"Male Spirituality": A Feminist Evaluation

by Elizabeth T. Knuth

May, 1993

"Men have souls as well as women."[1]



The past decade or so has seen a veritable explosion in religious publishing. Walk into the nearest bookstore, and you will encounter a bewildering array of books on various brands of spirituality. There seems to be a great hunger. As Morton Kelsey wryly remarks, "If spirituality has not become respectable, it has at least become popular."[2] For those who would call themselves "spiritual but not religious" there are numerous offerings in Eastern philosophy, New Age, the occult, Wicca, and so on. Similarly the amount of literature related to addictions, co-dependency, and 12-step programs is expanding rapidly.

Even more recently, we have witnessed the emergence of the "New Men's Movement." Various groups consider themselves the men's movement, from the National Organization of Men Against Sexism, which has held annual conferences since 1975, to fathers' rights activists.[3] Therefore some refer to this new men's movement as the mythopoetic movement, because of its reliance on mythical archetypes for self-understanding. The leading exponent of the mythopoetic movement is poet Robert Bly, whose Iron John topped the best-seller list for much of 1991.[4] Lesser lights include Sam Keen and Robert Moore.[5] These address the psychic discomfort of men. A few books have also appeared about "male spirituality" from a Christian perspective.

Is this new men's movement something feminists can support? Does it encourage the well-being of men--and women? If men's experience is distinctive, might men also have a distinctive path to God? These are the questions I propose to explore in this essay. After offering some background material, I will summarize two outlines of male spirituality. I will then critique these on the basis of consistency, feminist principles, and Christian criteria.


As in the swelling literature on co-dependency (and, before that, transactional analysis), so too in the mythopoetic movement and in the rationales for male spirituality there is a considerable amount of jargon. There is talk of shadow kings, father-wounds, Zeus energy, Puer culture, and the like. Therefore some information on the underpinnings of "male spirituality" as it is described would seem to be in order.

As Patrick Arnold says, "most of the energy that drives the men's movement comes from the `secular' world of fairy tales and mythology, Jungian psychotherapy, anthropology, and New Age spirituality."[6] Of this mix, the most formative are mythology and Jungian psychology.

Carl Jung considered the unconscious to be the "source of creative power and insight."[7] Furthermore, he posited, on the basis of common motifs in dreams, that each individual has inherited a "collective unconscious" shared by the entire human race. These common motifs are images which have a powerful appeal to the imagination. They "act like spiritual beings with a life of their own" (Kelsey 76), and they are ambivalent, that is, they can be turned to good or evil. Jung calls these psychic images "archetypes." "The archetype must be honored for what it is, an image outside of the self that calls us to growth, change and awareness. In its negative form it can equally call us to evil and destruction."[8]

The way in which the collective unconscious and archetypes would tie in with mythology is apparent. The "mega-myth" or "super-archetype" (for males, at least) is that of the Hero. Arnold (40-41) goes so far as to say, "The activation of the Hero archetype is the single most important factor in the creation of a man's masculine identity." The three phases of the hero's quest are separation, ordeal, and return.

Several masculine archetypes are proposed on the basis of myth, fairy tale, and anthropology. Arnold discusses an even dozen, including the Hero and "the Christ archetype" (181). A few of these are predominant in the literature of the men's movement, however, namely King, Warrior, and Shaman. It should be noted that the Warrior is not a soldier under orders, but a sole combatant, or a leader who calls all the shots. The one archetype most often held up as a model for men in these books is that of the Wild Man. "Totally liberated from the trappings of modern civilization, he still possesses almost magical powers over the forces of nature and his animal brethren" (Arnold 35). The Wild Man is depicted as big, hairy, and naked. The story used by the mythopoetic movement to evoke the archetypal Wild Man is "Iron John" (Eisenhans) from Grimm's Fairy Tales.

Another aspect of Jungian psychology which strongly influences the mythopoetic movement is the theory of anima/animus. Jung contends that each human psyche has both masculine and feminine characteristics. For men, "the animus or intellectual self is the dominant self into which they integrate the poetic, intuitive side" (Ruether, New Woman 158), i.e. the anima. It is worth noting that Jung identified the unconscious realm as a whole with the "feminine" (see Ruether, New Woman 152-53, 157). This is a two-edged sword for women.

