Friday, August 19, 2016

The Masculine Appeal of Paganism

I've seen a disturbing trend across social media lately. Many of the men that I know were Christian - even if nominally so - are seemingly leaving their faith and embracing Paganism and Asatru (belief in the Norse gods). Why would this be so? What is causing these men to leave behind Christianity and pick up these different beliefs?
Now, before we delve too deeply into this question, I want to state that people are free to believe what they want to believe. I am in no way trying to call out or single out the male friends of mine that I mentioned previously, they have their reasons for their faith and those reasons are their own. No, I am not trying to disrespect anybody; I merely noticed a trend and I really want to know why. So, I am going to explore why below.

Now, at least as far back as the ancient date of 1999 (a great time to party like) the Feminization of Christianity has been noted; specifically in the book written by Dr. Podles The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity where he notes that,
MEN THINK RELIGION, and especially the church, is for women. Why are women “the more devout sex”?1 Modern churches are women’s clubs with a few male officers. Or as Brenda E. Basher puts it, “If American religion were imaginatively conceptualized as a clothing store, two-thirds of its floor space would house garments for women; the manager’s office would be occupied almost exclusively by men.”2
 Men still run most churches, but in the pews women outnumber men in all countries of Western civilization, in Europe, in the Americas, in Australia. Nor is the absence of males of recent origin. Cotton Mather puzzled over the absence of men from New England churches, and medieval preachers claimed women practiced their religion far more than men did. But men do not show this same aversion to all churches and religions. The Orthodox seem to have a balance, and Islam and Judaism have a predominantly male membership. Something is creating a barrier between Western Christianity and men, and that something is the subject of this book.

 I want to state here that when I say that Christianity is feminized that what I mean is that the Western churches are seemingly appealing more to women than they are to men. This is something that has been noted even recently in Pew Research and other places. The website The Art of Manliness says this about our situation,

Pew Research has found that, on average, Christian congregants across the world skew about 53% female, 46% male. In the U.S., surveys show a split that’s even wider: 61% women to 39% men (the gap occurs in every age category, and is thus not due to the fact that women live longer than men). In sheer numbers, what this means is that on any given Sunday in America, there are 13 million more women than men attending church...
 ...Men are not only less likely to attend church, they are also less likely to participate in their faith in other ways. According to Pew Research, Christian women are 7% more likely than men to say religion is important to them. And as David Murrow records in his book, Why Men Hate Going to Church, research conducted by George Barna found that women are far more likely to be involved with their church and faith on nearly every level, to the tune of:
57 percent more likely to participate in adult Sunday school56 percent more likely to hold a leadership position at a church (not including the role of pastor)54 percent more likely to participate in a small group46 percent more likely to disciple others39 percent more likely to have a devotional time or quiet time33 percent more likely to volunteer for a church29 percent more likely to read the Bible29 percent more likely to share faith with others23 percent more likely to donate to a church16 percent more likely to pray
 Barna summed up his findings thusly: “Women are the backbone of the Christian congregations in America.”

We see that women outnumber men by over 20% when it comes to church attendance. Then we see some more startling numbers in that women are so very much more active in the church life than men are. Why? Why are men being outnumbered in such a way? What is it that makes men shy away from church and their faith and take up other faiths instead?

Dr. William Lane Craig has a few opinions on why this is so,
...Third is my claim that the church is becoming increasingly feminized. What I mean by this is that church services and programs are increasingly based on emotional and relational factors that appeal more to women than to men. The problem of the church’s lack of appeal to men has been recognized by men’s movements like Promise Keepers and books like John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart. Nowhere is this feminization more evident than in contemporary worship music. Someone aptly remarked that if you were to replace references to God in many praise songs with “Baby,” they would sound just like romantic songs between a man and a woman! This is not true of classic hymns like “A Mighty Fortress” or “And Can It be?” Talking with young men, I find that many of them are just turned off by these touchy-feely worship services and would rather not go.
 We see this same feminization though relational factors in network coverage of sports, traditionally a male bastion. Coverage of Olympic Games has deliberately targeted women in order to increase viewership by the addition of personal stories about athletes’ lives, rather than simply televising the events themselves. In professional sports have you noticed how in recent years television networks have engaged female reporters to go down on the field and interview baseball or football players, usually about how they felt about this or that? Jan and I had to laugh when, following the Broncos’ recent blowout of the Ravens, the female reporter asked Peyton Manning, “Didn’t you feel bad for the other team when you looked up at the scoreboard?” Uh, I don’t think so!

Dr. Craig touches on something here. The worship services are increasingly being based on an emotional feeling and what he calls a relational factor. Generally, women are different from men; boys have penises and girls have vaginas, women usually are not as strong as men in various ways (and stronger than men in others), and women often are more prone to their emotions than men (so much so that the non-emotional man is something of a trope in our society). This isn't bad, or anything of the sort - it just so happens that the different sexes are, well, different in many ways. But again, women are usually more in touch with their emotions than men are, and if worship services are very emotional and relational then it's going to drive men away.

So why go towards something like Norse gods?

Honestly, what draws up an image of manly manliness more so than the Vikings of old? Especially in our age of hyper-radical über feminism (by which I mean those same feminists that other feminists can't stand).

