Why are there so few men in churches, whether conservative or liberal, Orthodox Christian or Heterodox New Age groups? Some have suggested that men enjoy religion only when they can be in control, have ultimate authority and dominate others, especially women. People point to the marriage laws of Moses, King David's harem, the Apostle Paul's silencing of women in the church and Mohammeds veiling of women. This is the usual argument of those who set out to prove that ‘patriarchal religion' is primarily about gender oppression. Is this true? And if it is true, is it not ironic that female formal religious participation consistently exceeds male involvement? Why do so many women flock to these 'masculine' organizations to be dominated!?
I don't believe a more thorough examination of the evidence proves that male religious leaders set out to create organizations to dominate women, but rather to rebel against, or to reform what they perceived as intolerable situations for them and their social groups. Male assertiveness is most often used to protect and provide. This is important. That's what males do - they protect those whom they love and who cannot protect themselves, often their women and children. What's more, women and children through the ages have expected men to provide for and protect them. This has nothing to do with the modern notion of equality or oppression, but with biological roles assigned by Nature.
Abraham, Moses, David, Buddha, Jesus, Paul, Mohammed, Martin Luther, Jefferson, Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr. Marx, Freud, Darwin, etc. all started as revolutionaries, defending their people from socio-political and/or religious abuses. Men are adventurers by nature, whether in the physical, spiritual or psychological realms. They invent and advent, venturing out to discover something newer and better, or as James T. Kirk said, "To go where no man has gone before." The symbol most often used for the masculine, a circle with an arrow pointing outward and upward, reveals the archetypal masculine psychological trajectory - transcendence. Perhaps that is why television commercials and sitcoms typically portray men as 'out to lunch' and not quite at home. The masculine psyche was not made to be tethered to a desk or church pew. Of course men can learn to 'settle down,' but as Rilke says in a poem about men, they are often in a state of internal agitation.
Eventually, if these reforming and adventuring men were successful, people would organize around their revolutionary vision and the advantages of the new discoveries or reforms. Quite often these men did not desire to be exalted or have a movement named after them. Neither Moses, Buddha, Jesus, Paul nor Luther wanted organizations built up around them. They had what they felt was a just cause and beneficial message for their people in the name of their God or Higher Truth. They were involved in exciting and challenging causes. None of them set out to start an all-boys club so they could be the leader and dominate other people.
MOST OF US GUYS FIND PASSIVE CHURCH GATHERINGS BORING
I think most men today find church boring, unless there is an adventure or something to challenge them, a risk to take, or a revolution toward a just cause. And if they can't participate in such a revolution directly, they would rather watch one on television in the form of a football game or a war on the history channel.
Our greatest source of societal gender instruction is the local magazine stand which demonstrates the radical differences between the female and male psyches. Women's magazines typically are sold with the faces or bodies of beautiful females in various poses. In other words, they are concerned primarily about fashion and attraction. Male magazines on the other hand, when not showing scantily clad women, almost always show men holding some adventuresome object to symbolize action – a golf club, baseball bat, rifle, tennis racket, briefcase, guitar, etc. If they are not holding some object, then the cover story is almost always about their success in making money or fame, about a mission of some sort. In the advertisements, women are sold cosmetics and clothes; men are sold tools and ways to become successful through a mission.
BOYS GET THEIR FILL OF PASSIVITY IN SCHOOL
It begins in school – with most little boys fidgeting in class. That is why boys are typically 'the problem' students, diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorders far more often than girls. Most of these little boys do not have a deficiency of attention, but a surplus of creative, inventive, adventuresome energy. They are surging with risk-taking and imaginative vigor, and are told to sit still most of the day. The dictionary defines torture as, "to afflict with severe pain of body or mind." Most of us males were tortured in our public educations, and we find a similar experience in most church services.
Few people know that the institution of Kindergarten in America, immediately after the Civil War, coincided with an effort to make bad little boys more like good little girls. You may remember the old gender jingle from the early 1800s:
What are little boys made of?
Snips and snails, and puppy-dogs’ tails,
That’s what little boys are made of.
What are little girls made of, made of?
What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice, and everything nice,
That’s what little girls are made of.
A 'snip' was a scrap, a throw-away, a useless and incomplete piece that was left over, or what little boys were made of. In nineteenth century Victorian America, both the medical profession and many religious scholars taught that men were essentially undomesticated beasts, albeit intelligent, but still inherently ill-mannered. The theory of evolution seemed to support this idea. The rationale was that in order to survive in the work world, and to provide for and protect women and children, males had become animalistic. They said that men evolved biologically to work like beasts and die in war. Males were to preserve this 'beast of burden' energy by limiting sexual activity to about once a month, and never through masturbation. The emission of an ounce of semen was equal to 40 ounces of blood, making the male weak and incapable of working to his maximum potential.
MONSTROUS MALE SNIPS AND THE WOMEN WHO SAVE THEM
Remember all of the old horror stories and movies - Dracula, Frankenstein, King Kong, Werewolf, the Hunchback of Notre Dame and Beauty and the Beast, etc.? The themes were males as monstrous, grotesque beasts and women as abused victims and loving saviors. Talk about gender stereotyping! That was Victorian.