Jung also spoke of the "shadow." In his terminology this is the repressed, unclaimed parts of the unconscious self. The shadow is not simply identical with either anima or animus, although the shadow too must be integrated. The shadow is not just another word for the archetypes, and it is not the whole of the unconscious realm, since there are spiritual centers of power besides the self.[9] "Jung once said that our shadow, that part of us that seems to torment us from inside, is ninety percent pure gold, and the other ten percent unrelenting evil" (Kelsey 52). Hence discernment is always necessary.

Two Models of Male Spirituality[10]

Few books have been written with the express intent of addressing male spirituality. I found four; these in turn referred to three others. For the purposes of this essay, I simply chose to deal with the two most recent works [at the time], The Wild Man's Journey by Richard Rohr and Joseph Martos,[11] and Patrick Arnold's Wildmen, Warriors, and Kings.

Both Arnold and Rohr are members of male Roman Catholic religious orders: the former is a Jesuit and the latter a Franciscan. Both authors profess themselves sympathetic to feminism. Both are heavily influenced by Robert Bly. And both draw on Jungian psychology, though in different ways.

Patrick Arnold

Patrick Arnold believes that there are profound differences between men and women, not only physically but emotionally and even spiritually as well. To deny any essential and natural distinctions between men and women other than the strictly physiological--which he takes to mean minimal genital dissimilarities--violates common sense, experience, and science (Arnold 20-21). Gender roles may be enforced by cultural conditioning, but this social pressure merely makes clear what the wide-ranging inherent natural differences are: "The truth is that the social conditioning that augments gender-roles is itself ultimately a product of nature" (Arnold 23). For him, psychology, anthropology, zoology, and the weight of centuries of traditional civilization offer convincing scientific proof that masculine and feminine characteristics are "the fruits of organic sexual phenomena rooted in biology" (Arnold 23; cf. 21). Anatomy is destiny.

Arnold (7, 20-21) concedes that human beings actually display a blend of masculine and feminine characteristics. In the realm of psychology, he regards Jung's anima/animus theory as an empirically proven factual discovery. Thus Arnold can assert that humans are to some extent psychologically androgynous. Men ought to acknowledge and integrate their feminine side. He can even make such claims as "every man carries a woman inside himself" (Arnold 45) without batting an eye. Lest the reader think that "masculine" and "feminine" are meaningless in such a context, however, Arnold hastens to add that by no means should people be androgynous in the sense of being equally balanced between masculine and feminine qualities. No, for men, feminine characteristics should always be secondary. Instead he takes Jung to mean that psyche and spirit are always sexual and gender-specific, either male or female, and never generic or "neuter" (Arnold 26-27).

Furthermore, Arnold insists on spiritual differences between men and women. It is unacceptable, he says, to argue that whatever their biological and social condition, men and women "enjoy full freedom and equality before God" (Arnold 18). To his way of thinking, this smacks of Platonism and denies the full reality of the material world.

Hence Arnold does not distinguish between sex, sexuality, and gender. Male, masculine, manly, and virile are used interchangeably. And since he sees non-physical reality as sexual, he can (and does) also use such terms as "the male spirit" and "the masculine soul." In at least one place (Arnold 2), he says that the masculine soul is identical with the animus.

Arnold suggests that the male spiritual journey has four "moments" in a cyclical progression which repeats all through life. The first stage he calls the "static feminine." This is marked by a lack of individuality. It is the womb, the home, and Mother Earth, but also the tomb. The next phase is one of separation, in which the male abruptly leaves home. This is the "dynamic masculine." Following this solo adventure comes the "static masculine," in which the results of the quest are consolidated in "civilization" and institutions, i.e., patriarchy. The fourth "moment" is the "dynamic feminine," in which the individual breaks away from the crowd by spontaneity. When the results of this stage are in their turn consolidated--for example, if one has become proficient in a hobby--one has once again entered the "static feminine" (Arnold 46-48).

What stands in the way of an unabashedly male spirituality? The root of this problem and of most of our societal woes, Arnold says, is that men are under attack and masculinity is breaking down. He sees an all-pervasive misandry in Church and American society. Male-bashing is regarded as politically correct (Arnold 1, 5-6, 21, 38, 61). As instances of misandry, Arnold cites false accusations of rape (which he says are "reported increasingly"), "huge" alimony payments, child custody most often going to the mother, the portrayal of men in movies and television, on-the-job discrimination and sexual harassment inflicted on men, and male prisoners being more numerous than incarcerated females. He also considers it male-bashing to suggest that "male cultural conditioning produces war, rape, and physical abuse" (Arnold 52-54, 64).

