by Elizabeth Oldfield
Wednesday, 29
June 2022
Debate
09:50

Why do so many men find God later in life?

Paul Kingsnorth and Martin Shaw are following a well-trodden path
by Elizabeth Oldfield

On this day in 1927, 29th June, T.S.Eliot was baptised. The colossus of modernist literature, who wrote one of the greatest nihilistic poems of all time, shocked many with his conversion to Anglo-Catholicism just five years after it was published. It happened behind locked doors because he said, with characteristic acerbity, that he hated “spectacular conversions”. A few years later, W.H. Auden followed a similar path, returning to the Christianity of his childhood. 

For both, it was partly an intellectual homecoming. Auden had slowly lost his liberal belief in humanity’s innate goodness thanks to the rise of the Nazis. He also felt that Christianity gave him a way to account for both human darkness and human potential. Believing that Jesus’ command to love our neighbours as ourselves was the defining ethical call, Auden valued the structure and rigour that the church offered. Eliot, says Richard Harries, also ‘wanted more than a vague mysticism…a self-sufficient moralism…something more solid than the individualism, relativism and emotionalism that he thought was rotting Western Civilisation.’ Both came to believe that the erosion of an objective moral realm was eroding the foundations of social and political order. 

I’ve been thinking about these two men because I have been observing a strong uptick in male mid-life conversions. Paul Kingsnorth describes his own in this luminous essay; Martin Shaw, the renowned mythologist, has spoken about his recent encounter with the ‘mossy face of Christ’; and David Brooks, the New York Times columnist, can be added to the list too. Privately, I have had conversations with at least 15 men in the last year who are either now Christian or actively trying to be. Many are writers, policy wonks, leaders in their fields as well as philosophers, novelists, environmentalists, psychologists. Several say taking psychedelic drugs opened them up to the possibility of God. 

Most, like Eliot, have dabbled with so-called ‘eastern’ religions first. They come from the Left and the Right, drawn to the often lone ‘out’ religious person and discuss their beliefs with me. They laugh wryly about themselves, noting how their younger selves would have been appalled. All are deep thinkers, motivated by a better world, but they are slowly losing the youthful idealistic sense that they alone can locate the levers of change. They are butting up against the limits of their own intelligence and agency, and looking for something other than themselves to have faith in. 

Maybe this was always a quietly well-trodden path. Perhaps mid-life crises didn’t always mean a mistress and a Ferrari but this wiser container for a growing sense of mortality. It’s possible that I’m seeing it now because of the backlash to the New Atheist movement, which was always male-dominated. Either way, I find it moving and hopeful. Men who are arrogant or apathetic cause harm, and a path that requires humility, courage, vulnerability and service might just act as an antidote.

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Alastair H
Alastair H
2 months ago

Many are writers, policy wonks, leaders in their fields as well as philosophers, novelists, environmentalists, psychologists.”

I think for a great many men, once they reach the peak of their careers they realise that the vast emptiness that they have been trying to fill with success can’t be.

You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” Augustine

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
2 months ago
Reply to  Alastair H

And don’t forget the wisest of all:
“There is a God- shaped vacuum in the heart of every man, which can only be filled by God. “ -Pascal

Andrew Agerbak
Andrew Agerbak
2 months ago
Reply to  Warren Trees

I’d appeal to a yet higher source than Pascal:
He has also set eternity in the human heart” Ecc 3:11

Ormond Otvos
Ormond Otvos
2 months ago
Reply to  Warren Trees

That Pascal of the Christian-only Pascal’s Wager?
We’re like puddles who think the hole we’re in was made for us.

Ormond Otvos
Ormond Otvos
2 months ago
Reply to  Alastair H

Where’s the Koran quote? Or the Upanishads? Or the Rubaiyat? Confucius did well agnostically, relying on a deep understanding of human universals.
Seems you’re preaching to the (Christian) choir here, and the atheists don’t think it worth commenting on.
But I’m an 82 year old who’s never heard a decent Christian argument…

Garry Craig Powell
Garry Craig Powell
2 months ago

I confess I am one of them – not one of Ms. Oldfield’s friends, unfortunately, but a middle-aged novelist at least attempting to become a Christian. To answer some of the comments below: I am not remotely afraid of death. I’ve been very close to it and will accept whenever it comes. And I’m certainly not attracted by the new feminised, ingenuously (or is it disingenuously?) ‘liberal’ C. of E. There’s just a chance, you know, that after a lifetime of serious study and reflection, we old sods might be on to something. We were brainwashed by nihilistic atheists, and perceive, belatedly enough, that in fact there is a spiritual realm.

