And the pattern is not limited to the contemporary United States. With a few possible exceptions in Eastern Europe and Asia, the gender gap holds for Catholics and Protestants worldwide, even for the rapidly growing Pentecostal churches in Africa and Latin America. It has long been the norm in Catholic Europe, perhaps since the Middle Ages. Certainly the rolls of New England churches in Puritan times recorded a majority of female members, and 19th-century church leaders reported a similar preponderance of women at services.
By contrast, [David Murrow, author of "Why Men Hate Going to Church"] claims, no such gender gap exists in Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism or Islam - an interesting point, although one he doesn't at all document. "Only Christianity," he writes, "has a consistent, nagging shortage of male practitioners."
So why do men hate going to church? Hormones, says Mr. Murrow. Brain structure. Prehistoric imprinting.
Men can't sit still, want to be outdoors, aren't very verbal and can't read and sing at the same time. Men crave adventure, risk, danger and heroic sacrifice. Men value boldness. They love action, tools, technology and competition.
Men are hunters and warriors. Women are gatherers and child-tenders.
Is all this true? Mr. Murrow clearly thinks so, even if he apologizes now and then for being politically incorrect, or allows for many female exceptions, or hedges about whether he thinks those traits are ingrained and relatively fixed or culturally created and relatively malleable.
And Christian churches, he maintains, have an antimale culture. Their "spiritual thermostats" are set for women - set for comfort instead of challenge. The emphasis is on relationships, security, sensitivity, nurturance, children and family. Guys don't get it.
Well, my spiritual thermostat is set for being disgusted by that sort of talk.
Steinfels is somewhat critical of Murrow, especially his self-help writing style. He notes (citing the European historian Hugh McLeod):
[F]or freethinkers in the last two centuries the problem was never that too few men went to church but that too many women did. Their common explanation was nearly the opposite of Mr. Murrow's, although by today's standards it was no less politically incorrect. It was not that men were driven away from church by their warrior hormones, their less flexible brains and the peer pressure of their drinking buddies, but rather that they stayed away because of their greater rationality and composure, while women remained pious because of their emotional susceptibility and their subservience to the clergy.What a complicated problem! The most complicated part of it is that you can't talk about it at all without offending everyone. What is the message here? Women should stop complaining about patriarchy and sexism, because the church needs to be patriarchal and sexist to keep the men from avoiding it altogether?
UPDATE: The quoted material above suggests that men and women inherently require different religions, but to put it that way is to say that religions exist to serve people's emotional needs and not because they are true in the sense that they claim to be true. If they are only serving emotional needs, then there's nothing wrong with women attending and men opting out. The problem goes away except to the extent that the women who attend want male companionship. If a religion is true in the sense that it claims, it would make demands on people, not simply cater to their existing preferences. But in a free society, people can decide not to meet the demands. If so, is it anything more than a social problem if more men than women turn away? The religion that claims to be true shouldn't change its tenets in order to balance the sexes, but I would think it could change some things about the service, such as the music or the sermon topics or the poliitical advice.