The Gospel of John tells a story not found in the other gospels which describes Jesus washing the feet of the Disciples. He strips off his clothing and puts on a servants towel, he washes the disciples feet despite Peter’s objection and then has them wash each other’s feet (13:3-14). At first glance, the meaning of the story seems pretty clear. Jesus is taking the humble role of a servant and treating the young men to a relaxing foot bath and massage with some kind of vague allusion to servant leadership, right? That is certainly one way of reading it but it doesn’t explain Peter’s reluctance or his later suggestion of washing his whole body rather than just the feet. There is something else going on here which I intend to reveal.
There are a lot of Christian self help books available offering quick fix solutions to the dangers and emotional pitfalls of modern dating. In fact, it is a multi-billion dollar industry. Clearly they aren’t working, otherwise people would have stopped buying the books right? In this article, I’m going to offer some advice based on lessons I’ve learned during the course of my life which have changed the way I look at dating.
The American big church movement is growing. While churches in the majority are small, the top one percent of churches claims fifteen percent of church memberships, money and full time staff. The Top twenty percent claims sixty to sixty five percent(1). As large churches take a larger and larger share of the market, smaller churches struggle to keep their doors open. In this essay I will explore some factors which allow successful churches to attract new members and retain existing members to grow exponentially in a saturated and declining religious marketplace, and offer some suggestions for church leaders wanting to stimulate growth in their congregations. The main influences to church growth are church friendliness, counter cultural doctrines, service style and marketing.
Modern society continues to be plagued by conflicting ideas about sex practices, how they relate to marriage, and what God thinks of all this. Being the good Samaritan that I am, I thought I’d help out a bit by giving the argument a Jaminological treatment. In this post, I intend to strip Western ideas of sex back to their basic components, identify the common religious assumptions, and consider how a religiously enlightened Jaminist would view sex and marriage.
A faithful man who can find? (proverbs 20:6 NIV)
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.
Before I get started on this, I think I should make it clear that what follows is neither a literal interpretation nor a historical contextual interpretation. Rather, it is a possible modern spiritual interpretation. In other words, I am more concerned with expressing a known truth through a familiar story rather than extracting truth from an ancient document. This is, in a sense, the pouring of a matured understanding of the nature of the natural world and the mind into scriptures of an earlier time and filling it full of new meaning to make it relevant to a new era. This is a style of interpretation that first centenary Jews called the fulfilment of scripture. This writing style can be observed in abundance within the Book of Matthew, where the author uses the term “as it is written” to denote that he is about to fulfil a scripture from what we call the Old Testament with an aspect of the story of Jesus’ life. It is important to note that this fulfilment in no way implies that the original scripture writer had somehow predicted these future events like some carnival fortune teller; rather it is an expression of how these sacred texts continue to be relevant to the modern reader.
The LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed. And out of the ground the LORD God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. … And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:8-9 & 16-17 KJV)
There are two important trees in this garden. They are called “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” and “the tree of life”. The name of the first is sometimes abbreviated but I think it is important to consider its name in full in order to know what it truly represents. Quite simply, it is a tree. Trees do not contain knowledge so it is also a metaphor. A tree is a living organism which grows, thus we can see that the knowledge of good and evil is a living and growing thing within us as individuals as a microcosm and within humanity as a whole.
Knowledge of Good and Evil
Now, in regard to a discussion about the knowledge of good and evil it is important to define what exactly we mean by good and evil. Most people would agree that a dingo that eats a human baby is not evil, though its actions may cause a great deal of suffering. Conversely, if the baby was eaten by a human adult we might then call the action evil. This suggests that evil (and therefore good also) must be performed by beings who are conscious of a degree of right and wrong in order to make a moral choice in order to be considered good or evil. The family dog that has an idea of how its human pack operates who eats a human baby may be judged more harshly than the dingo, for while the two are genetically the same species, the dog has a limited understanding that eating its master’s offspring would be a bad thing. We may hold the dog as perpetrating some level of evil, though not as much as the baby eating human.
So a wild animal (while probably holding some understanding of proper pack behaviour) can be considered essentially amoral in all of its dealings with humans. A domestic animal with limited capacity for understanding the rules of human society can be considered to be a good dog when it brings you your slippers and a bad dog when it eats them. A primate could be held morally accountable to some degree if its shrewdness has taught it the basic value of ape life, as it should have the cognitive ability to recognise a human child as similar to itself, non-threatening and non-food. Even amongst humans the level of moral cognisance is taken into consideration for moral judgement. A baby is not judged harshly for being utterly egotistical and inconsiderate of the needs of others. An adult human who cries and screams to get what they want isn’t treated with the same sympathy.
Thus, we can conclude that our capacity for good and evil acts is directly proportional to our level of knowledge of good and evil as concepts. The size of the tree dictates the size of the fruit.
Do Not Eat It
This brings me to my next point. The tree itself is fully good because God made no bad things. There is nothing inherently evil about knowledge, even the knowledge of good and evil. The thing that causes death is eating the fruit.
In Matthew 7:16, Jesus says “You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they?” (see fig vi in previous article)
He’s a clever man that Jesus. Of course, he is speaking of fruit metaphorically here. Fruit is the natural product that comes naturally from a thing. In the case of a grape vine the fruit is grapes. In the case of working in the field, the fruit of your labour is the harvest. In the case of knowledge of good and evil, the fruit is a judgement of things as either good or evil.