Ray Mullan
Ray Mullan
2 months ago

Well put.
Paying due respect to the author’s musings above the line, I would only add that it is plain as day to me that men get something about the observance of religion which is seemingly ineffable to women. St Paul’s injunction in Corinthians 1 leans on the fact that some things simply just work on the patriarchal level:

For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. What! Did the word of God originate with you, or are you the only ones it has reached?

Like the author, the Anglican Communion would have done well to repect the irony in that last line thereby avoiding the chaos of limp reforms that have reduced it in every way since the ’70s. Unfortunately the Roman Catholic Church has not fared much better in that the same time but on a positive note, there is a marked resurgence of interest in pre–Vatcan II practices — particularly amongst younger catholics in the US.

Some things simply do not work on the progressive level.

M. Jamieson
M. Jamieson
2 months ago
Reply to  Ray Mullan

It’s perhaps worth remembering that men have tended to abandon religion where women have been much more inclined to stay and try and hold things together. Men and women tend to be fairly equal in numbers in the more muscular churches, and are of course women are the majority in the “progressive” kind. I’m not sure that really reflects women being the ones who fail to get something.

Last edited 2 months ago by Meghan Kathleen Jamieson
Ray Mullan
Ray Mullan
2 months ago
Reply to  M. Jamieson

I take your point about men abandoning religion although I would qualify it by saying that we have more of a “take it or leave it” attitude which by God’s grace always allows for a change of heart.
With women it appears to be be a case of extremes: either profound devotion or utter indifference if not antipathy.
I do not say that generalities according to sex follow as a rule for individuals but neither in all good conscience can I say that the increased participation of women on the altars of Christianity in the West has been anything but a mistake.
The dialectic of progressivism all too often leads to change for the sake of change — however positive the intention — and that is best resisted when we come to religion. Whatever about personal conscience, conservation of belief and matters of observance are fundamental principles of religious practice. And we, men, are extremely good at that because we respect conservation.
You used the expression ‘fail to get’ whereas I did not but instead chose to describe the phenomenon as ‘ineffable’ because it defies cogent explanation in the short form of a post. However St Paul’s admonishment is resonant when we simply look at what has happened to Catholic churches — Anglican, Roman or otherwise — over recent decades in the West.
The congregations are staying away in absolute droves.

Last edited 2 months ago by Ray Mullan
Helen Moorhouse
Helen Moorhouse
2 months ago
Reply to  Ray Mullan

Women fill the pews in double the ratio to men. Or more. I started counting the difference as a child and I think it has only grown. It is all too likely that a service run by women and attended by women starts to feel exclusive.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
2 months ago

Let’s pray that the revival has begun, like it always has over the centuries.

Simon Tavanyar
Simon Tavanyar
2 months ago

That’s beautiful to hear. “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has entered into the heart of man the things that God has prepared for those who love Him. But He has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God.” What an invitation to the seeking soul.

Marcia McGrail
Marcia McGrail
2 months ago

‘..perceive, belatedly enough, that in fact there is a spiritual realm’…welcome to the real world! Now lather upon Einsteinian physics, bathe in the waters of relativity, quantum mechanics, thermodynamics etc & emerge holding onto all the Bible teaches. As for organised religion, it kills everything it touches stone dead. Whereas we old sods ARE onto something!

Ormond Otvos
Ormond Otvos
2 months ago

Grow a bit: try some non-Xtian stuff.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
2 months ago

I am in the same boat. There are several reasons for this.

  1. Marriage: Up until my late 30s I was a self-avowed bachelor living in Amsterdam. Every month or so I would have a new girlfriend and until I met my wife I saw no reason to ever change that situation. Marriage made me delve deeper into myself and confront my attachment-avoidance issues.
  2. Enlightenment: When you fully grasp that the Old Testament was written in Bronze Age times, you realize that, as anachronistic as some of it may seem, it truly was an antidote for much of the madness going on during those times: idolatry, infanticide, incest, castration, human sacrifice, and other forms of human debasement and cruelty. As the West divests itself of its Christian roots, I fear that we are sliding back into those mad cruel times albeit with the technology to do far more evil things. One of the greatest delusions of our times is believing that we are somehow more enlightened than previous generations.
  3. Social Resilience: Without God we place (wo)man at the center of things. We listen to ‘experts’ and authorities that preach nonsense to us in order to advance their own ambitions. When you believe in a forgiving and loving higher power you are less likely to fall into totalitarian thinking.
  4. Virtue: Christianity is universal. It is the most inclusive religion in the world with its notions of fairness and justice. Now that Wokedom is replacing Christianity as the state religion, we see a return to mob-justice aka social justice, child sacrifice aka abortion, idolatry aka social media, castration aka transgenderism.
  5. Code-of-Honor: Christianity is making a come-back, particularly among younger men who are becoming increasingly disenfranchised with postmodern life and the constant attacks on their masculinity via Feminism, Homosexuality and now the Awful Horror of Transgenderism. We need a new Christianity, however, not the matriarchy of Irish-Catholicism or the pious moralism of American Evangelism, but one that brings out the best in young men, a more heroic one that is willing to defend the West and all it stands for: https://www.wolfsheadonline.com/the-catholic-warrior-ethos-that-saved-western-civilization/
  6. Beauty: Christianity teaches you to see the beauty inherent in all people while recognizing that we are all flawed beings. This idea of universal love is fading away as our political and cultural institutions fall into the darkness of cruel and ancient binary modes of thought.
Last edited 2 months ago by Julian Farrows
Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
2 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

