Author Paul Coughlin explains how many Christian men have come to falsely believe that passivity is a biblical virtue, and encourages those men to courageously engage their families, community and the culture at large. (Part 1 of 2)
Jim Daly: I'm Jim Daly, in the studio with Paul Coughlin and Paul, I want to ask you a question right out of the gate. What's wrong with being a nice Christian guy?
Paul Coughlin: Well, if it's genuine niceness, there's really nothing wrong with that. The world needs more of that, but in many cases, it is the sin of cowardice and passivity in disguise.
End of Teaser
John Fuller: Well, now that's probably not the answer you expected to hear from our guest, but he's with us to unpack that and talk a little bit more about the subject of men and courage and being nice and being good. This is "Focus on the Family" with Jim Daly. I'm John Fuller and I'm lookin' forward to the conversation, Jim.
Jim: I am, too, John and one of the reasons is, I think we are confused as men in the culture, Western culture in particular. We're really lost about what it means to be a man. What does it mean to embrace godly characteristics, yet still be forceful in a culture that I think, in so many ways and I don't mean to offend any women, but there is a feminization in the culture where being close to those emotions and feelings fit well with political correctness, but it's not how we're wired. And men are struggling mightily to figure out, especially Christian men, who are we? What can we stand up for? What is right to stand up for? And how do we do it in a way that's consistent with God's character? So, I'm looking forward to the conversation. Paul, let me first welcome you back.
Paul: It is great to be back. Thank you very much.
John: And Paul Coughlin is a journalist, a coach. He's written a number of books and the one we want to talk about today is called No More Christian Nice Guy: When Being Nice Instead of Good Hurts Men, Women and Children, really intriguing stuff.
Jim: Hey, Paul, you know, for me, when I hear that, I think, okay some guy that's gonna talk about the goodness of bein' tough. That may not be necessarily (Laughter) what you're drivin' at, so I think all the John Wayne and all of those guys just kinda rose up and nodded, "All right, let's listen to what this guy has to say."
Paul: Well, good. I'm glad that's the case. You know, I think maybe we should go to a definition of masculinity. Years ago, when the book was first written, I was interviewed by "Nightline." I was asked by one of the reporters, "What is masculinity?" It's an interesting question. The word's only been around about 100 years.
Jim: Is that right?
Jim: It's only been around 100 years?
Paul: It's only been around; now the concept has been around longer than that—
Paul: --but the word itself has only appeared about 100, maybe 150 years ago. And to me, I think in regard to the believing community, if we're to define "masculinity," it is love bolstered by courage. It is a courageous expression of love. I mean, we're supposed to be all about love. That's what Jesus said. That is what His Father said and that has been the teaching of the church forever. So this isn't really anything new, but I think love expresses itself a little different[ly] through men. It tends to, or at least it should be more courageous.
Jim: When we look at that and I think that is the definition. I think men, even as boys, there's a distinction there. And I know a lot of people are gonna be up in arms. You know, we shouldn't differentiate between the genders. Brain science, neuroscience is showing there is a vast difference in how we're wired and it's self-evident. I mean, when you have boys and girls when you're raising them, you see it.
Jim: Boys want to jump in the trees. They want to swing. They will make guns out of dolls. They will do the things that boys do. While girls tend to be more social, more interactive with each other, more willing to play nice and do those things. Boys are just different.
Jim: Talk about the difference between "good" and "nice." What do you mean by that difference?
Paul: Yeah and I'm just talking about myself in many ways. I looked at my niceness, particularly at church and I began to realize, it really wasn't nice at all. It was a hiding place. I used that persona, it was a shield really that I wore. And it was designed to be unknowable in many ways.
Paul: I didn't really want to get to know other people that much because I think deep inside, I kinda feared being known and knowing other people. And so, I saw that in myself, but then I saw men who weren't that way. And I wanted to be more like them. And I wasn't sure why I was the way that I was, why I put on this fake smile all the time. But I eventually, got to the root of it and hopefully moved toward the good side
Paul: You know what's interesting is that in the entire Bible, the word "nice" is never used to describe a fruit of the Holy Spirit or the character of God. Yet, what is the greatest compliment that you can give a person at church? Oh, they're the nicest person. I'll tell you, that if you show me the nicest person at church, you will need to be a little careful sometimes, because though nice people aren't necessarily going to do bad things to you, they're not going to be there during difficult times. They don't have what it takes. They don't have the horsepower. They especially don't have the courage to stand by you during tough times.
