The subject recently came up on a mailing list I follow, and then a related item popped up in my feed reader from an unrelated source a couple of days later.
First it was an article on men and church which suggested that men were leaving church, or churches other than Orthodox churches. It proceeds to speculate why by generalizing about what men like and how the Orthodox church provides it like nobody else. The article quotes Leon Podles in The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity and explains,
In the 12th- 13th century a particularly tender, even erotic, strain of devotion arose, one which invited the individual believer to picture him or herself (rather than the Church as a whole) as the Bride of Christ. “Bridal Mysticism” was enthusiastically adopted by devout women, and left an enduring stamp on Western Christianity. It understandably had less appeal for guys, and perhaps the rigor and objectivity of the Scholastic movement which arose about the same time was an equal-and-opposite reaction. “Head” and “heart” were split; men retired for brandy and cigars in the Systematic Theology Room, while praying and church-going were given over to women. For centuries in the West, men who chose the ministry have been stereotyped as effeminate. A life-long Orthodox layman says that, from the outside, Western Christianity strikes him as “a love story written for women by women.”
The Eastern Church escaped Bridal Mysticism because the great split between East and West had already taken place. Christians in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Asia, and Africa continued to practice an earlier, non-dualistic form of Christianity, with an emphasis on acquiring continual awareness of Christ’s inner presence through spiritual disciplines and humility.
I’m not sure I buy the thrust of the article that the Orthodox church is appealing to men because it appeals better to some stereotypical primal urge: “Evangelical churches call men to be passive and nice (think ‘Mr. Rogers’). Orthodox churches call men to be courageous and act (think ‘Braveheart’). Men love adventure, and our faith is a great story in which men find a role that gives meaning to their ordinary existence.” Still, there’s something to this whole feminization theme, but even the attempted counterbalance is often nauseating to me, this whole fist-in-the-air woof-woof-woof-ing men’s event, the “Stand up and be Men!” injunctions. And then the follow-on bemoaning of “Oh, where-are-all-the-men in the church?” Men need to be leaders, we need more men in our churches. Sorry, I’m worn. You tired me all out. First you wanted a SNAG and then you wanted Fabio. You wanted manly-men who sing about getting married to Jesus and kissing him on the lips. Uh, there aren’t any like that. Sorry, Jesus is not my boyfriend, unless you somehow imagine he’s coming back to marry his bride’s big toe. Yes, it’s a biblical metaphor, but for the corporate church. We’ve got enough trouble with individualist Christianity as it is.
The whole bemoaning the absence of men thing used to get to me… maybe still does. People ask where all the men are and why they aren’t leading spiritually (forget the gender role assumptions that inform the question for a moment). I always wanted to say, “Maybe they are leading — right out the door. Why aren’t you following?” But I always was a sh**-disturber.
There’s enough gender confusion going on that one article poses the question, Can a good father be a real man? Soundbite against which the article rants: “[A] good parent needs to be expressive, patient, emotional, not money oriented. Basically, masculinity is bad for you.” The source of the soundbite is an article in Time which asked, “Does being more of a father make you less of a man?” Let me just say that we’re in a bad state if we can even ask the question. C’mon guys, even “Maximus The Gladiator” loved his son. Yeah, it’s confusing, but I didn’t really realize how bad it was… contrary to some of the man-on-the-street interviews in Time, I don’t think that just “being there” is quite enough to be a good father. It’s head-and-shoulders above what some achieve, but the bar for “good father” is higher than that… and it’s got nothing to do (again from a deluded man-on-the-street) with being “whipped.”
I’m shamed to admit that I watched the first episode (and only that episode) of the new-this-fall television show Big Shots, which one reviewer rightly called “aggressively bad”. It really is that bad — like “Sex in the City” but with CEOs and far more misguided stereotypes. I’ve never seen a series jump the shark (huh?) in the pilot, but this one did at the precise moment when
Duncan (Dylan McDermott) baldly states, “Men. We’re the new women,” as he and his friends lounge poolside in spa robes, discussing their relationships. One buddy can’t control his mistress, another’s wife is cheating on him and a third is so cowed by his wife he can’t tell her that he hasn’t found the right pastries for her party. On the plus side, Duncan now appreciates having sex with his ex-wife; on the minus side, he’s hounded by a female reporter investigating a misbegotten encounter with a transvestite hooker. (source)
Going back to the whole fatherhood thing, I wrote in the margin of a notebook someplace a few years ago, “Not only is society no longer paternalistic, it’s no longer paternal.” This was to suggest that men were abdicating their role of fatherhood, I would suggest in a bit of a state of confusion. And it is all very confusing. The church wants “men” but they want men kissing Jesus on the lips. Society wants a stand-up guy, but one who lounges around in a robe talking about relationships. Is being a family man being un-masculine? I’m thinking of an ad I saw someplace that showed an image of your stereotypical biker with Harley, leather, and chains juxtaposed with an image of a guy standing in front of a mini-van with a full compliment of rugrats. The ad asked, “Which one is the Real Man?” Good question… and I want to foist a few more questions out to the crowd. (1) What makes a man a good father? (2) Has the church become ‘feminized’? (3) Is the Orthodox church really more masculine, and if so, why? (4) Are men “the new women”, and why or why not? (5) Are fatherhood and masculinity at odds? (6) Which stereotype do women want, and which do children need? (7) Are men abdicating fatherhood, or masculinity, both, or none?
There’s some fodder for you. If you take your response to your own blog, be sure to track back or post a comment here with a link. Ready? Discuss.