Wow! Bit of a stretch there but hey, maybe not as much as appears at first glance. Your points under 4. are truly scary and for that reason I’m trying to discedit them but find I cannot!
On point 5. I wonder if you are familiar with Jordan Peterson’s take on young men and especially in the context of his take on the Bible?

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
2 months ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

I have read Jordan Peterson and appreciate his take on masculinity and his relating it to Biblical canon. He seems to be saying that men and women live in two different realities and to impose one upon the other ends up in disenfranchisement.

Bob Garey
Bob Garey
2 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

Excellent commentary, Julian.

Eliza Mann
Eliza Mann
2 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

You make some compelling points, Julian. I agree that Christianity is all that and more and pray that you will find your spiritual home within it, as well as peace and purpose in life.

Jason Highley
Jason Highley
2 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

To your point in No. 2, I also find it abominable that we think back on any no-longer-living generation (and at least one or two living ones) and assume that they were idiots incapable of reason and higher thinking. It’s appalling, and absolutely contributes to this “today is the first day of history” approach I see in so much of my generation. They reject cultural memory entirely.
To No.6, I also greatly agree. There is no religion or movement that operates on earth the way Christ calls us to operate. Forgiveness is impossible to come by in the current woke religions. It sets every human being against another in a zero sum game. I praise God for the faith every day, and hope he brings more shepherds to it and hardens the zeal of its witnesses.

Marcia McGrail
Marcia McGrail
2 months ago
Reply to  Jason Highley

..and let all the people say ‘Amen’.

Carol Staines
Carol Staines
2 months ago
Reply to  Jason Highley

it takes a lot of thinking to conclude that God exists in the god shaped void inside of us..and that Christ points the way for us. Rejection of organised religions with its copy book of rules and regulations had little to do with this.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
2 months ago
Reply to  Carol Staines

Carl Jung had an interesting take on rules etc. Worth a look I suggest.. btw you are on the same page as I am myself.
Jesus reduced 10 rules down to 2 (or even 1 since the 2 are inextricably bound together).. I’m willing to believe that some rule makers do so with good intentions but they often fail to achieve much good. Indeed manipulating rules seems to be the norm for the evildoers…..

Andrew D
Andrew D
2 months ago

The writer appears to have writers and thinkers in mind, what about men who don’t write or think very much? Do they come to God in later life? And what about women, thinkers or otherwise? Women have traditionally been more religiously observant than men – despite (because of?) male clergy and hierarchy. Nietzsche and others saw Christianity as a weak, milksop religion, most unmanly. The C of E has certainly become more feminised, will this lead to more converts to Orthodoxy and Catholicism?
But for a religion really attractive to young men, offering multitudes of virgins in exchange for martyrdom, try Islam.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
2 months ago
Reply to  Andrew D

Well done! You managed to insult the CofE, Islam and the oft misquoted Nietzsche all in a single paragraph!
I suggest a somewhat more open minded approach: or just to balance your first statement maybe even go for a bit of positivity?

Ricki Tarr
Ricki Tarr
2 months ago

I’m nearly 66 and still absolutely a non-believer.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
2 months ago
Reply to  Ricki Tarr

If you have the time read E.F. Shoemacher’s: “Guide for the Perplexed” followed by Michael A. Singer’: “The Untethered Soul” and get back to us….

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
2 months ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

Recommending reading is a pretty condescending response – how do you know Ricki Tarr hasn’t read at least as widely as you?

Michael Askew
Michael Askew
2 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

I think he was trying to help by suggesting something that helped him.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
2 months ago
Reply to  Michael Askew

More condescension! What makes you, or anyone else, think that Ricki Tarr needs help?
It’s those who’re still bungling around in their own souls that need help! Those of us with more refined souls have been through a process and come out the other side without the need for a god, a saviour, or a lesson from those who haven’t yet come to terms with the human condition.

Snapper AG
Snapper AG
2 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Wow, pot meet kettle in re condescension. Anyone who thinks they know everything has learned nothing from life or books.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
2 months ago
Reply to  Ricki Tarr

The gate is very narrow. It’s OK.

