Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Are Men Losing Their Religion?

A friend passed on to me another fascinating article from The Huffington Post, "The Vanishing American Religious Male," by Rabbi Scott Perlo. He speaks from his perspective as a rabbi concerned about the distance men hold from the Torah and Judaism, and their lack of participation. He notes “their great silence on issues of religious significance…"

Toward the end of the article I found these notable statements:

“Our culture is changing, feminism and gender theory have had an impact, and the men of my generation were raised with much greater emotional consciousness than those who came before us. Yet these cultural changes have not changed the pattern of men's disengagement from religion.”

“We Jews often wonder why the most famous of our prayers, the reading of the Shma, teaches, "ve'ahavta" -- and you will love, rather than "ve'he'emanta" -- and you will believe. It is because belief is not Judaism's fulcrum, but rather closeness. The secret to living a life of Torah is holding it close, and letting it give expression to our souls. We men need to ask ourselves why it feels so far away.”

My View

There are many layers to this phenomenon, I’m sure. Without taking the time to do any academic research or analysis, here’s my quick take on it:

1. Patriarchal society, in addition to suppressing women, has damaged men. We men are expected to be the perfect warrior with all the answers who can always do the job. Since few (if any) are that perfect warrior, we instead keep a quiet, low profile so that maybe no one will notice what we’re not.

2. I heard a fellow a couple of years back who was trying to get more men involved in the church. He seemed to be coming from an evangelical Christian background and said the problem was that a lot of church experience is geared toward things men are uncomfortable with, e.g. holding hands and singing kumbaya. He wanted to see room for more masculine expressions in worship. I disagreed with him about worship, but I had to admit that he had a point. Should we try to get men to be more into prayer and worship, or should we try to bring more masculine elements that men can relate to into the worship setting?

3. Years ago I noticed that just about the time we were seeing more women in pastoral roles we were also seeing a de-valuing of religion in society. So while we were celebrating the acceptance of women in leadership roles, society as a whole was assigning less value to church leadership.

The above are just some quick observations. Add to this, just last week I attended a seminar about taking patient's spiritual needs into account in the healthcare setting. The seminar was led by a physician at a large teaching hospital in my state. She made the statement that our society is becoming more religious/spiritual, not less. If that is true, and if men are more alientated from religion, what are the implications? I cannot claim to have any solutions. Does anyone out there have some other clues? What kind of spiritual practice is needed for men, and how do we get there?


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