Thursday, July 08, 2004

PODLES: Summary and Response

KEY: my comments, summary, quotes

While Podles brings up an important topic, his handling of the data and his basic understanding of masculinity and femininity bring into question his conclusions. Though I haven't found it yet, hopefully there is another resource out there that more correctly handles biblical, biological, sociological, psychological, and cultural information regarding masculinity and femininity, and the lack of men in many churches.

THE CHURCH IMPOTENT: the feminization of Christianity
by Leon J. Podles
pub. Spence Publishing, (C) 1999, 288 pages

NOTE: I apologize in advance for the staccato nature of some of the summary paragraphs. Podles’ flow of thought was a bit hard to follow.

"Something created a barrier between Western Christianity and men, and that is the subject of this book" (p. ix).

1—Armies of Women: Cultural, historical, and sociological evidences show that men have been absent from church since the pre-industrial age. Significantly, this is not the case in Orthodox Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.

2—Can a man be a Christian?: The key question is: "What is it about the nature of men and of Western Christianity that has created such a tension in their relationship in the last millennium?" (p. 28). Several theories have been proposed: individualization and industrialization relegated religion to the home/feminine sphere; women are weaker; women are better; women are receptive and passive; and masculinity is unchristian. None of these theories sufficiently answers the question.

LKS: Some one with more time should check out Podles’ data in chapters 1 and 2. I don’t have the time, but the numbers feel a bit like statistical manipulation.

3—What is masculinity?: Biologically, the human body is roughly female and males develop by rejecting the female form and differentiating into a male form. Psychologically, boys become masculine by rejecting the feminine (mother) and identifying with the masculine (father). Masculinity is separation and femininity is communion. "…the most striking feature of masculinity is its separation from the feminine, and it is this part of the developmental pattern that is usually thought of as uniquely masculine" (p. 45). Further evidence is found in initiation rites, mystery religions, and literature (Homer’s Odyssey and Beowulf specifically).

LKS: Biologically, it seems from observation that the human body before puberty is roughly androgynous (though genetically distinct). Both sexes undergo dramatic changes in the development of secondary sex characteristics. Psychologically, both boys and girls must be attached and be separate from mother and father for healthy development and individuation, leading to interdependence. Regarding the “most striking feature of masculinity" I question Podle’s basis for this assumption—which he does not clearly state—and his statement that "separation" is "usually thought of as uniquely masculine."

4—God and man in Judaism—Fathers and the Father-God: God is understood as masculine in Judaism primarily because he is separate from creation. "The holy is a masculine category. To be holy is to be separated, set apart from common or profane use" (p. 61). True patriarchy shows God as Father and men as fathers rather than as male animals. Examples are Abraham, Moses, and David.

LKS: I question whether Judaism’s understanding of God as Father is truly based on God’s separation from creation. Rather, it would seem to be descriptive of his relationship with his creation, not separate from it.

5—God and man in early Christianity—Sons in the Son: "In their conformity to the Son, all Christians, male and female, become sons of God, and are therefore called to be masculine" (p. 75). Both the Father and the Son evidence this separateness/masculinity. The Spirit is masculine in relation to creation (holiness, power, sonship), but feminine in relation to the Trinity (communion). The church as a whole is feminine, but the individual members are masculine because they are conformed to the Son. The sacraments/mysteries of the church (baptism, Eucharist, confirmation, and laying on of hands) are part of the Christian initiation, which is similar to masculine initiation rituals. Christianity began to feminize between the patristic/monastic eras and the modern era.

LKS: Podles' claim that all Christians should "become masculine" is based on poor hermeneutics and a profound misunderstanding of the first century usage of huios (usually translated "son", but used collectively to mean "children"). Further, his claim that all believers are to become masculine flies in the face of God’s original design of humanity as male and female (Genesis 1:26-27)

6—The Foundations of Feminization: Three movements comprise the foundations of feminization. 1) The development of affective spirituality and bridal mysticism were individualized spirituality (rather than applying to the church as a whole) and considered the soul to be feminine. 2) The Frauenbewegung women’s movement integrated more women into church life and ministry. 3) Scholasticism made theology a science, separating it from the life of faith.

LKS: 1) While bridal mysticism may have led to feminization, it more likely led to a sexualized understanding of the believer’s relationship with Jesus. Such a sexualized understanding is unwarranted by Scripture. 2) Women integrated into church life? For shame!! :-) 'Nuff said. 3) In his critique of Scholasticism, Podles’ assumes that intellect is masculine and emotion is feminine. This is a baseless assumption (as much as men—and women—might like to believe otherwise).

7—Feminized Christianity: There are certain characteristics of feminized Christianity. Christians are to be receptive, therefore they are to be feminine. Bridal mysticism led to the notion that individual Christians are to have a love affair with Jesus. Masculine men reject this, fearing feminization and homosexuality. Eroticism with Jesus entered Christian practice. The move away from Latin liturgy is a symptom of feminization because Latin was a "…language restricted to men…a sign of masculine separation from the feminine world" (p. 135). The switch to gender neutral names for the members of the Trinity is another aspect of feminization. Masculine men respond to feminization by seeking spiritual sustenance elsewhere.