Josef Oskar
Josef Oskar
2 months ago
Reply to  Ricki Tarr

Precisely as Woody Allen says : ” Thanks God, I am an atheist”.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
2 months ago

Personally I think the concept of Wisdom is the reason. Why has that word become so little used??
While genius, knowledge and skill may be attained early in life (and indeed lost later) wisdom takes time and lived experience, not to mention that one will clearly have read and listened a lot more (hopefully).
There is also the lessening of the focus on work and acquisition: and the nagging feeling that there must (or at least might) be something more meaningful, more worthwhile and more fulfilling..

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
2 months ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

Wisdom is something that can just as easily be brought to bear by those who’ve believed in a god during most of their lives in moving away from needing that particular psychological crutch.
Edit: and i find downvotes amusing!

Last edited 2 months ago by Steve Murray
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 months ago

“Both came to believe that the erosion of an objective moral realm was eroding the foundations of social and political order.”
Statement of the obvious but it does come with hard choices about the way we live now if it actually means believing in a God.
Alternatively you could joint the C of E where God is an optional extra.
Incidentally, the best case for the existence of God I have come across is the Dworkin Delusion.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
2 months ago

Before you consider the (non)existence of God you’ll have to consider in great detail what you mean by the ‘concept’ (‘word’ is to small a word: and the word ‘God’ is even smaller!).
By the time you come to an understanding of what you mean by ‘God’ you won’t have time to consider whether God exists or not: because that alone will take you a lifetime. Tip: don’t use science or the rules of football to achieve this. Both are equally valueless: although the former is providing more and more ‘evidence’ that the answer to your question is ‘Yes’: however, that just draws you back to the more fundamental question that I pose.

Michael Askew
Michael Askew
2 months ago

is that “The Dawkins Delusion” (Charles Eckstein)?

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
2 months ago

“…Alternatively you could joint the C of E where God is an optional extra…”

hahaha – good one!
In fact with the C of E God is an optional extra, but not always in stock.

Bob Garey
Bob Garey
2 months ago

This is one of the best commentaries, and thoughtful follow up discussions, that I’ve read in a while.

LCarey Rowland
LCarey Rowland
2 months ago

Think about this for a minute, Liz, how many humans, in the the history of mankind, have died and lived to tell about it?
There is only one: Jesus Christ!
Someday, death will overtake me. But I know that death is just a bump in the road of eternity. Who has achieved victory over death? Only one man in history. I’m sticking with Him. And He promises that, having conquered death itself, he will extend the victory to me.
I only have to believe that He did it. Faith is the ticket to eternal life. Otherwise, that dark passage is just a hole in the ground.
What charismatic historical person has offered a better deal than that?
Not only that, Liz, but his teaching is, if you take a close look at his sermon on the mount, the most likely prescription for living a life of love with our fellow-humans. Blessed are the peacemakers. Love your neighbor! You can’t go wrong with that.

Lucy Browne
Lucy Browne
2 months ago
Reply to  LCarey Rowland

Well, quite a lot of people have died and lived to tell the tale, actually – the wonder of modern medicine and advanced resuscitation techniques have achieved that ‘miracle’. As to Jesus dying and being resurrected, there is no proof of that, is there.
I wish I had ‘faith’ – it seems to bring people a sense of comfort, purpose and meaning to the beautiful but inherently cruel world we live in. Unfortunately I can’t magic up what isn’t there, and religion seems to me to be full of inconsistencies, stolen/ repurposed myths and improbable fantasies, employed mainly to control the behaviour of others.

Tim Pot
Tim Pot
2 months ago
Reply to  Lucy Browne

Regarding faith – it comes in many forms.
Consider the big bang – something out of nothing? One of the bible creation stories (there are more than one, which means literally believing the bible may be interesting) says just that.
Next the curiosities of science. There is a scientific response that addressed the inevitable question that arose once the big bang was accepted as fact.
“What was there before the big bang?”
Eventually I believe it was Stephen Hawkings who responded to the question, by comparing it to asking ‘What is North of the North Pole?’
It is not a sensible question because the big bang was the origin of everything.
Now intriguingly those ignorant ancients who wrote the bible happened to also point out that before God made the Universe there was void but they accepted that God was, and the question of what made him to some extent a similar issue to what came before the big bang. For IF he was ‘outside time and space’ then our concepts of beginning and end don’t apply so the question could be considered a North Pole question.
Which is also curious for the ancients to think of ‘outside of time and space’, because our science has the universe enclosing time and space. Outside of it time etc does not exist. We have the space-time-continuum I think created by the big-bang.
OK, none of the biblical coincidences of explanations or the concepts are in themselves proofs of God, but it does suggest that it wasn’t ignorance that produced that concept when it came to the bible, it was the conclusion of minds as capable of the modern mind of asking the deep questions regarding the world they saw around them.
The we get to the curious thing about this universe. This is so finely tuned for life that the only way of not concluding it was created especially for that is to propose the multi-verse where every possible universe exists, and we are only able to appreciate this one because it is the only one we can live in.
Now quite how that can be proven scientifically is I believe, moot, so it may be that to accept the science of our times and deny the ancient faiths, is to require a faith in a new scientific belief that cannot be scientifically confirmed.
Curious, but I’m not smart enough to draw any conclusions. I just hope that if I’m wrong and there is a god, he is the Christian version and he’ll give me credit for trying!