As for the Church, Arnold sees rampant misandry in the assertion that men are not as spiritual as women, a lack of courses on men's spirituality in theological schools or of positive books on the subject (Arnold 5, 12, 16, 67-68, 71, 81), feminist theology (including but not limited to post-Christian and Wiccan authors),[12] campus ministries and seminaries which are dominated by radical feminists, sermons and counseling which rarely incorporate male experience, the drive for inclusive language, the establishment of a feminist Christian charitable organization,[13] "and even spiritual direction" (Arnold 61). As we have seen above, Arnold finds the idea of any sort of spiritual androgyny to be anathema.

In short, it is not true that men enjoy the benefits of patriarchal society. On the contrary, men are "the most vulnerable human beings" of all (Arnold 184; cf. 14, 17). Post-Enlightenment culture and the Industrial Revolution have "thrown men out: out of the house, out of the church, and worst of all, out of themselves" (Arnold 14). Of course, one might ask, "who threw them out?" Even to observe a change in cultural conditions implies that culture is not merely natural, a given, but is molded by someone. Valerie Saiving points out that this culture which is now felt to be so alienating is itself "hypermasculine," because its highest values are external achievement, individuality, separation and remote objectivity.[14] But Arnold says that men are suffering father-wounds, alienation, a lack of ability to feel, a loss of "male energy," and a crisis in male identity.[15] The symptoms and results of this injury and oppression of men are everywhere evident in homelessness, violent crime, chemical dependency, dysfunctional and non-traditional families, a dearth of male bonding, juvenile delinquency, "a dive in male seminarian enrollment" (Arnold 38; cf. 1, 13), the plight of the black male, unemployment, poverty, and narcissism (Arnold 64-66, 118).

Since "wounded masculinity" is a psychospiritual crisis, the solution must also be spiritual in nature. The issue is not merely that men are unhappy and unproductive; also at stake are the distinctive spiritual gifts that only men can contribute to the world (Arnold 50; cf. 2, 34, 147, 165, 181, 203, 206). So, then, the answer to this crisis "lies in heightened male consciousness and pride" (Arnold 38).

"In its most basic sense, the masculine is defined by its opposition to, separation from, and contrast with the feminine" (Arnold 34). Qualities Arnold claims as radically masculine include: love of freedom, pride, competitiveness, humor, aggressiveness, courage, vulnerability, responsibility, "fighting for what you believe in" (50; cf. 30-31, 34, 165), detachment (from comfort, power, and fame), and hunger for holiness (181, 206; cf. 147). "In contrast to feminine spirituality, which is inward and interior and rooted in Mother Earth, male spirituality is outwardly oriented and spatial."[16]

To realize their spiritual potential, men need to tap into the classical masculine psychological archetypes. Besides the Hero and the "Christ archetype," Arnold explores ten others, using Old Testament male figures to illustrate the Patriarch, Pilgrim, Warrior, Magician, King, Wildman, Healer, Prophet, Trickster, and Lover. Arnold maintains that "all of these archetypes lie dormant or unrecognized in most men" (Arnold 6, 38-39, 49, 85, 185). He then goes on to talk about Christ, depicting him, as Arnold thinks the New Testament does, as an exemplar of several masculine archetypes: Wildman, Healer (Shaman), Patriarch, Trickster, Warrior, and King. Arnold's final chapter describes God as Wildman, Warrior, King, and Patriarch.

The Church's worship and spirituality is too feminine to appeal to men; there has been an unacknowledged tilt toward "feminine values." "For many generations, the church has provided only occasional devotions and spirituality of a masculine character" (Arnold 67, 71). Therefore, if the Church wishes to encourage spiritual health in men, Arnold makes several recommendations. First and foremost, the Church ought to offer male-only initiation rituals for adolescents. This might include forcing the "boys to undergo painful but carefully controlled trials that inevitably involve . . . humiliation and mutilation," and culminate in an all-male Eucharist (Arnold 42, 73). He also says that in order to appeal to men, ritual must be formal. The Church ought to sponsor men's discussion groups in which men can explore male bonding, father-wounds, masculine archetypes, and so on. The Church ought to "institute men's programs and courses in masculine spirituality in seminaries, theology schools, and other centers for the study of pastoral ministry" (Arnold 74-81). And, finally, we must uphold the use of male archetypes to name God. "Masculine spirituality has not led us far from God; on the contrary, it has proved itself a reliable universal vehicle of religious truth" (Arnold 203).

