“The Church Impotent – the Feminization of Christianity” by Leon J. Podles is an interesting book I just finished. It advances the argument that mainstream Christianity is alienating men due to an increasing amount of feminism and tolerance for homosexuality in liberal churches. Masculine men respond by staying away, and cause a decreasing level of attendance (to the detriment of the church and society). This section describes how historical reenacting serves as a sort of substitute religion for men. - Jonah
Reenacting as Religion
From The Church Impotent – The Feminization of Christianity
by Leon J. Podles, pages 179-182.
For adults who want to play war, military reenactments, especially of the Civil War, are popular. Initially, the male camaraderie and military ritual attract participants. But as men study their dramatic roles, by reading letters and memoirs left by the soldiers and by experiencing some of the hardships that soldiers undergo (marching, camp food, camping in harsh weather), something changes. As they become more immersed, mind and body, in the lives of the soldiers, reenactors gain a deep respect for soldiers who were willing to submit to a life of hardship, danger, and pain for the causes they believed in.
For some reenactors, role-playing comes to take on a ritual significance. They do not want the memory of those brave men to die and want to feel as close as possible a kinship with them. The physical hardships become a part of the appeal. In living through the weariness and cold and heat and filth that afflicted the original soldiers, the reenactors feel some sense of what it must have been to fight in the Civil War. They will march with blistered, bleeding feet and refuse well-intentioned offers of rides home, supporting each other instead and considering it a privilege to suffer in a small way like the soldiers they are imitating.
One reenactor, whose interest began as an offshoot of his academic studies, says that after going through the experience of the reenactor he began for the first time to understand the Latin American piety that leads men to reenact the sufferings of Christ as closely as possible. The military reenactors take up their task voluntarily and rejoice in the fact that their own bodies become a physical memorial to those men they so admire.
How much more would it be a privilege, an honor, a joy to suffer in the same way as the Redeemer, to feel in small the price he paid to redeem the world from death?
These sentiments are widespread among reenactors, although masculine inarticulateness about emotions prevents most from voicing them. Nevertheless, in a letter to the Washington Post in response to an article that described reenactment as entertainment, Ted Brennan speaks of his own reenactment experience. He admits that reenactment is "fun and educational," but far more important, reenactors "get a deeper appreciation about what our ancestors had to endure." Although the battles lack "blood and gore," they have plenty of "drills, heat, dust, smoke, and sore feet." Reenactors do not glorify war; with combat veterans, they know that "there is no glory in war-only pain, suffering, and death." They find something much more important than glory: a glimpse of the love that soldiers feel for each other, and even for their foes and comrades in suffering.
Brennan mentions a Confederate survivor of Pickett's Charge who said "how good it would be to cross that field just one more time with all those young, smiling fellows." Brennan claims that this is what reenactors do: "We cross it for him, in his memory and in the memory of all those who fell that day and in the days since." Brennan refers to another veteran who "believed that heaven was a place where men could have a battle and when the smoke cleared, all of the fallen could stand up and shake one another's hands." Such was the Viking idea of paradise. Valhalla, the Hall of the Slain described by Snorri Sturluson, in which warriors fight, die, and rise every day, contains an enduring appeal to men.
Military reenactment merges with war games, which have various degrees of seriousness. James William Gibson casts a jaundiced and leftist eye on freelance militarism in Warrior Dreams: Paramilitary Culture in Post-Vietnam America. He follows Klaus Theweleit's analysis of paramilitarism as an extreme manifestation of basic masculine patterns. Men in America feel they have been betrayed by their own leaders and think they must band together to protect themselves and their families. Men must grow up to be warriors; war is "a primary rite of passage," "a relatively benign ritual transition from boyhood to adulthood." They must leave behind the normal, safe world of women, and plunge into chaos to confront the forces of darkness (Communists, terrorists, corrupt liberals). They may be scarred or die, but they are transformed and become gods, saviors. This is a religious world, a world of holy violence, in which men through sacrifice attain the mystery of communion.
Gibson admits that this world appeals to deep masculine desires. He tried combat pistol shooting to see why it attracted otherwise sane and normal men and found that it was a religious experience of the type men crave. Combat pistol shooting was a rite de passage, "and like many initiation rites, it involved great physical pain." The shooters were led into 'the zone', a state of altered sensory perception in which time is experienced as moving very slowly while eye-hand coordination dramatically increases."
War and simulations of war are appealing to men, and Gibson seeks a moral equivalent of war so that men in peace can still experience the "enchantment" that war holds out, "the travels, challenges, stories, and male initiation." Gibson suggests wilderness adventure, but admits this "lacks war's seriousness." Gibson's streak of leftist paranoia makes him exaggerate the threat that paramilitary organizations pose to public order. Yet Gibson is correct in identifying the deep appeal that this world view has for men and in characterizing paramilitarism as a form of religion.