Friday, December 08, 2006
Muscular Christianity on 'roids
(image ganked from Jesus' General)
Brad Stine runs onstage in ripped blue jeans, his shirt untucked, his long hair shaggy. He's a stand-up comic by trade, but he's here today as an evangelist, on a mission to build up a new Christian man — one profanity at a time. "It's the wuss-ification of America that's getting us!" screeches Stine, 46.
A moment later he adds a fervent: "Thank you, Lord, for our testosterone!"
...Hold hands with strangers? Sing love songs to Jesus? No wonder pews across America hold far more women than men, Stine says. Factor in the pressure to be a "Christian nice guy" — no cussing, no confrontation, in tune with the wife's emotions — and it's amazing men keep the faith at all.
"We know men are uncomfortable in church," says the Rev. Kraig Wall, 52, who pastors a small church in Franklin, Tenn. — and is at GodMen to research ways to reach the husbands of his congregation. His conclusion: "The syrup and the sticky stuff is holding us down."
While there may be something new under the sun, this ain't it. We've seen this shit before. No, I don't just mean the Promise Keepers. I mean go back a hundred years or more: "muscular christianity."
The phrase "muscular Christianity" probably first appeared in an 1857 English review of Charles Kingsley's novel Two Years Ago (1857). One year later, the same phrase was used to describe Tom Brown's School Days, an 1856 novel about life at Rugby by Kingsley's friend, fellow Englishman Thomas Hughes. Soon the press in general was calling both writers muscular Christians and also applying that label to the genre they inspired: adventure novels replete with high principles and manly Christian heroes.
Hughes and Kingsley were not only novelists; they were also social critics. In their view, asceticism and effeminacy had gravely weakened the Anglican Church. To make that church a suitable handmaiden for British imperialism, Hughes and Kingsley sought to equip it with rugged and manly qualities. They also exported their campaign for more health and manliness in religion to antebellum America, where their ideas failed to catch on immediately due to factors such as Protestant opposition to sports and the popularity of feminine iconography within the mainline Protestant churches.
Opposition to muscular Christianity in America never completely disappeared. But it did weaken in the aftermath of the Civil War, when changes in American society placed health and manliness uppermost in the minds of many male white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. These men, who included Social Gospel leaders such as Josiah Strong and politicians such as Theodore Roosevelt, viewed factors such as urbanization, sedentary office jobs, and non-Protestant immigration as threats not only to their health and manhood but also to their privileged social standing. To maintain that standing, they urged "old stock" Americans to revitalize themselves by embracing a "strenuous life" replete with athleticism and aggressive male behavior. They also called loudly upon their churches to abandon the supposedly enervating tenets of "feminized" Protestantism.
As evidence that there existed a "woman peril" in American Protestant churches, critics such as the pioneer psychologist G. Stanley Hall pointed to the imbalance of women to men in the pews. They also contended that women's influence in church had led to an overabundance of sentimental hymns, effeminate clergymen and sickly-sweet images of Jesus. These things were repellant to "real men" and boys, averred critics, who argued that males would avoid church until "feminized" Protestantism gave way to muscular Christianity, a strenuous religion for the strenuous life.
An interesting take on the phenomenon here:
Muscular Christianity was founded upon a radical, as well as theological, distinction between supposedly masculine and feminine values. Becaue of this, it was possible for fundamentalists opposed to modernity to transfer what they disliked about modernity to the “feminine” category. Thus women became bearers of all that was hated about the modern world while men were invested with everything good and positive.
A significant impetus behind the assault on women and modernity was the feeling that women had encroached upon traditional male spheres like the workplace and colleges. Furthermore, women’s leadership in the churches had harmed Christianity by creating an effeminate clergy and a weak sense of self. All of this was associated with liberalism, feminism, women, and modernity.
Although examples of something like muscular Christianity can be found in ancient Christianity and in Europe, it is primarily an American phenomenon and an American fundamentalist reaction against the modern era of equality and liberty. Muscular Christianity pushes masculinity in part by pushing traditional hierarchies and traditional structures of authority — structures which, naturally, are run and controlled by men. Fighting against the “feminization” of church or society is, thus, a fight against the loss of traditional privileges and power.
Hugo Schwyzer notes the heavy overlap of the neo-testosteristians with the MRA dudes:
For one thing, both Godmen and MRAs engage in the nifty trick of framing themselves as "oppressed victims". Since at least the 1970s, both MRAs and white conservative Christians -- traditionally the greatest agents of injustice -- have tried to steal the mantle of "victimhood" from the genuinely oppressed. In this perverse reframing, gays and lesbians who want marriage equality become the powerful forces of evil, imposing their will on a simple, God-fearing, and ultimately powerless majority.
and also observes:
I've never been to a "Godmen" service. But I've been to a few Promisekeepers events, and I've also got a strong grounding in secular feminism.... I've heard lots of talk about pornography in both camps. And while the hostility to porn is often nearly identical in intensity, what undergirds that dislike of commercial sex is fundamentally different.
While the feminist anti-porn movement is concerned with the impact porn has on both women and men, groups like the Godmen only pay lip service to concepts like "exploitation" and "dehumanization." What conservative Christian men's groups find so troubling is that an addiction to porn and masturbation leaves men feeling weak, powerless, and vulnerable. ...Godmen don't like porn because it is a visceral, shameful reminder of male weakness, one that stands at odds with their self-flattering vision of strong, bold, Christian warriors.
Also, it, along with women, depletes their precious bodily fluids, their...essence.