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Thursday, August 25, 2005

Why Do Men Hate Church?

Pastors have been asking that question for years -- without ever blaming their sermons. So does David Murrow in a new book (click above for an uncritical review).

Sure, most of the clergy is male; so are a lot of key lay leaders. Some churches (the Missouri Synod branch of Lutheranism comes to mind) make a big deal about keeping it that way. So at first glance, you might think church was a pretty friendly place for Y-chromosomes.
Feminists have long argued that this is the case.

But at least since the 19th century, churches have been feminine to the point of frilly, at least according to Murrow and a few others. Today, while 5 out of 6 American men consider themselves Christians, only 2 out of those six show up in Sunday worship. Women are a substantial majority -- often 60% -- of many church services. A generation ago, historian
Ann Douglas argued that Victorian culture generally, and especially Victorian Christianity, had been "feminized," and readers seized on the implications for the present. Today, Leon Podles dates the problem to the 12th and 13th centuries, and believes the situation is so exacerbated that "Christianity has become part of the feminine world from which men feel they must distance themselves to attain masculinity."

Despite his foototes, Podles is not afraid of unsubstatiated claims, such as that ministers have the lowest testosterone levels of any male professionals, with movie actors having the highest. (Remind me not to get in a pissing contest with Wallace Shawn.) Nor is he averse to the occasional canard, as that priests aren't, for the most part, "real men." All this seems disturbing until you see the part where he reminisces about a friendly visit with Mother Angelica. That explains a lot, none of it good.

Still, Podles and Murrow may be on to something, at least demographically. And it may even be a problem. On the other hand, it's hard to work up much enthusiasm for the proposed solutions. The "Promise Keepers" movement flamed out pretty fast, because while most guys like arenas, very few want to cry and hug each other in one. Murrow seems to think that because men like to be active instead of passive, we should avoid talking about being saved. But that way lies the
Pelagian heresy in all its many forms.

Don't have the answer here. Not even sure there's a problem. But I'm gonna check with my doctor about that testosterone thing.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

A War on Islam

Eric the Unread argues that, if -- as many Muslims seem to believe -- Blair and Bush are fighting a war on Islam, they are doing a rather poor job. He has some suggestions for doing it right; be sure to click his last link.

Could Pat Robertson Get Any Crazier?

For those who may misunderstand, let us be clear: "Thou shalt not kill" is still on God's Top Ten list. Although not all Christians are strict pacifists, there is a pretty general consensus against murder. Which is why it comes as a shock to hear Pat Robertson call for the US to assassinate Hugo Chavez, the democratically elected president of Venezuela.

He did this on the ABC Family cable network, by the way. If this is "family" broadcasting, I'd love to know what ABC considers "demented raving" or "incitement to violence." (These days, Muslim clerics can be deported from Tony Blair's Britain for precisely this sort of incitement. )

Robertson has a history of
bizarre fatwas . In 2003, he suggested that the State Department be blown up with a nuclear device. On another occasion, he said that feminism encourages women to "kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians."

Robertson's opposite number, Jesse Jackson, was moved to a rare display of genuine irony. Calling for an investigation by the Federal Communications Commission, like the one that followed l'affaire Janet, he said, "This is even more threatening to hemispheric stability than the flash of a breast on television during a ball game."

Televangelist, failed presidential candidate and
diet-shake salesman -- Robertson will do anything to avoid making an honest living. What he won't do, sadly, is keep his mouth shut.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Red And Green

A Christian cares more about taking care of the Earth than about earning a buck. Apparently, to Newsweek/MSNBC, this is big news.

Link to their piece on West Virginia librarian and seminary grad Allen Johnson, founder of Christians for the Mountains. He sounds like a good guy doing good work. What saddens us is that the media elite are amused or surprised by the idea of a Christian -- a "conservative," "red-state" Christian, as they are careful to mention -- who actually cares about something besides taxcutting and genital theology. And, being a major corporation themselves, they also chuckle condescendingly at the idea of a guy who only earns $20,000 per year "going up against the politically connected coal operators and wealthy lobbyists."

