Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Marching up and down

A priest friend of mine suggests most priests are somewhere on the autistic spectrum, most of us are fairly 'functioning' but really we share a great number of autistic characteristics. He suggests that most of us tend to see things in black and white - maybe with a few shades of grey, that we tend to enjoy repetitive regime and shy away from the spontaneous, that we are not good at multi-tasking, that we tend to resent change, that we tend to be 'intellectual' rather than 'feeling', that we prefer to monologue rather than dialogue.
I must admit I have been inclined to agree with him, or simply to admit that living on one's own as a celibate, without a wife and family there is no-one to challenge one's behaviour and the nature of priesthood encourages introspection and solitude.

I was talking to a recently retired army officer about this recently, he was talking about marriage break up amongst the young officers he was training, what I described as some of the character traits of a celibate priest he saw as being present in army officers and soldiers generally adding, 'that is why they actually like marching up and down or a barracks full of correctly laid out kit'. Last night he phoned me to say he been talking to his brother a lawyer about our conversation, he recognised these things are present amongst male lawyers too, 'especially the bit about things being black and white, legal or illegal, some lawyers have an obsession with the abstract conception of truth'.

Talking to one of my parishioners who has been suffering with a long term minor illness, which causes him irritation rather than pain, I urge him to go to the doctor, he has been refusing, the bottom line seems to be that he can't be bothered with the 'fuss' of getting a doctor, making an appointment, talking about his lifestyle etc., I think my priest friend might suggest this was autistic behaviour. Thinking about it, it seems to be pretty characteristic of so many of the men who are homeless, for many there is help but they simply can't get it together to jump through the various hoops to get it.

One of my concerns in Brighton is the high rate of young men who commit suicide, without statistics to prove anything, just the accounts of family and friends, young men tend to kill themselves without discussing it whilst women tend to self harm are willing to get counselling or some kind of help. Invariably friends and family have said that they didn't think anything was seriously wrong when a young man is found dead but then men even if they have fallen apart inside tend to wash their faces brush their hair and carry on regardless until they can't any more.

Psychologists suggest that young men tend to be more prone to taking risks, I don't see that many young women skateboarding in the traffic on Brighton's main roads. We are attracted to danger, to risk, to the big idea. What I am trying to say is that what my priest friend describes as 'autistic' is actually just being a man. It is significant that what he regards it as being aberrant and he is not alone many educationalists, counsellors or psychologists would agree with him. Men like things simple and clear, we like things ordered and disciplined, we respond well to risk, complexity and subtlety tend to scare us.

I think that this is why the Traditional Mass and Traditional Catholicism appeal to men, it is not touchy feely, it involves discipline order, I say that as an aside, what I find concerning is that as society becomes more complex and there are more hoops to jump through more and more young men will find difficulty in coping.


TLMWx said...

I would think you are quite right. Men are generally like what you say. There is nothing autistic about this and it is insufferable to have it described as so. Women are less orderly and tend to easy relations generally in my experience. I'm not sure it is correct though to think of the extraordinary form as more "manly". Obviously, it is restricted to the male and there is the order so in that sense yes, but the decorative aspects you could say are quite feminine, soft and exuberant. I think men and women are attracted to the older form because of its integrity. I do find it insulting to my sex when people classify the novus o as "feminine". Is it not just a banal form that, while being valid and licit is nevertheless silly and men, being men are less likely to suffer it and for that reason they absent themselves.

newguy40 said...

" involves discipline order..."

And, this is why it has such strong appeal AND healing for men both young and old. In a society and culture where norms and "rules" change almost overnight, the measured cadence and majesty of the EF is extremely appealing and satisfying to the male.

Gertrude said...

Perhaps we all have a tendency to some aspects of autism, the masculine traits you describe would, in some cases,could be considered desirable in a man, but not necessarily in a woman.
Maybe such introspection, of which we are all sometimes guilty, indicates that what is considered an aspect of autism might in fact be quite normal.
An interesting perspective though!

parepidemos said...

To me this smacks of the rather unfounded view that the celebration of the Mass has become feminised (whatever that means) since Vatican II and thus most attendees are women.

My response to that line of thinking is: our Eastern Rite Catholics and Orthodox brethren celebrate a Divine Liturgy almost unaltered in over 1,000 years, and the vast majority of attendees are women. Besides, the Mass is for all Catholics, not only us men.

LukeTogni said...

@ MA Tucker

Well the Church as always regarded herself as feminine. So really we ought to regard the rite as representative of this. I fear sometimes that much of the rhetoric of the traditional movement results in the divinization of the masculine over the feminine.

Nevertheless, there is something genuinle manly and strong about tradtional religion. And this is not exclusive of women either. Nor is it limited to the Roman rite. The exuberance of eastern rites two carries a gravity that one might call "masculine".

As much as we must avoid conflation and the disappearance of meaningful differnce, we must also avoid narrow binaries that lack theological, and anthropological depth.

Deacon Augustine said...

When I was reading your first paragraph I was thinking: "That doesn't sound autistic, that just sounds like a bloke!" Interesting that you came down to that conclusion too.

