Where you can find masculine affection today...

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I saw two men hugging in public last weekend. Actually, it wasn’t two, it was about two hundred. And they weren’t just hugging, they were lung-burstingly singing and dancing with their arms around each other.

No, it wasn’t a same-sex “wedding.”

It was a soccer game.

Never seen men, mostly white and in their 20s-40s, let out all of their emotions and show affection with other men? Go visit your local Major League Soccer game, sit near the “supporter’s section,” and see what happens.

There’s glory, there’s conflict, and there’s male emotion in spades....

You can say it’s fueled by alcohol, and that’s certainly true. You can say it’s hedonistic and done in service of less than noble ideals, and I’d agree. But, doesn’t it mean something that men let themselves go here in ways they don’t elsewhere?

By the way, this scene has also been spread wide and far this week, hasn’t it?

Image credit: Ezra Shaw / Getty Images

This kind of public male affection is unusual today, but it’s common in history, and not just at big sporting events. Anthony Esolen brings out a number of examples, from Abraham Lincoln to Edmund Spenser.

Do we forget that Jesus’s beloved disciple reclined in his lap and leaned back on his breast? Who among us would be caught dead doing that today?

The pagan world also knew this kind of non-homoerotic, masculine affection. Here’s a fascinating little vignette, from one of Plato’s most intimate dialogues, the Phaedo. This comes after right after two young men, Simmias and Cebes, have raised objections to Socrates’ argument that the soul is immortal. And, no, Plato did not approve of homosexuality:

Phaedo: I have certainly often admired Socrates, Echecrates, but never more than on this occasion. That he had a reply is perhaps not strange. What I wondered at most in him was the pleasant, kind, and admiring way he received the young men’s argument, and how sharply he was aware of the effect the discussion had on us, and then how well he healed our distress and, as it were, recalled us from our flight and defeat and turned us around to join him in the examination of their argument.

Echecrates: How did he do this?

Phaedo: I will tell you. I happened to be sitting on his right by the couch on a low stool, so that he was sitting well above me. He stroked my head and pressed the hair on the back of my neck, for he was in the habit of playing with my hair at times. “Tomorrow, Phaedo,” he said, “you will probably cut this beautiful hair.”

Likely enough, Socrates, I said.

Not if you take my advice, he said.

Why not? Said I.

It is today, he said, that I shall cut my hair and you yours, if our argument dies on us, and we cannot revive it. If I were you and the argument escaped me, I would take an oath, as the Argives did, not to let my hair grow before I fought again and defeated the argument of Simmias and Cebes.”

A fatherly and sonly affection – sometimes in large public places, sometimes in small gatherings – what a beautiful thing.

Can the church harness any of this? Why should sports be the only place left where this can come out? Is there nothing more glorious than the New York Red Bulls for which we can learn songs together and say,

For her my tears shall fall

For her my prayers ascend

For her my cares and toils be given

'Till toils and cares shall end.

Perhaps sporting events are the only masculine spaces left where men can show affection without being accused of effeminacy or homosexuality? Perhaps sporting events are the only places left where large groups of clearly masculine men gather to press forward together for victory over a menacing enemy?

Perhaps our churches and families and communities would lose their distaste for masculinity if they could regularly see this masculine affection on glorious display?

Dr. Talcott earned his Ph.D. in philosophy from Indiana University — Bloomington after majoring in philosophy at Hillsdale College. David resides in Plainfield, New Jersey with his wife, Anna, and six children. He is an Elder at Covenant Presbyterian Church of Millburn and Short Hills (PCA), and an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at The King's College in New York City.