Folks, this is what Christians do. We take care of our neighbors, and our neighborhood, and the world God gave us. At least, that's what they taught me in my own small-town Sunday School. Of course, it could be my teachers had the wrong idea. After all, they weren't wealthy or politically connected, either.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

At Least He's Straight

That's what we figure a few highly-placed figures in the New York Archdiocese are thinking. Eugene Clark, rector of St. Patrick's Cathedral, stepped down August 11, amid rumors that he was, err, intimate with his secretary. Who is female.

Mind you, the relief that those same figures may feel over the secretary's femaleness may be attenuated somewhat by the fact that she is in the middle of a sloppy divorce. On one hand, the fact that her angry husband is the main accuser makes the whole story a little suspicious. On the other hand . . . divorce. Eek. Isn't Caesar's wife -- or his secretary -- supposed to be above suspicion?

In any case, the GLBT press in particular is gloating -- labeling him
"Creep of the Week." Seems Msgr. Clark has been pretty strident in his remarks on sex. In 2002 he blamed Roman Catholicism's recent scandals on "the campaign of liberal America against celibacy." Umm... yeah.

The Mattlage Award

The Egg's new "Mattlage Award" is offered to those who use weapons and violence to make the most blatantly self-defeating political statement. (Like showing your disagreement with peace protesters by firing a gun in the general area of the president -- see below, under "Moron Etc.")

Today's winners are the genius terrorists who set off bombs this morning all over Bangladesh, killing 2, wounding 140, and paralyzing the nation.

According to notes found at the blast sites, they wanted to send a message to Messrs. Bush and Blair: "Get out of Iraq! Stop killing Muslims. And if you don't, we'll . . . uh . . . kill some Muslims."

Woe Unto You That Are Rich

"Only 40 percent of Americans can name more than four of the Ten Commandments, and a scant half can cite any of the four authors of the Gospels," writes Bill McKibben, in Harper's. "Twelve percent believe Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife."

Every Sunday School teacher knows this (and unlike a lot of "Christians" in the public arena, McKibben is a Methodist Sunday School teacher, as well a a writer and environmentalist). But his point isn't merely that the 85% of Americans who call themselves Christian often know little or nothing of what their purported faith teaches. It is that, as a nation, we routinely make choices that are explicitly opposed to the values of the Gospel, in our personal lives as well as our political ones.

For example: "Despite the Sixth Commandment, we are, of course, the most violent rich nation on earth, with a murder rate four or five times that of our European peers. We have prison populations greater by a factor of six or seven than other rich nations (which at least should give us plenty of opportunity for visiting the prisoners). Having been told to turn the other cheek, we’re the only Western democracy left that executes its citizens, mostly in those states where Christianity is theoretically strongest." Yes, his definition of "the Gospel" is a little reductive, and certainly works-based. But show me your works, as St. James says.

The link only gets you an excerpt. But do yourself a favor: go to a newsstand and but the magazine (August, 2005 issue). It also features a too-scary-for-words piece on the stolen election and our servile press.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

In Other News: Tail Wags Dog

Peter Akinola, Primate of Nigeria, has called for the Church of England to be suspended from the Anglican Communion. Needless to say, the issue is sex. It always is. Doesn't anybody care about gluttony or avarice anymore?

Oh, nota bene: Despite the snarky title on our link, there are far more practicing Anglicans in Nigeria than in England. So, really, the tail and the dog are switching passports. or something like that . . . .

Monday, August 15, 2005

Marine Hero Goes Crazy; Shoots 2 in Boston

Heartbreaking story: Daniel Cotnoir, named "Marine of the Year" for his service as a USMC mortician in Iraq, fired a shotgun from the window of his Boston apartment, wounding two nightclub patrons below.

He pled not guilty, presumably by reason of insanity, and we take him at his lawyer's word. This sounds like classic PTSD . And here's the thing, America: there will be a lot more of this before we are finished in Iraq. Modern warfare -- certainly since WWI -- has proven to be psychologically destructive, for the winners at least as much as the losers.

So add this to the cost of Bush's adventure in Iraq: Not only is the budget surplus gone, not only will our grandchildren be paying off the new debt, not only is the Bill of Rights in constant danger -- but we can also expect to see a generation of combat veterans who are crippled emotionally as well as physically. Expect drug problems, domestic violence and -- yes -- the occasional war hero who goes on a shooting spree.