Richard Rohr

Rohr too relies on Jungian psychology, but he is not as adamant about sexual polarity as Arnold is. Rohr holds that psychological and spiritual maturity requires not only that men integrate their feminine side (Rohr 5, 16) but that persons of both sexes achieve a "healthy androgyny," with neither the masculine nor the feminine side dominant (140; cf. 16).

Rohr also alludes to studies on left-brain vs. right-brain characteristics. Left-brain thinking is associated with clear logic, language, and order; the right brain has to do with creativity, intuitive connections, synthesis, and affectivity. "In any given person, one side tends to dominate. As it turns out, more men are left-brain dominant, whereas more women are right-brain dominant, although all of Western civilization is strongly left-brain, even most women." The clause about cultural influence would seem to undercut any biological determinism. At any rate, Rohr thinks the goal is to be integrated here as well, not relying on one side of the brain in a lopsided fashion (Rohr 15, 141-43).

In the end, I think Rohr waffles on whether sex and stereotypical gender differences are necessarily linked. He can say that a woman may well possess "manly virtue" (Rohr 139-40), or that to "classify and hold the sexes in one predictable type of energy and behavior" encourages immaturity (220). On the other hand, he also says such things as "what is written in our genes is also written in our souls as men and women. And the deepest inscription in the masculine soul is to procreate" (Rohr 168). He seems determined to continue to use the words "masculine" and "feminine" to describe psychological traits which may or may not be found in a person of the "correct" sex, and he gives two reasons. The first is that most people do at first unreflectively conform to the expected gender stereotype, and the second is that "masculine" and "feminine" are personal and thus more powerful and evocative than, say, "hot" and "cold" (Rohr 25-28, 36, 126).

There are no surprises in Rohr's description of masculine and feminine; he is after all spelling out Western cultural expectations. Therefore masculinity is outward-directed, active, assertive, creative, no-nonsense, and decisive. Femininity is inward, passive, receptive, spiritual, reconciling.

Rohr sees male spiritual development as involving two journeys. A male begins in what Rohr calls the "common masculine."[17] In other words, he fits the cultural mold. He's a tough guy, he's independent, he's competitive and confident. And he has no time for any of that mushy emotional stuff. If he stays here, he will likely become an insensitive macho jerk or a soulless robot--the "shallow masculine." The first journey, then, is into the feminine realm in some way. Often this is through encountering women, but it is to be hoped that some of the "common feminine" will rub off on the male. In this stage the man learns to listen, trust, value relationships, nurture, and be emotionally sensitive. This is not the end of the journey, however. To be the ultimate embodiment of the stereotypically "shallow feminine" is just as unhealthy as to be locked into the he-man role. The second leg of the male spiritual movement, then, is to go from the "common feminine" to the "deep masculine." This is the "wild man's journey." Rohr holds up John the Baptist as a model. The idea is to have integrated masculine and feminine, and to go out and do something in the world.

Rohr claims that "by and large men suffer greater deprivation than women" (13; cf. 225), because women can play the power game, but men have been blocked from expressing their femininity. Furthermore, we pretend that men have power in society, but actually our culture "effectively castrates them" (Rohr 42-43; cf. 14). Rohr (89) adds, "The father wound is so deep and so all-pervasive in so many parts of the world that its healing could well be the most radical social reform conceivable." And Rohr agrees with Arnold that the Church and its spirituality have become feminized; the Church sorely lacks masculine virtue; the only values the Church preaches are the feminine virtues such as humility and obedience (Rohr 107, 131-32, 155-60). "Much of the modern, sophisticated Church is swirling in the false feminine," by which he means "too much inwardness, preoccupation with relationships, a morass of unclarified feeling and endless self-protectiveness" (Rohr 222).

Too many men, says Rohr, are "soft" (32). Genuine masculine spirituality is the art of separation (Rohr 149), including separation from the mother, because without male energy there may be nurturing of a sort, but never godlike creation ex nihilo (Rohr 68, 93). The way to salvation, therefore, is to "release the creative energy of the deep masculine," to free the wild man. The archetypes can be of great help in this inner work, especially the images of King, Warrior, Magician, and Lover (Rohr 45, 197-208). Because of the ubiquitous father-wound, men need "male mothering" from spiritual fathers, and despite Rohr's saying elsewhere that women can and should also be masculine, only males qualify to be this sort of mentor (Rohr 179-86). Rohr (79) also bemoans the absence of "authentic brotherhood"; male mothering will heal this as well. Masculine spirituality emphasizes action coming from self-confident power (Rohr 222-25).


