In a humble, single room hut in the village of Capernaum, a small boy quietly tends to the animals in the lower, hay covered floor that was carved out for the animals, while in the raised family area of the hut a group of young men, guests of his father and disciples of the Rabbi Jesus, argue over which of them will hold the higher position when they’ve overthrown the Roman oppressors. The rabbi returns. His disciples run to him, demanding that he tell them the positions they will hold in his kingdom. The rabbi’s eyes scan the hut quickly as the little boy crouches low behind his goat. The rabbi smiles; he has found his answer. Pushing through the demanding young men, he reaches down and lifts the boy up to the higher level of the hut, placing him in the midst of the men, and tells them that the one of them who is most like the little boy will be the greatest; that those who cannot be like him are not fit for his kingdom. (Matthew 18:1-5, Luke 9:46-48, Mark 10:14-15).
The Synoptic Gospels each contain an account of Jesus declaring that being like a child is a requirement for entry into the kingdom of Heaven. Given that over half the world’s population consider Jesus an authority on the topic of Heaven, and a third say he is God (1), and also given the implications of being left out of the kingdom for failing to be like a child are disastrous by dominant modern interpretations, it would appear that having a correct understanding of this verse would be of critical importance. Unfortunately, those seeking to understand the meaning of this statement have left large bodies of information unused in forming their conclusions, with the result that the dominant understanding of Jesus’ statement may be incomplete. In this essay, I plan to bring together the major sources of information on the reality of what it meant to be a small child within the Roman Empire during the early part of the first century from both primary documents and archaeological evidence, in order to present four alternative readings of the phrase, and their theological applications.
These are as follows:
1) Being like a child means being vulnerable and dependant on others.
2) Being like a child means learning by asking challenging questions.
3) Being like a child means having a low status.
4) Being like a child means existing outside of the Mosaic Law.
That certainly seems to be a question a lot of Christian women seem to be asking. It seems like mature Christian men seem to be in rather short supply. Well ladies, it isn’t your imagination, the Christian male population has been in a state of steady decline for over thirty years, a trend which currently shows no sign of changing. “In the last 20 years 49% of men under 30 left the church! At the current rate of loss it is predicted that by 2028 men will all but have disappeared from the Church in the UK.” (whychurch.org.uk) So what is driving this mass exodus from the church? Miller and Stark (2002) conducted a meta analysis covering several countries and multiple religious groups within the USA, even comparing liberal and conservative gender disparities. They found that the role of women in a society had little impact on their spirituality. They also found that women with liberal views were in fact more likely to attend church than those with more conservative ideals. They also found that religions that do not rely on fear of divine wrath to retain membership had a more even spread of the sexes. Their conclusion was that the great sex gap was the result of men being innately more prone to risky behaviour. If you consider ignoring the commands of a wrathful God who is known for striking people dead at random intervals for seemingly petty offences to be risky behaviour then you could call skipping church a risky behaviour.
Sherkat (2002) took this idea further by studying homosexual populations (by homosexual I mean faggot and by faggot I mean an archaic unit of measurement for bundles of sticks). He found that gay men were more likely to believe in and pray to God than straight (extending in one direction without turns, bends or curves) men were to the same degree that they were more likely to avoid risky behaviours. He also found that homosexual women were statistically less likely to pray, attend church and so on than their heterosexual counterparts to the very same degree that they were more likely to engage in risky behaviours. He thus concluded that Christians are predominantly feminine because masculine oriented individuals are statistically more likely to engage in risky behaviours like parasailing, bear baiting, running with bulls, gambling, cheating on their taxes and tempting the divine wrath of the One True God. He was then heard to exclaim “Look at me I’m doing science!” This then became the dominant view on the subject.