I don't want to make light of this, I truly don't. But come on, people -- did we learn nothing from First Blood?

Moron Fires Gun at Bush Ranch

We all know about Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq. She has been leading a protest vigil outside the Bush estate (come on -- ranch? It's an estate) in Texas. With about 60 people, she even had a religious service there Sunday morning.

But the point here is not Ms. Sheehan. It's Larry Mattlage, who owns a place across the street from where all this is happening. Seems Mr. Mattlage doesn't apporove of Ms. Sheehan's protest (or maybe he doesn't like the way she's blocking his view, or maybe he just hates church services. I dunno). So to show his annoyance, he fires off his gun a couple of times.

During the service. Across the street from the President's house. During a war.

Needless to say, the Secret Service was all over this moron like a cheap suit. But they didn't arrest him, because it seems that firing your shotgun into the air across the street from the President's house while people are praying for peace isn't a crime.

As Mr. Mattlage said, "This is Texas." You know, the place where they steal piggy banks from Sunday School children.

More Bad News for Lutherans

Piggy banks stolen in San Angelo, Texas. Okay, it's not as big a deal as all the sex business that dominates the headlines. But for 21 Sunday School kids, it was a life-lesson no less bitter than the one dished out for liberals by yesterday's Churchwide Assembly.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Lutherans Nix Gay Clerics

Click above for the best summary, via AP. Briefly, the Lutherans have said for years that they welcome gay members, but that they won't marry them or ordain them. (At least not officially; Fr. Anonymous knows plenty of gay Lutheran pastors and more than a few Lutherans whose same-sex unions have been blessed in church. But not officially.)

Anyhoo, after years and years and YEARS of discussion, they took a vote. Rumors of schism were in the air; Ann Tiemeyer's voice
cracked with emotion; protesters in rainbow scarves seated themselves up front and wouldn't move. And the ELCA Churchwide Assembly didn't move, either. For better or worse, Lutherans are left with a policy of mild hypocrisy, looking faithful to some and cowardly to others.

To the Egg, they just look like one more out-of-touch church group, run by the kind of Baby Boomers who like to pretend they were at Woodstock, but were in fact too chicken to leave the suburbs.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Why America Needs a Spiritual Left

Interesting article by Michael Lerner, in Tikkun. Of course, this is what the Catholic Worker people have been saying since forever. For that matter, so have the Jesuits. Not to mention the Anglo-Catholic Socialists you can link to on the sidebar, or all those Lutherans in Scandinavia. Beliefnet even says we have one already, and gives a list of the purported movment's leaders. It wasn't so long ago, of course, that a certain amount of "liberalism" -- concern for the poor, for the welfare of prisoners and the oppressed, all of that -- was what Americans expected in their religious leaders; these days, it seems to be a news flash.

So what does it say about our times that the idea of a religious Left seems alien, even threatening, to Americans on both sides of the Red/Blue divide?

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Presbyterians Boycott Israel

Or, technically, Israel's business partners. Here's a tart editorial on the new Leftist anti-Semitism. (If you still believe America has a Left, which is a bigger question.)

Monday, August 08, 2005

Novak in Opus Dei

Here's something I didn't Know. Seems Robert Novak, D.B., is a member of the scary and cult-like Opus Dei. Not for nothing, but so was convicted spy Robert Hanssen. We're not big on conspiracy theories here at the Egg, but in this case maybe we'll make an exception.

Summer Reading

Many of us will spend the rest of our summer breathlessly awaiting, and then analyzing, the Lutheran Church's decisions about same-sex unions and gay pastors. For those of you who prefer to spend August the old-fashioned way, escaping into a good book, here are a few of Father Anonymous's favorite writers:

  • Susan Howatch: Lots of sex, lots of religion, not so much politics.
  • Anthony Trollope: he pretends to write about religion (in Barchester) and politics (in the Pallisers). But look closely -- sex and money are everywhere.
  • J.F. Powers: He gets it. About priests, about the Midwest, about ... well, just read.
  • Phil Rickman: Utterly realistic novels about an Anglican priest who is a single mother in a rural diocese. And solves murders. And exorcises demons.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Treason is a Bad Thing

Sounds obvious, doesn't it? And yet, somehow, a certain well-known public figure was able to publish in a nationally-syndicated column the name of a CIA covert operative . . . and escape punishment.

