Saturday, September 22, 2012

Book Review: Why Men Hate Going to Church (rev ed)

Christianity is not attractive to men at the moment. In fact, men hate going to church, according to David Murrow, the author of Why Men Hate Going to Church. Murrow argues that Christianity has become feminized since the industrial revolution to such an extent that men are leaving in droves or avoiding church like they avoid housework (my example - not his!). The men who do dominate the leadership positions in churches are actually feminized men who feel comfortable with, and demonstrate the characteristics of, women - intimacy, verbal communication, emotions, caring, touching etc.

The entire thesis of this book is premised on the assumption that men and women are completely different in their natures. (The author draws on the popular Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus by John Gray.) Murrow believes that most people conceive of Jesus Christ as living out the values ’that come naturally to women.’ The way that church is structured (in most Christian churches) appeals to women because of this belief about Christ and, therefore, men are left out in the cold. Christianity is seen as a "soft" faith and, if men are attracted to Christianity it is because they are ’highly verbal, sensitive, and relational.’ ”Real” men are into power, competition, achievement, practical skills, results, setting goals, etc. All of this is not deliberate, of course. But it's a very real problem.

How do we get men back into the church? Reverse the feminization of Christianity and bring masculine elements back into church worship and life. If the Church is to reverse the declining membership of its congregations (in the West, in particular) it needs to get men back into the pews. Women, it turns out, like churches with lots of men so the focus needs to shift to making the faith more masculine - and the women and children will follow.

Why Men Hate Going to Church is a passionate, fast paced read. It's powerful and persuasive. A lot of the material sounds reasonable and some of Murrow's assertions are backed up with empirical evidence. The idea of “masculinising” aspects of Christian belief and worship is certainly needed? For example, images of Jesus need to become more real than the effeminate versions of much Christian art. And the praise songs that have men singing to Jesus as his lovers definitely need to go!

But I experienced a degree of discomfort as I read this book. Firstly, the differences between men and women seems overly stereotypical. Very little is discussed in the book about the commonalities between men and women. The simplistic distinctions between men and women as described by, for example, John Gray have been criticized as excessively reductionistic and not reflecting how similar men and women are in so many respects. The picture drawn by Murrow seems to "black and white".

Secondly, Murrow's passion and enthusiasm for making his point sometimes borders on sexism. While the feminine is occasionally affirmed it would be easy to infer that the bad aspects of Christian worship and life are the product of female nature. I've only read the book once, but I can't recall any occasion where the author has remotely suggested that “masculine” Christianity may have its problems or any hint at the historical abuse of women by men who have suffered at the hands of men in power. I don't believe this is intentional but Murrow needs to be more careful about this aspect of his views.

In summary, Why Men Hate Going to Church is a passionate plea for the reconsideration of men's needs in our churches. It's a plea also being made outside the church in areas such as education. Men and boys do need healthy masculine role models in the church. Murrow's passion and enthusiasm for the concerns of men is great to see. For me, though, I would have liked to see a more substantial, objective argument presented for rejuvenating Christian worship for all. But then, maybe I'm not a “real” man!

Book details: David Murrow (2011). Why Men Hate Going to Church. Thomas Nelson.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Movie Review: Hope Springs

Hope Springs is a deeply insightful movie about growing old, both in age and in relationships, that I found emotionally moving and profound.

Kay (Meryl Streep) and Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones) are in a marriage that is stultifying, oppressive, monotonous, and unrewarding - at least for one of them. Kay and Arnold sleep in separate beds, get up at the same time every day, meet in the kitchen for breakfast (Arnold reads the paper while Kay cooks the food), there is a perfunctory goodbye, and Arnold leaves for work. When Arnold returns from work, he watches TV (without any consideration of Kay's wishes), and they retire to separate rooms. The next day it all starts again. Arnold seems happy but Kay is desperate for a more meaningful relationship and can't bear it any longer. She explores her local bookshop for inspiration and discovers a book by Dr Feld (Steve Carell in a straight role), a successful marriage counsellor who runs a retreat for couples. Arnold very reluctantly agrees to go to the week long retreat where Kay and Arnold travel on a difficult journey to ... well, I'll let you find out.

Hope Springs brings Streep and Jones together and both are superb in their roles. I haven't been a fan of Meryl Streep for some time but this role seemed to fit her like a glove. And Tommy Lee Jones is surprising as the husband with Steve Carell playing the therapist with a straighter face than I've seen him do before.

Most of the story occurs in Dr Feld's office and is highly dialogue driven. But the sensitive performances of the cast had me totally engaged and, by the end of the movie, I really cared about these two characters in so much pain. Hope Springs is more drama than comedy or romance - although there are some very humourous moments and the romance is deeper than most of the fluffly type we are usually forced to sit through.

At one point in the story, Kay, speaking of Arnold, says that 'he is everything. But I'm ... I'm really lonely. And to be with someone, when you're not really with him can ... it's ... I think I might be less lonely ... alone.' Surely there are people suffering loneliness despite having others around them. It is one of the most difficult pains to bear. But Kay proves that hope springs eternal in the human breast and Hope Springs will, hopefully, inspire us to work at our relationships so that we do not find ourselves alone while just eking out an existence under the same roof as our partner.

Positive Review

'I think everything about the movie is too subtle and real to appeal to the Batman demographic, but for mature audiences who have forgotten how to smile, it takes up where The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel left off.' - Rex Reed/New York Observer

Negative Review

'When the sing-song Jones and beatifically smiling Streep are allowed to carry the dramatic weight, you can see the raw, tough-love film that Hope Springs wants to be - until Frankel starts trying to be lighthearted and cute, at which point you see the movie's real troubled marriage in full bloom.' - David Fear/Time Out New York