Monday, 15 September 2008

Holy Testosterone

Detail of Michaelangelo's David. copyright unknown. Best not sell this picture, just to be on the safe side.

Lately I have been thinking a lot about testosterone, the drug of choice for half the world's population. As a pastor and counselor I am very aware of the damage that testosterone has done to some women and children and men. Also, I have spent my entire ordained ministry in a church where the word "patriarchy" is a pejorative and where oestrogen friendly concepts such as inclusiveness and openness are often treated as synonyms for the gospel. And it seems sometimes that, in our church at least, there is not a lot of testosterone around. Some time ago, Leon Podles wrote a book called The Church Impotent, which examines why men are greatly outnumbered by women in the Western Church - as they very demonstrably are. When my friend Graeme Brady favourably reviewed the book for an Anglican magazine, he was hounded for months by those who were infuriated at his insensitivity in even raising such a question. The reaction suggested that the Church is not a particularly friendly environment for testosterone, which is pretty much Podles' point.

The question, for me has suddenly become a whole lot more personal. In the medium term future, I face the very real prospect of someone turning off the tap (stop smirking, Mr. Freud) as far as my own testosterone is concerned and I'm wondering what it will mean. There are obvious consequences, of course, which are not the most alarming as they are fairly easily treatable given a bit of chemical ingenuity. The deep consequences are the ones that I wonder about.

Once, when I was nineteen, at 1:00 am on a clear moonlit, frosty night, I drove a Mark II Zephyr at 100 miles per hour over the mile long span of the Rakaia bridge . Halfway across, just for the rush it would give me, I turned out the headlights and plunged the car into utter darkness. That was testosterone. Many times, in my thirties I lay awake thinking about my parish, and wondering how I might make it bigger. Then I went out and gave everything I had to make it happen. That also, was testosterone. Testosterone is what makes my foot slip onto the accelerator a fraction faster than it might and makes my eyes linger on a decolletage a fraction slower than it might; it is also testosterone that fuels the engagement I have with an audience and makes a live sermon infinitely more compelling than any written or recorded version might be. Testosterone fuels my desire to pursue a quarry and chance my arm and drive myself to achieve. Testosterone often fuels the growth of large parishes which supply other, smaller, gentler places with leadership and resources and money.

Now here's the bit I would never say except for the strange position that I find myself in with regard to the Anglican Church in Aotearoa/New Zealand: The church has no rewards on offer that I want, and no sanctions in hand that I fear. So I can say that the malaise of the church is due, in part, to a lack of testosterone. We lack what we once had in abundance: the energy and intiative of men, particularly young men. The church is no longer a place for a young man to emulate Parsifal and venture away from home and risk all in the pursuit of a great goal. The energy of young men has all but gone from the church, and we all suffer because of it.

Of course masculinity can cause problems. One of my early experiences on the path to ordination was of being mercilessly bullied by a (male) examining chaplain - erudite, learned, twice my age - who exerted his considerable verbal, intellectual and emotive skills to reduce me to wreckage purely because he could. But I have lived in the church long enough to have experienced, more than once, the effects of dysfunctional matriarchy which are every bit as destructive and oppressive as those of dysfunctional patriarchy. Rather than gender, it is the inability to handle power, which causes all the problems. I do not intend to denigrate the contribution of women to the church, or to belittle the damage done to the church by centuries of oppression of female energies, but in our championing of the oppressed we have sometimes not so much corrected a wrong as made a mirror image of it. We worship an incarnate God, who redeems - that is, buys back and makes holy - all of human worth, including testosterone.

Just when I am in a place to truly appreciate the wholeness and holiness of testosterone I am being asked to return it to the counter for repairs. Perhaps now it is time for me to accelerate the path I have been on for a while anyway: the one described by Jung, away from doing and into being. It is a welcome prospect in many ways... but sometimes I look at the insipidity of our androgen deficient church and quake.

14 comments:

daniel said...

Hmm, a touchy subject. I rather expected a little flamewar to erupt. However 'tis all rather quiet.

You may find this talk by Roy Baumeister interesting, if you haven't happened upon it already. I don't agree with many of his statements regarding motivation, nor some of the conclusions, but I found the perspective very intriguing.

VenDr said...

I was sort of hoping for a little flame war - but that's probably just the testosterone speaking. Thanks for the link. It's a very interesting article.

Anonymous said...

Heard of the 'phoney war'? you are in it at the moment - just you wait until I get going! Ha!

And you thought that you had the worries about the Large Hadron Collider behind you! fools! vee vill haft our vor.

Real Live Preacher said...

Well, if there is a flame war they will be wrong for bringing it. But I doubt it because of the beauty of this post AND because you offered it with such tender vulnerability.

I do believe we've gone a little too far and many men feel left out. But that's what we do as humans, we rock back and forth, going to far every time.

Tillerman said...

Thanks for the link Daniel, I found the Roy Baumeister article a very good read and expresses well the feelings of a lot of men.

Kelvin, you are wrong about the speed, it was 110, I know, I was watching the speedo. (Expletive deleted).

Anonymous said...