LKS: Feminine as "receptive" seems to be based on a certain anatomical feature of the female body. This leap from anatomy to psychology is wacky. I agree with Podles on the misapplication of bridal mysticism to the individual believer. As far as the eroticization goes… eew! Finally, Latin is masculine?? Who knew.

8—Counter Currents: The scholastic medieval theology, the crusades, and chivalric devotion to Mary were aspects of Medieval catholic masculinity. Catholic reactions to feminization were a feature of the counter-reformation. The counter-reformation became suspicious of and reacted against "…the extreme feminization and eroticization of Catholic piety during the Middle Ages" (p. 143). Jesuits as soldiers of Christ, the Penitentes of New Mexico (who reenact the passion), the Knights of Columbus, and the ressourcement attempt to overcome the bifurcation between theology and piety were some additional Catholic reactions. Protestant reactions to feminization were a feature of the reformation. Reformers, especially Luther, "…returned to a stark view of humanity caught between God and the Devil" (p. 152). Later, Revivalism, in asking for a conversion, appealed to men. The Victorian muscular Christianity of Charles Kingsley preached godliness and manliness. The Men and Religion Forward Movement of the early 1900s presented Jesus as Successful Businessman and Super Salesman. Also, the tendency of evangelicalism and fundamentalism to think in dichotomies has been more attractive to men.

LKS: Again, someone with more time—and a bent toward historical research—should check this stuff out. His categorizations seem slanted.

9—Masculinity as Religion—Transcendence and Nihilism: "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" (p. 164). Sexuality of primitive uncivilized males has become a religion in the West. War, sports, and extreme sports provide men with a taste of transcendence. Brotherhoods—Masons, Odd Fellows—are basically revivals of the mystery religions that were attractive to men. Boy scouts, military reenactments, and war games provide spiritual release. War provides an experience heaven, hell, non-sexual erotic relationships for which men hunger. "In the eros of comradeship, the personalities are fused because of the willingness of each to die for the other. It is a blood-brotherhood, a brotherhood attained only in blood, in sacrifice, in death, or at least under the shadow and threat of these" (p. 189). Fascism is another example.

LKS: The term "natural religion" reminds me of Genesis 3—not a good thing. Since when is wanting to be a savior and a god a good thing for humans? Didn’t we get into trouble for that? Further, his descriptions of masculinity remind me of the chest-beating, forest-dwelling man-sessions of the 1960s and 1970s.

10—The Future of Men in the Church: "For all its faults, it is basic natural religion, a yearning for transcendence, a proto-evangelium built into the structure of human society. Since men continue to want to be masculine, they will continue (unless there are major changes in the Church) to put a greater or lesser distance between themselves and the church. Is there any way that Christianity can reach men in a long-lasting and effective manner?" (p. 196). "The holy is a masculine category: men develop their masculine identity by a pattern of separation, both biological and cultural, and to be holy means to be separate" (p. 197). Gordon Dalbey constructed a Christian initiation ritual (see Healing the Masculine Soul) that involves worshipful and challenging transition events with the men of the church. Such initiation rituals help men and boys understand and develop masculinity. Masculine spirituality must include struggle because life is struggle and men instinctively know that they must enter that struggle. Philia is a more intensive word for love that agape because it is brotherly love that frees men from tyranny to self based on shared suffering.

LKS: Where is the scriptural support for "holy is a masculine category"? True Christianity WILL include struggle—that’s a promise. It has to do with being Christian, though, not with being male. Also, his understanding of philia and agape is—how shall I say—out in the bleachers on the other side of left field.

"The church must develop a right understanding of the meanings of masculinity and femininity, an understanding that is consistent with human realities and with the data of Scripture" (p. 208).

LKS: I agree with Podles’ sentiment here, but it is on this very point that Podles has most surely failed. His understanding of masculinity and femininity is compatible with neither Scripture nor human reality. An understanding of masculinity and femininity must refer back to God’s original intention in creation and the distortion of that original intention by the entrance of sin. Then and only then should we refer to cultural, sociological, biological, and psychological evidence. It is to the discussion of the Scriptural evidence that I now turn.

Next Installment: Masculinity and Femininity in Genesis 1-3: Original Intent and its Distortion by Sin

Wednesday, July 07, 2004


They have a new baby bighorn sheep at the San Diego Zoo--and it's a girl! Too cute!

Tuesday, July 06, 2004


It's a nothing much kinda day. Spent my work day updating Excel based reports for the Fall semester (too fun...bleh). On other fronts, I really am working on Podles--it's just that life and tiredness seem to be conspiring. I'm hoping for sometime tomorrow. Drank good coffee. Ate good food. Gonna have bible study tonight (Mark 10 with the college students). Regular so-so day. Not very exciting, but hey, sometimes excitement isn't everything it's cracked up to be. Maybe I'll be more pithy tomorrow...