Monday, October 12, 2009

Is Militaristic Manly Catholicism Really About Keeping Score?

Saint Barack would not qualify as a militaristic 'manly' Catholic. For that matter neither would the real St. Francis who also attempted dialogue with Islam. I doubt a photo of either one graces the head quarters of Blackwater.
The following excerpt is from an article by Todd Aglialoro entitled "The New Catholic Manliness". It is taken from Deal Hudson's website Inside These are Todd's concluding paragraphs and I excerpted them because they sparked quite a number of comments on the militaristic bent of Christianity vs Islam.

This militaristic view of Christianity is part of what I see as the dark underbelly of American Christianity in which masculinity seems to be getting mixed up with militarism, and Jesus becomes an excuse to 'flex one's manly muscles' against perceived enemies rather than the Teacher of a way which calls for radical love of one's enemy.

Onward, Christian Soldiers

As I pursued this investigation of the new Catholic manliness, two common threads emerged. The first was the influence of Pope John Paul II, who by all accounts was the inspiration, motivation, and architect of the whole project. First, as a pastor and spiritual father: In him "the orphans of living parents found their Papa," as Bolster puts it. And second, by laying down a theological and philosophical trail for Catholic priests, ministers, and laymen to follow. The late pope's writings on the theology of the body helped us to understand how gender "gets right to the core of who we are," says Monsignor Swetland. Bollman concurs, adding that John Paul took the "impoverished anthropology" that his era had inherited and replaced it with a "Christian anthropology based on the inherent dignity of man and woman." Only from that foundation, he says, could we begin to rebuild an authentic male spirituality.

The second common thread was the martial metaphor. Every one of my sources spoke of a battle against the temptations and obstacles the modern world puts before men, a war against the false, cheap version of manhood it whispers in our ears. Again and again they made use of military imagery in defining male spirituality: Bolster and Monsignor Swetland -- both former naval lieutenants -- stressed the need to adapt the military virtues of discipline, valor, and self-sacrifice to the work of spiritual combat. (Assuming there is such a thing as 'spiritual combat' , one does not engage in said war with muscles, M16's, and Air Craft Carriers--unless your name is Eric Prince.)

It may one day be recognized that the growing use and acceptance of military language to define manhood within the Church turned out to be not just apt but critical. For there is one religion that has no problem attracting and keeping male followers. Its wholly transcendent God doesn't desire spiritual conjugality with His people. Its leaders don't preach mercy, or celibacy, or strength through weakness; they do not have to contend with the paradox of the Cross. And the zealous adherents of Islam do not turn the other cheek.


If the use of military language to define manhood with in the Church--especially the American Church- gains ground and acceptance, it won't be apt. It will much more likely be catastrophic.

One does not solve the paradox of the Cross by purposely ignoring it in favor of militarism.

Buddhism also has no trouble attracting and keeping male members and it is the least militaristic of all spiritualities.

If we were supposed to be worshipping an exclusively transcendent God there would have been no need for an Incarnated Jesus who shared this human condition and gave us His teachings about how we should live our humanity. He did not form an army and did not enforce military discipline. He made no effort to protect Israel from the Romans. Nor did He define Rome as His personal enemy. His 'enemies' were not individuals or groups of individuals, they were the self absorbed attitudes we hold towards ourselves and others. His weapons were truth and love.

It doesn't take much in the way of personal sacrifice, discipline, or valor to blame the ills of the so called 'effeminate' Church on feminism, effete clergy, or unruly heterodox catechises--all of which Todd and his 'experts' use to decry their perceived current lack of manliness in the Church.

Nor do any of them bother to trace the history of the exodus of males from the pews. They make the erroneous assumption this all started post Vatican II. They are only about 300 or so years off, with the world wide exodus accelerating during the reign of Pius IX. Apparently manly men have had nothing to do with the current sad state of affairs. They are all emasculated victims.

I wish these 'manly' men would practice a little honesty. Christianity, with it's call to turn the other cheek, let go of your ego, drop your status objects, learn the self discipline and sacrifice necessary to really love someone, and operate from equality rather than power, is all unappealing to their definition of 'manly' men.

