Church: Where Are The Men?
Christian churches in the West don’t attract males — and are failing their mission
I had breakfast in Budapest this morning with an American academic on vacation with his family. We talked about the turmoil in the world; like me, he is a Christian. He has been working in the Baltic countries for the past few years, and said that those places are beginning to re-paganize. About the Christian churches in the West, he said that it feels to him like we are at the point of the downfall of the Kingdom of Judah, just before the Jews were taken to Babylon in captivity. He said that in those days, many false prophets appeared, telling the Jews what they wanted to hear: that God was going to give them victory. Jeremiah, though, came and said that no, because they had forgotten God, He was going to allow them to be taken into captivity, but if they were faithful, He would restore them after a time.
I told the professor that this is how I explain The Benedict Option to people: as advice for a church that is in the process of being taken into captivity, to help them remain faithful during this time of oppression. “We Christians are going to have to live somewhere between Jeremiah 29 and the first chapters of Daniel,” I told him, “where Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego served the king, but never forgot who they were, such that they were even willing to lay down their lives for God.”
The man and I talked for a bit about how unwilling so many pastors and church leaders are to confront the realities of these times. He told me that conservative Protestants like him — young Gen Xers and Millennials — were raised on Voter Guides, and have a reflexive hostility to the over-politicization of church life. That’s good to a certain point, he said, but they take it too far, and try to avoid anything controversial.
I told him about a conversation I had with a pastor a couple of years ago, in which the pastor and I argued over whether or not the church should be equipping parents and families to resist gender ideology. This particular pastor wanted to keep politics out of the church, or so he told me. I responded that this isn’t “politics,” but basic Christian discipleship. I told my breakfast companion this morning that my impression was that this pastor was terrified of dividing his parish. I can understand that at one level, but it seemed to me that he was leaving his flock unguarded, out of fear of conflict.
I have a strong aversion to this kind of thing, one honed sharply by my experience of writing about the Catholic abuse scandal as a Catholic. Over and over and over, I saw priests and laity refusing to act against abusers, in some cases because they feared for their own status, but in most cases because to act would require them to challenge the idol they had made of the institutional church. Whether they meant to or not, they had decided that it was better for a few children and families should perish so the Church could be left unsullied in her reputation.
Jordan Peterson has a new video out with a message to churches. It’s nothing really new from him, but it’s punchy:
What he essentially says is: man up!
He means that both figuratively and literally. Figuratively, in that he says churches have to stop being so soft and compromising, and eager to mold themselves to the contemporary world, for the sake of both not losing people and attracting others. This is neither effective nor attractive, says Peterson. It is, in fact, a betrayal of what churches are supposed to be doing.
Peterson means it literally when he complains here that most churches offer nothing for young men. Men feel unwanted in these feminized precincts, and there is often nothing much to attract or hold them to congregational life. Peterson’s comments sent me back to the great book The Church Impotent, by the Catholic writer Leon Podles. It’s about the feminization of Western Christianity, and you can read it for free here. Excerpts from Podles:
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.
Lee talks about how he went to seminary for a while, but the seminary was full of homosexuals, a fact that Church authorities tried to overlook. He felt unwelcome there, and dropped out. More:
I occasionally became involved in parish life in the cities in which I lived. I noticed to my discomfort that an unusual percentage, perhaps a quarter, of my male acquaintances were homosexual. On reflection I realized that they were the ones I had met through church or through religious gatherings. They were amusing, but I felt awkward around them, and some of them later died of AIDS. While I do not wish to question the sincerity of their religious commitment, and perhaps it is the wounded who especially know their need for the healing touch of Jesus,
it was odd that they seemed to be the type of young men found disproportionately at church. Normal young women were there in abundance;
indeed, I must confess that was one reason I spent time in parish activities.
In seeking an explanation for the lack of men in church and the lack of masculinity among some males in church, I read about the differences between men and women. Sociologists remarked in a general way that men were less religious than women, and I realized that my personal experience was only a particular instance of a general situation. This puzzle intrigued me. Why was it that men were so little interested
in religion, and that the men who were interested often did not follow the general pattern of masculinity? Why didn’t religion seem to interest men much, at least until they reached old age and death loomed?
