We need knew knights, but without swords.
Some years ago, a friend told me a story from his life. He had been dating this young lady for some considerable time, but he refused to make a commitment to her. Wanting to force the issue, this lady informed my friend that she was pregnant. His response to this was immediate. "You need to abort." Naturally, she burst into tears, and that was the end of that relationship. She was not actually pregnant but had merely said so for reasons that I will make clear as we go along. But I hope that you can agree with me that this episode is shameful and tragic.
When I meet a man, I put him in one of two categories. He is either a knight, or he is a barbarian. The Gentle Reader asks, "What is the difference?" The difference is in two worldviews. The knight is a man of faith and virtue who does not prey on the weak but defends and protects them. The barbarian is a man of violence and vice seeking to fulfill his lust and greed. He is without faith, and the weak are subjugated to him. But most of the time, he is just a pathetic jerk.
The lady with the false pregnancy was with a barbarian, but she hoped with her ruse to find a knight underneath the slime. The leopard would change his spots this time and become what he was not. But he was exactly what he was which was a barbarian. You can feel sympathy for this lady because she wants what all women want which is a knight. But this is not an age of knights but an age of barbarians.
Most men today are barbarians. The culture celebrates the barbarian and idolizes him in the form of the gangster and the pimp. In a prior generation, the culture celebrated the knight in the form of the cowboy and the patriotic soldier. But as nihilism took hold in the sixties and the seventies, virtue became equated with stupidity and weakness. The good guy became a chump.
Most men today are adolescents. They play video games and dress like children. They do not marry if they can help it, and they are unfaithful when they do marry. They do not go to church or pray. They listen to silly music about the most banal of things like cars and alcoholic beverages and loose women. Many of them are unemployable preferring to spend their days living off parents or unemployment while smoking large amounts of dope. I can go on and on here.
Who is to blame for this? I could put the blame squarely on a generation that denigrated the Christian faith. I could blame the women's movement of the 1970's that did more to liberate men than it did to liberate women. I could blame fathers for not raising their sons to be men. I could blame religion for not being more robust in promoting the virtues. But I must confess that the barbarian has always been there even in times when knighthood was celebrated.
In better times, no one typified on the screen the knight more than John Wayne. Wayne was the epitome of what all men wanted to be. He was tough, but he was the good guy. Offscreen, Wayne was nothing like the good guys he portrayed on screen. He was an alcoholic and an adulterer. He was a phony. This fact is what would make the Baby Boom generation rebel against their parents. It was the belief that they were phonies.
The phoniness theme found its most potent expression in Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye published in 1951. The narrator Holden Caulfield repeatedly decries phonies and the phoniness of the world. For some reason, this novel about an angst ridden adolescent found resonance with an angst ridden adolescent generation. But phoniness is just another word for hypocrisy. So, you have one generation that lauded virtue but made a mockery of it with their lives, and you have another generation that simply mocked virtue altogether. In this period, knighthood died. Holden Caulfield killed it.
You can see Holden Caulfield in every douchebag that wears his cap backwards and sags his pants. And what is their defense? They are keepin' it real. Basically, it is easier and better to be a real failure than to try and live by a code and become a phony in the process. Being a knight is a fantasy.
When a barbarian meets a knight, he is apoplectic and shocked. Then, the questions begin all aimed at trying to find the chink in the armor. Do you look at porn? Do you cheat on your wife? When the barbarian can't find what he seeks, he creates it through defamation of character. The knight must fall. He must pull a Lancelot, betray his king, and run off with the queen. Why is there so much desire to see the knight disgraced? The answer is obvious. The knight shows a better way. He creates an option for men who have come to believe that their only options are to be barbarians.
The way of knighthood begins and ends with faith. Every man I put in the category of knight is a man of religious faith. He prays and attends church. His life is dedicated to God. I don't think it is possible to be a knight without the help of God. God's grace is what turns a barbarian into a knight.
The image of a knight is a man clad with armor and a sword, but this is not what a knight is in the modern world. The knight is simply a decent fellow who keeps his word, is faithful to his wife, provides for his family, and raises his children in faith and virtue by both word and deed. This is very simple stuff here. Yet, where are the knights? Sad to say, I know more barbarians than knights. Most men I meet are a disgrace.
It is hard to be a knight in today's world. How can you be a faithful husband to a faithless wife? How can you provide for your family when the company you work for cheats you at every turn and lays you off on a whim? How can you be a good father to children who mock and abandon everythig you teach them? How can you believe in God when everything in life is so rotten and bad? No matter how you look at it, the knight in today's world faces an uphill and losing battle. He looks more like Don Quixote than Sir Galahad.
The choice to be a knight is not an easy one nor will it necessarily be a successful one. The world is such a joke today that to be a knight in it is to literally be a fool. But this is what makes a knight. The knight defies the world in all its lunacy and depravity. It is less about changing the world than remaining undefiled by the world. This is what it means to have courage. It is standing firm while the cowards run away with their tails tucked between their legs.
The world needs new knights. Men are clowns. They dress like clowns and act like clowns. And they don't even have the self-awareness to recognize their ridiculous state. The better path is always the harder path, but it is worth taking. Knighthood is forged in faith and adversity. Chivalry may be dead in the world, but it doesn't have to remain dead. We can always take it back if we remember what we were and what we can be again.