Tuesday, April 3, 2018

More in common with toddlers

I always enjoy reading Rod Dreher's blog, because even when I disagree with him he's an interesting writer.

I disagreed with him regarding this recent post:
Here’s the thing: is there a connection between the feminization of Christianity and its decline? Does Nick Kristof really believe that what ails American Christianity is its view of God as a “stern father”? Has he really not read anything about Moralistic Therapeutic Deism? Even as far back as the mid-1960s, sociologist Philip Rieff observed that American Christianity was fast changing into a more feminine, therapeutic model, mirroring what was happening in the broader American culture. 
In this post, I’m going to talk about the sociological and psychological effect of the feminization of Christianity. From a theologically orthodox point of view, within the sacramental, liturgical churches, there are insurmountable problems with female ordination. I find it harder to grasp these as theological problems within Protestantism, but I freely admit that this could be because I lack knowledge of Protestantism. 
What I’m putting into this post is not strictly, or even mostly, a theological matter. I want to establish that point clearly. I don’t believe that women priests are possible within Orthodoxy and Catholicism, because women cannot do what priests do within the sacramental system of those forms of Christianity. If proclaiming and explaining the Word is the point of the worship service though (and not the Eucharist, or if the Eucharist is nothing more than a memorial meal), then I don’t see why men have any advantage over women. 
In terms of the psychology and sociology of Christian sacerdotal leadership, well, that’s something different. And that’s what I want to talk about here.
Read the rest here.

Now, obviously as a Catholic I do agree with Rod that theologically speaking, women in the ancient and sacrificial forms of Christianity cannot be ordained to the priesthood--on this subject Rome has spoken and the cause is finished. A female priesthood is impossible for Catholics and, presumably, Orthodoxy as well.

Where I disagree is with the rest of the post, because it follows a pattern of thought that I've seen before. The pattern goes roughly like this:

1. In some bright age of the past, Christianity was for Real Men. Real Men who did all the hard, heroic, sacrificial things of life also brought that ethos with them to worship, and their manly, masculine churches reflected their understanding that men had a job to do when it came to the struggles (a word Rod uses throughout his post) of life.

2. Then, gradually, everything changed. Women were allowed to help out with more and more things at church, and worship started becoming unduly feminine. Men were pushed out by all the Female Stuff happening at worship.

3. Thus, fixing worship means making it masculine again. Churches that figure out how to appeal to manly men in their masculinity will thrive, while churches that fail to do this will end up with women "bishops" in silly hats trying to run things via estrogen-fueled services set to "Jesus is My Boyfriend" music.

The people who think this way seem to forget that even in the early days of the Church Christianity was mocked as a religion for women and slaves; they also forget the long time in American history when Protestants looked at Catholicism (and possibly Orthodoxy as well) with the celibate priesthood, the long, lace-trimmed vestments, the highly ornate and decorated churches, and saw--well, they didn't accuse Catholicism of being too manly, that's for sure.

Now, I thought about what I wanted to say for a long time today (too long) and a commenter over on Rod's blog beat me to it. Since I don't know her personally, I'll paraphrase: why do so many men use "female" and "feminine" as synonyms for moral failings? What's wrong with the church isn't that it has been feminized; what's wrong is that it has been infantilized.

She's right, this commenter, and profoundly so. When liturgy is dumbed down, it isn't done because the people in charge (in the Catholic Church's case, male priests and bishops and cardinals, etc.) somehow have suddenly decided to make things more appealing to women. It's done in an effort, however misguided, to reach the spiritual infants of both sexes who may be present in the congregation. 

Not only that, but it's easy to forget, when you see crowds of female volunteers at Mass, that the original intention was to allow Father to have some assistance from lay people when Father didn't have associate priests, deacons, seminarians, or anybody else to help out. Nobody said those lay people had to be women, and if you're lucky enough to be a member of a parish where plenty of men step up to the plate to volunteer you may see a good balance of men and women or even (just maybe) more men than women helping out. (My own mission parish is like that, for instance--we have a rare, unique problem in that we do not currently have enough female singers in the choir to balance the voices properly!).

Now, I've been told that in order to get men to volunteer to do anything, you have to make those things male-only volunteer opportunities, because otherwise the men won't sign up or join. Somehow or other, this is a proof not of sexism or fragile male egos, but of feminism: it is feminism's fault that men won't sign up to be, say, lectors if women are also permitted to do it. This argument has never made the slightest bit of sense to me, but let's just say it's true. What, then, is the parish priest to do? Forbid women to be lectors and hope that among his congregation there are enough men willing to read the readings at Mass every week? Read all the readings himself (always an option for the priest who really doesn't think female lectors are a good idea)? Or allow both male and female volunteers to read at Mass, even if there's a risk that the men will suddenly decide reading at Mass is an icky girl thing and not sign up?

Whatever the case, it seems to me that deciding the problem here is too much femininity is not really accurate. When I think of people who refuse to participate in activities if the other sex is allowed to join, I don't think of the men I know; I think of people (male or female) who have more in common with toddlers than anybody else.