One of the main thrusts of liberal Bible scholarship over at least the last 40 years has been to devise arguments that the Bible does not really mean what it says.
A ready-to-hand case in point: sexuality. The biblical proscriptions against certain kinds of sexual acts - homosexual acts, bestiality and adultery all alike are strictly prohibited - are as clear as anything that can be found in Scripture. But modern liberal scholarship has invented ingenious arguments that the proscription of homosexuality isn’t real, that what matters most is the "authenticity" of the relationship, whether there is love and caring, and then they claim that what is really being forbidden by the texts is not homosexuality at all, but pederasty, claimed to be quite common in the ancient Mediterranean world, and that "non-exploitative" homosexual relations are actually quite in accordance with the Bible.
Now, reconstructing the Bible is nothing new. Christians have been doing it for, oh, more than a thousand years. But what is distinctive about modern scholarship is what one of my colleagues, a Ph.D. candidate at the liberal Vanderbilt Divinity School, observed: In addition to interpreting the Scriptures in ways that suit them (not a new thing at all) liberal scholars have "demythologized" the Bible in radical ways. So radical, in fact, that it is barely recognizable in many of their works as revelatory of the divine.
"Modern biblical scholarship wants to liberate people from the Bible instead of immerse them into it," he said. "The Bible is presented as oppressive, patriarchal, exclusionary and ‘privileging’ certain people at the expense of others. Therefore, scholarship is highly concerned with providing reasons to reject the teachings of the Scriptures rather than embrace them."
What got me on this post’s train of thought was an essay by Kim du Toit (no longer online) on the demasculinization of American men.
Now, little boys in grade school are suspended for playing cowboys and Indians, cops and crooks, and all the other familiar variations of "good guy vs. bad guy" that helped them learn, at an early age, what it was like to have decent men hunt you down, because you were a lawbreaker. ...Now I think that Kim is over the top in his essay, here and there, but there’s no denying that it has struck a huge chord with a lot of guys. And its basic theme, once you work through Kim’s provocative language, is really quite simple: Manhood must no longer be defined by women, but by men. Specifically, men who are self-confidently masculine and don’t regret it, who don’t want to regret it.
What I care about is the fact that since the beginning of the twentieth century, there has been a concerted campaign to denigrate men, to reduce them to figures of fun, and to render them impotent, figuratively speaking. ...
Out there, there is a huge number of men who are sick of it. We're sick of being made figures of fun and ridicule; we're sick of having girly-men like journalists, advertising agency execs and movie stars decide on "what is a man"; we're sick of women treating us like children, and we're really [deleted] sick of girly-men politicians who pander to women by passing an ever-increasing raft of Nanny laws and regulations (the legal equivalent of public-school Ritalin), which prevent us from hunting, racing our cars and motorcycles, smoking, flirting with women at the office, getting into fistfights over women, shooting criminals and doing all the fine things which being a man entails.
Since I am in a religious vocation, Kim’s essay made me think of Leon Podles’ controversial book, The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity. Leon’s complaints are very similar to Kim’s, except they are more, uh, genteely stated. Amazon’s book description states thus:
After documenting the highly feminized state of Western Christianity, Dr. Podles identifies the masculine traits that once characterized the Christian life but are now commonly considered incompatible with it. ... He contends that though masculinity has been marginalized within Christianity, it cannot be expunged from human society. If detached from Christianity, it reappears as a substitute religion, with unwholesome and even horrific consequences. The church, too, is diminished by its emasculation. Its spirituality becomes individualistic and erotic, tending toward universalism and quietism. In his concluding assessment of the future of men in the church, Dr. Podles examines three aspects of Christianity-initiation, struggle, and fraternal love-through which its virility might be restored.A reader comment on the Amazon page made the following point: " If Christianity keeps appealing to "feminized men" and rejecting the masculine, we just may see a masculine spirituality go hypermasculine to the cry of "Allahu Akbar!"
As the saying goes, on Sundays women go to church and men go to NFL games, either in person or on TV. Because men darn sure are mostly absent from Christian services (not Jewish or Muslim, though).
In an essay online, Podles writes,
Something seems to be creating a barrier between Western Christianity and men. Why is it that men in the west are so little interested in religion and that the men who are interested often do not follow the general pattern of masculinity? Why doesn't religion seem to interest men much, until they reach old age? ...Clergy don’t get off Podles’ hook:
It seems that the clergy are not unhappy with the absence of men. Women are easier to deal with: even feminists can be satisfied to some extent. Hymns and the Bible are being rewritten to expunge references to men; the few men in the congregation will not protest. ...
Because Christianity is now seen as a part of the sphere of life proper to women rather than to men, it sometimes attracts men whose own masculinity is somewhat doubtful. By this I do not mean homosexuals, although a certain type of homosexual is included. Rather, religion is seen as a safe field, a refuge from the challenges of life, and therefore attracts men who are fearful of making the break with the secure world of childhood dominated by women.