Peter Mateja
Peter Mateja
2 months ago
Reply to  Tim Pot

Dawkins was way better at exploring this…

Tony Thomas
Tony Thomas
2 months ago
Reply to  LCarey Rowland

Such a good response, and very much echoes what I feel as a former 73 yrs agnostic?

Josef Oskar
Josef Oskar
2 months ago

‘Love thy neighbour like thyself’ is not a command byJesus (or Yeshua as was his Hebrew name), he is simply quoting this phrase from the book of Leviticus (19,18) which was around already a thousand years before Jesus was born. He was a religious person and was going back to the old tradition of the Jews. Too often this issue is forgotten. Repetita iuvant !

Matt M
Matt M
2 months ago
Reply to  Josef Oskar

Wasn’t Jesus’ innovation that he named this as the second greatest commandment in the (Jewish) law, after “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind”? He wasn’t simply quoting Leviticus.

Last edited 2 months ago by Matt M
Josef Oskar
Josef Oskar
2 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

Well, well Matt,
we are entering into some serious territory. In the first century of the vulgar era Rabbi Akiva (who was executed by the Romans later on) was asked what is the meaning of the Torah (Pentateuch) and he replied ” Love thy brother like thyself, all the rest is comment”. Hence this phrase was deeply rooted in the mind of the Jews since many centuries. It is quite incredible how a small people who the Jews were at the time could have given birth to a tradition which is still living and thriving.

Arnold Grutt
Arnold Grutt
2 months ago
Reply to  Josef Oskar

“” Love thy brother like thyself, all the rest is comment”.”
Not much space for sisters, then? And in any case what does ‘brother’ (OT – sounds ‘monkish’ or ‘army squaddie’s room’) or ‘neighbour’ in the NT context mean, exactly? Actual genetic brothers (sounds ‘racist’)? Co-religionists, randomly physically-proximate humans?
If I sit next to someone one the bus are they ‘my neighbour’ and should I love them? Who has ever really thought this way? And who would want to be ‘loved’ by people they don’t know at all, who see them, without asking first, as ‘brothers’? Sounds rather creepy, and would-be dominant. Either that or this ‘love’ bears a meaning not currently extant, such as the rather ambiguous, to us, mutual ‘love’ of ‘David’ and ‘Jonathan’.
Nowadays even the left on Twitter is bringing up the quotation about the treatment of ‘the stranger in our land’ as a justification for mass immigration, but surely the OT means exactly that: ‘one stranger’, not an entire foreign population of aggressive, largely young, men of military age, whose cultural expectations do not quite match those of the historically indigenous residents.
And even ‘the Jews’ seem not to have especially ‘loved’ their Roman colonisers, judging by the revolt of the AD 70s.
It’s easy to cherry-pick biblical quotations for modern purposes, whereas the real mythological context of the Bible is utterly strange to us today.
How many of us today answer the door in the real fear that the being standing opposite us may be an actual ‘angel of the Lord’ in human disguise sent to ‘test’ us. That is the ancient origin of modern western ‘hospitality’ traditions, but I doubt many hoteliers today share that particular world-view.

Josef Oskar
Josef Oskar
2 months ago
Reply to  Arnold Grutt

You are asking many questions rather randomly.
I guess you are not fluent in Hebrew, especially biblical Hebrew. The translation of the word REACHA is extremely difficult in another language, the closest possible would be “fellow man”. It should hence sound “love thy fellow man like thyself” ie treat your fellow man nicely like yourself. It is not meant as physical love, or sexual. Hence bringing the relationship between David and Jonathan to this case is inappropriate.
As to the way the Romans treated the Jews during the period of their rule over the country, I would be careful. The Romans despised the Jews and did not understand them, for example they insisted that the Jews were lazing around for a seventh of their life (ie observing the weekly day for rest and prayer), they forbade the sacrifices of animals at the Main Temple not understanding that it was mainly meant to feed the needy ones (widows, orphans, old people, the sick and the poor).
The problem which you have of not understanding the Bible is because you do not have access to it in the original language. And you should contextualize more. Not easy I realize.

