Recently at a workshop that I was giving a woman shared this at the luncheon break: “I have this secret dream. In it, I blow a trumpet one Sunday morning and at the sound of that trumpet, all the women in churches around the world walk out! Wouldn’t that be something! Wouldn’t that send some signal to Rome!”
That’s one woman’s dream, and, given some of the anger that has constellated in recent years around gender issues in the church, I suspect that more than a few women nurse that kind of fantasy.
For men, unfortunately, no such fantasy, or trumpet, is necessary. Most of them have already walked out. As tough as things are for women in the church, they are even tougher, I submit, for men.
Several years ago, I suggested in this column that the church suffers because of a double alienation: many women are alienated from the structure of the church, wheareas many men, perhaps the majority of them, are alienated from tis soul.
What do I mean by that? Let me attempt some explanation:
I know a number of women who no longer go to church because it is too painful for them, given an all-male clergy and a set of structures that they consider unhealthily patriarchal. Yet every one of these women prays, has a deep interest in spirituality, gives and makes retreats, and has deep religious and ecclesial concerns. They have left the church (or, at least, they have stopped going to church). But they are deeply concerned and involved with religion, with Christianity.
Conversely, I know many men, young and old, who do go to church, for whom the structures of the church present no obstacle, but who are, deep down, alienated from religion. They don’t pray, have no interest in spirituality and have virtually no ecclesial concerns.
They attend church and church functions begrudgingly, either out of a sense of duty or because they are dragged there by the women in their lives. And then there are still the millions of men who are not, it would seem, interested in religion and do not attend church either.
What’s to be said about this?
The rather simplistic answer is that women are more spiritually developed, more attuned to deeper things and more sensitive than are men. To my mind, that is a dangerous misreading of the situation.
The problem is not that men are more a-religious or irreligious than women. No. The problem is rather that, within Christianity in the Western world, men have and, quite understandably too, a spiritual inferiority complex the size of the Grand Canyon and this would is further exacerbated by the fact that Christianity, for the main part, has taken on a female soul.
While its structures may be overbalanced towards the male side, the church’s soul is weighted in reverse. Simply put—and I in no way intend this remark as sarcasm or cynicism, but in all respect—it is no accident that, seen archetypally, the pope wears a dress rather than the uniform of a knight or a soldier.
There are reasons for this, not the least of which is the fact that we were taught to believe and pray by our mothers (much more so than by our fathers), but those reasons aren’t my point here.
My point is rather that, as we try to build a healthier, more whole church we must, with more courage and honesty than has been the norm of late, look at the way both women and men are being alienated from the church, and we must look at both structures and soul.
Not to have the courage to examine how patriarchal our structures are is to run the risk of losing many women. Conversely, not to have the courage to examine how matriarchal is our soul is to run the risk of losing even still more men.
In his autobiography, Nikos Kazantzakis shares how as a young boy he was torn between the soft religiosity and piety of his mother and the hard impious anti-clericalism of his father. When he was a bit older, he picked up the Bible, intending to read it from cover to cover and then decide for himself what was right about Christianity, the softness of his mother or the hardness of his dad.
He tells how he thoroughly enjoyed the Old Testament. Yahweh was his kind of God—passion, blood, war, knives, horses, betrayal and forgiveness on every page. Then he read the New Testament. He describes his disappointment: “After all that strength, blood and passion, along comes Jesus, petting sheep and drinking camomile tea!”
His is not the best interpretation of the New Testament, but his comment is a good one to ponder as we try to renew ourselves as church. We must retain and balance many dualities: softness and hardness, piety and toughness, water and fire, soul and structure, female and male. God is all of these.