More than that though, Christianity is about internal personal growth, not external personal acquisition. This more than anything does not appeal to most men. Nor is it a notion that appeals to our peacock hierarchy, which is all over the externals at the expense of the internals.

It is very very difficult to keep score when the effort is ordered to internal growth and not external acquisition. It's not easy to quantify love, humility, or spiritual growth.

To me, that's what this pursuit of a militaristic manly Catholicism is really about. It's an attempt to return to a more external quantifiable spirituality, and away from an internal qualitative spirituality.

This dichotomy is not really about gender or the feminizing of the Church. It's more about the fact that Catholic spirituality went internal and qualitative after Vatican II. There was no more enumerating of sins, no more emphasis on indulgences, no more lists of devotional acts like first Fridays or novenas, no more High Masses and low masses. There was no longer any real way to keep an external score in Catholicism. In fact keeping one's grace score no longer mattered because the whole notion of hell didn't matter. Not only was it hard to keep score, but it didn't seem there was anything left to win or lose.

Becoming more Christ like, inclusive, and loving became the goal. Becoming Christ like is a much more difficult enterprise than arbitrarily keeping a sanctifying grace score in order to WIN one's way into heaven. What JPII did with his saint factory was put the winning back into the heavenly equation, while at the same time Cardinal Ratzinger was putting hell back in the heavenly equation. I sometimes see the 'reform of the reform' as a concerted effort to bring back the score board. This manly militarism fits right in with that effort.
To conclude it's no wonder some folks just hate the Spirit of Vatican II. Who wants to play a game where keeping score doesn't matter, and it really is about how well you learn to play the game.


  1. Don't forget that there were many "manly" priests formed in seminaries during the 1940s-1960s who turned out to be abusers of boys and girls. Manly my ass.

    Jim McCrea

  2. You make some good points here. You might like my book, "Numen, Old Men: Contemporary Masculine Spiritualities and the Problem of Patriarchy" which critiques the kind of appeals to militarism you identify in both Catholic and evangelical ministries.

  3. Excellent. What I find scary and repellent is this mix of Christianity , masculinity and American nationalism. It is more prevalent in the Protestant wing of the Religious Right, but it seems to have made some inroads into the Catholic wing of the Religious Right, judging by Deal Hudson's comments. Hudson may well want to defend his sense of masculine privilege, particularly if he's hoping we'll forget he was forced to leave Fordham after taking advantage of one of his female students.

    The blog Jesus' General does a wonderful job lampooning this bizarre blend of evangelical Christianity, masculinity and American nationalism.

    Also, Jim McCrea is right about the abusers receiving their clerical formation in pre-Vatican II seminaries. The mythology of the Catholic Right claims that the abusive clergy were exclusively the products of a presumably laxer post-Vatican II formation process. It just isn't so.

    Looking back, I think this all goes back to the time in which the Christians were forced to make compromises with the Roman state after the Edict of Milan. The Catholic Church lost many European working men and women after the papacy failed to understand and anticipate their needs in the 19th century. Opus Dei, the Legionaries of Christ, and Tradition, Family and Property would have us return to allying the Church with the wealthy and powerful, and indeed the Christian Right does this in both its Catholic and Protestant manifestations. That is why they can ignore the needs of people who need to get health care, and can't afford it or insurance.

  4. I wonder why the EWTN crowd have been so hung up about the need for manly role models in the church and the lack thereof in recent years.

    It has always seemed to me--and I mean no disrespect: just saying what I see--that they have had quite a role model for traditional manly behavior in Mother Angelica herself.

  5. I may do a post on Mother Angelica in the near future. She has recently received the Papacy's highest award for laity. Well, she along with her long time Chairman of the Board of EWTN media enterprises.

    When you think about what she actually accomplished it is pretty incredible. EWTN is now the biggest privately held media company in the world.

    Too bad their vision of Catholicism isn't up to the status of the company.

  6. "Becoming more Christ like, inclusive, and loving became the goal. Becoming Christ like is a much more difficult enterprise than arbitrarily keeping a sanctifying grace score in order to WIN one's way into heaven."

