Chivalry’s Death is Good News

I’ve taken it on the chin more than once when I’ve opined that chivalry is bunk. Some people respond that they like chivalry because it’s a reminder of good manners, some say it’s good for “gentlemen” to treat “ladies” well, and others insist that chivalry is biblical.

I call bunk on all three.

To caution against chivalry is not the same as tossing good manners aside. I hold the door for people – women and men – at almost every opportunity, and the times I don’t are usually when they’re holding the door for me. That’s good manners right there, so there’s no need to play the chivalry card.

For those who are into the ladies-and-gentlemen motif, the truth is that there’s no need to treat women like “ladies”. There is, on the other hand, every reason to treat one another with love in the name of Jesus. So let’s not cloud the issue by deciding what’s gentlemanly and what’s ladylike. Let’s instead focus on Jesus and what it means to be women and men who belong to him.

And for those who say that chivalry is a system based on Scripture, I have news. No it’s not. It’s based on customs in feudal palaces which included knights trying to get women to choose them over their fellows by coming up with the best love poetry and bashing other knights in feats of strength. (I simplify, but you get the picture.) The Church coopted the chivalric customs to include piety and chastity, but those were not the main aims at the beginning.

Calling Out Chivalry

One of the best of P.G. Wodehouse’s characters is Joan Valentine. In Something Fresh she and Ashe Marson finds themselves rivals in trying to recover an inadvertently purloined artifact – an Egyptian scarab of the Fourth Dynasty. The rightful owner has offered a princely sum for its return and Joan and Ashe are two people who need the cash desperately. It’s that desperation that drives them onward in the face of an opponent intent on keeping the scarab safe from any counter-purloiners.

So Joan and Ashe decide to work in partnership. Ashe’s idea of the partnership, though, is that he will take on the risk-filled recovery duties while Joan doesn’t. Joan has news for Ashe.

It won’t do, Mr. Marson. You remind me of an old cat I once had. Whenever he killed a mouse, he would bring it into the drawing-room and lay it affectionately at my fee. I would reject the corpse with horror and turn him out, but back he would come with his loathsome gift. I simply couldn’t make him understand that he was not doing me a kindness. He thought highly of his mouse, and it was beyond him to realize that I did not want it. You are just the same with your chivalry. It’s very kind of you to keep offering me your dead mouse, but, honestly, I have no use for it. I won’t take favors just because I happen to be a female. If we are going to form this partnership, I insist on doing my fair share of the work, and running my fair share of the risks.

As Joan Valentine pointed out, chivalry is a corpse, a dead mouse laid at the feet of someone who not only doesn’t want it but doesn’t need it.

I also see chivalry as a dead and empty set of rules that get in the way of doing what Jesus told us is important. But to understand how chivalry gets in the way we first need to understand that rules and codes of conduct are not at all godly:

These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence. (Colossians 2:22-23.)

Regulations of conduct may appear wise, but as Paul said “they lack any value.”

The other problem with chivalry is it puts men and women into different categories that the Bible tells us just don’t exist. Chivalry as thought of in modern times – and as noted in that Wodehouse scene above – is based on the notion that women and men are fundamentally different. This is a dangerous way for us to act, because when we order our lives around this in a worldly sense it can interfere with proper conduct in alignment with the much more important spiritual reality.

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28.)

Men and women are not fundamentally different in any sense that matters in eternity. And this brings us to the basic problem with acting according to wrongheaded notions of chivalry.

It gets in the way of how Jesus told us to treat one another:

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:12.)

and,

Love your neighbor as yourself. (Mark 12:31.)

It’s not about men always holding the door for a woman, or holding her chair, or carrying her packages, or picking up the dinner tab rather than suffer the supposed shame of a woman paying for your meal, or whatever notions of what it means to be chivalrous one might have.

It’s about treating people well, with love and consideration for what they need. And it’s about people, not about men stepping in to do things for women as if there were rules we had to follow. No, it’s about women and men doing things for each other out of a loving response to what Jesus taught us.

You want to hold the door for someone? Go right ahead. But don’t tell me it’s because you’re a man and she’s a woman. Do it because you are a child of God and you care for the people – men and women both – that he puts in your life each day.

That’s better than a dead mouse any day.

***

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17 Responses to Chivalry’s Death is Good News

  1. Pastor Bob says:

    First Comment …… It is Friday………

    Many will use the terms “good manners” and “chivalry” as synonyms until they pass to His presence. The younger among us are not familiar with the term “chivalry” and will use it sparingly at best. many a wedding, many a formal occasion, funny how the rules “chivalry” have survived, with some modifications.

    It is STILL considered to leave a party early, unless the guest of honor has arrived. I saw a Three Star General hold the door for his inferior (ranked) aide, a woman.
    To this day many il walk with hi on the outside on the sidewalk, and when told the history of why are amazed and STILL do it.