Jim: Well, you're saying so much here. I mean, there's like four bullets that jump into my mind when you start talking about this. The difference between good and nice, nice not being a fruit of the Spirit. Let's talk about the fruit of the Spirit. There is gentleness and kindness.
Paul: There is.
Jim: That's different from nice.
Paul: It is. And you know, the world needs more gentleness and kindness, not less. And of course, I … when talking about this book and this topic, I'm not saying we should have less of either one of those. We need more, but what I'm really talking about is a fake niceness, something that appears, well, it'll just be great. In church we will often see this person who has a gentle spirit to them.
And I hope that's true, but you can also find out a little more from that person, whether or not it is genuine or just the fact that, that person doesn't care. Do you know some people that we are going to church with, never get angry, not because of the fruit of the Spirit, but because they're indifferent to the suffering and difficulties of other people.
Sometimes it's a sin not to get angry. We should be angry about things that make God angry. Most nice people that we know in church, they don't do that. That tells you that it really isn't a complete personality that we're looking for, that we're supposed to embody ourselves.
Jim: Well, and you were very vulnerable a moment ago to talk about hiding behind your niceness. Let's talk about that a bit, if you're willing, 'cause I think it kinda gets to the nut of the whole thing. Why in this culture, do we try to hide behind niceness? What does niceness bring us?
Paul: Yeah, well, you know what? It brings you just enough "attaboys" to make you want to keep doing it over and over because of the compliments that you get from other people. And that was my life, but then I realized it's a shell. I was really fearful. I had fear in the driver's seat of my life, but I didn't really know it. So, a lot of niceness is driven by passivity. I was very passive and fearful of things that didn't really quite make sense, largely because of my upbringing.
Jim: Well, do you know where those origins are for those emotions, being nice, being passive, lacking courage? What were the antecedents for that? Where did that come from?
Paul: Well, mostly fear and anxiety, it's just that I just didn't feel very comfortable in this world. I didn't really feel very comfortable with myself and I certainly didn't feel comfortable with other people. And if I had to be honest, I would have to say that I wasn't really comfortable with the character and the nature of God. I kinda thought He was out to get me most of the time.
Jim: Talk about that. Why? The reason I'm asking is, I think a lot of men and perhaps some women will identify that and unpack that for us though.
Paul: Well, and they will. In the 10 years of this book, I've referred more people to Focus on the Family (Laughter) to your counseling center, than honestly, than I could count. I just did so on the flight here. Someone sent me an e-mail and I-
Jim: That's great.
Paul: --put it to you guys. And you guys, you're that national resource that works out so well. My passivity came again from just really thinking that to me, life was like a foxhole. I felt that I just needed to keep my head down in all cases all the time and then I would somehow get through this life unscathed, which is technically true, but it's a horrible way to live, because you never get anywhere. There's no way you're going to parent from a foxhole.
But I didn't really know that fear was in the driver's seat of my life. It wasn't until I talked to a counselor who explained to me the reason why you don't want to be in those social settings. The reason why you're not going to be emotionally available to your wife and your children is because fear is in the driver's seat of your life. We're familiar with the Scripture that, "Perfect love casts out fear." Very true. The inverse is also true. I speak from experience. Fear casts out love and the love that you can give when fear is in the driver's seat of your life, it's low-grade love. Your car ain't gonna run on it. It just doesn't run well.
Jim: I mean, that is powerful! And again, I think a lot of people are connecting with that. It's important though to figure out how do I identify this is me, 'cause there's elements of this. Let me say it this way. Most men are loners. We're wired that way I think. I think—
Paul: I've seen …
Jim: --the Scripture supports that in different ways, but you see it in social settings. You know, we'd rather hang out at the house than go to the birthday party. Our wives want us to go do something. We put up a stink. You know, I gotta clean out the garage. Seriously, I mean I'll do that at times with my wife, where I don't want to do that. I just want to be alone for a while. I want to hang out. I want to get organized. I want to, you know, do the things that will bring me some peace. That is typical of a lot of men, isn't it?
Paul: It is and I'm one of those people, as well. My wife is a well-known blogger, entertainment blogger and I think she would have company every night if I didn't say, "Honey, I gotta rest. I'm not as social as you." So, you're right, we are different, but we have to realize, too, that sometimes we use that man cave thing as an excuse not to be involved in this world. Sometimes it's not a desire always just for peace. It's a desire that we just don't care about other people that much and we are just indifferent to this world.