The clergy have long had the reputation of not being very masculine. The main line, liberal Protestant minister in the early twentieth century had a reputation for being soft and working best with women. They were seen as exempt from masculine trials and agonies, part of the safe world of women. As one layman put it, "Life is a football game, with the men fighting it out on the gridiron, while the minister is up in the grandstand, explaining it to the ladies."Now, why is that? After all, the apostle Paul was a man’s man:
23 Are they servants of Christ? ... I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again.The Sissified Jesus
24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.
25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea,
26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers.
27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.
28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. (2 Cor 11:23-28)
But maybe the reason that many clergy seem to be not terribly manly is that the church has made sure that Jesus is presented as something of a wuss, too.
As children in Sunday School we see our first pictures of Jesus as the good shepherd (see above, for example). They are wildly inaccurate. They show a Zest-fully clean Jesus with his Breck-shampooed, blow-dried hair, in a spotless, Bill Blass robe, carrying a little lamb on his shoulders. This is an inoffensive, domesticated Jesus, a tamed Jesus who looks good. This Jesus is a poster boy for people who think that Christian faith is supposed to make them popular. But if this wimpy, smarmy, gender-confused, television-evangelist-looking Jesus ever told you, “I lay down my life for the sheep” (cf: John 10:11), you’d laugh out loud in derision. And if it ever occurred to you that your life was literally in his hands, you’d cry in despair.
A good shepherd Jesus would have grubby clothes that were torn and tattered, perhaps bloodstained. He would clip his hair short because it would be constantly dirty. Soot and sweat would be streaked across his face. His hands would be grimy. His aroma would prove he is unacquainted with Ban Roll-on. The type of fellow who can do the work that shepherding requires is not the kind of fellow any of us would invite home to meet mother. Good shepherds don’t appeal to persons of refined sensibility.
A good shepherd Jesus would look out of place in our Ethan Allen dining rooms, and probably in most churches as well. This is not a Jesus who has time to idle the day away with us. Jesus the good shepherd has countless skills and strengths, honed on this earth to rescue us from countless dangers, including ourselves. Bluntly, a good shepherd is ready for battle at any time.
“Ours is a Jesus who is powerful enough to grab us from the jaws of a hungry wolf. But at the same time Jesus is also powerful enough to grab us from the jaws of too much civility and niceness, from our need to have a pretty picture and a happy ending to the story, from our hiding from the raw, sometime coarse and smelly vitality of life itself” (Rebecca Young).In the tame, domesticated and frankly feminine images of Jesus we use, we suppress Jesus’ masculinity, of which shepherding is one example. It’s a cultural thing, you see. Boys and men find it overwhelmingly important to be seen as manly men, independent, confident and self-assured, but Christian faith is culturally seen as a sort of wimpy crutch for people who can’t handle life on their own. Such stereotypes are reinforced by artistic and verbal images of Jesus that I think would make his first apostles wonder just whom we are talking about.
When King David was just a lad, he volunteered for single combat with Goliath. David was a shepherd, a tough guy, alert to dangers. He stood before King Saul. Saul denied David the right to confront Goliath in single combat because David was so young.
But David said to Saul, "I have been keeping my father's sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. I have killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them. . . .That’s what good shepherds do.
There’s a lot more to this general topic, especially as relates to the feminization of culture at large (Kim’s complaint), the feminization of university curricula, which Geitner Simmons writes about without really intending to:
In short, the masculine has been driven from the curriculum. Then there is The Feminization of the American Military, which offers this pointed observation:
A freshman at Bowdoin cannot take a course in Shakespeare. A freshman at Amherst isn't offered a single overview of European or American history. A freshman at Williams will find that what few courses review U.S. or European history focus on "race, ethnicity and gender," rather than the given period's main developments. A freshman at Wellesley will find that the few broad English courses offered to freshmen focus on gender and not the books' themes and styles.
Writing in the 1940’s in opposition to the ordination of women as priests, C. S. Lewis argued that the issue was not whether females could perform the caring and instructional missions of the clergy as well or better than most men, but rather that the Church was a creature of revelation, not reason, and that the Lord had chosen to place the burden of priesthood on men. But if men had become insufficiently masculine to perform their appointed duty, the solution was hardly to call upon those who were not masculine at all. We arrived at our current impasse over women in combat for the simple reason that not enough American men could be found to perform a masculine duty. And if our only solution — and it appears that it is — is to call upon those who are not masculine at all, then we may reach the point when— as Lewis wrote in The Abolition of Man: “We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings to be fruitful.”This essay is plenty long enough now, so I’ll let Podles have the last word. Referring again to the general absence of men in churches, he says:
Neither has the absence of men left women untouched. Unfortunately, women have been forced into the unnatural mold by Christians' misunderstandings of the feminine. Much of current feminism is an understandable reaction against the caricature of feminine roles. The breakdown of the proper relationship of masculinity and femininity, male and female, Adam and Eve, is at the root of many of the churches failures in the modern world, but this situation would not surprise the author of Genesis.Update: Glenn Reynolds refers us to a Salon essay on the Berenstain Bears syndrome, the kids books in which Papa is consistently presented as a loser, a "post-feminist Alan Alda fumbling wimp," as Charles Krauthammer put it.