There you have it. It isn’t that the church is doing anything wrong; it is just that masculine manly men get a kick out of temping God’s wrath by failing to acknowledge the Sabbath and not believing in God. I am not convinced. For a start, I would consider Allah to be at least equally vengeful and scary as the Christian God, yet Islam shows no gender disparity. Also, the findings showed that the people who didn’t attend a church also tended not to believe in God, so why would fear be a factor? Numerous studies have shown that a fear of punishment is one of the least effective deterrents of misbehaviour, regardless of sex. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say the evidence doesn’t quite support the conclusion.
Allow me to present an alternate theory. To understand this theory we’ll need to establish a basic understanding of Fowler’s seven stages of faith development, Kohlberg’s stages of moral development, Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development and the differences between masculine and feminine spirituality, so bear with me for a moment while I lay some quick foundations. Trust me, these points are seriously interesting and worthy of their own articles in due time. For the moment I’ll focus only on the stages relevant to this argument.
For simplicity’s sake, I am going to divide the stages into three categories: Child, Adolescent and Adult. These don’t necessarily reflect physical age. Some people never advance beyond the child stages. At 28, I consider myself to be currently in a process of transition from an adolescent phase into the first of the adult phases. Some people achieve it much sooner. Some could live to over a hundred and never progress beyond spiritual infancy, and there is no shame in that. Cognitive, moral, social, and physical development all happen at different rates for different people.
This phase includes amber stages and possibly aspects of the magenta stages. In this phase we believe in magical occurrences, gods who are actively involved in creating and controlling the intimate aspects of our lives. Our beliefs are based on what we are told and what we feel is right. We are beginning to develop a concept that other people also have feelings. We care about people who are close to us or similar to us. There is a tendency at this stage toward tribalism and dualism.
In Christianity this is expressed in a literal interpretation of the Bible, with a particular focus on the great commission. There is a strong attachment to one denomination or congregation with a sense that people who do things differently are wrong. Morality is based on what other people (preachers, parents, bible scholars) tell you that the Bible says.
This phase contains the orange stages and the green stages to some extent. It is the point where some of the social assumptions start to be challenged we start defining our own beliefs rather than blindly accepting what we’ve been taught. We start to be able to understand abstract concepts and ideas. Importantly we begin to start using reason as a primary measure of our world and often reject feelings as invalid for measuring reality. This is the point where we discover the concept of objectivity, in the sense that the truth isn’t just what I think or what somebody else thinks but might actually be independent of opinion entirely, we could even go so far as to say that truth is a relative concept and that paradoxical personal truths can still be true in their own way. We become concerned about the world as a whole rather than just the people we know or who are like us. There is a general broadening of worldview, and even a sense of general care and empathy for humanity as a whole or even extending to all living creatures.
This is the phase where sexuality begins to become spiritually relevant. Masculine spirituality tends toward quiet contemplation and emptying of self to observe and accept the other. Having spent the proto years of human development hunting and tracking in the wide savannah plains, men have developed a great ability to stand in silence and stillness to observe their entire field of vision as a big picture, this translates into an ability to take many details into account to form a single vision. The masculine path is also a problem solving path. If there is a problem, a man will quickly assess the situation, decide what need to be done to resolve the situation and then do it.
The feminine path developed in the tribal camp where children are monitored, edible plants are identified and gathered along with whatever local gossip is to be had. Interpersonal bonding and relationship development was far more important than making quick decisions. Being able to follow multiple different points of interest in great detail was more important than forming a single generalised picture of the whole scene. To the degree that masculine spirituality is about stillness, the feminine is about movement. To the degree that masculine spirituality is about becoming empty and detached to appreciate, feminine spirituality is about becoming bright to be admired and emotionally relational. The masculine creates a space for life and the feminine fills it with life.
The fruit of masculine spirituality is peace. The fruit of feminine spirituality is love. (Ken Wilber on YouTube)
This is the teal, turquoise, violet and ultraviolet stages. At this level all of the previous stages and learnings finally come together into a unified and consistent order. While a pre-rational thinker cannot understand rational thought and a rational thinker sees any non-rational thinking as irrational and invalid, the adult phase develops a kind of post rational thinking which validates and incorporates both styles in harmony. The level of external care is expanded again to a universal agape love, yet able to also appreciate the familiar, the similar and the self of the previous stages’ focus. The masculine spirit accepts his feminine side and the feminine spirit accepts her feminine side, becoming whole in their sexuality yet still distinctly themselves.