Okay, sure, she wasn't working undercover at the time. And, okay, sure, the free press is a grand thing. But come on. Judith Miller is in jail; Time sold out on journalistic ethics -- but Bob Novak is a free man.

The people who didn't publish the story are paying the penalty. The people who didn't serve as Karl Rove's bagman are paying the penalty. The people who didn't endanger the lives of Judith Plame and anybody who ever worked with her are paying the penaly.

The people who didn't betray their country are all in trouble. But Novak is a free man.

Oh, well. Here's the silver lining: We get to hear Jon Stewart call Novak a douche-bag on TV. Over and over again. And I, for one, don't get tired of it. Public ridicule isn't quite as good as jail time, but it does have its charms. Just ask our crazy Puritan forebears.

Something About Mary

So why Magdalene's Egg?

First, because in the eyes of the tradition, there is something sexual about Mary Magdalene. She is identified in the Gospels only as a recovering sinner (which is a fair description of any Christian). But in non-Biblical writings, her specific sin -- the "devils" that Jesus drove out of her -- is treated as sexual. The Church Fathers (who took a pretty grim view of sexual desire) identified her as, in essence, the village tramp of Magdala. In "Jesus Christ Superstar," she is the Lord's sorta-girlfriend. And thanks to Dan Brown, half the planet now seems to think she was his wife, but it all got covered up by the clergy. (Oy, vey -- like people who can barely organize a decent youth outing to Great Adventure are soooo good at orchestrating thousand-year coverups.)

Second, because there is something religious about her. Okay, a lot religious: She is second only to the Virgin in importance among the women who folowed Jesus. Sts. Luke and John make her the first person to proclaim the Resurrection -- in effect, the first Christian preacher. Afterward -- again, according to tradition, and certainly not the Bible -- she is said to have been a missionary in either Europe or Turkey (depending, I suppose, on which cathedral's relics you were trying to promote). Scholars of the Elaine Pagels school even think she might have been the leader of one wing in early Christianity, a sort of counter-Peter.

And third, because there is something political about her. The story goes that, in the course of her mission work, she found herself at a feast held by Caesar Tiberius. You know, the guy in charge of the Whole Known World. When he runs into her, she happens to be holding an egg. She starts talking about the Resurrection, and he laughs. There is less chance, says Caesar, of that egg in her hand turning red than there is of a man rising from the dead. And withing moments, the egg turns red.

So there's Mary Magdalene and her egg, in the picture I stole from an
Episcopal parish website (which I am guessing stole it from an Orthodox one). She's a symbol of things that matter: sex, religion, and politics. The world wants to keep them separate, but the Magdalene's egg stands over against the world. Desire, faith and power come together in her story -- and together, they start to tell the truth about being human.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Here's the Plan.

They say you shouldn't talk about sex, religion, or politics. Not in polite company. Not if you want to make friends, keep your job, be popular.

I say screw 'em.

After all, what does anybody really care about? Flip on the TV and tell me what you see -- sex, religion and politics. Which is great, because people -- me included -- love these things.

Except the mass media (and especially the Tube) are deeply committed to giving us watered-down versions of all three. You know, the kind that get you excited but don't ever satisfy you. The "Baywatch Girls" can run across the sand for years; but Janet Jackson shows one boob and she's a pariah. The cable news people can scream and scream -- or in Novak's case, slink off in disgrace -- but they are so scared of getting the Dan Rather treatment that they would die before reporting an actual story.

And religion on TV? Puh-leeze. You have your choice between freaks and thugs: Creflo Dollar's "Prosperity Gospel" (remember how well that worked for Jesus?) to Mother Angelica's libellous claim that her own bishop didn't believe in the Eucharist.

But you know what? There are people who like sex, and like to talk about it, and I don't mean titillating talk, I mean serious talk about what sex means. And the same with politics, and even (sometimes) religion. I'm one of them, and if I haven't offended you so far, then maybe you are too.

So let's talk about it.