And we're not allowed to be that way. You know, I forget the French philosopher [who] said that, "No person is good unless they bear within their character antithesis strongly marked." That is an egghead way of saying that no one is good, unless we possess seemingly contradictory characteristics. I would say, in looking at the life of Jesus, this revolutionary character, that we see in Jesus that when other people were cold-hearted, He was incredibly tender. The shortest verse in the Bible, "Jesus wept," while others were probably cowardly and too afraid or not exactly sure. And then while other people would be, you know, incredibly cowardly, Jesus was as bold as a lion.
So, to be tender and tough is really the goal. It's not tender or. They do not contradict each other; they complete each other. Think of the people that we honor as nations. They're almost always people who were tender and tough. You looked at Abraham Lincoln, for example, one of the greatest, you know, Americans ever. We looked at the people who make nations weep. You think of Dostoevsky, the Solzhenitsyn, Harriet Tubb and Sojourner Truth, Martin Luther King, Wilberforce, Bonhoeffer, the list goes on and on. What did they possess? They were tender and tough. That is the direction we need to go.
Jim: Paul, there always seems to be that conflict. I look at those Scriptures and I'm looking at where Jesus was so tough, rightfully, on the Pharisees that had the veneer of righteousness. And I want to be so careful in my own faith, that I hear it and I grab it. I don't want to be that person that Jesus described as, although he can see, he was blind. I mean, that would be the greatest error to make in life. And especially to have it written down and then to act like the Pharisees, which really was to look down on people that weren't as righteous as you and think of yourself as far better than you should because Scripture's pretty clear, we're all sinners saved by grace, not by our works. It doesn't mean we don't do good things, but we do it out of a love for God.
So, I like that. Let's hit some of those Jesus moments, when He's going after the Pharisees, the vipers, that brood of vipers. What was He driving at from your research in your book?
Paul: Jesus is so tender and tough and the courage that comes out of Him is profound. And frankly, I think we overlook that courage. I think we see that profoundly in the woman caught in adultery. The Pharisees are trying to trip Him up with the Mosaic law. If He forgives her, then He breaks the law and they could discredit Him. And He knows this, of course. And so, this woman caught in adultery is dragged before Him. Interesting that the man is not dragged before Him, 'cause that's what bullies do. Bullies pick on the weak and the vulnerable.
Paul: And He's standing there and of course, He draws in the sand and He says those immortal words, "Let the person who is sinless throw the first stone." And as a people, as a world, we weep over that and rightly so, the compassion and the mercy. Forgetting all the while, if He doesn't have the courage to stand up to the biggest bullies of His day, the Pharisees, she's dead. Courage is the virtue that underpins all of the virtues. We cannot be compassionate consistently unless we possess it. And I'll tell you what. Christian nice guys, they don't have that courage.
Jim: Well, and I would say that recently I saw a photo of ISIS. I mean, we talk about that. It's in the news all the time. And it was a photo of probably a half a dozen men standing around a woman, supposedly caught in adultery. She was lying, in the photo, it looked like she was either dead or certainly in a fetal position, probably a dozen stones already laying by her side, other men about to throw them.
And that was exactly my thought. The courage Jesus must have had to stand in front of that group of men who were carrying out the righteous decree of God, to take care of that situation. That would take incredible courage. I put myself in that photo and thought, if I were there, would I be able to say, "Stop?" That takes incredible manliness, doesn't it?
Paul: Sure it does. You know, the Greek word for "manliness," andrea, is the same word for courage. They believed that we should be one and the same. And honestly, can we say that today in America right now? Here's how bad our definition of masculinity is. We actually believe that by watching a professional sports team, that somehow that puts money in our masculinity account.
Jim: Paul, I gotta tell you though, I'm guilty of that. I'll sit with my boys. We'll watch a good football game and I think we all feel a bit more masculine after that, but I get your point. IN fact, this confusion about masculinity that you're talkin' about reminds me of the reason we did The Family Project, which is a video and a curriculum, but it had that theme of fatherhood and fatherlessness and that cuts close to my heart, because I didn't have a dad. And I think many, many men in this culture are striving to find relationship in that way. What does it mean to be a man? And that series, I think, does a great job of presenting God's principles.
John: I'd agree, Jim and it seems that so many people have embraced The Family Project. If you don't know about it yet, stop by www.focusonthefamily.com/radio to see that and also Paul's book, No More Christian Nice Guy or call us and we can tell you more about those resources, 800-A-FAMILY.