Here is something interesting:
A friend of mine stayed for several weeks in an Italian town, and he and his wife attended daily mass. He was the only man in the
church apart from the priest, and his presence was so unusual that it attracted the attention of the carabinieri, who investigated to see what
hanky-panky was going on. After he crossed the Aegean to Greece, he was startled by the difference in the Orthodox churches. If anything, there were more men than women; the men also led the singing and filled the churches with the deep resonance of their voices. The only time Americans will hear anything like this is if they attend a concert by a touring Russian Orthodox choir. There is no church music for
basso profunda written by Americans.
In his first chapter, Lee cites extensive historical scholarship showing that men vanishing from churches isn’t a contemporary problem in the West. It has been the case in the West for hundreds of years. But only in the West, and among Christians. More:
The exceptions to the general pattern of feminization of religious life are worth noting: the Eastern Orthodox (perhaps), the Jews (definitely)
and non-Christian religions. In America, in comparison even to the Jews, “Muslims, adherents of Eastern religions, agnostics and religious ‘Nones’ have even more unbalanced sex ratios: almost two males for every female in each group. In contrast to the sex ratio among black Christians, only 36 percent of black Muslim and 40 percent of black religious ‘Nones’ are women.” The pattern is found in England as well. In contrast to the feminized congregations among all major Christian denominations documented by the census taken early this century, the ratio of men to women in synagogues was over three to one. There is something about Christianity, especially Western Christianity, that drives a wedge between the church and men who want to be masculine.
Lee goes on to say that you don’t find any sense in the literature of the patristic era (circa 100-500 AD) that Christianity is a female thing, though you can see it as early as the High Middle Ages in the Western church. How to explain it? Lee compares the Roman warrior cult of Mithras to early Christianity:
But the main reason that Mithraism resembled Christianity is that both were religions of masculinity, especially of the man as Savior. And the purpose of the ideology of masculinity is to teach men to save others, even at the cost of sacrificing themselves.
The ceremonies of the Easter vigil, and indeed of the whole Triduum, the three days that recount the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ, have a strong atmosphere of the mysteries, not only in their essential rites (although these are common in their general structure to all religions of death and rebirth), but in their accessory rituals. Early Christians saw Christianity as the fulfillment of the mystery and Christ as the true Hierophant, the one who reveals the sacred and initiates those who come to him. The message is clear: Christianity is the true mystery, the true initiation. It reveals true manhood, the real and ultimate contest against evil, and the triumph and victory of which the Sol Invictus, Mithras, was but a shadow. The church of the first millennium emphasized the mystery-aspect of Christianity, and its message was comprehensible to men, who forever seek to achieve an initiation that finally and in reality makes them a new man.
Attempting to write about masculinity and initiation in literature is very much like undertaking a history of world literature. What it is to be a
man and the problems a man faces in trying to be masculine are the themes of much of the writing of the world. Heroic literature is concerned in a special way with the masculine, because the pattern of masculine development is manifest in a dramatic way in the literary figure of the
hero, a model for men in his culture. In the life of the hero, men see what it is to become a man, what type of experiences they may expect, what achievements they must attain, what qualities they must have, for the life of the hero follows the development of masculinity that anthropologists and psychologists have observed, including the initiations that a male must undergo to become a man. The hero leaves normal life to confront death and returns to ordinary life to assume social responsibilities.
This pattern is cross-cultural: it is found in Andean folk-tales, in Babylonian epics, in Greek epics, in Anglo-Saxon poetry. Since the challenges each society faces are different, the hero’s adventures are different, but the purpose for those adventures is always the same. In complex societies, such as the Greece of the Homeric age, a man must undergo repeated initiations.