Alright, so now you’re up to date with about six months of cognitive development studies in just a few minutes. Well done! Now let’s have a look at how this affects the lack of men in the Christian faith.
1) Be still, and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10)
Where is this practiced at all in a modern church service? Some traditional services might spend up to ten minutes of stillness on special occasions. The Eastern Orthodox Church definitely practices extended communal stillness, but then they’ve got equal numbers of male and female members don’t they? Monastic orders practice stillness, but they are all men so they don’t count. Your average modern church service though is aimed at spiritual infants whose attention span is measured in seven second bites. When the congregation begins to mature, this spiritual baby formula is no longer sufficient. Constant activity if fine for the child phase and feminine adolescent phase but if the developing masculine adolescent spirits don’t find anything for them in the service, there is going to be a problem.
2) Let us make man in our image . . . and let them have dominion . . . And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the Garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. (Genesis 1:26 and 2:15 KJV)
In the majority of modern churches, the majority of the congregation is passive during the service, receiving the message from the preacher and being led in uniform worship by the musicians. While this is fine for child and feminine adolescent phases, the masculine adolescent phase craves dominion to cultivate a space of his own where he is valued and respected, where his opinions matter and his voice is heard. While there is a single patriarchal figure at the front of the church creating and dominating the space, there is no point in any other masculine spirit being there. They will leave and produce their own space over which they will hold dominion. As long as masculine adolescent phases Christians feel that they contribute nothing to the service, they will find no place to grow within the church and they will be faced with the question of staying in a flawed situation or leaving to pursue their spiritual growth on their own.
3) But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil (Heb. 5:14)
The majority of church services are aimed at the lowest common denominator. While a feminine spirit is happy to re-encounter familiar themes (as can be observed in the clear repetitive nature of daytime soaps) the masculine spirit is interested in forming a more detailed big picture. If the teachings cease to add new detail to the existing picture they have of Christianity they will be treated as redundant, and he will look elsewhere. If a church wants to keep its maturing masculine members, it needs to stay relevant and provide new details. Seriously, the Bible is pretty big and complex; it can’t be that hard to come up with an original sermon. On that note, a developing rational mind is going to have problems with a literal interpretation of the Bible. While the feminine rational can look at many individual parts of the Bible and see them as perfectly rational in isolation, a masculine rational mind is going to construct a big picture of the stories and find some serious discrepancies. Any church that insists that a literal interpretation is the only valid way to read the Bible is going to lose its men.
4) Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision (Joel 3:14)
The adolescent masculine spirit is going to find that even if all of these previous conditions were improved, that he is faced with a decision to either redefine his current faith to become something he can own, or heading out into the wilderness to find God himself. The most rewarding path is the wilderness but if a church blackmails its members with threats of God’s wrath to anybody who leaves the faith, the masculine adolescent spirit must choose to sacrifice his autonomy and submit to his fear, or show courage and step boldly into the unknown to find God for himself, knowing that he may not be welcomed back.
Considering that every major church leader in history who took the church on a new path towards a greater understanding of God’s will first went through a dark night of the soul experience, my advice is to give the masculine adolescent spirit the freedom to go and search without piling on the fear and doom bit. Seriously, the Bible is pretty clear that people who search for God will find him. If you let them go with blessings they may well return when they’ve found their own meaning. Hold on too tight and they will reject you, reject the Bible, and reject God.
• The church fails to retain its manly men because it tailors its services to spiritual infants and women.
• The men who do stay are stuck in spiritual infancy and lack courage.
• The only strong masculine influence in the church is the men who reached spiritual adolescence before joining the church / giving their life to Christ.
• It doesn’t matter how many youth rally revivals you pull, if you can’t raise Godly men amongst you, your church is destined to fade away.