    The religious right operates in the world, in what they see, which to them is what they possess or can possess. It seems to be about having, and certainly not about giving.

    The religious right does not want to grow up. Their "manliness" in actuality, in comparison to real Saints like Saint Francis, is like a Peter Pan. Their view of things will get us into WWIII.

    Jesus Christ to the right is someone they think they can possess if they follow a particular routine of externals. I don't believe that it works that way.

  7. Colleen, I clicked on "article" to read it and it takes me to create my own blog. If I could clone myself I might consider it.

    I think that Saint Barak looks good in the Franciscan habit or uniform, or whatever they call it.

  8. First of all, I love the phrase “Our peacock hierarchy.”

    Thomas Moore in his recent book Writings in the Sand: Jesus & the Soul of the Gospels has a chapter on Mary Magdalen which I think relates to some of the gender issues that you raise here. Some of his insights are based on the non canonical gospels which are receiving much attention these days. Another large portion of his insight comes from being a Jungian. So I will cite a couple of passages from the chapter on Mary Magdalen.

    Moore includes this citation from the Gospel of Philip 69 (LeLoup)
    The companion of the Son is Miriam of Magdala. The Teacher loved her more than all the disciples; He often kissed her on the mouth.

    “The privileging of Mary Magdalen and the suggestion of a sexual connection between her and Jesus fills a gap that otherwise threatens to ruin the spirituality of the Gospels. What happens to sex if it is not included in the stories and images of the religion? It remains shallow and wholly secular if it lacks an integral connection with spirit.” Page 130

    “It is a tragedy that Christianity has developed without a similar appreciation for the spirituality of sex. Because of its anti-sexual attitude, countless lives have been thrown into confusion and battered by guilt and self-denial. Worse, the suppression of sexuality, even for the highest of motives, eventually leads to aggression against self or others. Sexually repressed people become condemning, rigid, and self-righteous and blindly act out the aggression rooted in the suppression of Eros.” Page 131

    Allow me to make one other citation. “The image of Jesus and Mary Magdelen loving each other, kissing each other, goes deep. It offer an entirely different way of imagining spiritual dedication. It brings sex into the equation of being fully human and fully spiritual. It helps bridge the gender gap in spiritual matters. It helps us appreciate masculinity and femininity and intimate contact between the two. Page 133

    It has taken me a few years to catch up on what scholars have been doing by studying the non canonical gospels. Maybe this will be a corrective for our time. I prefer this approach to spirituality rather than the manly and muscular Christianity you have highlighted in your post. It will not be something that the Mother Angelica’s and the Eric Prince’s of the world will embrace anytime soon. It does give me and many others hope, however. Thanks for your insights.

  9. Wild Hair, I too have been spending time lately in the non canonical gospels. They certainly do present a different picture of the relationship between Mary Magdalene and Jesus. And for that matter Peter.

    I've gotten much better insight into why James was the head of the Jerusalem church and Peter was not. Peter may have had the keys, but it seems James changed the locks.

  10. ## " This militaristic view of Christianity is part of what I see as the dark underbelly of American Christianity in which masculinity seems to be getting mixed up with militarism, and Jesus becomes an excuse to 'flex one's manly muscles' against perceived enemies rather than the Teacher of a way which calls for radical love of one's enemy."

    At least as this - or something like it - appears on the Net. I think it has a lot to do with hormones,and sex

  11. "I wonder why the EWTN crowd have been so hung up about the need for manly role models in the church ---"

    Take a look at Mother Angelica and you have your answer!

    Shudder ---

    Jim McCrea

  12. Jim, I can't get the commercial they used to run with the Franciscan monks dancing down a football field in their dresses pitching a football back and forth out of my poor sick mind.

    I was like ever so impressed with their manly ways. Too bad none of them could actually throw a football over hand.

    Reminded me of the soccer match Monte Python did between the German philosphers and the Greek philosophers. Come to think of it, at least at the end Socrates had a break through thought about the existence of the soccer ball at center field and it turned out some of the Spartan Greeks actually had soccer talent.

    Not so with Mother A's Franciscans and football talent.