Is it harder for men to believe?
I’ve often wondered about this. In the church I pastor, there seems to be more women than men. It’s not a huge difference, but it’s there. The women are often more regular in worship attendance and in other activities.
I know it’s complicated. A lot of men I know work weekends and there are the complexities of divorce and separation. And in the older demographic women live 4 years longer than men in Canada.
But I was curious so I asked some colleagues if they saw this too. Many say the same thing.
Then I checked the 2011 national household survey from Statistics Canada. Here are a few things I found:
—Over 22 million Canadians identify with some form of the Christian faith. (I know, I know, there is simply NO way that 22 million Canadians actually try to live out that Christian faith.)
But within those numbers:
—There are 10.5% more Christian women than men.
—That seems to be mirrored in Roman Catholics where there are 7.7% more women than men; in Presbyterians where there are 15% more women than men; and in non-denominational circles where there are 23% more women than men.
But what about other faiths?
—Adherents of Judaism and Islam are a much smaller portion of the population. But keeping with the trend, there are 4% more self-identifying Jewish women than men.
—Interestingly, to buck the trend, there are 5% more men than women in Islam. (I’ll leave it with my Muslim friends to figure out what’s happening there.)
Another statistic of note is that 16% more men than women say they have no religious affiliation at all. (That total group is 7.8 million.)
Now data is hard to translate. In her book called The Virtual Self (2012), journalist Nora Young says we live in a “data-drunk culture.” “Numbers don’t always tell the whole story; they can be manipulated, or misunderstood.”
And I definitely think that’s the case here.
Perhaps at a basic level what I can conclude from the above is that more women than men tick off a religious box on a form.
But more men than women tick off a ‘no religion’ box on a form too.
Plus, the experience of me and others suggests that more women are engaging in the Christian faith in a public way.
I wonder why that is. Is it harder for men to believe? Is there something in maleness that makes the leap of faith harder to make?
It is certainly no secret that men and women are different.
Harvard’s Carol Gilligan talks about a key difference between boys and girls—that boys pride themselves in a tough-minded independence and autonomy whereas girls seem to understand themselves in a web of connectedness. Boys might, therefore, be threatened by anything that challenges their independence, and girls by anything that challenges their connectedness.
I think there’s something to that. Is it a threat to men to yield their independence to a stronger almighty power?
The speculation could go on. For example, maybe men feel less engaged in their faith when many sermons and Bible studies focus on abstract ideas rather than the real life issues they’re struggling with—whether that be job security, stress, anger, lust, or depression.
As I’ve hinted at before, we also seem to be in a time of detachment. More people seem to be lonelier, and detaching from group-oriented activities. Fewer people are attending church yes, but fewer are also signing up for school boards, city councils, charity activities and even blood donor clinics.
There seems to also be more single people. If you’re single by choice or by divorce is the church culture such that it makes it harder to participate in a meaningful way?
Do we talk about issues relevant to men? I hope so. Jesus certainly did!
Let me suggest three ideas.
First: I think men value authentic connection, friendships. If we’re prancing around all the time with small talk and no real venue for learning more about each other’s struggles and supporting one another, I think we’re limiting our capacity to connect.
Part of the appeal of the organization Promise Keepers is that they encourage men to pursue “Christ-centred friendships with a few other men, connecting regularly, understanding that he needs brothers to help him keep his promises.” There’s a strong current of authenticity and accountability there.
Second: Since many men are natural providers, opportunities for doing (service and a sense of responsibility for others) connects us with a powerful urge within.
We want to have a role—a role which often includes responsibility and which isn’t always (necessarily) connected to a discussion-based activity.
Truth connects intimately to values. When you have a growing sense of what is true, it helps you set priorities and be a strong father, single-man, caregiver or role model.
Honestly, I think many of our churches can be truth-lite—too easily being swayed by the trends of the day. But I think we can pursue truth, and still honour and respect people who think differently than us.
Pastor Rick Warren says it like this: “Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.”
Is it harder for men to believe?
I just can’t answer that question.
But I’ll say this: Authentic connection matters. Doing matters. Truth matters.
As the expression goes, men are from Mars and women are from Venus. Actually, we’re all from earth. And I passionately feel that we were all made for heaven too.