Hmm. Over on my Substack, I have been writing about the recent Christian conversion of Martin Shaw, the great contemporary English mythologist. The re-enchantment project I’m working on — a book about how to “re-enchant” a Christianity grown wan and weak with moralism and therapy — has had a real shot in the arm from my reading Martin’s work on myth, which of course tracks with the things Jordan Peterson has been saying for years about myth. I’m wondering if Christianity of the first millennium was experienced in a “mythological” way, along the lines of what Lee Podles says above. If so, it might help explain why a) Orthodox Christianity has a particular appeal to men, though it is in no way “macho,” and b) why Martin Shaw visited Christian churches after his conversion experience, but did not come alive in the spirit until he worshiped in an Orthodox parish, which he said was “like Christian dreaming.”
Lee Podles goes on:
Odysseus is constantly tempted to retreat from the struggle to establish male identity into the safety of the feminine. David Gilmore notes
that “the knight has mastered the most primitive of the demands of the pleasure principle—the temptation to drown in the arms of an omnipotent woman, to withdraw into a puerile cocoon of pleasure and safety.
Moralistic Therapeutic Deism! More:
The hero represents Everyman (at least every freeborn warrior), because all men in cultures of manhood, especially in warrior cultures, face
the problem of establishing a male identity. By the example of heroes, men are constantly encouraged to resist “indolence, self-doubt, squeamishness, hesitancy, the impulse to withdraw or surrender, the ‘sleepiness’ of quietude (symbolized in Greek legend in death by drowning—a universal metaphor for returning to the womb).” Threats of engulfment of the hero dominate the Odyssey, but he triumphs over them, returns home, and reestablishes his position in Ithacan society. Having escaped being eaten, Odysseus makes the suitors who have been devouring his substance eat death:
Now is the time for their dinner to be served the Achaians
in the daylight, then follow with other entertainment,
the dances and the lyre; for these things come at the end of feasting.
The hero by his deeds can hold off the forces of engulfment and preserve his identity as a man, remaining a model for those who also wish to become men.
Now I understand better why I had such a visceral reaction to that pastor who refused to talk about transgenderism and the threat gender ideology posed to his church. I was trying to tell him that in my work, I could see this malign ideology as a “force of engulfment” that the men of his and all congregations (and the women, but especially the men) must rally to fight back. But this pastor, in my estimation, was shrinking away from the conflict, thinking that if his people just sat still and kept their heads down, the danger would pass.
That stance is many things, but it is above all unmanly. I feel exactly the same way about the response of all churches to clerical sexual abuse of children and youth: where the hell were the damn men in these situations, protecting the children from these predators? I think transgenderism is a worse phenomenon by far, in part because nobody promotes pederasty, but elite culture, especially in the media, promotes homosexuality and transgenderism all the time. And the churches remain impotent at best, and at worst, feminized, in the sense of nurturing and coddling the destruction of masculinity (in boys) and the capacity in both sexes to give birth to the next generation, and nurture it into health.
Despite all its problems and tendencies to self-destruction, masculinity is essential to the survival of any society that faces challenges. Men must be warned against the dangerous attractions of the safe, feminine world, so that they will accept the task of being masculine. Males must be trained to struggle, suffer, and die so that the life of the community can go on. This self-sacrifice is a form of self-transcendence that has captured the imagination of almost all cultures. The gods at their noblest reflect something of the glory of the hero. Monotheistic religions emerged from societies that had ideologies of masculinity, and this ideology served as a means of explaining what God was and what he wanted men to be.
Lee says that the problem of Christianity’s feminization is something limited to the West, and appeared around the 13th century:
Men and women, as far as we can tell, participated equally in Christianity until about the thirteenth century. If anything, men were more prominent in the Church not only in clerical positions, which were restricted to men, but in religious life, which was open to both men and women. Only around the time of Bernard, Dominic, and Francis did gender differences emerge, and these differences can be seen both in demographics and in the quality of spirituality. Because these changes occurred rapidly and only in the Latin church, innate or quasi- innate differences between the sexes cannot by themselves account for the increase in women’s interest in Christianity or the decrease in men’s interest. In fact, the medieval feminization of Christianity followed on three movements in the Church which had just begun at the time: the preaching of a new affective spirituality and bridal mysticism by Bernard of Clairvaux; a Frauenbewegung, a kind of women’s movement; and Scholasticism, a school of theology. This concurrence of trends caused the Western church to become a difficult place for men.
