Just on a whim, this morning I entered the phrase “male spirituality” into Google. The quotation marks are explicit, so that Google would search for the phrase rather than the two words. What came back was an interesting potpourri of links that I had only the time to skim the very surface of, much like a water-skeeter dances across the surface of a pond without breaking the surface tension. If she stops (I believe water-skeeters, like bees, are female), she drowns. There is almost no subject in the contemporary universe of discourse where there is as much danger of drowning is as in discussing sex, gender, and the relationship between the sexes. So I’m going to try to keep things as light as possible, to avoid breaking surface tension, to avoid drowning. For this reason, I start with a question, and it is not rhetorical. I am open to wherever the investigation leads.
About a year ago, someone asked me point blank in an email if I believed that men and women were equal. Because I didn’t really want to engage with this person and because the probability of mutual respect and civil discourse was minimal, I responded ‘Of course. What’s your point? ‘ It was cowardly on my part, I guess, because I don’t even believe men and men or women and women are equal, or that the same man or woman is equal diachronically. It got me thinking about our concept of equality. What does it mean for a man to be equal to a woman? What does it mean for a man to be equal to another man? It obviously isn’t the same as identity, or being the same, which is the schoolyard equivalent. Sameness is more of a function of manufactured things, things made by machine, on purpose, to be as identical as possible. Variety, diversity is more of a function of nature. But we live in a time where manufactured equality is crucial. Among other things, it makes it much easier and much less expensive to repair our cars, build a house, or track a household’s consumption of peanut butter. Also, we grow from the playground into the courtroom, but we carry our playground concepts with us when we go, and they grow along with us.
Equality, then, has to be something of an abstraction. We have to consciously disregard differences if we are going to treat two things as equal. I am a Trinitarian Christian, and therefore I can be neither a holist nor a reductionist. Neither the similarities nor the differences between men and women are absolute. The prevailing sentiment is that the differences between men and women should be minimized, that they are culturally defined, and these differences should never enter into consideration when a man or a woman is considering a course of action. Biology will have her tribute, though. Barring a technology that I can only imagine as infernal, men will never give birth, and a trained female mixed martial arts fighter would be suicidal to enter the Thunderdome against her male counterpart. These are differences of the body, of the human being considered as a physical object with all of its quiddity and measurability. A toaster and a grandmother dropped from Galileo’s tower will both strike the pavement simultaneously, but no one on this side of madness would consider them equal because of that.
But what happens when we leave the body, as we suppose, behind? What happens when we move into the realm of the spirit, of that indefinable something that differentiates the grandmother from the toaster, indeed, even from a birch tree, sea snail, or a Shetland pony ? Surely we leave the distinctions of the body behind. Now, I am not a trained theologian, but I can follow theologians when they talk, and that is a useful skill. What I want to do is examine evidence both for and against the idea of gender-specific spirituality and leave aside the urgency of coming to a conclusion. Especially, I don’t want to be railroaded towards a conclusion. I may as well mention the Manosphere, especially its Christian “branch”, whose meticulously ground and deeply resentful axes will find plenty of timber upon which to assay purchase.
I lean by temperament and upbringing to believe that men and women will respond to God differently. I am not alone in thinking so. Very soon after becoming a conscious disciple of Christ I was assailed by a group of married Christian women who wanted me to ‘evangelize’ their husbands. It was thought that, being a man, it would be easier for me to encourage them to participate in churchly activities. I was a dismal failure at this. I am a transplanted Yankee. Their husbands were Southern good ol’ boys. Church was, for them, something that it was fitting for women and children to be involved in, and Yankees, who don’t much care for NASCAR and whose football loyalties were tied to Big Ten teams with highly suspect ground games. “Men are too proud for church. Their masculine pride won’t allow them to accept any help, even from the Lord”, one wife complained to me in the presence of our pastor. This pastor had been on the ground at Guadalcanal. I don’t think anybody could accuse him of a lack of masculinity. Yet the fact remained, men were scarce in our church. They were scarce in the Pentecostal Church, in the Baptist Church, in the Methodist Church. They were less scarce in the PCA Presbyterian church, but they tended to be bookish and intellectual. If they were aggressive, it was usually with a lawyerly kind of aggression.
The Orthodox church doesn’t have this problem. If anything, it has too many men. It is said that Orthodoxy attracts and retains men because it is “challenging”. The rules are more stringent in Orthodoxy than they are in other precincts of Christendom. The fasting rules are strict. The Orthodox faithful are vegan some 40% of the year, and often at inconvenient times. Services are long and you are expected to stand for most them. Prayers are interminable, and no quarter is given to the flesh. It remains that many people believe that Orthodoxy has a “heroic ethos” that “attracts men”. The less charitable accuse us of being the last bastion of the He-Man Woman Haters Club that used to be coterminous with Christendom and has been reduced in these enlightened times to a diminishing circle of Slavic waggons, and THAT is what attracts men, and you are welcome to them.
A thousand words in, and I haven’t even quoted a Bible verse. I’ll do that next time. Actually I think the venerable Auld Booke is more egalitarian than I am, but that for next time.