If one agrees with Arnold's two major assumptions--that men and women are vastly different, and that masculinity is eroding--the rest of his argument follows. There are a few inconsistencies, however. If men and women are so different, why should men integrate the feminine? If even the spiritual realm is sexed, how can they? Arnold pooh-poohs matriarchal society and goddess religion as historically inaccurate, but he urges men to base their identity on mythological stories without caring whether the characters or events are the least bit historical (Arnold 56-59, 85). If a distant father means that a boy can never "re-create a firm psychic center within himself" (Arnold 94), and if this father-wound is as prevalent as Arnold says it is, how can adult men of today raise healthy boys? How can they give what they do not themselves possess?

There are logical problems in Rohr as well. I have already mentioned his coming down firmly on both sides of the fence regarding the link between sex and gender. Rohr (143-44) does bring into the discussion the Jungian notion of the shadow, with a description similar to mine above. However, sometimes Rohr identifies the shadow with the male's anima (144), and in yet other instances, he uses "shadow" to mean "bad." A "shadow king," for example, is the archetypal king gone wrong, a tyrant (Rohr 201). Arnold (117) also uses this terminology of the "shadow king" or the "dark side". This is a distortion of Jung, but note too the subtle racism in equating dark with evil. If creativity is a right-brain function, and if women are more likely than men to be right-brain dominant, how can Rohr insist that creativity is characteristically male?

Feminist Analysis

From a feminist perspective, there are a great many problems inherent in the mythopoetic movement and its program of male spirituality. One of these is that Jungian psychology, which underlies so much of the "new men's movement," is androcentric. This might not appear to be a defect since this literature is aimed primarily at men. But men who claim to be feminists ought to be very suspicious of any system which takes males alone as the standard for what is human. And in Jungian theory, the male ego is normative. Rosemary Ruether points out that "either women can imagine that men and women have exactly the same structure of consciousness, their ego also being `masculine,' their unconsciousness `feminine'--in other words, women become persons by becoming male identified and regarding the `feminine' characteristics as secondary and auxiliary--or else the sex-stereotyping of psychic qualities ends by suggesting that women actually should aspire to a different personality and social roles from men, the motherly and sisterly auxiliary roles. Not for them is the hero adventure": (Ruether, New Woman 157-58). Rohr leans toward the first approach--actualized persons are "men," regardless of their biological sex (223-24). Arnold favors the latter, rigid separation of roles (20-21). When men solemnly tell me that they are integrating their feminine side, or learning to love their "inner woman,"[18] it strikes me as the ultimate in male hubris. Why bother with pesky flesh-and-blood women when they can be infatuated with a concept of the feminine in themselves? Kathleen Carlin says, "When a man espouses this view, I hear this: I think I can actually override my devaluing of women sufficiently to appropriate those `feminine' qualities that will make me a more complete person. I hear this as an attempt to appropriate some exotic artifact that will enhance, enlarge upon his image of himself--and, as a woman, I begin to feel like the witch doctor's mask hanging on his wall."[19]

A related problem is the failure to distinguish between sex and gender. The definitions of the "male spirit" are "essentialist; that is, they propose that there is a basic, probably biological essence of maleness that is present across time and culture in every human creature with a Y chromosome."[20] Ruether asks, "Is there a `masculine' or a `feminine' in this culture that has not itself been the expression of patriarchal power relations?"[21] If gender roles are merely the results of inherent natural differences between the sexes, why then must cultural sanctions be used to inculcate them? Why is Arnold (20), for example, so frightened of the "androgynist agenda" and its threat to introduce "gender equilibrium" to society? Surely any such egalitarian effort is bound to fail if different gender roles are natural. Why the plea to initiate boys into manhood, if personality characteristics are really determined by sex chromosomes?[22]