Gordon Arta
Gordon Arta
2 months ago

‘It’s possible that I’m seeing it now because of the backlash to the New Atheist movement, which was always male-dominated. ‘ And religion isn’t? By the way, could you clarify which particular ‘god’ you have in mind. And is there anything wrong with the others, or are they all OK?

Martin Terrell
Martin Terrell
2 months ago
Reply to  Gordon Arta

Interesting. Go into most churches and you’ll find the majority of worshippers and active supporters are women. I think they are in charge but don’t want the men to know.

Peter Mateja
Peter Mateja
2 months ago
Reply to  Martin Terrell

American Evangelicalism is full of male chauvanism, held up by their biblical interpretation. I’ve had my indoctrinated mother-in-law argue with me (a male) about why ultimately men are meant to be in charge church (as well as everything else). It’s weird.
This doesn’t even scratch the surface… consider Islam, Hinduism, conservative Judaism…

Rod Miller
Rod Miller
2 months ago

Hmmm. I’m 67, jaded like everyone else by a life of dashed hopes about human goodness, & afraid of death, but not overly since I assume it’ll be like before I was born, i.e. it won’t “be” (but hey, what do I know?).
Seems reasonable to me to suppose that many late-in-life-converted got that way owing to a yearning for an afterlife. But that’s just the thing – I’m incapable of Faith, and when it comes to the ultimate verities just have to ask “How Can We Know?”
I strongly doubt there’s some big bearded guy sitting on a cloud surrounded by harp-plucking angels & pulling all the levers. We’ll never know the origin of the universe, or whether there’s an infinite number of other universes. There’s bound to be some ‘explanation’ of all this, but I don’t see why it should involve ancient human teachings, to some extent self-contradictory, routinely picked over, misused for oppression & war, & generally seldom lived up to.
But I do get the smells’n’bells part. The attraction to this. (My wife’s a strong Italian Catholic.)
As for “dabbling with so-called ‘eastern’ religions“, let’s leave that to the flakes among us. Taking something like Buddhism seriously is completely different & seems to me the most practical way of getting thru this life with a minimum of pain.
Am simply resigned to never Making Sense of the world.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
2 months ago
Reply to  Rod Miller

You make your personal case very well. Might I humbly suggest you focus on what you mean by the concept of “knowing”? There are surely many things you “know” that are not scientifically “knowable”.. you wouldn’t for example dismiss love, joy and compassion as fictitious. One can “know” stuff deep in one’s heart and recognise that science, logic and reason have some inadequacies?
May I suggest a very short book on this theme (not in any way religious btw) by E.F. Schumacher entitled: Guide for the Perplexed. It’ll give you a non-contraversial starting point..

Rod Miller
Rod Miller
2 months ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

Thanks. I will read that book.
Am fully aware that our senses & intellect (i.e. science, logic and reason) cannot tell us everything. That was my point, in fact.
The concept of knowing? Among the few things I know with certainty are that gravity works (since I’ve never observed it to fail). Same with the laws of aerodynamics & thermodynamics, the shape of the Earth & a few other things. Beyond that I make no claims.
No I wouldn’t dismiss love, joy and compassion as fictitious. Though they may well be brain chemicals. It’s clearly possible to artificially induce them, in fact. Flat-Earthers will assure you that they *know in their hearts* that the Earth is flat. I don’t doubt their sincerity.
Have you read Paul Kingsnorth’s piece that Oldfield praises? I’m a great admirer of Kingsnorth & accept everything he writes in that article (for example that civilization itself is the very root of our problem). But I’m aware of no urge in me to worship anything (except possibly my own ego, something I consciously resist). So I doubt I’ll ever wake up a Christian, as Kingsnorth basically says he did.
But who knows?

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
2 months ago

I’ll stick to the mistress and Ferrari I think, sounds much more fun

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
2 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Precisely at the point at which you can no longer handle either, because them incontinence pants need changing too frequently.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
2 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

You’ll be disappointed.. far less fulfilling. It’s why millionaires want to become billionaires.. ot just isn’t enough..

Vijay Kant
Vijay Kant
2 months ago

Why wait for the promised virgins in paradise when you can have them right here on Earth? A happy death to me is only acquired in the pursue of wine, women and songs. That is truly being human. In my opinion, the ones turning to religion in their later life need medication, not meditation!

Tim Pot
Tim Pot
2 months ago
Reply to  Vijay Kant

Hmm, but what do the Virgins think of that?

Lord Rochester
Lord Rochester
2 months ago

I was unaware of T.S. Eliot’s mid-life, colossal failure of imagination until now.