I am no historian, ecclesial or otherwise, so I defer to the experts among my readership to contend with this claim (which he makes in Chapter 6). Podles starts Chapter 7 this way:
As men absented themselves from the Christian Churches and found their spiritual sustenance elsewhere, the churches were left with congregations that were predominately feminine. Moreover, the Christian life itself was seen more and more as properly feminine—men had to become feminine in order to be good Christians—notwithstanding that the Christianity of the New Testament and patristic era saw the vocation of the Christian as masculine. The theology and spirituality whose pattern for following Christ was masculine was transformed when Christians began seeing their life-pattern as feminine. This feminized spirituality further identified the Church as the sphere of women (or of those men who were like women) and reinforced the male desire to keep a safe distance between themselves and a religion that threatened to emasculate them.
The “bridal mysticism” that began in the Middle Ages in the Western church, and that persisted in a different form in Protestantism, is to blame, according to Podles, because it compelled men to think of themselves as women if they were to be good Christians. This has been a disaster for the Western churches, he says. More:
Walter Ong, having been formed in a masculine, Jesuit, clerical milieu does not seem to be aware of how feminized Christianity had become
even before the 1960s, but he saw a rapid shift in the Catholic Church in the 1960s toward even greater feminization. He identified masculinity with struggle, the “agonic.”
Finally, I think I have an answer, or a partial answer, to the question of why the Orthodox churches are attracting so many men in the West today: they are agonic. That is, Orthodox spirituality emphasizes struggle. Not passive receptiveness, not emotional fulfillment, but struggle — with God, with yourself, with truth, with sin, with the world.
Podles — who, I remind you, is a Catholic — writes:
A few Catholic writers, a very few, have noticed the lack of men in the church and have attempted to give both a diagnosis and a remedy. Patrick Arnold, in Warriors, Wildmen and Kings: Masculine Spirituality and the Bible, has made excellent practical suggestions. On the subject of the liturgy he says, “Butterfly, Banner, and Balloon Extravaganzas severely alienated many men. The most saccharine outbreaks of forced liturgical excitement featured fluttering dancers floating down church aisles like wood-nymphs, goofy pseudo-rites forced on the congregation with almost fascist authoritarianism, and a host of silly schticks usually accompanied by inane music.” Arnold continues with the observation that a “liturgy that appeals to men possesses a quality the Hebrews called kabod (‘glory’) and the Romans gravitas (‘gravity’); both words at root mean ‘weightiness’ and connote a sense of dignified importance and seriousness.” Nevertheless, Arnold’s perceptions and attempts at prescribing solutions are vitiated by his obvious sympathy for homosexuality. The current attempts, within almost all Christian denominations, to normalize homosexuality will, more than anything else, convince heterosexual men that religion had best be kept at a great distance.
Podles published this book in 1999. Nothing that has happened since then negates his thesis.
This passage from Chapter 9 makes for chilling reading today:
Masculinity is a natural religion, and in many ways resembles the Christianity of which it is a foretaste. Can men worship a savior unless they know what it is to be a savior? A man wants to become a god. He wants to be a savior, protecting all those in his care, giving his own life to save theirs. In other words, he wants to transcend the limits of mere humanity, but that transcendence is dangerous. When he faces death a man can die the death of the body; but he can also die the death of the soul, the second death. All too easily he may be fascinated by darkness and become a partisan and emissary of death—a demon. The further masculinity consciously distances itself from Christianity, the greater the danger that it will make men agents of death—nihilists—because in nothingness they see the ultimate self-transcendence.
Why chilling today? Take a look at this incredible essay by Katherine Dee about nihilism and school shooters. In it, she takes on the shibboleths of left and right, and says that we aren’t looking at the real reason we have them today, but did not in the past (even though guns were widely available then too). Excerpts:
The real reason for our mass shootings—hear me out—is that we have a nihilism problem.