The proponents of the mythopoetic movement claim to be more-oppressed-than-thou; they say men are the most vulnerable and devastated human beings; they complain that patriarchy "oppresses men economically, legally, politically, and spiritually" (Arnold 13, emphasis in original). Consider a few recent statistics. In the United States, women earn sixty-six cents to every dollar men make, the majority of the poor are women and children, a man with a high school diploma has an average salary $1000 higher than that of a woman college graduate (Adair 59), and both the old-boy network and the glass ceiling are still operative. Women are still not guaranteed equal rights under the law. Even absent or abusive fathers are awarded child custody in 70% or more of the cases in which both parents ask for custody (Chesler 138). 100,000 rapes were reported in the United States in 1990, and it is estimated that every eight seconds a man beats a woman (Adair 59). Women are in nowhere near half of governmental positions. It is ludicrous to suggest that the news media and entertainment industry regularly portray women as strong, competent human beings--or even that women are often the focus at all. Not all men benefit equally from patriarchy, but men are not oppressed as a class. True, black men do suffer in this society, but they are discriminated against because they are black, not because they are men. And as Donna Britt asks, "what about the sisters?"[23] It is not as if we everywhere saw wealthy, powerful black women controlling government, industry, entertainment, and the media. When surveyed about their greatest fears from the other sex, women most often "responded that they feared being raped and murdered, and men responded that they feared being laughed at."[24] While men may have bought into an ideology separating them from the full range of human emotion, they have not been oppressed as a class as women have. "Women are fighting for their lives, and men are looking for some peace of mind."[25] These are not equivalent.

One of the most fundamental feminist principles is that the personal is political. Human wholeness "demands not only a conversion of the self into its fuller possibilities, but a conversion of society, a transformation of those social structures that set people in opposition to each other."[26] The mythopoetic movement, by contrast, focuses on the inner psychic comfort of men, without any serious analysis of patriarchal culture, let alone efforts to change that society. They seem to think that if men are happy, every problem will be automatically solved. They can pin the blame for their "wounded masculinity" on absent fathers, smothering mothers, and "extreme feminists," without ever asking why, for example, in patriarchal capitalism the father is absent from the home, and parenting and domestic labor have been consigned to women (Ruether, "Patriarchy" 16). As powerless victims, the best solution they can offer is for men to feel good about themselves.

"The central masculine archetypes," Rohr says, "seem to always be about power" (199, emphasis in original). Indeed. These models do not encourage men to relate to women--or even to other men--as peers. They promote the notion of the ideal man as a rugged individualist, a law unto himself, rightful lord and master of all he surveys. If he relates to others at all, it is as a quasi-divine authority over them. So, in the end, their prescription is: more of the same. Do we really need more male pride and domination? If men are so bruised by the alienation of modern society, won't recommending even more separation only exacerbate the problem?

Christian Considerations

There are also defects, from a Christian perspective, in this proposed version of male spirituality. Arnold in particular reads Scripture in an inaccurate manner, giving it his own sexist twist. For example, he presents a list of the various biblical images for God (Arnold 204). If he had left it at that, he would have done a service, but unfortunately he assumes maleness except in the case of inanimate objects. If physicians, shepherds, judges, destroyers, and enemies are all male, as he says they are, that is news to me. Arnold's sexism also crops up in his description of the archetypal Lover. Not only does he assume that it was Solomon's sexual prowess which most awed the Queen of Sheba but he also, in a wink-wink-just-us-guys tone, suggests that Bathsheba intentionally bathed in view of David (Arnold 170, 175).

I find it problematic that Arnold (226) recommends the use of Tarot cards and I Ching as "aids to psychic development." Don't be swayed by fundamentalists, Arnold says; Tarot cards are only pictures. But Tarot and I Ching are methods of divination, which the Bible clearly forbids. See, for example, Deuteronomy 18:10-11.

As for the contention that only male metaphors are adequate to a transcendent God (Arnold 77, 206), I think that, on the contrary, such images encourage in men the secret belief that God is a lot like them. I would also gently suggest that Christ is more than an archetype.

I am amazed at these authors' contention that the Church is overly feminine. Arnold's description of the hapless-young-man-with-a-vocation (61-62) is so wildly different from anything I have observed that I was tempted to think it was a brilliant satire. But, no, Arnold is dead serious about the Church's contempt for males. It is as if we haven't had six thousand years of androcentric religion in the Judeo-Christian tradition. As if the overwhelming majority of those considered classic and authoritative in theology and spirituality were not males, many of them clerics and/or in religious orders. As if we haven't had countless military, patriarchal, and hierarchical descriptions of the sacred. Haven't we had, in some sense, a "masculine" spirituality for centuries?

Perhaps the real resistance is to the "feminine virtues." These qualities of humility, receptivity, and the like, really are virtues when they are chosen rather than imposed. The proposed masculine archetypes and the notion of the Church as too feminine suggest to me that these authors see no pressing need for men to be converted. They can continue living as they have, never questioning the rightness of male privilege. So if the Christian Church really is making these men uncomfortable by preaching the need for conversion, I say, hurrah for the Church!