Huh, every day’s a Sunday School day…

M. Jamieson
M. Jamieson
2 months ago
Reply to  Lord Rochester

That’s surprising, it’s usually one of the first things you learn about him in school! Some of his poems might be perplexing otherwise.

Peter Mateja
Peter Mateja
2 months ago

It’s easy… just another form of midlife crisis, in which we mortal creatures find ourselves struggling with our own finiteness amongst the infinite. Some people buy sports cars, others have affairs, and still others turn to one of the collective fantasy stories that human beings who lived long ago created in response to this same feeling. There’s nothing rational in this process… it’s just humans reacting in predictable ways.

William Shaw
William Shaw
2 months ago

“Men who are arrogant or apathetic cause harm”
Women who chose to become unmarried mothers / single parents do incalculably more harm to civilised society than any man has ever caused.
One wishes that they too could find God and the teachings of the bible.

Last edited 2 months ago by William Shaw
Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
2 months ago
Reply to  William Shaw

Harm? Yes.. but “incalculably more harm to civilized society than any man”? Eh ..no. Get a grip will ye!

Stephen Waller
Stephen Waller
2 months ago
Reply to  William Shaw

Yes, so many “women who chose to become unmarried mothers / single parents“. What’s their problem! 😉

Richard Ross
Richard Ross
2 months ago

Let those who wade into the comments below wear high boots. It’s a swamp of condescension down there, LOL (Is a vulgar “LOL” allowed here?) Still, one of the great values of Unherd’s comment sections is that it shows how much thought and reaction is prodded up by its articles.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
2 months ago
Reply to  Richard Ross

Fear not sayeth the Lord: though it be swampy take up thine staff and wade in! Okay I made up the second part of that!:

Simon Mundy
Simon Mundy
2 months ago

Personally, at 73 I find myself drawn to the stability and common-sense appeal of Flat-Earthery.
Except when flying from Sydney to San Francisco, of course.
“…they are slowly losing the youthful idealistic sense that they alone can locate the levers of change.” This tells me that the folks you are talking to and about never grew up into the understanding of themselves as simply human. Having missed out on adulthood, they’ve now (finally!) understood their own limitations and look to a transcendent authority to assuage that wounded narcissism. A spiritual opiate, perhaps.
If it works for them, that’s fine, but I dispute that it’s a wise path.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
2 months ago
Reply to  Simon Mundy

So you regard the loss of a “youthful idealistic sense of” (omnipotence) is something to regretted? ..and then go on to suggest they never grew up? So, carrying a sense of omnipotence into adulthood avoids narcissism dies it? Sorry but I’m inclined to believe the complete opposite. Losing one’s sense of omnipotence is a normal (ala Freud and Jung) part of growing up. And the acquisition of wisdom is a normal part of growing older. The opposing view is I suppose a good example of Scientism, leading in a few extreme cases to despotism! But that’s just my opinion..

Adam Bartlett
Adam Bartlett
2 months ago

Not sure the fall of the new atheists has much to do with it – in some ways they seemned to energise potential christians & thus reduce losses to apathy & materialism. E.g. back around 2007 when Dawkins ‘Delusion’ book was high in the Amazon sellers chart, there was also a big spike in Bible sales. Otherwise excellent article.
In addition to the good comments by Julian Farrows & others, declining sex drive has to be a big reason. Hopefully also the Hound of Heaven starting to hunt a little more vigourously. Would be great if the trend Oldfield has noticed is reflected when we get the next set of survey results for US & UK religiousity.

Richard Parker
Richard Parker
2 months ago

Interesting essay, thank you. I think your suspicion is correct, that this may be a long established and understood phenomenon. The trajectory of John Donne’s life springs to mind, in particular.

I’m seeing changes in my outlook which mirror this too, which objectively interest me, as they’re quite unexpected. Far from unwelcome, though.

Ellen Finkle
Ellen Finkle
2 months ago

OK, so god exists. How do I find out what he, she or it wants me to do?

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
2 months ago
Reply to  Ellen Finkle

I can tell you how to start to find out:
Stop being silly and simplistic and cynical and narrow minded and arrogant: and stop being dogmatic especially in your blind faith that scientism is the answer to everything.
After that try a little mediation when none if you mates are watching. I suggest TM..
That’s steps one and 2.. only another 98 to go. God luck!

Marc Franklin
Marc Franklin
2 months ago

…finding a god or just finding an other cult? Or, it seems, conveniently lumping the two together?

Philip Burrell
Philip Burrell
2 months ago

Fear is probably the simple answer. Given the possibility that heaven and hell do actually exist, why not hedge your bets!

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
2 months ago
Reply to  Philip Burrell

The fallacy of Pascal’s Wager.

