Author’s note: The following post is an excerpt from my book Why Men Hate Going to Church. To order an autographed copy of the book click here.
Every man carries within himself a masculinity bank. Each time he succeeds in a manly endeavor, a few coins drop into his bank: ka-ching, ka-ching. When a man does something well or is praised for his skill his bank receives a small deposit. When he charms a woman, gets a promotion or wins a tournament the bank begins to swell.
But the masculinity bank can never be totally filled. A man will begin proving himself around age seven and will spend his entire lifetime doing so (although the pursuit may become less consuming later in life). Men don’t know they have a masculinity bank; they just know it’s important to do things that are manly in the eyes of their peers.
Not all men are macho, so different men fill their banks differently. For example, Rob the corporate executive proves his masculinity by having a corner office, complete with an attractive young secretary. This would mean nothing to Louis the artist, who measures his masculinity by winning awards for his exceptional paintings. But artistic skill means nothing to Tom the police officer, who proves his masculinity by being the best marksman on the force. However, Kenneth the college professor has never touched a gun. He proves his masculinity by charming female students into bed with him
Is there a positive side to all this manhood proving? Of course. It produces bravery, heroism, generosity, self-sacrifice, and innovation. Every day men prove their worth by working hard, sacrificing for their families, and serving their communities.
I’m not a particularly macho fellow, but a few years ago I took up home remodeling. I enjoy slicing boards and driving nails, partly because it feels manlier to me than sitting at a computer all day (my regular job). My desire to fill my masculinity bank results in a nicer home for my family. When a project is finished, I invite over my friends, who praise me for my carpentry skills (ka-ching, ka-ching). Even writers and artists like me have a masculinity bank to fill, and we must find clever ways to prove our manhood because we lack a he-man persona and profession.
Masculinity banks experience withdrawals as well. If a man fails in manly endeavors, he loses a few coins. If he’s exposed as a coward, a cheat, or a cheapskate, he loses a few more.
But nothing empties a masculinity bank faster than womanly behavior. Doing something “girly” is like pulling the stopper out of the bank and dropping coins down a sewer. Remember those beer ads that made fun of men wearing skinny jeans or going to the bathroom in pairs? Men who act like women (or engage in typically female behaviors) are ridiculed in most of the world.
Unfortunately for the church, many men see churchgoing as womanly behavior. It’s the polar opposite of the risky, dangerous image they try to project. Men don’t go to church for the same reason they refuse to carry anything resembling a purse—it’s not something guys do. Imagine this scene one Wednesday night after a long, hot day on the construction site:
Bill. Hey, where you guys going after work?
Dean. I’m going out for a beer.
Jeremy. I’ve got tickets to the ball game.
Bill. How about you, Sam?
Sam. I’m going to Wednesday night church service.
All. (Silence)Men, do you feel that one in your gut? Dean and Jeremy are planning an evening of manly behavior. But Sam will be doing something real men don’t do—going to church, voluntarily, and on a weeknight.
This is one reason many Christian men hide their faith from other men. They’re not ashamed of Christ; they’re ashamed of feminization.
I must confess, I have been in Sam’s position. Instead of being straightforward about my plans to attend a religious gathering, I told the truth in vague, man-acceptable terms, such as, “I’m getting together with some friends,” or “I’m just spending some time with the family.” How clever of me.
Men employ a variety of strategies to guard their coins. If a man goes to church for purely cultural reasons but there’s clearly no commitment to Christ, the masculinity bank remains intact. I call this the Mafia strategy. These men, like Mafia dons, attend church to preserve cultural tradition or to keep women happy. But are they true followers of Jesus? Fuhgeddaboudit. They sit in church with arms folded, shielding their hearts from the love of God. I suspect many of these men realize they are hypocrites, but they don’t care: their precious manhood is intact.
Among the world’s great religions, Christianity has the most feminized image. The recently released Pew research study of male and female religiosity found that women are slightly more religious than men worldwide, but the gender gap is biggest among Christians. Meanwhile, the world’s fastest growing religion, Islam, draws many more male adherents. “Christianity is a highly feminized religion: Jesus is not at all macho, unlike Muhammad,” said Linda Woodhead, professor in the department of politics, philosophy and religion at Lancaster University. She sees this as “a problem for men” that other major religions do not share.
Why does this matter? Because a man won’t do something he believes is feminine. It costs his masculinity bank too many coins. This is why men don’t hang out at baby showers, flower shops, craft bazaars, or froufrou boutiques. What will the guys think?
Men avoid church in greater numbers than women not because they disbelieve, but because church affiliation is a net withdrawal from their masculinity bank. As men age and their obsession with manliness wanes, they return to church. This is why traditional churches draw so many old men.
Doggone it. Can’t men just get over this obsession with manliness? No, they can’t. You might as well ask a woman to get over her maternal instincts. The need to be manly is universal and buried deep – the product of a thousand generations of conditioning. Manliness not something a man does; it’s a vital part of who he is.
So where did this need to be manly come from? Is it a modern obsession, or are its roots deeper? We’ll answer that question in my next post.
Christianity is the only major world religion with a pronounced gender gap. To understand the real reasons men absent themselves, order a copy of Why Men Hate Going to Church. I’ll personally autograph your copy if you click here. Shipping is free through April 10.