The contention that the Church does not speak to men is a commonplace in the recent works on masculine spirituality. Besides Arnold and Rohr's books, Martin Pable's A Man and His God and John Carmody's Toward a Male Spirituality also make this charge. Actually, this idea, skewed as it may seem, is not new. In the quotation at the beginning of this essay, Francis de Sales was responding to a similar complaint. He says:

A great servant of God advised me not long ago that when I addressed my words to Philothea in the Introduction to the Devout Life I kept many men from profiting by it, since they did not consider advice given to a woman worthy of a man's perusal. I was amazed that there would be men who out of a wish to appear as men showed themselves actually so far from being men. . . . Are we not to read with equal attention and reverence the second Epistle of St. John, which was addressed to the holy lady Electa, as the third, which he addressed to Caius? Must thousands of letters and excellent treatises by the ancient Fathers of the Church be held useless because they were addressed to holy women of those times? Aside from this, it is the soul as it aspires to devotion that I call Philothea. Men have souls as well as women (Francis de Sales 43).
In his Treatise on the Love of God, de Sales switched from "Philothea" to "Theotimus," adding, "I beg them to believe that the Theotimus to whom I speak is the human spirit as it desires to make progress in holy love. This spirit is found equally in women and in men" (Francis de Sales 43). This raises an important point. This talk of "male spirits" and "masculine souls" is very dangerous. "According to Thomas [Aquinas], it is the intellectual soul which makes the human person to be the image of God. This is neither caused by the male, nor is it essentially different in man and woman."[27] Far from being a surrender to Platonism, it is theologically more appropriate to speak of equality or even "sameness" of souls or spirits before God than to posit sexual differentiation on the spiritual level. Augustine said, "Christ was a complete man," and St. Gregory of Nazianzus formulated the principle that "that which is not incarnated is not redeemed."[28] If there really are male souls, different in essence from female souls, then the efficacy of the redemption by Christ is in peril. We would then have to conclude that either women are not human or that they are not saved, the Incarnation having taken place in a male.

Perhaps some may think that even if there is not any essential difference between male and female souls, still men and women might experience God in two different manners, and that these distinctive ways of encountering God would be rooted in sexual differentiation. However, "there is, at present at least, no conclusive evidence to suggest that men and women mystics have substantially different experiences. . . . There do not seem to be distinctively `female' and distinctively `male' forms of mystical consciousness. Indeed, one of the things that strikes many people about the writings of different mystics is the similarity, independent of gender, of the experiences described."[29] I think there are a variety of ways to pray, to encounter God, to express that relationship in word and deed--a variety of "spiritualities"--but I do not think that the approach one finds most fulfilling is determined by one's sex chromosomes.


I have described the mythopoetic movement and its grounding in Jungian psychology. I then summarized two rationales advanced for a distinctive male spirituality. The essentialist understanding of gender, and the focus on men feeling good about themselves without having to even examine societal power structures, along with other problems, lead me to conclude that this is not a movement worthy of feminist support. From a Christian perspective, the idea that the spiritual realm is sexually polarized is a threat to soteriology. For this and other reasons I have discussed above, I do not think that male spirituality as it has been expounded is a helpful approach. It does not appear that there is any such thing as a specifically male path to God.



1. Francis de Sales, preface, Treatise on the Love of God, trans. John K. Ryan, vol. 1 (Garden City, N.Y.: Image-Doubleday, 1963) 43.

2. Morton T. Kelsey, Companions on the Inner Way: The Art of Spiritual Guidance (N.Y.: Crossroad, 1983) 11.

3. Margo Adair, "Will the Real Men's Movement Please Stand Up?", Women Respond to the Men's Movement: A Feminist Collection, ed. Kay Leigh Hagan (N.Y.: Harper, 1992) 56; Phyllis Chesler, "The Men's Auxiliary: Protecting the Rule of the Fathers," Women Respond 134.

4. Jane Caputi and Gordene O. MacKenzie, "Pumping Iron John," Women Respond 70.

5. Sam Keen, Fire in the Belly: On Being a Man (N.Y.: Bantam, 1991); Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette, King, Warrior, Magician, Lover: Re-discovering the Archetypes of the Mature Masculine (San Francisco: Harper, 1990). The latter book is dedicated to Bly.