When you eat something, it becomes a part of you. When you eat grapes for example, your digestive system breaks down the flesh of the grape and extracts nutrients which it then feeds into your bloodstream to either fuel or build into your body. It becomes a part of you. When you eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, judgement of things as either good or evil becomes a part of you.
Let me reiterate, eating the fruit does not produce the ability to do wrong. Eve was perfectly capable of telling a lie while talking to the serpent before eating the fruit.
God says: “for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die”
Eve says: “God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’”
The consequence of eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is dualism.
Or You Will Die
So what is death? Well that’s quite simple isn’t it? It is the absence of life where once there was life right? Of course, you first need a basis of dualism to come up with that definition.
What is death to a dog? Easy! That is the process by which something else goes from being a moving thing to being a food thing. Death is great! What does a dog know of its own death? Absolutely nothing. It may briefly have the sensation of intense discomfort but by the time death is a reality, the dog is no longer able to experience anything. Hence, as far as the dog is concerned, its own death does not exist.
A young child has a similar perspective of death as a dog has. In order to come to a position of knowledge that they “will surely die”, the child requires the experience of encountering the concept, either through the death of another or through an explanation from somebody who already understands the concept. Coupled with a bit of imagination the child can quickly imagine the idea and uncertainty of death. Add a health does of egotism and dualism and they will quickly decide that their death would be a bad thing and something they would like to avoid.
Humans have been trying to find ways to escape their own personal death for as long as they’ve known about it. In the absence of longevity technologies and cryogenics, the most obvious solution has been the concept of an afterlife. This fear and avoidance of death is the basis for religion which will often associate desired behaviour with favourable afterlife outcomes.
Dualism also leads to tribalism. When to groups with conflicting religious beliefs meet, the initial innocent response is a gradual merging of the beliefs. This will then often result in a fear reaction from some members of a community out of a dualist thinking that the beliefs should be kept separate or untainted. Fear leads to fundamentalism and the enforcing of boundaries of what constitutes acceptable beliefs and behaviour for members of that group. Anything outside of that becomes evil and results in either punishment or ostracism.
As a consequence of humanity’s consumption of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, we now live in a world of fear and hatred of the other and a glorification of the self and the similar. Even the so called liberal theologian suffers from the dualistic tendency to demonise the fundamentalist. Wars are fought in every nation, often most viciously between the beliefs that are most similar, by those defending the boundaries of the like against the invasion of the other. Christians accost grieving parents with “God hates Fags” placards outside children’s funerals. Suicide bombers detonate themselves in Israel’s cultural centres. Muslims battle Muslims across the Middle East and Africa. The Buddhist government persecutes Buddhist monks Burma. There is still massive fighting in the Congo between various Christian military groups. France is moving to ban face veils in a move to further alienate a people group. Australia is happy to have 200,000 predominantly white immigrants each year from developed nations but 800 Arabs begging refugee status from war torn countries are imprisoned with minimum sentences before processing can even begin.
One of the definitive attributes of God is holiness. The Hebrew word for holiness is qadosh which literally means “to be set apart”. God is therefore definitively Other. Hatred of the other is hatred of God. The “Golden Rule” found at the heart of every world religion of doing for others as you would want them to do for you has been rejected by the vast majority of humanity in favour of tribalism, forcing people to conform to our views or be rejected as infidels. Treating the other as the enemy, we have set ourselves in enmity with the Other.
Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:40 Message)
All is not lost fortunately. Remember that the garden contains two
metaphor trees. If the first one was growing inside of us then the second one must also be there. This tree is called the tree of life.
“…he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever” (Genesis 3:22b)
So just as eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil took our society from childish innocence and brought us into this current state of adolescent rebellion and egotism, there is a tree of life growing within us still. Within this is the hope that someday we will grow out of this immature bickering and will, collectively, grow up.
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, thought like a child, and reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up my childish ways. (1 Corinthians 13:11)
Now the idea of spiritual maturity (which I will go into more detail on in a later post) is not something which can be forced upon a person. It is something that comes naturally when people have time to reflect and pray, the freedom to explore varied beliefs and alternative perspectives, and the security of having basic necessities of food and shelter.
Spiritual development cannot be forced, but it can be inspired. If, after reading this article, you feel that you can feel that tree of life deep within you and want to nourish it to grow you into a spiritual adult (thank you I see that hand), the process is something I cannot teach you. A can however give you advice. Learn about other faiths than your own from a perspective of trying to understand how other people think rather than to try to beat them or convert them to your worldview. Put yourself in their shoes and see what it is like to walk like they do. Question your own assumptions.
If you feel you would like to help bring spiritual maturity to the world as a whole, which is a commendable goal, I can offer some simple advice. While people are fearful, insecure and feeling marginalised they will dig themselves deeper into adolescent thinking. So where possible, support movements which aim to bring people out of poverty and counter oppression, particularly religious oppression. Meet people’s physical and emotional needs first, then give them the tools to develop their own spiritual identity within whatever system of beliefs they identify with. Practice agape, disinterested love; which gives of itself without expecting anything in return.
And as a wise Hindu once said: Be the change you wish to see in the world.