By “we,” I mean the huge swaths of American society consumed by hopelessness, rage, and fear reflected in our politics, tribalism, social media, and even language. Many of us seem incapable of containing our furies, even as we are unsure what we are raging against—or for. Violence begets violence; all have become desensitized to the sound and fury of riots from Washington to Waukesha. In the swirl of confusion, nothing has meaning. Meaning is elusive. Nihilism—the rejection of the possibility of meaning—is the water in which we swim and the darkness that has enveloped our way of life in ways we haven’t even begun to comprehend.
The perpetrators of mass shootings are simply the most visible and violent emblems and exponents of our nihilism. Not always, but often, they are the ones who cannot see the value of civilization or society or even life itself. They are suffocating under the weight of what they view as the purposelessness of it all.
As I interviewed people about [Sandy Hook shooter Adam] Lanza, a common theme emerged. Yes, there was something obviously wrong with the material circumstances of America in the early 21st century—an economy that seemed incapable of providing for the many, decaying institutions, the ubiquity of our screens. But there was something else. Something more abstract. It was that we now lived in a world where everything revolved around the individual. We had morphed from a universe of moral absolutes to broad social and communal forces to an all-consuming solipsism—a terrifying oneness, a “culture of narcissism,” as Christopher Lasch put it, where the self is central.
This narcissism is expressed through our perpetual identity crises, where chasing an imaginary “true self” keeps us busy and distracted. We see it in the people who use their phones and computers like they’re prosthetic selves, who are always there, but never present, gazing endlessly at their own reflection in the pond. Our shared inability to commit to anything that might make life meaningful, like children or a partner or putting down roots in a single place. It pervades Western humor, which is dominated by a sense that the world is ending, so we may as well drink and smoke ourselves to death because nothing really matters.
In this world, the individual was everything and nothing, architect of the future and hapless cog in a vast and deafening black. In this place, one murdered wantonly with the knowledge that all of us were just accidental bits of flesh bookended by eternities, that we meant nothing, that the possibility of meaning was a ruse.
The debate over more guns or fewer guns completely misses the horrifying heart of the matter: the world built by modern liberalism, which took for its telos the maximization of individual autonomy, and thus guaranteed total alienation, breeds the nihilism behind these shootings. Ultimately, these killers could not cope, the way the rest of us do every day, with the crushing weight of the existential angst that is the promise of liberalism. Even the more thoughtful takes on fatherlessness and mental illness are only still addressing the symptoms of the disease. Until we see this, the ground of the problem, we will be no closer to answers, let alone solutions for these 21st-century horrors.
Read it all — it’s powerful.
So, you have to ask: are the churches that liberalism made up to the task of giving all these lost young men something to live for? Not only that, are they up to the task of giving young men who aren’t in danger of becoming mass shooters or some other form of nihilism a reason to become Christian? Lee Podles and Katherine Dee see the same problem: that men without meaning and purpose in life become nihilists. When I talk about “the churches that liberalism made,” I don’t mean simply the liberal churches. I’m talking also about the ideologically or theologically conservative churches that nevertheless have no place for masculinity, and that whether intentionally or not, construe masculinity according to the model of educated middle-class professionals.
I advise us all to heed the warning of Camille Paglia, at an ideas festival in the UK not long ago. Everybody knows that she is a sex-positive radical, but she warns that any study of history will reveal that a culture-wide fascination with androgyny and transgenderism always precedes a civilizational collapse. Notice what she says about all those who believe in the power of heroic masculinity being sent to the margins, where they wait their chance to strike:
Masculinity untempered and unrefined by Christian charity and mercy can be a terrible, terrible thing. Do I really need to remind you what followed the decadence of the late 19th and early 20th centuries — and what, in turn, followed the collapse of Weimar? Podles discusses how fascism was explicitly masculine, and that there were Nazis even more radical than Hitler (“They wanted civilized constraints to disappear, so that the primitive power of sex, blood, and violence would be free to create a new culture, more in tune with nature than the desiccated Europe of the bourgeoisie.”)
