Feminine Mystique

I grew up and was educated during the blossom of the feminine spirit. My years in seminary witnessed a vicious attack on everything masculine — including pronouns! Ordinary sentence structure was convoluted beyond common sense and the basic rules of English grammar collapsed in the wake. The gender of one’s pronouns trumped the value of the content of one’s thoughts and ideas. Women were angry and society was on “pins and needles.” A “new” social movement was afoot. Everything was being retooled, rethought and repackaged.

We learned about the historical subjugation of women by a patriarchy that had dominated Christianity since Moses brought down the proverbial Ten Commandments. Renewed efforts to throw off the shackles of masculine imperialism that reached back into the late 1800s and early 1900s was in full swing. In seminary we were taught that existentialism, feminism and Marxism were a matter of social justice and political freedom (usually called Liberation Theology) that was “informed” by Scripture. Riding on the coattails of both the Women’s Movement and the Civil Rights Movement was the homosexualization of Christianity in the name of a “loving” Jesus.

I later discovered that all I had learned was, in fact, not true. Biblical theology had been hijacked by just about everyone under the sun, except faithful Christians who were afraid to speak “Thus says the Lord.” The church had indeed been “fishers of men” and had gutted every one it caught.

Further study has revealed a completely different landscape. For instance, Leon Podles book, The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity (Spence Publishing, Dallas, 1999) provides an astonishing contrast to popular opinion regarding women and Christianity. Podles observed that the growing weakness and ineffectiveness of American churches coincided with the decrease of male participation and wondered why.

The established churches have long made a parade of their concern for civil rights and for the plight of minorities. But there is one minority whose cause they quietly ignore: black men. The problem of criminality and drug abuse among inner-city black men is a problem of a distortion of masculinity. But the liberal churches have little to say about masculinity except to condemn it as a obstacle to women’s liberation. Churches that spend their energy hunting out and obliterating the last vestiges of patriarchy are in no position to help black men attain the status they so desperately need for their own good and the good of black women and children: that of patriarchs, responsible fathers who rule their families in justice and love (p. xvi).

Podles’ book is a must read for Christians of every stripe because he has put the issue in its real historical context by uncovering its pre-modern roots in the Scholasticism of the Middle Ages and the consistent unfolding of that particular flower over succeeding centuries. He clearly demonstrates that feminized Christianity is not new to the modern or postmodern world, nor is it a result of the Enlightenment, though the Enlightenment gave it a boost, as it gave a boost to every idea that was not biblical. Podles shows that the roots of Christianized femininism are found in a particular strain of apostasy and mysticism that has dogged the Christian church from its inception.

The fundamental error of the church in this regard, says Podles, supplanted the biblical definitions by smuggling in and Christening Aristotle’s definitions of masculinity and femininity. From these Greek rather than Hebrew definitions the feminine flower has blossomed.

Aristotle was especially interested in the contraries of form and matter, and he placed the male on the side of form, the female on the side of matter: “The Female always provided the material, the male that which fashions it.” As the giver of form, man rules; as the matter that is given form, the woman obeys.

In the order of nature, the woman is therefore inferior to the man. Nevertheless, in the order of grace, Christian Aristotelians taught, the woman is above the man, precisely because of her natural inferiority: “Mary…herself became a kind of material for the formative power of God. Her perfect identity as nonresistant material for the working of the Holy Spirit led to her complete absorption of the wisdom of God. Therefore (for St. Albert the Great) it followed that Mary knew everything that God knew…. Precisely because they (women) are more like the raw material on which form is imposed, they are more open to the formation of the Holy Spirit. Men have a form already — a form which gets in the way of the shape of Christ that the Holy Spirit wishes to imprint on the human person. Women, relatively lacking in form, are more open to receiving another form. This analysis eventually permeated all medieval discussion of gender. As Ann Astell says, “In the metaphysics of sexuality, every person, male and female, is more feminine than masculine in relation to God — because receptive, dependent, and small.” The philosophical and theological explanation for women’s greater devotion to Christianity was in place (p. 111-112).

Podles argues that this line of thinking is wrong because it is not based upon biblical precepts, yet it continues to fuel the feminization of Christianity. Podles’ work is interesting, engaging, well-written and academic in that it is highly footnoted and contains an extensive bibliography of sources.

Get it. Read it. Digest it.

A fascinating examination, February 2, 2001

Reviewer: Kurt A. Johnson (Marseilles, Illinois, USA

Many people have noted, and worried about, the fact that men are so much less likely to regularly attend church in the West than women. In this book, Leon Podles examines this phenomenon from a historical perspective, and concludes that it is not a new problem, but one that extends all the way back to the twelfth century! Immediately following that, the author takes a powerful look at masculinity (as opposed to maleness, the mere fact of being a male of the species) from the viewpoints of biology, developmental psychology, and anthropology. Then, there are chapters that trace the development of Judaism and the first millennium church, neither of which suffered from a lack of men. Finally, the author examines the changes in Christian thinking that began in the twelfth century, follows trends in masculine development in the absence of Christian influence, and finally provides some suggestions on reversing this “feminization” of the church.

As a man, I found that this book spoke to me. The author’s examination of masculinity was powerful, striding far beyond what I have read in other “men’s” books. The problem that the author proposes is both subtle and profound. I believe that the author’s examination of the men produced outside of Christian beliefs (e.g. love, hope and charity) means that women should also be concerned about this problem. Therefore, let me recommend this book to all believers.

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