male saints must enact a gendered drama and become passive partners to their saving, being wooed by Him.  Ivy Schweitzer calls this process “gynesis,” playing the woman in order to signify “a rhetorical position of subordination and subservience to God.”

Much of Taylor’s poetry presents this marriage to God in frightful, forceful ways.  God drills a new heart in him.  God overcomes him at every turn.  This is for male poets “the logic of spiritual conversion – figured as a rape or ravishment, or, at the very least, a welcomed intrusion – to position themselves in relation to God and Christ as feminized, deauthorized, and self-denying souls.”  A man must be violated for his own good, which, by God’s hand, actually means un-defilement.  The divine rape is not rape after all.  It is regeneration.

Suffice it to say that Taylor recruits his feminine alter-ego for the claiming of authenticity. It enacts the drama of humiliation and glorification by God, Schweitzer’s “model of redeemed subjectivity.”  The bride of Christ archetypally, apart from the inconvenient particulars of real women, permits space for Taylor to empty himself and receive the fullness of grace, all in the form of  “the Other who completes him in the mystical and ecclesiastic sense.”  He comes away from his private piety cleansed and whole, intact as a man – if only because he has not wagered himself as such.  Or has he?

[See next post]