In this passage from Podles, he recalls Ernst Jünger’s memoir of fighting for Germany in the First World War:
In the last German offensive in spring 1918, Jünger recognizes that “the turmoil of our feelings was called forth by rage, alcohol and thirst for blood.” There was another spirit in him, “the pulse of heroism, the godlike and the bestial inextricably mingled,” a spirit not his own: “I was boiling with a fury now utterly inconceivable to me. The overpowering desire to kill winged my feet. Rage squeezed bitter tears from my eyes.”
Christianity was no longer comprehensible: “Today we cannot understand the martyrs. . . . Their faith no longer exercises a compelling force.” It is the Fatherland which is his god, the idea that has been made sacred by the sacrifices of the soldiers who die for it: “There is nothing to set against self-sacrifice that is not pale, insipid, and miserable.” Self-sacrifice has become a god—and therefore a demon. These emotions, disturbing and full of portent as they are, are not even the worst products of militarism. They were felt in the ancient world and fill the Iliad, Odyssey, and Aeneid. Jünger sounds a modern note that is even more frightening.
Nazism shows most fully the dangers inherent in masculinity. The male, to become masculine, must first move away from the normal, feminine, domestic world, face danger and darkness, and then return to the normal world transfigured by his experience. The motion away from the
normal is dangerous. It should be a parabola, leaving the base line of the normal only to return to it, but it can become a hyperbola, plunging off forever into the nothingness of infinity. Initially, it can be very hard to see the difference between the two trajectories. Nor are they predetermined. The male has a free will and can choose one or the other. Nor can a society avoid the dangers of nihilistic masculinity by renouncing masculinity. Any society that faces dangers must have an ideology that convinces some to face those dangers voluntarily for the sake of others, and if a society is to survive, those who face the dangers must be men, not women on whom the biological continuity of society depends. Nor can nihilistic masculinity be defeated by femininity, in a renunciation of separation and difference in an orgiastic communion. If a man goes wrong and heads off into nothingness, he can be defeated only by a man who has faced the darkness and not been conquered by it. Ernst Jünger could have joined the Freicorps and become a Nazi; it was precisely his masculinity that saved him. He despised the Nazis as soft; they killed the weak. Germans who took masculinity seriously would eventually have found themselves in the position of the Italian Fascists who subverted the Holocaust.
This post has gone on so long, but I had forgotten until I went down the Podles rabbit hole this morning what an important book The Church Impotent is. And you can read it for free here. One last quote:
A truly masculine spirituality must include struggle. Jesus struggled throughout his life, struggles that culminated in the agony, that is, in the struggle in the garden. In another garden sinful man had fled from the holiness of God and refused to struggle with the mystery of outraged holiness and love. In this garden, the Son confronted the Father and wrestled with his will. He ultimately submitted, as Mary did, but he submitted after a question, a plea: Let this cup pass from me. The Trinitarian space between the Father and the Son allows there to be a potential space between the will of the father and the will of the son. This space, reflected in the distance of creation from the creator, could become a sinful space of rebellion and alienation leading down to hell. But it could also become a space in with the Other is confronted as Other, and accepted as Other. God was the God of Jesus Christ; he addressed him as my God (as distinct from your God), and to the Father as to God, the Son submitted in the garden, as he submits from all eternity. What was the cup? The torture and death of the cross? Yes, but in that torture and death all godforsakenness was tasted, all guilt, all suffering, all pain of the entire creation. Insofar as men are Christian, they must be agonic, that is, they must participate in the struggle against evil. This struggle is close to the heart of Christianity, although it is not the very heart.
