As the Church became more and more feminized, the predominance of feminine emotions encouraged both mystics and the theologians who counseled them to attempt a subtle change in Christianity to make it conform more to the desires of the feminine heart. A change of emphasis here, a neglect of inconvenient Scripture there, and soon a religion takes a shape that, though difficult to distinguish from the Christianity of the Gospels, somehow has a quite different effect. Pantheism and universalism, for instance, are the heretical exaggerations of feminine attitudes, but how far can one go in stressing the immanence of God and his will to save before Christianity is left behind? When does bridal receptivity become passivity, and when does passivity become Quietism? There have been differences of opinion over where to draw the line. The authorities win in the textbooks, but the mystics have often won the battle for popular influence.
Leon Podles, The Church Impotent
Over the last few weeks I've finally had a chance to read Leon Podles book, The Church Impotent. I think its an interesting book which raises some interesting topics, particularly with regard to the diminishing numbers of men attending church. Though, for all the books merits, I think it misses its mark mainly because it mistakes effect with cause.
First Things did a review of the book years ago which I felt was unfair,
picking on the details which ignoring the big picture. The is clearly a
problem with the lack of men attending Church, but that doesn't
necessarily mean that the Church is "feminised". Women, for example,
seem to have a greater preference for sweet things than men, but it
doesn't mean that sugar is feminine.
The big argument in the book is that because of the theological developments in the theology of bridal mysticism, which arose meaningfully in the Middle Ages, the Church has assumed a feminine nature which is repellent to men. Very crudely put, the argument is that men are put off the Church because it is a bit "gay". Real men, find the concept of being the "bride of Christ" really off putting and hence don't attend. For men of weak masculinity or "beta" sexuality this really isn't a problem hence their preponderance among the men that attend.
The problem with this view is that equates the worship of God equated with the the attendance to a theater show: you go if you expect some kind of pleasurable benefit from it, otherwise you stay away. It's a very sociological approach but it ignores the religious dimension of the problem.
That's not how it works.
Worship is an obligation and the aesthetics of it are in many ways irrelevant. Sure, aesthetics may aid or detract from the experience but the underlying principle is that you're there to bend the knee, not go to a show: its duty, not entertainment.
As I see it there are two reasons why men are not attending Church:
a) They don't want to when they know they should be going. (Rejecting Grace)
b) They don't even know that they have to go to Church. (No Grace)
I think that the average European male in contemporary times is more likely to have (b) for an excuse rather than (a). Most men don't reject religion as much as they see it as irrelevant. They don't care enough to be repelled and the reason why men don't go to Church is because they don't feel the "pull of God." i.e. the movement of Grace. Now this "pull of God" may be felt in a variety of ways, either as a duty, sense of peace or closeness etc. It all boils down to the notion that he needs to attend Church for whatever religious reason. Most men have no such sense. Hence it is my contention that it is a lack of Grace, rather than the feminisation of the Church which is responsible here.
I pulled the above quote from Podles book because while I feel his idea of a feminised church is wrong he does ultimately hit the mark with regard to the problem. Because of a variety of theological and cultural factors i.e. excarnation, bridal receptivity, clericalism and the idealisation of the contemplative life, the Church has been infected with a Quietism which, while formally rejected on the books, has been hugely influential in theological developments and religious practice. The Church is not so much feminised as it is quietistic and passive. The feminisation follows the Quietism as women seem to enjoy this modality of religious practice.
Now Quietistic modes of worship may be more suited toward the female
temperament but sort of irrelevant if God doesn't want the Church to
embrace quietism. Furthermore, the fact that women attend Church more
than men distracts from the fact that there has been an overall decline
in Church worship. The big problem is the emptying of the pews not the
proportions left. But if church attendance is due to pleasure rather than a sense of faith or Grace, how religious is the actual participant? What I'm saying if the clergy starts Church starts saying stuff that women don't want to hear, how likely are they to stick around? You've got to distinguish between people who believe and people who go there because they enjoy it. And it's not that faith and enjoyment are incompatible, it's just that enjoyment without faith misses the purpose of the whole exercise. Going for the music or "peace" is not the same as worshiping God.
Church going and holiness may be correlated but they're not necessarily contingent. This is where I think a fundamental mistake is made. The logic being that more church-going equals more holiness and therefore women are more religious than men. But that assumes that being a church groupie shares something of the same stuff as the saint. But as women like these have shown, you can say a lot of prayers and attend lots of Masses and still be widely off the mark.
The lack of men in the Church should be a sign that there is something wrong with men or there is something wrong in the Church.
Podles should be commended for recognising this, the problem is that he
gets the specifics wrong. The problem isn't the feminisation of
Christianity is its slow conversion into a Buddhist equivalent.
Another significant factor, in my opinion, which hampers analysis of this problem is the conception of the "Church". For Catholics, in particular, the Church is thought of the ecclesiastical and clerical apparatus; bishops, monks, priests, nuns, cathedrals, etc. But theologically this is incorrect since the laity is a fundamental constituent element of it. When Christ spoke of Satan never prevailing against the Church it's interesting to speculate if what He meant was that the faith would survive in its lay element while being corrupted elsewhere. The reason why I bring this up is because its always assumed that the ordained members will be the last men standing defending it, it's never assumed that it may be the plebs who hold the line.
Finally, astute readers will not in the article linked just how close Quietism is to Buddhism, and a Buddhist Christianity is not Christianity. Why should God draw men to a warped Christianity?
A significant factor in my opinion which hampers analysis of this problem is the conception of the "Church". For Catholics, in particular, the Church is thought of the ecclesiastical and clerical apparatus; bishops, monks, priests, nuns, etc. But theologically this is incorrect since the laity is a constituent element of it. When Christ spoke of Satan never prevailing against the Church it's interesting to speculate if what he meant was the faith would survive in its lay element while being corrupted elsewhere. The reason why I bring this up is because its always assumed that the ordained members will be the last men standing defending it, it's never assumed that it may be the plebs who hold the line.