6. Patrick M. Arnold, Wildmen, Warriors, and Kings: Masculine Spirituality and the Bible (N.Y.: Crossroad, 1991) 67.

7. Rosemary Radford Ruether, New Woman / New Earth: Sexist Ideologies and Human Liberation (N.Y.: Seabury, 1975) 152.

8. Richard Rohr and Joseph Martos, The Wild Man's Journey: Reflections on Male Spirituality (Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger, 1992) 199. Kelsey (88) also warns against the possibility of being "possessed" by an archetype, which makes us demonic.

9. Kelsey 52, 76, 193; Ruether, New Woman 152. Jung's notion of the shadow self is not much mentioned in mythopoetic literature. However, when they do employ the term, I believe they misuse it. Therefore I thought it best to describe what I understand of the concept, in order to critique the men's movement later.

10. "Spirituality," as the term is used by the men's movement, does not mean that these authors propose a certain method of prayer, stress common worship, or suggest faith-based involvement in social concerns. Arnold recommends pilgrimage and stations of the cross as masculine forms of devotion, but other than that, these authors are content to give a very general outline of how--in psychological terms--they think men are religious, or what is the characteristic masculine way to approach the sacred.

11. Martos appears to be more an editor than an author of The Wild Man's Journey. The book is based on four retreat talks given by Rohr, and this origin shows. It is somewhat repetitious, and occasionally ideas are presented in an awkward sequence.

12. Arnold 55-61. Rosemary Radford Ruether is one of "the best Christian feminists among us" (6), presumably because she "urged men to do their own work" in spirituality. Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza's work contains "debatable analyses" but, he judges, "free of the kind of misandry favored by the Gaialogians" (60). Letty Russell is "influential and provocative" (217), which is ambiguous; Arnold accuses Phyllis Trible of sexism (233). He absolutely despises Mary Daly, as one might imagine. Arnold accuses Joan Chittister, Demetria Martinez, and the National Catholic Reporter in general of misandry (60-61).

13. Arnold 12, 61-62, 78, 201-02; the charity in question is Mary's Pence.

14. Valerie Saiving, "The Human Situation: A Feminine View," Journal of Religion Apr. 1960, rpt. in Womanspirit Rising: A Feminist Reader in Religion, ed. Carol P. Christ and Judith Plaskow, 1992 ed. (San Francisco: Harper, 1992) 35.

15. Arnold 1, 14, 38, 64-65. "Father-wounds", also called "father hunger", denotes alienation from fathers who were physically or emotionally distant.

16. Arnold 39. This is reminiscent of Erik Erikson. For feminist critiques of Erikson, see Kate Millett, Sexual Politics (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1970) 210-20; and Anne Wilson Schaef, Women's Reality: An Emerging Female System in a White Male Society (N.Y.: Harper, 1985) 34. To illustrate his contention, Arnold holds up as examples St. Thérèse of Lisieux vs. St. Francis Xavier (220). He seems not to realize that Thérèse's freedom to choose a way of life was severely restricted, but then Arnold also believes that gender roles are natural.

17. This paragraph summarizes Rohr 25-39.

18. Arnold 176. In his discussion of the Lover archetype, among those whom males most need to cherish is their "inner woman, so often denied, projected, and abused."

19. Kathleen Carlin, "The Men's Movement of Choice," Women Respond 121.

20. Laura S. Brown, "Essential Lies: A Dystopian Vision of the Mythopoetic Men's Movement," Women Respond 95.

21. Rosemary Radford Ruether, "Patriarchy and the Men's Movement: Part of the Problem or Part of the Solution?" in Women Respond 14.

22. I highly recommend Caputi and MacKenzie's essay in Women Respond, on enforced socialization into gender roles.

23. Britt's essay is quoted in Gloria Steinem, foreword, Women Respond vi.

24. Vicki Noble, "A Helping Hand From the Guys," Women Respond, 105-06.

25. Barbara Kingsolver, "Cabbages and Kings," Women Respond 39.

26.Rosemary Radford Ruether, "Feminist Theology and Spirituality," Christian Feminism: Visions of a New Humanity, ed. Judith Weidman (San Francisco: Harper, 1984) 25.

27. Mary Daly, The Church and the Second Sex (Boston: Beacon, 1968) 94; reference is to the Summa Theologica, I, 93, 6 c.

28. Gregory of Nazianzus, Ep. 101, to Cledonius, PG 37:181C; cf. Origen's Dialektos 136.16: "The whole man would not have been redeemed, if the Word had not assumed the whole man."

29. Deirdre Green, Gold in the Crucible: Teresa of Avila and the Western Mystical Tradition (Longmead, England: Element, 1989) 154, emphasis in original.

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