Podles goes on to say that we do not need more wars of religion, and that that is not what he’s calling for. Rather, he wants his readers to understand that a Christianity that does not offer men struggle — against the world, the flesh, and the devil — is not a Christianity that will attract men. It’s not that churches should openly shun gay people — not at all! It’s that a church cannot embrace and affirm homosexuality, not only because it violates clear Biblical teaching, but also because that signals a feminization of the church’s ethos that will drive most men away (even if they happen to be tolerant of gays). I have attended Orthodox churches where I know that there are gay people in the congregation. That’s fine — all who sincerely seek the Lord should be welcome in a church — but the church must maintain its strict teaching, calling all of us, straight and gay alike, to repentance and clean living, and not capitulating or conforming to the world’s standards.
So, to return to Orthodoxy for a second, I don’t want to give you the wrong idea. You can find soft, intellectual, middle-class priests, but even when you do, the way of life within Orthodox worship and tradition is usually enough to overcome effete pastoral leadership. Orthodoxy offers mystery and masculine sacrifice, and doesn’t upchuck bourgeois banalities like How To Live Your Best Life Now, or some pseudo-macho pop Evangelical garbage. Nor does it embrace contemporary identity politics (despite the outrageous recent action of the woke Greek Archbishop of the US, which has been widely condemned in the Orthodox world). I’m not trying to evangelize for Orthodoxy here, only point out what somehow Orthodoxy has managed to hold onto, but the West hasn’t. There’s a reason why Orthodox churches draw lots of men, and it is certainly not because the sermons are filled with the thoughts of Robert Bly, or there is anything macho about it. It’s just built into the ethos, this expectation that the spiritual life is a serious journey, one that is going to require self-denial in periods, and acts of asceticism, but one that is also a journey into mystery and deep mythological patterns of living. Honestly, I can’t explain it beyond what I’ve written here, quoting Catholic writer Lee Podles. But it’s something I have experienced myself.
I’ll leave you with this popular YouTube video of a Russian Orthodox male quartet chanting the Lenten hymn “Let My Prayer Arise.” You won’t hear singing of this quality in most Orthodox churches on Sunday, but the music itself gives you a sense of the way masculinity presents itself within Orthodox spiritual and liturgical life. I’m not suggesting to you male readers that you should convert to Orthodoxy. But I am strongly urging you to listen to Jordan Peterson and Lee Podles (and, for that matter, Camille Paglia).
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UPDATE: An Episcopal friend sends word that the Episcopal Church’s General Convention has queered the Ethiopian eunuch of Scripture. From TEC:
August 27: Simeon Bachos, the Ethiopian Eunuch, Evangelist in Africa
In the eighth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, we find the story of Philip and the baptism of an unnamed Ethiopian Eunuch. In the second century, the bishop and theologian Irenaeus of Lyons referred to him as Simeon Bachos; this is the name by which this unidentified figure is known in many parts of the eastern church, including in the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo church.
According to the Acts, he was familiar with the Hebrew scriptures, and his encounter with Philip took place as he traveled from Jerusalem, where he had worshipped at the temple. Some suggest that he was a Jewish convert, while others contend that he was a “Godfearer.” Regardless of his previous religious affiliation, scripture records him as the first African person to be baptized.
Simeon Bachos was a person of great prestige, serving the Candace, or Queen, as both chamberlain and treasurer. His status as a eunuch indicates that he was a member of a sexual minority, either a castrated male, a deliberately celibate male, or a gender non-conformist.
Iraneus [sic] describes Simeon Bachos’s life after baptism, “This man was also sent into the regions of Ethiopia, to preach what he had himself believed.” In the fourth century, the historian Eusebius wrote that “The Eunuch became an apostle for his people.” The tenth-century Synaxarion of Constantinople designates August 27 as the commemoration of Simeon Bachos.
As a person of a different race, ethnicity, and gender identification, Simeon Bachos stands at the intersection of multiple marginalized groups. His identity shows that the early church was able to transcend social categories in its evangelizing work and that the gospel’s message would spread to the ends of the earth and to every person. Simeon Bachos calls Christians to be fully inclusive and welcoming of all people, empowering them for ministry and leadership.
I’m sure the Ethiopian Tewahedo (Orthodox) Church will be thrilled to hear the news.