So here's the opening salvo, Father K:
Why are you equating a hunger for sharing the gospel of love with as many people as need it - with testosterone?
And another:
If the draining of testosterone is the price that the church must pay for allowing the vocations of our sisters in Christ - to be recognised and realised at last, after 20 centuries of repressed silence - then let the sea of oestrogen rise around us!

VenDr said...

My motives are always mixed. I wish I could say that my efforts to expand the Church were always about wanting to spread the Gospel of love. Sometimes they were but often they were not. They were about empire building; they were about a young man on the way up making a name for himself; they were about me striving to make my church bigger and more important than those of my contemporaries. For those in the church, those motives were irrelevant. The church grew and was exciting, and many many people came to a life of faith who might otherwise not. The wider church benefited from the stream of money coming from my parish and from the leaders who got their start, or a significant part of their journey within the walls of my church. Of course male striving wasn't all there was to it - I said my motives were mixed.

I think there is a particularly male way of running a church. It would be just as foolish to vaunt it as the only way as it would be to deride it as invalid.

I don't think deriding masculinity or male ways of behaviour is necessary for the empowerment of women; and if you want a church that is a sea of oestrogen, fine, go for it - just don't expect me, or many other men to be part of it.

VenDr said...

...and rereading what I've just written it does sound a bit apologetic. And I'm not at all sorry for the empire building and ambitions of my younger days. This is the gift of young men to the church. The church needs it. Now that is NOT to say the church does not also need the vision and energies of older voices or feminine ones. Surely what we've learned from the years of oppression of women that the church is impoverished if ANY voice is silenced.

Tillerman said...

I guess all this depends to some extent on what you mean by "The Church" - you are obviously talking here about your own local experience in an Anglican Church in NZ.

Worldwide there are about 2 billion Christians. 1 billion are Catholic. Even if the Catholic congregations are predominately female, the Pope and the all male priesthood certainly win hands down on testosterone driven leadership.

Of the other 1 billion my understanding is that the greatest proportion is in emerging 3rd world countries like Africa and South America where the biblical exegesis is predomately conservative with conservative male dominated power structures which reflect this exegesis and the local culture.

In the southern Bible belt in the USA traditional gender roles are preached and adhered to by Christians. How many American TV evangelists are women?

Even in 'developed' countries there is still widespread expression of the sort of illogical testosterone driven arguments against the ordination of women (the problems at Lambeth regarding female bishops etc,) which reflects a still predominantly male power base.

I have been working in the teaching profession for well over 30 years and on balance I don't think that gender is crucial at all in getting things done. Last year I established a computer suite - my female counterpart established a new library. My male boss and I project managed a large school hall - yesterday I talked with a relieving teacher who is an ex principal - she built a school hall years ago, from her account of her role in the whole business, I would recommend her for a job in the SAS anytime.

There are many very fine female principals doing a great job in NZ schools. My main gender issue in our schools is one of gender balance - there are simply no enough male teachers - and male role models for children is very very important.

I think the issue is this. It is about the wielding of power. My 30+ year experience of being in the minority, gender wise in staffrooms (for many years, a minority of one) is this - Women with power use it in many different ways and in doing so can be identified on a spectrum from - professional, competent, fair and focussed on teaching and learning to - Consummately incompetent, self serving bloody arseholes.

In terms of power, wherever woman lie on the spectrum they reflect pretty much the other gender --- men.

VenDr said...

Leon Podles' data is interesting. He says that the phenomenon of women outnumbering men in Christian churches is a Western European thing. In most European churches (protestant and Catholic) the clergy are male and the congregants are predominantly female. He says that the men who become clergy in Western Europe are also, by and large, regarded askance by other men. In Orthodox and Coptic churches the gender balance is roughly equal, except in Russian Orthodoxy where the same situation applies as in the West. This also applies in the USA, the numbers of male televangelists notwithstanding. In Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and other faiths, genders of worshippers, if not of clergy, are about equal.

In the New Zealand Anglican church, as in other "liberal" Western nations there has been a development of this situation in that now the congregations are largely female, and so, increasingly, is the leadership. Anglican clergy are now about 60% female , and it is only a matter of time before our house of Bishops is predominantly female - we have only 1 out of 7 dioceses led by a woman now, but I expect that within 5 years this will have changed dramatically. Podles also says that the gender imbalance amongst worshippers is a phenomenon of the last 1000 years; up to about 1000 AD numbers were about equal.

I expect that it will not be long before a similar situation applies to the church as in the education sector: where ordination, like teaching, while being open to men, is largely shunned by them as an occupation. The difference being, of course, that the clientele of teachers are there under compulsion, while those of clergy are there voluntarily. The imbalance of men to women has widened drastically in the last 20 years in the West; where does it end?

Podles (and me for that matter) is not finger pointing. He doesn't blame women for this situation, merely points out what is painfully bleedin' obvious to anybody who attends a church in the West and/or has access to church statistics. Why it is is a matter of speculation.

Anonymous said...

