Chivalry is Dead? That’s Some of the Best News I’ve Heard

I’m very pleased to have Tim Fall writing for my blog today. He always has unusual and thought-provoking posts, and he has the unique ability to take anything–even a dead mouse, as you’ll see–and turn it into a profound illustration. Enjoy!

Chivalry is Dead? That’s Some of the Best News I’ve Heard

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 Catholic 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 apparently 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.

Tim Fall
Tim Fall

[Tim is a California native who changed his major three times, colleges four times, and took six years to get a Bachelor’s degree in a subject he’s never been called on to use professionally. Married for over 27 years with two kids (both graduated – woohoo!) his family is constant evidence of God’s abundant blessings in his life. He and his wife live in Northern California. He blogs, and is on Twitter and Facebook too.]

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14 thoughts on “Chivalry is Dead? That’s Some of the Best News I’ve Heard

  1. Thanks for this post, Tim — nice to see you here at Laura’s place. It strikes me that if we paid more attention to doing what the Bible DOES tell us to do, and a lot less time on things that are never mentioned there (and even warned against), the world would be a lot better off. At my women’s study recently we got into a discussion of showing “respect” in church and how that translates into the way we dress. Most people felt that dressing-down (jeans, shorts) was disrespectful and since we’d dress up to go see the Queen, we should dress up to go see the King of kings. Yet the Bible never says to dress up when we gather as God’s people; in fact women are cautioned not to be overly adorned with fancy clothing and jewelry. And of course so many of our clothing norms are totally cultural and have little to do with the state of our hearts. So I think you make a great point here about not letting human rules guide our lives.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. That discussion on clothes is another good example of what people think they have to do to pleases God, when we are told in the Bible that what it takes to please God is faith in Jesus. No amount of proper dressing or chivalrous behavior will please him without it. (Hebrews 11:6.)

      Oh, and on dressing up for church, here’s how my family does it:

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I was taught a similar thing: we dress up for church to show respect for God. But when I become stressed out by the need to “dress up”, then I’m less likely to enter the worship service in a worshipful state of mind. I brought this up in our Sunday school class a few weeks ago. We were discussing corporate worship, and how we could prepare our hearts for worship. All the men started talking about meditation, Bible reading, etc. I piped up (I can’t seem to keep my mouth shut now) with “we can lower our expectations of what we have to look like!” I explained how, as a female and a mom, I can become sooooo stressed by what-do-I-wear???? and want to look perfect (ha!) and want my kids to look good (because that shows I’m doing my mama-stuff “correctly”, right?) that I enter the sanctuary totally frazzled. This was doubly true when my kids were itty-bitty and needed diaper bags, etc.; I had to get all that stuff together before church. So I learned to pack the bag the night before. But I’ve also had to learn that it’s okay if I don’t look terrific for church, the kids aren’t wearing matching socks, and no one’s Easter outfit looks straight from a department store ad. God wants my heart and mind focussed on him, not on whether I’ve got a run in my hose or smeared mascara or Easter bonnet!

      Liked by 3 people

  2. I want to weigh in on this, since I have posted before about the “R” word I instill in children and youth. So the journey begins.

    From Wikipedia (always good to quote the sources used there):
    Over time, its meaning has been refined to emphasise social and moral virtues more generally. And the Code of Chivalry, as it stood by the Late Middle Ages, was a moral system which combined a warrior ethos, knightly piety, and courtly manners, all conspiring to establish a notion of honour and nobility.
    ((Johan Huizinga remarks in his book The Waning of the Middle Ages, “the source of the chivalrous idea, is pride aspiring to beauty, and formalised pride gives rise to a conception of honour, which is the pole of noble life”. Huizinga, The Waning of the Middle Ages (1919) 1924:58.)) —— This is the Wiki page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chivalry–

    Chivalry is not dead, nor should it eve be. The societal rules are enshrined in the respect we show to all. Chivalry is all of the good shown epically the good manners. As you have written on the subject you have demonstrated all of the good graces of “courtly manners” that one would expect.

    Chivalry is not the bad manners you have commented on. it is not addressing anyone with a term that is not socially accepted nor personally accepted. it is not using terms incorrectly. I have been around many young women, girls, older women and some of them would not qualify for the adjective of “lady” or “lady-like.” To the matriarchs in our lives, this would a term that is earned.

    I her the word “men” I think of adult males who have undefined social graces. Nothing bad, the term is as generic as “human.” The term “gentlemen” embodies the the social graces we would expect. In the name of courtesy and respect I have been guilty of using “ladies and gentlemen” even when it may be overly complimentary.

    Having posted before about weddings (and other formal ceremonies) there was a wedding a few years ago and it was the rehearsal. One of the bridesmaids was walking with huge ungainly steps. I stopped her and spent the next few minutes teaching her how to walk with more of the majestic poise the ceremony called for. The words of “majestic” fell on deaf ears. When I said “walk like a lady” she understood, and her mother was giggling. Her words, “I have been trying to tell you this for years.”

    As a Christian of the male persuasion, I know many who have failed in areas of gentlemanly conduct. Older men are tasked with sharing, instructing, guiding and (if necessary) forcing correct behaviors upon our young men to share these key aspects of “gentlemanly” behavior.

    Chivalry is not dead, but like societal rules, based on absolutes with varying and changing measures of application, it needs to adapt. Largely it has, but when the man holds the door and responds to the “Thank you!” with something discourteous, that is NOT chivalrous nor courteous.

    Chivalry and courtesies expanded, modern day — http://nljc.com/

    Simplicity says stop here, hoping that an examination of the whole concept helps. Remember the “R” word is — Respect.

    Like

    1. PB, I think you’re describing politeness and calling it chivalry. I was using chivalry in the more every day sense of men doing things for women just because they’re women. Maybe I wasn’t clear enough in the post, but I thought that’s what I said in it.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. I love this post. I think chivalry is silly and antiquated, and can be patronizing.

    In my work building the doors are heavy and the first person in a group to reach the door holds it open for the rest. Gender just doesn’t come into it.

    As Tim says, “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.”

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Patronizing is a good word for it, Marg. As you say, gender really shouldn’t come into it at all. It isn’t necessary and it can actually distract us form God’s kingdom truth that to God there is no female or male.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. I like what you said, Tim, about this (human-made) issue being distracting from the truth. Just this morning, I was thinking about this issue of distraction within the church, how we make issues out of trivial things, ignore things that don’t relate to our day-to-day lives, and miss the big picture of what our purpose is. Very sad.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you so much for calling chivalry out for what it is! I will gladly lay a flower on its grave, and then raise a glass to thoughtfulness from all to all without any regard whatsoever to gender!! About time!

    Liked by 2 people

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