Sunday, January 15, 2006

Are women really more spiritual than men?

Attending the Marriage and Family Sunday school class, a couple weeks ago, the question was posed by the teacher, “Why are women more spiritual than men?”

The answers were varied in content, but in agreement that women indeed are more spiritual than men.

“Because they have to rely more on the Lord to get through a day (help their kids, etc.).”
“Because they were closer to Heavenly Father in the pre-existence.”
“Because they are more in tune with their emotions.”

No men in the classroom responded.

The teacher then changed the question: “Are women more spiritual than men?” Again, the women were quick to respond.

“Yes, they are, because women are more nurturing than men.”
“Yes, they are, because women can create life, a process that brings them closer to Heavenly Father.”
“If my husband didn’t spend all his time at home watching TV and helped me instead, he would be more spiritual, too.

Like the other men present, I, too, stayed silent. But inside, I wanted to shout: One does not automatically become spiritual by the happenstance of chromosomal composition at birth! I know it can be hard living up to the church ideals of womanhood and motherhood, butthis was pretty offensive and removed any sympathy I might have had for these women.

The lesson was not intended to focus on that topic, and was instead meant to become more balanced, but the class members turned it into a reversed-sexism, anti-male bash session. It later eased off of men, as the teacher turned toward some of the positive things, including eventually talking about what men do and the roles the Lord wants them to play in the family. It was actually meant to be a nice lesson. Instead, I felt uncomfortable, and by the looks on some of the other men in the room, I wasn’t the only one.

I know some of the women in that group, and suspect that most of them would be horrified if they realized how self-righteous they sounded. Kari was not in the room at the time (our 14-month-old daughter was grumpy), or she might have actually stood up for the male half of the class. As it was, she sounded unimpressed when I told her the details of the lesson.

It is too easy to state that such-and-such group is not as spiritual as another group. The early leaders of the LDS church did that, calling those of African descent “less faithful” in the pre-existence. This unfortunate attitude led to a labeling and exclusion of blacks from the full blessings of the church for many years. While men have their problems as a collective, debasing any group based on sex, race, religion (or nonreligion), political party, sexual orientation or anything else is not fair, not right, and I would submit to you that it is an abhorrent act to our father in heaven. See 2nd Nephi 26:33.

In this country, men are not actively encouraged to share their spiritual feelings the same way women are. Because of this training to hid what they feel, some women suspect that they do not have any. Obviously this is not true. It is a grave disservice to state men do not have spiritual feelings, and helps perpetuate the stereotype (and yes, I'm aware that as a white male, this could be considered an ironic statement).

It sometimes (often) feels that in an effort to uplift the less-represented groups in this country, it becomes expedient to denigrate the white male. I was once told that prejudice is like a pendulum. For many years, it swung in favor of that white male. Now, it is swinging away, favoring the minority groups. I know injustices have been done in the past, but does putting down any group of people solve the problem? No. It only creates more resentment, anger, bitterness, hurt and a larger divide. Such behavior does not ever heal.

And on a related note, it is ridiculous to say women are so spiritual, they don’t need the priesthood.

Gender roles have been a difficult topic, and a somewhat controversial one in the church. Women have never been offered the full priesthood, except briefly in the temple in days gone by. Now, it is only be proxy, through their husbands or fathers, that a women can enjoy the blessings of the priesthood. I do not claim to understand why this is. The Lord works in His own ways, not ours.

It appears to me that, for whatever reason, Heavenly Father chose to give one gift to his daughters (the gift of creating life), and another gift for his sons (priesthood authority). Which is better? Feminists would say that the priesthood is, because that is where leadership and control come from. I’m not sure that’s entirely true. Speaking as a man, I cannot truly view things from a woman’s point of view, and some may say I have no place to speak. However, I do not believe that God gave anyone the short stick. Any injustices done in this life are to be made equal in the next life. The beauty of the gospel is that He can make us whole and heal our wounds, spiritual and physical.

If a man abuses any authority he thinks he has, he is not in the right. See D&C 121:36-46. He will be held accountable. Of that, I have no doubt. The priesthood, regardless of what rights it may give, does not allow any man to control any woman. I have seen and been told of inequalities, even abuses in the church. It sickens me to think of these things. For instance, two individuals may make a sexual mistake. The woman will be given a difficult time, made to feel even more guilt than she already did, lose rights in the church, etc. The man, on the other hand, gets a light tap on the wrist and is told not to do it again. Is this fair? Of course, not.

Sometimes, spiritual feelings are very emotional. Tears can be near the surface. This is uncomfortable to most men. Some choose to avoid situations that would bring this up. Others might strive to suppress the outward expression. This does not change the fact that everyone has the light of Christ given to them, provided they do not reject it (see D&C 84:44-46). While individual capacities may differ, overall, men and women are given access to most of the same fruits of the spirit.

This essay makes no attempt at being comprehensive in its dealings with the subjects of male spirituality or gender/racial equalities, either inside the church or out of it. All I'm trying to do is express my feelings and frustrations.

So, have I written a touchy-feely, politically correct essay about being nice to everyone? In a way, yes. However, it is also meant to be a heartfelt plea for understanding. I have no intention of comparing in gruesome detail the differences between how men and women express their spiritual feelings. You can check out lame, over-generalized books like “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” if you want such differences discussed.

My final point is, gross generalizations are dangerous and harmful. We as Latter-day Saints, we as Christians, should avoid the urge to judge, to minimize, to put down, to over-simplify, to diminish by categorization, any other person or group. Without a doubt, our Savior saw all people the same. Should we do any less?


Anonymous said...

I have some idea what it means when somebody says Group X is stronger, smarter, more emotional, or even more obediant than Group X, but I am not at all clear on what it means to say that Group X is more spiritual than Group Y. Is it clear to you? Was it clear to the male-bashers in your class?

mathoni said...

You bring up a good point. What is "spiritual", anyway? I was reacting mainly to the situation itself and didn't focus on that. As I think about it, the entire question is preposterous. How can you measure something like spirituality? As the Doctrine and Covenants say, all spirit is a more refined form of matter that takes spiritual eyes to see. The assumption I made in class was that it referred to closeness to God, but on reflection, I don't think it was ever defined by the teacher. The male-bashers seemed (and this is my interpretation, only) to be saying closeness to God, greater access to spiritual blessings, that kind of thing.

I may revise this post to reflect the thoughts your comments provoked. Thanks for the feedback.