Wasn't Cardinal Heenan's reaction to the first demonstration of the Bugnini Mass to say that "We will end up as a Church of women and young children."? He knew that it would lose the men - particularly the working men.

GOR said...

My doctor - a man in his mid-70s - is wont to say: “Thank God for Viagra…”

Why? Because it makes men go to the doctor. “Men don’t like to be told what to do” he adds, “But when they need a prescription for Viagra, they have to go to a doctor…”

He has a point – up to a point.

Doctors here in the US love to tell people what to do, what foods to eat, what to avoid, how to exercise, etc. etc. Regardless of the fact that what ‘studies have shown’ often gets contradicted by subsequent studies that show the opposite, they cling to old nostrums and consider their advice as on a par with divine revelation.

I treat doctors as I would plumbers and electricians – “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” I don’t have a plumber come out once a year to ‘check the pipes’, nor do I have an electrician do an annual check of the wiring. I feel the same about ‘annual medical checkups’. I’ve never had them - and I don’t need an MD to tell me how to live my life.

If that is a male trait, then so be it. I am a man – and the Devil take the hindmost.

Our Lady of Good Success-pray for us. said...

The longstanding EF is built on a rock. Even the altars were marble, immovable. The altar rails kept a clear sense in the mind that God's place is not the world's place.

The NO seems built on sand - so it shifts all the time, degrades, shifts again, even from week to week, and the people in the pews shift as well. It feels thin sometimes, like a wrong breeze might blow it all away. It has levity, which is copied in the pews, and taken out into the world, whilst angels solemnly accompany the communicants worshipping the Presence of the Lord within them.

Fr Richard Aladics said...

This is a very pertinent post, Father. I had not before thought of the crisis of masculinity in terms of a shade of autism. However, I do think that you are at least touching the hem of a very real dynamic in our culture today - the failure of men in becoming men. There have been so few male mentors to lead young men. First we had the Industrial Revolution, then two World Wars, then pornography.
When I was in Australia the 'Young men of God' movement had perceived this need and was doing marvellous work. My hope is that in the UK we will be able to respond well to this need. Such a response would be new evangelisation in itself!

George said...

I'd never heard "autistic" used this way. In my experience what you describe is very common among single men as they age. Set in their ways, very ordered, very fastidious and particular. It doesn't matter priest or lay. It's the same phenom.

It's a little extra challenge as a married man to maintain friendships with single friends, as they age. But, of course, the friendship is ultimately work it.

I suppose also this is why traditionaly most relgious orders put age limits for new members. At a certain point in life, most men will calcify in their ways, habits, and overall mentality. Thus becoming illfit for life in a religious community.

This may be good reason to stop recruiting from within the diocesan priesthood for episcopal appointments. Maybe the Church should start focusing more on worthy candidates from religious orders instead? Thereby installing men who are more capable (disposed, inclined?) to lead the diocese as a spritual father. Especially when most diocesan priests live alone.

Long-Skirts said...


Our leaders don't lead anymore
Our heroes aren't valiant anymore
Our fathers aren't home anymore
Our mothers won't birthe anymore

Our churches don't awe anymore
Our futures aren't safe anymore
Our past no roots anymore
Our present not ours anymore

The truth glossed o’er anymore
But hang a cross anymore
They'll all appear anymore
Outraged at faith anymore

They share their lusts and explore
They're seasoned whores to the core
They're salt of the earth they implore
These Sodomed - souls at Hell’s door

Damask Rose said...

"What I am trying to say is that what my priest friend describes as 'autistic' is actually just being a man."

Absolutely, Father.

Interestingly regarding your discussion on young men suicides, I did read that men who traversed the Oregon Trail would die more often than those men who were married. It does seem that man really needs his missing rib - woman. Generally speaking, once upon a time, woman stayed at home looking after the kids, keeping house and cooking hubby his dinner, now she's doing her own thing, going out to work - it's a total different set up for men. It's like Eve's gone off to some corner of Eden to set up her own market gardening business. And I don't think living in a "partnership" gives either sex peace of mind. (I'm not knocking women who have to work.)

Boys need their mothers and men their women. But men play out these relationships in their own "man" way. Then their is the man's relationship with his father. It is a almost a crime that single motherhood/promiscuity/partnerships is so funded by the state that it has smashed the family unit and men think nothing of dumping their children and the women that bore them. Also I think an absentee father is a factor contributing to homosexuality.

Also I think the way lessons are set up in schools that boys are being "girlified".

Recently I went to a school's Remembrance Service and only "peace" type hymns were sung, all well and good, but where's the rousing hymn to king and country and soldiering?

Finally, the sad prevalence of broken marriage means that a divorcee or even widow are going to find it hard to find a strong masculine "father figure" for their sons to look up to in a lot of Catholic priests around the country today, who are either pacifist, "yes" men, softees or worse, gay and effeminate.

Albert said...

Very true Father,

At first I didn't know where your story was going but then it added up just right

Suzanne said...

I think the big difference with autistic individuals is that they cannot be any other way. They have trouble *not* thinking in black and white, and if their routine is spoiled, they can get very upset.

This is one of the main symptoms of the disorder.

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