    To seek out the practice and term for criticism based on the root cause is noble and an interesting intellectual pursuit. At 85 years old, my father the Korean vet, lets younger women hold the door for him. – If I remember correctly, that is modern chivalry -aka respect.

    The term “chivalry” may die, but if we need an archaic moniker to remind of ‘good manners’,
    so be it.

    • Tim says:

      Good manners is kindness in action, I think, and kindness is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. Chivalry that perpetuates gender roles is different, of course, and can get in the way of living in the Spirit.

  2. Carmen S. says:

    It would be more helpful to bring this discussion into the year 2016 rather than Jane Austin’s 1813. Gender Spectrum’s training document given to middle-school teachers instructs teachers to not use words such as “boys and girls” and “ladies and gentlemen.”

    The reason Jesus always referred to His mother as “Woman” is because of Genesis 3:15. Jesus Christ was the seed of the woman.

    • Tim says:

      The reference to Austen was for historical background on the terms “gentlemen” and “ladies”, and I think it completely useful for this post.

  3. Carmen S. says:

    Mr. Daniel Kok, Escondido United Reformed Church, sermon on Colossians 2: 22-23……
    Buddhism seeks to not eat meat because that makes them more holy before their god. Roman Catholicism exalts virginity and denies the priest marriage because they think this makes them more holy and consecrated before God. The Colossians glorified denying the flesh in ways that might not need to be denied….food and drink. In Acts 10 Peter is told what God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy. God has required these restrictions in the past to teach the Israelites to be holy, but now some are binding others to these observances, and even beyond what God had required in the Old Covenant. This is the death principle of the world—-to abstain from things God has called good.

    These Scripture verses have nothing to do with rules and codes of conduct that are ungodly in the manner that you have written.

    • Tim says:

      I don’t know Mr. Kok but I do know other pastors who have preached the Colossians passage along the lines that I have used it here, thanks.

  4. Lilly says:

    Chivalry naturally groups in the whole of women under its “protect the weak” statement. I’d feel much better about chivalry if women could be considered “chivalrous” and “noble” too, given how many times I’ve held a door open for a man struggling with an ungainly package, paid for men’s meals because they had no money to pay for themselves, etc. But at some point, I agree that chivalry is generally just a skewed and archaic understanding of the higher biblical truth to love one’s neighbor as oneself–short, sweet, to the point.

    This conversation reminds me: I once went on a date with someone who bought me a drink. I told him thank you, but I could get it. He pressed further. I began to cave in because I didn’t want to create a scene, but I admitted that I felt bad, given that I certainly had the money to pay for myself. Instead of any semi-reasonable response (such as, “This is my treat because I asked you here”), he put the drink in my hand and said, “Well. Feel bad.”

    The majority of said relationship went the same way, until I could not even speak without obtaining derision because I defied his understanding of how I was supposed to act. It heavily altered me. But I imagine the man did himself no favors either by adhering to traditional gender roles simply because they existed.

    Thank you, chivalry.

    • Tim says:

      It’s as if he said, “Who cares what you think? I’ll treat you the way I think you should be treated whether you like it or not.” I’m glad that is in the past for you, Lilly.

    • Jen says:

      Lilly: I’m so sorry that you had that experience, and it’s great that it’s in the past. In college in the mid-80s, I kinda’ sorta’ dated a guy who “believed in chivalry” to paraphrase him. I say “kinda sorta” because after a few weeks, I didn’t like what I saw as indicators of an obsession with chivalry. After going to dinner one evening, we walked back to his car. He opened the door for me and I got him. I reached over to unlock his door from the inside. Instead of being thankful, he was insulted. So, I went, “Wow” inside my head. I suppose that one could say, “What’s the big deal? It’s just manners.” With some men, such as the one you dated and the one I dated, it seems like con
      trol.

  5. Laura Droege says:

    Excellent post, Tim. It was one of my top rated from last year, and for good reason!

  6. “The strong protect the weak.” is one of the principles of the Kingdom.

    “The men protect the women.” is one of the supposed principles of chivalry.

    See the distortion and even perversion of a Kingdom principle? It is like a partial truth masquerading as the full truth.

  7. deelmo says:

    Tim, love, love, love this post. It reminds me of when Jesus called out the Pharisees for doing things in public for ‘show’. Chivalry is a man-made ‘add-on Phariseetic rule’. You are correct is saying that respect for all, love for all, good-manners for ALL – is more of Jesus command. Love you neighbor. And neighbor doesn’t mean do more for your ‘lady’ neighbors than your ‘gentleman’ neighbors.

  8. Does this mean I can take this armor off, now? (And don’t get me started on this lance – it is SO inconvenient… I mean, have you even TRIED to go through revolving doors while carrying a lance?)

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