The E-Journal of
Solidarity, Sustainability, and Nonviolence

Vol. 5, No. 5, May 2009
Luis T. Gutierrez, Editor

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The second guest paper this month was recently published by Joseph Gelfer, School of Political and Social Inquiry, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia. This short paper goes to the heart of the most vexing issue of the times: whether or not it is time to leave behind the patriarchal mindset that may be the deepest wound of humanity. It is by now well known that the so-called phallic syndrome (i.e., the preference for what is masculine) is the root cause of most gender inequities and, therefore, an enormous obstacle to sustainable development and, in particular, human development. At a time when the feminist movement is about to enter the "third wave," patriarchy still refuses to die in peace. This is perhaps most evident in some religious institutions that keep insisting in the "ontological difference between men and women" (whatever that means) as a way to rationalize their inordinate attachment to masculine images of God. Gelfer's paper is about this happening in the USA, but in many other countries is even worst, with "macho" religions supporting the perpetuation of "macho" societies. A case in point is the absurdity of refusing to have women in roles of religious authority. But reason prevails in the long term, and increasingly people are beginning to recognize that -- in prayer as in any other human context -- being human is more important than being "macho."

Pray like a man:
Across the US, hundreds of 'men's ministries'
cater to an outmoded version of masculinity

Joseph Gelfer
Adjunct Research Associate, Monash University
Melbourne, Australia
Published in The Guardian, United Kingdom, 23 March 2009.
Reprinted with Permission

Christianity has decided it needs to toughen up and start attracting the guys. Think Promise Keepers disappeared in the 1990s? Think again: they're still filling conferences across the United States, but now they're joined by a host of other men's ministries who want to put masculinity back on the spiritual agenda.

In itself, this is no bad thing. However, the type of masculinity these ministries promote has the power to broaden our horizons or turn back the clock. Unfortunately, men's ministries have a habit of encouraging a rather unsavory vision of masculinity that has been described by one sympathetic sociologist as "soft patriarchy", where evangelical men assume an allegedly "symbolic" position of authority in the family as reward for their emotional engagement. A quick glance at some of the names of men ministries makes the type of masculinity they seek quite clear: Battle Zone Ministries, Noble Warriors, Top Gun Ministries. Those out to harness popular Christian masculine spirituality seem convinced that in order to get men back in the pews they must appeal to their desire to reassert power in the home, and to fantasies of militaristic manhood.

It is tempting to assume that we should expect little else from Christianity, steeped as it is in two millennia of patriarchy, and that we should find an altogether different kind of man out in the world of "spiritual, but not religious". However, the spiritual marketplace offers little that is new. Take, for example, EnlightenNext, the media outlet of the guru Andrew Cohen, who proposes to his readers that they are part of an enlightened community at the leading edge of thought. His idea of masculine spirituality can be seen in his magazine's recent issue "Constructing the New Man". Let's have a quick look at the feature articles.

The magazine kicks off with an interview with Harvard professor Harvey C Mansfield, author of the book Manliness, which paints a picture of a feminized society that could benefit from learning about the history and virtues of traditional manliness stretching all the way back to Homer. Remember, Cohen claims to be at the leading edge of thought, though in the words of one critic, Mansfield is "stuck in a semantic time warp". The next article, "Beyond the Rambo Mentality" sounds much more promising; however, it speaks of "authentic" masculinity, archetypes and initiation, which could have been lifted directly out of Robert Bly's Iron John.

Next is an interview with Erwin McManus, a Christian minister popular at Promise Keepers events whose book The Barbarian Way wants men to engage with "the ancient, primal, and dangerous". This is followed by the story of Nathaniel Fick, an Ivy League graduate who learned how to be a man in the Marines. Later we read about how Scandinavian men lost their Viking spirit, the "confessions of a formerly sensitive New Age man" in which a Californian generation-Xer laments being feminized by his psychotherapist mother, and finally Cohen and the "integral philosopher" Ken Wilber bemoan post modernity which "creates weak, inauthentic men".

It seems that if a man wants to express his spiritual side, whether it be in a church or at the glossy leading edge of spirituality, he is encouraged not to think of new ways of being a man, rather to revert back to the old. This is a particularly worrying trend given that so many young men and women believe themselves to be in a "post-feminist" era.

Copyright © 2009 by Joseph Gelfer

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Joseph Gelfer holds a Ph.D. in Religious Studies from Victoria University, Wellington, New Zealand. He is currently Adjunct Research Associate at the School of Political and Social Inquiry, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia. He is editor of the Journal of Men, Masculinities and Spirituality. For more information about this author see the Gelfer's Web Site.

His forthcoming book Numen, Old Men is published by Equinox Publishing, 2009. The following summary is taken from the book's web site:

"Since the early 1990s there have been various waves of interest in what is often described as ďmasculine spiritualityĒ. While diverse, a commonality among these interests has been a concern that spirituality has become too feminine, and that menís experiences of the spiritual are being marginalized. Masculine spirituality is therefore about promoting what it perceives to be authentic masculine characteristics within a spiritual context. By examining the nature of these characteristics, Numen, Old Men argues that masculine spirituality is little more than a thinly veiled patriarchal spirituality. The mythopoetic, evangelical, and to a lesser extent Catholic menís movements all promote a heteropatriarchal spirituality by appealing to neo-Jungian archetypes of a combative and oppressive nature, or understanding menís role as biblically ordained leader of the family. Numen, Old Men then examines Ken Wilberís integral spirituality which aims to honor and transcend both the masculine and feminine, but which privileges the former to the extent where it becomes another masculine spirituality, with all its inherent patriarchal problems. Gay spirituality is then offered as a form of masculine spirituality which to a large degree resists patriarchal tendencies, suggesting a queering of spirituality could be useful for all men, both gay and straight."

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Both subscribers and nonsubscribers are cordially invited to submit a paper to be considered for publication in the SSNV e-journal as an "invited paper." It should be related to the journal's theme about solidarity, sustainability, and nonviolence as the three pillars of sustainable development. Some suggested themes:

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