And that is the society we still have around us to a large extent today. Men are typically vilified as monstrous predators and abusers on Dateline, 20/20, and 48 Hours, while women are the innocent victims. We rarely hear mention of the fact that 90% of the time, it is male law enforcement that are investigating, arresting, incarcerating and guarding these monsters. So Kindergarten and other social programs were initiated to make males more docile and socially domesticated.
FACT: MALES ARE MORE AGGRESSIVE
But as with all stereotypes, there is much truth in the male as the aggressive species. Men in general are not made to sit in a pew and listen to a sermon about relationships - you may as well force a woman to sit and watch a boxing match or football game. Men in general are not constituted to sit on a pad and mediate with Sandalwood incense swirling into their nostrils, or listen to an esoteric lecture on the metaphysics of opening the seven Chakras. You may as well ask a woman to frame a house, mine for coal or land on the beach at Normandy. Of course some men and women defy those stereotypes, but not that often. Men will teach these spiritual disciplines, and often do, but few participate compared to women. It is almost laughable to try and imagine Jesus passively meeting each Sunday in a room with pews for an hour with his male disciples. They gave up their regular jobs and set about preaching, teaching, feeding the poor and healing sick people.
FEMININE SPIRITUALITY AND MASCULINE SPIRITUALITY ARE DIFFERENT
I think we have too narrowly defined 'spirituality' as a passive set of disciplines and made it pretty much a feminine program by our assumed definition. Masculine spirituality, as seen in men like Moses, Jesus, Buddha and Ghandi, focused on a cause, or on some sort of revolution, often involving conflict, risking one's life, social persecution and even imminent assassination. The passive spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting, meditation, education, etc. have always been considered secondary to men, seen as a means to further and achieve the revolutionary cause. Women on the other hand often find these passive spiritual practices as primary and appealing because they are mostly done in groups as an end in themselves, fostering communal feelings, social interaction and personal introspection which makes the women more adept at being in 'relationships.'
Sadly, modern spirituality is most often defined by these secondary passive activities. Most men have little interest in the so called spiritual disciplines unless there is a good reason for them. If a male has a revolutionary cause which requires him to pray, meditate, fast, tithe and listen to a lesson, he will join in enthusiastically. But to do these practices because they are considered 'spiritual' in and of themselves is a waste of time and energy for most men.
That is why radical Islamicists so successfully recruit thousands of young men in the name of Allah and Muslim society. As a result of joining the cause, they will pray, fast, memorize sacred scriptures, and give all of their time, money and even their lives for this higher purpose. You see it in the Christian Promise Keepers - a men's movement drawing thousands of Christian men into football stadiums across America to pray, fast and study - why? Because they are being challenged to a greater mission - to save their families by becoming great husbands and fathers. One of the main reasons the early Christian movement drew so many males into leadership roles was because Rome was persecuting and slaughtering Christians. These men saw a worthy challenge and joined the cause.
There are few great causes in western religion today. Much of modern religion in the West is a spectator affair, and the pulpit is not a very exciting object compared to a football field. Conservative Christians come closest to having a cause, drawing men and women into a Patriotic Christian Nationalism that hates the 'enemies' of their State God, expressing antipathy toward those they perceive as destroying the Sacred State. Most of these conservative guys don't hate the 'enemy' as much as they are attracted to a cause with a mission that is bigger than themselves. They generally could care less about self improvement regimens, prayer techniques, yoga postures or touchy-feely song services. These exercises pale in comparison to social, national or religious improvement.
Controversial evangelical Pastor Mark Driscoll from Mars Hill Church in Seattle says it like this, "The major blind spot of megachurches is that they tend to be very effeminate with aesthetics, music, and preaching perfectly tailored for moms. Manly men are repelled by this, and many of the men who find it appealing are the types to sing prom songs to Jesus and learn about their feelings while sitting in a sea foam green chair drinking herbal tea—the spiritual equivalent of Richard Simmons. A friend of mine calls them "evangellyfish" with no spiritual vertebrae. Statistically, traditional churches are in steep decline, contemporary churches will dominate in the foreseeable future, and emerging churches are just beginning to sort out what the future holds for them.” In my opinion, Pastor Driscoll is onto something.
Until our religious groups find a cause that is big enough for men to join, we will not see any significant change in male church attendance. Those who do not understand the masculine psyche will find this disturbing and likely continue with the 'men are less spiritual than women' rhetoric. Like it or not, men will continue to experience their spirituality in other ways - finding spiritual truth and meaning in sports, building, inventing, discovering, making money, risking their lives to save women and children (although the media largely focuses exclusively on the small handful of men that take the lives of women and children). (Please see essay, Men Are Not Violent By Nature).
Most importantly, we need a dialogue between men and women - not a recruitment technique where women try to make dunderheaded men 'spiritual' as they define spiritual, or an avoidance technique where men stereotype women as a bunch of emotional nitwits running off to prayer meetings. If God created the male and female psyches, then spirituality is bigger than some little corner we designate as the "spiritual part." If God is 'All', as many moderns affirm, then the All really includes ALL, both masculine and feminine traits.
Please keep in mind that this is a blog, written by a male, about males, taking a stab at answering the enigmatic question of why more men are not going to church.