Thursday, March 30, 2006

Why Men Really Hate Going to Church

WMHGTC, by Alaska TV writer David Murrow, is the umpteenth try to understand the "feminization" of American Christianity,

The pro baseball player-turned-preacher Billy Sunday (1862-1935) was just one manly man who fought the same fight.

Murrow is a little shaky on pre-Reformation church history: he somehow blames this feminine influence on the rise of the worship of Mary in the 11th-12th centuries. Yet that is the era that saw not only the building of the great cathedrals (partly by male volunteers) but also the rise of the troubadours and the writing of some great religio-erotic poetry.

But he is dead-on--and even humorous--when he identifies the reasons why most men avoid church: the indoor confinement, the lengthy yackety-yack sermonizing, and church language that places heterosexual men in an uncomfortable role:

I saw a new book for Christian men: Kissing the Face of God. An ad for the book invites men to "get close enough to reach up and kiss His face!" Time out--this is a men's book? Yikes! With the spotlight on homosexuality in the church, why do we increase [heterosexual] men's doubts by using the language of romance to describe the Christian walk?

And then there is "praise music." Here I could not agree with Murrow more: "Not only are the lyrics of many of these songs quite romantic, but they have the same breathless feel a Top Forty love songs."

On a recent cross-country drive, I tuned into a "praise music" station for a while. Gods! It was like being slowly drowned in high-fructose corn syrup.

But there is one big problem that calling the pastor "Coach" won't fix. Unlike Paganism, Christianity cannot being avoid the yakety-yak. In the words of Harvey Whitehouse, an anthropologist of religion, it is doctrinal rather than imagistic.

Today's Pagan religions, by contast, are not "routinized" and do not require a lot of explaining. They are imagistic. They affect practitioners through what Whitehead calls "infrequent repetition and high arousal"--why one really knock-out ritual experience at a festival may stay with you for months.

Secondly, Paganism can wed the erotic and the spiritual. Eros is the force of life, but the monotheists want to build high walls around it. It sneaks back in though, as when they encourage the split between "good girls" (madonnas) and "bad girls" (whores) and then create a "ministry" to deal with it.

Good Pagan ritual can be erotic--which does not mean it must lead to personal promiscuity. But we must acknowledge and celebrate that force. Murrow realizes that a "Come hold me and kiss me, sweet Jesus" form of eroticism will not appeal to heterosexual Christian men. But he has no acceptable celebration of eroticism to set in place of that, and he never will.

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Blogger Inanna said...

I'm also guessing that Pagan men are less likely to be homophobic and erotophobic than Christian men.

I thought women were more likely to be religious - and religiously conservative, alas - than men, across the board. I wouldn't mind being told I'm wrong.

8:08 AM  
Anonymous rhondda said...

This story reminds me of an incident that happened over thirty years ago when I was in English 101. The professor who was a devout Christian and close to retirement was reading from the metaphysical poet John Donne. I cannot remember the poem, but the significant line was about seeing the universe in his wife's eye. I happened to look up at that moment and saw that my professor had his hand down his pants. Now this was a moment of extreme cogntive dissonance. I felt a giggle being born deep in my being. I thought to myself, 'not a time to laugh, girl'. However, I guess he saw my jaw dropping and slammed the book shut as he removed his hand. I, at the same time, lowered my head to try and suppress this giggle. Well, as we know, the more you try to suppress something the stronger it gets. When he slammed the book closed he also said something like 'well, anyway my wife has a glass eye'. Well my giggle exploded into a belly laugh. All the other obedient students who had been following along in their texts, turned and glared at me which made it even funnier to me. However, I was good. I did not run over to the dean's office and complain and I did not spread it around the campus which I think he feared I would do. I was terrified that he would come down harder on me than anyone else. I skipped classes for about a month and then came back pretending nothing had happened. I was unaware of the term 'trance' at that time.

9:51 AM  
Blogger Chas S. Clifton said...


Pagan men may indeed be less homophobic, but the point that I want to emphasize is that it's harder to make a doctrinal religion interesting than an imagistic religion.

And also that Protestant Christianity permits only one form of thinly disguised religious eroticism: "Come, take me, Jesus!"


Umm, interesting story. You sure that he just didn't have an itch? :-)

9:37 AM  
Anonymous rhondda said...

Yes, you are probably right. It is just that I am used to men itching in private and not in front of a first year class.

2:03 PM  
Anonymous the Anglican Druid said...

I think it is *Protestant* Christianity that is doctrinal rather than imagistic. While American Catholicism has become less imagistic since Vatican II, the masses at St. Peter's in Rome are still gaudy spectacles, and Orthodox Christianity remains strongly imagistic. Of course, the article to which you refer *is* talking about Protestant Christianity (as if there were no other kind).

Also, Christianity does have a strong though hidden strain of erotic imagery, which, again, is far more easily acknowledged, though in a sublimated way, in the Roman tradition. Mystical interpretations of the Song of Songs, medieval Brauenmystik, St. Teresa of Avila, etc., are all examples of it, as are some of the most famous religious poems in English--"Love Bade Me Welcome", "Batter My Heart, Three-Personned God".

1:20 PM  
Blogger Chas S. Clifton said...

"Batter My Heart" ... OK, pancake jokes aside, I recognize that it's by Donne.

But it might still fit into the genre that Murrow was too polite to call "Come, fuck me, Jesus."

1:24 PM  

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