Two observations. First, I usually attend the University Department of Theology seminars. Over time I became aware of the gender imbalance, so aware that I began to make jottings in my notebook. I cannot tie these statistics to either topic or date - except they are all in the last year or so. On various Fridays: M 23 F 10; M 18 F 5; M 13 F 2; M 7 F 2, and these are typical. At a seminar a few months ago there wasn't a woman in sight. Why should a weekday university seminar on some aspect of theology be so presumably amenable for men while Sunday morning worship is overwhelmingly female? I have no idea. I think the proportion of women and men colours the discussion after a seminar paper but that doesn't explain the proportion.

Second, on a handful of occasions when I have suggested the church is female by culture and men find it hard the conversation is immediately turned to the difficulty women had in being ordained -- as though that issue was all there is to be said about gender. Agreed, the battle for women to be accepted for ordination in the Anglican church has been long and hard. But it is hardly reasonable to suggest the whole subject of the gender makeup of the church, the varying gifts women and men bring to parish life, the fact that men are welcome in parish life but masculinity is definitely off limits can somehow be summarised and dealt with by reference to the ordination of women. I observe the tendency to reference all gender issues to the single issue of the ordination of women but I have no explanation for it.

Bill Schroeder

VenDr said...

Interesting about the seminars, Bill. I think this indicates that it is not the content of the faith, or even the faith itself which is the issue - it's the style of faith - that is, there is something about the way we do church that is alienating for most men. I belong to a Rotary club and we have the opposite problem. We have few women and are keen to even up the gender balance, but, try as we might, there is something about Rotary meetings that doesn't appeal to women. We get adequate numbers of women prospective members coming along, but they are less likely to stay than men are.

Anonymous said...

I read this blog and associated comments with interest and really would like clarification on some of the comments. I am a female in the church and yes it is clearly obvious that women outnumber men,( I for one am not going to reference this to ordination issues of which I know nothing about. ) Kelvin your comment is that concepts such as openess and inclusiveness are oestrogen friendly concepts and are treated as synonyms for the gospel. Are you implying that they are not? Jesus being male had glands in his body secreting male hormones and from my reading of the Bible Jesus models open and inclusive behaviour. He dealt with the down and outs, the no hopers, those that no one else wanted anything to do with, he engaged with people, all the while having testosterone surging through is bloodstream, he did it with all his male ways, and was the greatest example of openess and inclusiveness.

What I say next I say with respect, but the comment made about men feeling left out of church suggests an attitude seriously lacking in testosterone.

Could someone please explain what is meant by the comment - masculinity is off limits in the church - I dont understand what you mean. What do you view as masculinity?

The gender imbalance in church is a sad thing as we need each other, that is the way God made it. It makes me sad to find men feel that church is female in culture, but guys are you not the ones to do something about it. I for one am at a loss to know how to make church a place you want to be, you guys know what the problem is lets work together to bring a healthy balance.

VenDr said...

Thanks, anonymous. You raise several important issues. Firstly: absolutely not, openness and inclusiveness are not synonyms for the Gospel. Of course Jesus was open. He was sometimes inclusive - though not always. He didn't include some of the scribes and pharisees even though he was probably, by education anyway, a Pharisee himself and he was pretty harsh on the Syro-Phoenician woman. And he was positively uninclusive when dealing with his own brothers and mother, and with the congregants in his own synagogue. And we won't even mention the poor blighters trying to earn an honest living as dove sellers and money changers in the temple. The Gospel may often be characterised by openness and inclusiveness but O$I are not the Gospel - the Gospel is bigger than that. An important principle is at stake here. When we make the good take the place of what is the best we have subverted the best and made the good into an idol - and whether the idol is Molech or Inclusiveness is irrelevant neither is God and shouldn't be worshipped as God.

Inclusiveness is a fairly loaded concept for many men. I guess it's classic feminist separation theory but many men don't react well to inclusiveness as an overall life motif - no matter how much they may respect it as an admirable quality - in the same league as friendliness or cleanliness or responsibility. While Jesus' behaviour to the poor and outcasts models inclusiveness in some ways (but only in some. He Dined with the prostitutes but didn't invite any into the 12. He healed the outcast blind man but immediately sent him on his way - as he did with the woman at the well and the Gaderene domoniac) it could also be viewed as Jesus separating himself from the conventional people and setting off in a brave and heroic -and ultimately lonely - pursuit of a noble end. Jesus life didn't end in him surrounded by his compatriots in a cosy theological nest. It ended in him alone and naked and in unbearable pain on a hillside.

As for men feeling left out of Church, that is something many women can understand. For the lifetimes of many of my elder sisters, they attended church and saw only men at the front and things were done in ways which made women feel at best irrelevant and at worst suppressed. Many men feel something similar on entering churches now. There is a space constraint, so I can't catalogue the things which routinely happen in church but which would never, but NEVER happen in the places where men gather by choice: from the use of flowers and the choice of colours, to the singing of songs in registers none have been able to reach since puberty, to the use of puke-making song lyrics and forced chumminess, to the prissy language and whatever guys they do see wearing dresses....

...but absolutely, the guys are the ones to do something about it. And some of us are.