You have Thor, God of Thunder, who wields a mighty hammer which only the worthy may lift. You have Odin, the All-Father, the one-eyed God of Battle. And you have Loki, the God of Mischief. These gods speak to something primal in men that men are craving because they aren't getting it in their church services.

These men are also probably tired of their churches becoming liberal and kowtowing to every social issue that comes across the media. The Church is supposed to be traditional! It's supposed to be a bastion against constant change, and yet it seems like often it is the first thing to jump on the flavor of the week bandwagon. The old Norse gods would not have stood for such!

But! This problem is only really noted in Christianity. It isn't noted in Islam as our sources above let us know. But! It isn't just Christianity that this problem is noted in, it's Western Christianity. Both our source from Dr. Podles and The Art of Manliness note that this feminization - this falling away of men from church - isn't present in the Orthodox Church.

Why is the Orthodox Church not experiencing this exodus of men?

Frederica Mathewes-Green has an excellent article on just why it is that men seem to be staying in and even drawn to the Orthodox faith.
In a time when churches of every description are faced with Vanishing Male Syndrome, men are showing up at Eastern Orthodox churches in numbers that, if not numerically impressive, are proportionately intriguing. This may be the only church which attracts and holds men in numbers equal to women. As Leon Podles wrote in his 1999 book, The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity, “The Orthodox are the only Christians who write basso profundo church music, or need to.”

Rather than guess why this is, I emailed a hundred Orthodox men, most of whom joined the Church as adults. What do they think makes this church particularly attractive to men? Their responses, below, may spark some ideas for leaders in other churches, who are looking for ways to keep guys in the pews.

There are many reasons that are listed, among them are that Orthodoxy is challenging, straightforward, with purpose, and that they way the Orthodox view Jesus is not at all in the soft image of Him that emerged in the 12th century Roman Catholic Church but in the image of a Christ that is militant - He died and took Hades captive! 

We see a very stark contrast between the Western version of Jesus, about whom is written what amounts to be love songs, and the Eastern version of Jesus, who is seen as a "butt-kicking Jesus who takes Hell captive... came to cast fire on the earth." Even Mary is called, "our Captain, Queen of War." This obviously gives us this image of a Church that speaks to men. 

Another set of great quotes from Pres. Mathewes-Green's article,
Yet there is something in Orthodoxy that offers “a deep masculine romance. Do you understand what I mean by that? Most romance in our age is pink, but this is a romance of swords and gallantry.” This convert appreciates that in Orthodoxy he is in communion with King Arthur, who lived, “if he lived,” before the East-West schism, and carried an icon of the Virgin Mary.

From a deacon: “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.”

So we see that Orthodoxy speaks to the very soul of men, giving them these role models they can look up to that were tough, masculine men. We share something in common with these great men from history.

And lastly, and I think this is the most important quote from the article is, "'It’s the last place in the world men aren’t told they’re evil simply for being men.' Instead of negativity, they are constantly surrounded by positive role models in the saints, in icons and in the daily round of hymns and stories about saints’ lives. This is another concrete element that men appreciate - there are other real human beings to look to, rather than a blur of ethereal terms. 'The glory of God is a man fully alive' said St. Irenaeus. One writer adds that 'The best way to attract a man to the Orthodox Church is to show him an Orthodox man.'"

Men are able to proudly be men in Orthodoxy, and I think that is one of the greatest reasons why men feel so comfortable and stay active in the Orthodox Church.

But why are more men not turning to the Orthodox Church, and instead turning to Paganism and Asatru? 

I think this has to do with the fact that in the US, and even in Western Europe, Orthodoxy is not very well known. Those men who do know about probably have some preconceived notions that the Orthodox Church is just like the rest of Christianity - they think that Orthodoxy is soft since that is all they know about Christianity. These men that are prone to leave Christianity for another religion are probably sick of how the Western churches have handled themselves as of late, so they are willing to wash their hands of any form of Christianity because it's all the same to them.

Then I think that there are those men who may know that Orthodoxy is different than the rest of Christianity, and that is their problem with it. They think that Orthodoxy is a tainted version of Christianity, and not the Original Church as Christ founded it. And since they already have a problem with the "proper form" of Christianity they decide to wash their hands of the whole thing as well.

Mainly, though, I think it is that Orthodoxy just isn't very well known outside of certain areas. I know when I first found out about Orthodoxy that I thought it was just Catholicism but slightly different. If men don't know about the Orthodox Church, and they feel stuck in an increasingly emasculated church, then they will leave for something else.

It is imperative that we let these men know that what they are seeking can be found in Orthodoxy. The way of the warrior can be found in Orthodoxy. Think about it, Christianity was able to overthrow the likes of Thor and Odin not because it showed these hardcore Vikings a soft, lovable, bunny hugging Jesus, but because it showed them that Jesus is the ultimate Man and the ultimate God - Jesus died, but not only did He die, He came back to life, and while He was dead He released the captives of Hades by breaking through the gates. Christianity is the religion that was able to conquer England well before Rome could. Christianity is the religion that was able to conquer the Vikings and have them be the protectors of the Byzantine Emperor. And this Christianity was the Orthodox Church!

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