Jim: Paul, I want to get back to this topic of courage and God's character in that regard, because I'm a bit perplexed by it. When I look at what I read in Scripture, courage to me is being able to stand with people who don't think the way you think, who don't agree with you and be able to talk with them. You're engaging them and hopefully, in doing that, you're showing the character of God in that moment, in their presence. And in doing so, it takes a great amount of courage and so often in the faith community today, many of us, we lack that ability to do that. It's far easier to throw a stone from a distance, rather [than] to engage them and actually talk through the issues. Why does abortion go against our senses, our God-ordained senses? Why does marriage carry a definition of one man and one woman? They need to hear from us, not just receive body blows from us, but that's the kind of love we're talkin' about. That's courageous love.
Paul: Yeah, you know, what's really interesting about that is yeah, we're supposed to speak the truth in love. It is difficult. It is an art and none of us seem to fully arrive there. It's a life-long ability to hone. What we're really talking about here is getting to the assertive personality type. There are roughly three kinds of personalities and I'm probably showing my age here, but I remember the original "American Idol," right. (Laughter) The original judges and we see they were chosen for a reason, 'cause they represent the three basic personality types. You had Simon Cowell. I think he put half of America into counseling. (Laughter)
Jim: The tough guy. The non-nonsense, straight shooter.
Paul: But you know what? Most of what he said was true.
Paul: But it didn't have grace. To be truthful without being gracious is like performing surgery without anesthesia. It gets the job done but it causes unnecessary suffering. And people don't really listen to you after a while. You have to earn the right to speak into a person's life. So, there's Simon Cowell. And then there was Paula Abdul, God bless her four-foot soul. She (Laughter) was gracious, but she wasn't truthful. She would say, I am a great singer and I'm horrible. I'm a horrible singer, but I'm sure she would say something nice about me. But she'd give me false hope. Those kind of people just really aren't going to steer you in a very good direction, 'cause we need wisdom in this world. And then you have Randy Jackson, who represents in many cases, the assertive personality. He was truthful, but also gracious. And what's really interesting, we need to keep this in mind, is that he also got booed.
It wasn't just Simon Cowell who got booed. Randy Jackson did, as well. So, when we take on this more assertive orientation toward life, we need to realize that criticism is coming, but at least we're being criticized for something that we, you know, you didn't really deserve. Nice people get criticized all the time, but it's usually behind their back and it's about the sins of omission. It's about the things that they didn't do that get them in trouble.
Jim: Paul, let me ask you, because you're talking about these personality types and how those are developed. You know, family of origin plays a significant role in that. You overcome your circumstances. Hopefully as Christians, you learn to absorb the pain of this world and turn it into something good, Romans 8:28, "All things work for good." It's hard. I mean, I have lived tough things as an orphan kid, but hopefully, God's grace is found in that and you can do better because you learned to subdue perhaps those more dark responses in what you learned. That's kinda your background, as well. Talk about your past and how you had to overcome and learn these things.
Paul: Yeah, thank you. You know, it's an interesting thing to address because I don't have great memories sometimes and that's consistent with abuse in the house. I would say that I had a parent who was highly mercurial. She would be at one time, unbelievably gracious. I was stunning really and then unbelievably sometimes just wicked. I mean, the things she would do and say. It was just stunning for a kid, stunning for me. And I had a sibling that would do something similar. It's where I learned really about bullying. I was bullied. It's the superior use of power with the intention to harm over time and for no good reason, victimization without provocation.
And I had other people, I had people in my home when I was a kid enjoy my pain and suffering. They enjoyed it. It brought them pleasure and glee, entertainment. I just gave you the definition of sadism. And I had to contend with this over and over and just [to] make a long story short, I learned to just go passive. I learned to get into a foxhole, which is actually a pretty good move when you're a little kid, but it's a horrible strategy for life when you have three kids and you have a wife and you're expected to defend the family. You can't do it.
Jim: And I want to tap into that passivity as an outcome of that. I mean, here you're being brutalized. I'm assuming you were one of the younger siblings.
Paul: Yeah, the youngest.
Jim: And because of that, you took the brunt of their jokes and their cruelty.
Paul: Absolute, unbelievable cruelty.
Jim: And that included physical abuse--
Paul: Oh, yeah.
Jim: --and emotional abuse. And from that, you began to form your worldview. I mean, you gotta protect yourself, so your little boy heart begins to put those mechanisms, some of which I believe are God given—
Paul: They are.
