Feminization of Christianity?

I’ve been aware of, and tacitly agreed with, the theory that Christianity has been “feminized,” and that the feminization is the source of declining attendance, particularly among men.

Rod Dreher reprised the theme Tuesday. Read it all if you’re unfamiliar with the theory, which this more or less encapsulates:

We live in a society with a female religion and a male religion: Christianity, of various sorts, for women and non-masculine men; and masculinity, especially in the forms of competition and violence that culminate in war, for men.

(Leon Podles via Rod Dreher) In fact, I’d probably have said that everyone who has looked at the question knew that the feminization theory is true.

I should know better. One of Rod’s regular readers now has taken issue with this theory in her own blog (which I discovered because of her interactions with Rod in his blog’s comments):

Where I disagree is with the rest of the post, because it follows a pattern of thought that I’ve seen before. The pattern goes roughly like this:

1. In some bright age of the past, Christianity was for Real Men. Real Men who did all the hard, heroic, sacrificial things of life also brought that ethos with them to worship, and their manly, masculine churches reflected their understanding that men had a job to do when it came to the struggles (a word Rod uses throughout his post) of life.

2. Then, gradually, everything changed. Women were allowed to help out with more and more things at church, and worship started becoming unduly feminine. Men were pushed out by all the Female Stuff happening at worship.

3. Thus, fixing worship means making it masculine again. Churches that figure out how to appeal to manly men in their masculinity will thrive, while churches that fail to do this will end up with women “bishops” in silly hats trying to run things via estrogen-fueled services set to “Jesus is My Boyfriend” music.

The people who think this way seem to forget that even in the early days of the Church Christianity was mocked as a religion for women and slaves; they also forget the long time in American history when Protestants looked at Catholicism (and possibly Orthodoxy as well) with the celibate priesthood, the long, lace-trimmed vestments, the highly ornate and decorated churches, and saw–well, they didn’t accuse Catholicism of being too manly, that’s for sure.

Now, I thought about what I wanted to say for a long time today (too long) and a commenter over on Rod’s blog beat me to it. Since I don’t know her personally, I’ll paraphrase: why do so many men use “female” and “feminine” as synonyms for moral failings? What’s wrong with the church isn’t that it has been feminized; what’s wrong is that it has been infantilized.

She’s right, this commenter, and profoundly so. When liturgy is dumbed down, it isn’t done because the people in charge (in the Catholic Church’s case, male priests and bishops and cardinals, etc.) somehow have suddenly decided to make things more appealing to women. It’s done in an effort, however misguided, to reach the spiritual infants of both sexes who may be present in the congregation.

(Erin Manning)

I’m inclined to agree with Manning (and Antonia, the unnamed Dreher commenter) at least that “feminization” is not a very helpful label.

In fact, though I’m loathe to back off saying a true thing just because someone charges that it’s “hurtful” or “demeaning,” Antonia got my respectful attention with this:

I’m kind of tired of femininity being equated with moral failings. Talk about Gnostic!
For instance, narcissism is not feminine. Venus may have a mirror, but perhaps you should recall where the word narcissism comes from? In classical mythology, Narcissus was a MAN, obsessed with his own image in a pond. Point is, most moral failings are not masculine or feminine, nor are the moral virtues. Courage was a quality of ALL martyrs, St. Lucy as well as St. Stephen.

If “bridal mysticism” is a problem, then is Holy Scripture a problem? Last I read, “bride of Christ” is a biblical term for the Church.

C.S. Lewis, a man with a very masculine view of Christianity, said that we are all feminine in relation to God. On the other hand, Caryll Houselander, one of the most feminine of Catholic writers, often speaks in terms of spiritual warfare.

MTD [Moralistic Therapeutic Deism] is not the feminization of religion – it is the infantilization of religion.

(Emphasis added) During this Orthodox Holy Week, with “Bridegroom Matins” served nightly Sunday through Tuesday (some traditions do more) in a famously man-friendly Church, I can’t agree that Christ as “bridegroom,” the Church as “bride,” has any inherent problems. Such problems as it has seemingly come from bad cultural constructions of masculine and feminine.

There are a lot of sane people on the internet, and sometimes they change my thinking on what “everyone knows.”

* * * * *

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

(Philip K. Dick)

The waters are out and no human force can turn them back, but I do not see why as we go with the stream we need sing Hallelujah to the river god.

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

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