Jim: --for that protection. And you fear certain things and you move in certain directions and you dig your foxhole emotionally and you pile into it. The outcome of that though, as you talked about so briefly, that transition to becoming a husband and a father and what you do with those little-boy emotions that you learned. Talk about that for a minute. And many, many, I think, men live in that place, where we're all, as you talked to many of our wives, they'll refer to us as all little boys. And they tend to grab that better than we do. They see it, that we haven't fully blossomed, you know. What does that mean for a boy to fully blossom into a man?
Paul: Yeah, I love the Irish proverb. It says, "Do not trust a warrior who cannot cry." If you can't cry, you're not going to be in my inner circle, 'cause I don't trust people who don't cry. I don't trust men who are incapable of crying. If we don't cry over abject injustice, the pain and suffering of other people, you're not fully humanized yet. I want fully humanized people, integrated people, as John Townsend would put it, in my life. So, I love the warrior, but I want people who can also cry, as well. It goes back to what I said earlier, "antithesis strong marked." We seem to think that those contradict each other. They don't. They actually complement each other. You see the life of Jesus and a warrior who can cry. And that's the big one for me.
I'll tell you that when fear was in the driver's seat of my life, I clipped the highs and the lows. Emotions were very scary things to me, because when I saw emotions they were the fire-breathing kind of emotion.
Jim: Out of control.
Paul: Oh, and out of anger and frankly, evil. I've seen evil. And you know, it isn't the strikes that stick with you. It's the words, boy and those things will sear your soul. They're evil, those things. Well, you know, I experienced those and then, you know, Einstein said that all of us, in the smithy, in the blacksmith of our soul, have a fundamental question: Is the world a friendly place? How can you say yes in that case?
Paul: So, I thought, well, the best thing to do and no one writes this down, it's just a … it's an idea that you form; it's a philosophy. Well, I'm just gonna live small. If I live small, my troubles will be few. And that is the motto of passivity. When in reality, it's really good at the beginning, because you have no power in your life and you better live small, 'cause you're gonna get more abuse. But when you become an adult with an adult responsibility, it's a horrible road map for life.
Jim: Paul, those are great observations. I want to come back again, because I think that passivity tunnel, it resonates with me, because you and I and I'm sure lots of men, we can become very comfortable in that place and that's not where the Lord wants any of us to be. He wants our lives to be lived fully and you have to have courage to do that.
Your book, No More Christian Nice Guy, let's come back next time if you can stay with us and we'll go a little deeper with passivity and talk about that application to family, to being a man, to being a husband, being a father and what it does for the faith of those around us and for us as men. Can we do that?
Paul: Can't wait.
John: Well, we're looking forward to unpacking more and hearing more from Paul Coughlin next time and there's so much good stuff in his book. I'll recommend that you get a copy and a CD of this program, as well. Our number is 800-A-FAMILY; 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY or stop by www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
And when you contact us, please consider how you can help us reach others who might be confused about being a good man, perhaps other gender issues, what a godly family looks like in today's society. We're experiencing a real storm it seems in terms of crumbling moral values and broken families. And the only way we can find peace in this storm is by applying the truth of God to our lives and to our homes. And that's why Focus on the Family is here. We're committed to sharing this message of biblical truth and peace in Christ and we need your help to carry on that mission.
Now this month thanks to the generosity of some special friends, we have a wonderful opportunity for you. It's a matching grant opportunity that effectively doubles your financial gift to Focus on the Family. Every donation you make will go twice as far in helping strengthen marriages and empower parents and enable us to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Now only that, but when you contribute today, we'll say thank you by sending a complimentary copy of Paul's book, No More Christian Nice Guy as our way of saying thank you. So, please make a generous gift and let us know you're standing with us. Our number again, 800-232-6459 or you can find resources and contribute at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening. I'm John Fuller, inviting you back next time. We'll have more from Paul Coughlin about being a Christian good guy, as we once again, help your family thrive.
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Paul CoughlinView Bio
Paul Coughlin is an author, an international speaker and the founder and president of The Protectors, which is dedicated to helping schools, organizations and communities combat bullying. His books include No More Christian Nice Guy, Raising Bully-Proof Kids and 5 Secrets Great Dads Know. Paul and his wife, Sandy, reside in southern Oregon and have three teenage children. Learn more about Paul and his organization at www.theprotectors.org.