Michael Askew
Michael Askew
2 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

It is certainly Pascal’s wager being referred to, but please explain the fallacious reasoning.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
2 months ago
Reply to  Michael Askew

Oh, there are so, so many. But let’s start with this one:
The underlying premise is that incentivising a belief, will actually create true belief in the taker of the incentive – which is self-evidently ludicrous. I cannot offer you eternal life or threaten eternal damnation, but I can offer you £500 to believe that 1=0. So now you will believe that 1=0 will you? Suppose the author, say, offers you £1000 to reject the belief that 1=0 but instead believe that 1=2. So your belief goes to the highest bidder does it? In which case can I tempt you with a hindoo god instead of the Christian one? And if you don’t like the one I offer, well I got others.

martin logan
martin logan
2 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

Your premise seems to be that religion can’t be valid–because it offers something positive?
And nothing wrong with offering a Hindu god. Let the best deity win.

Rod Miller
Rod Miller
2 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

Yes, but mere money can’t compete with the emotional power & reassurance of a large group of like-minded people amid the smells & bells – the sheer ceremony – of a full-blast religious organization.
That’s the fallacy of the money analogy.

Peter Mateja
Peter Mateja
2 months ago
Reply to  Michael Askew

The big problem that I see with Pascal’s wager is the “which one?” problem. If we decide to hedge our bets on an eternal afterlife, how do we then choose which particular version of said afterlife is the correct one? Let’s throw Buddhism isn’t the mix to make it fun!

Rod Miller
Rod Miller
2 months ago
Reply to  Peter Mateja

I wouldn’t really call Buddhism a proper religion. Yes, in countries where it’s widely practised there’s a superstitious/carnival version with people sticking bits of gold leaf on temples for good luck.
But serious Buddhism means people subjecting themselves to a lengthy grind in order to learn to look at reality in an entirely different way.

David U
David U
2 months ago
Reply to  Philip Burrell

It’s also fairly cheap to buy into moral codes when you are too old for much hedonism.

Tim Pot
Tim Pot
2 months ago
Reply to  David U

St Augustine got there before you 😉
Lord make me chaste, but not yet.
and he still got canonised. But did he get to heaven?

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
2 months ago
Reply to  Philip Burrell

A bit disingenuous I think: perhaps reflective of where you are on youd own journey: which is more trigger than beginning. But stay with the thought: you never know where it will lead you. I suggest mecitation, specifically TM to see if you encounter something there thatight be a real beginning. Also, try Michael A. Singer’s “The Untethered Soul”. If you’re excessively hard-nosed about these things: read E.F.Shoemacher’s “Guide for the Perplexed” first. Bon Voyage…

Rory Hoipkemier
Rory Hoipkemier
2 months ago

And now for some good news! Blessings to you.

LCarey Rowland
LCarey Rowland
2 months ago

Amen!

Jason Highley
Jason Highley
2 months ago

This is why I push my fellow Christians away from the instinct to write everyone who opposes them off. It’s not unwise to talk of a “fortress Christendom” to preserve the light, but the light also cannot be held under a bushel. We have to heed the Great Commission. If Paul can do it across the Roman Empire (and see the fruit of those seeds!), then surely we can continue to witness and love the most godless among us. Who knows – more miraculous conversions may follow. Indeed, I believe they will.
Satan invites us to preach in hell. Is that a trap, or our greatest opportunity so far?

Marcia McGrail
Marcia McGrail
2 months ago
Reply to  Jason Highley

It’s a trap – there’s no saving from hell.

M. Jamieson
M. Jamieson
2 months ago

I think that for a certain group of men, they need to think through the intellectual problems in a linear way, and that often doesn’t happen until a certain amount of experience prompts them to do so. Then they begin to question the foundations of any moral or rational system. It doesn’t come to them through culture in an easy way because we are so secularized, it requires some effort to seek out.
Women are more likely to remain attached to religion for other reasons, mainly related to connectivity with people.

Iris C
Iris C
2 months ago

Since the beginning of recorded time (seen in cave paintings) men and women have believed in something beyond human knowledge. Religion has given that “something” a form and a name, “God”.
Animals have a sixth sense, being aware of a presence, which humans cannot see. I wonder what the humanist and the atheist response would be to that…

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
2 months ago
Reply to  Iris C

The response (which I do not go along with btw) is usually: “science will one day explain it and show it is a normal part of everyday existence”. The truth is: science is a partial answer to a relatively few questions: the less important the question the more science has to say about it. EF Schumacher puts it well:
There a 4 orders of existence:
1. Lifeless material (eg minerals)
2. Simple living material (eg plants)
3. Conscious living material (animals)
4. Self Aware living material (man)
Science is brilliant at 1, poor at life (biology is the study of living materials as if it were a chemical plant: life itself is a mystery to science). Science has nothing to say on consciousness and even denies the issue of self awareness.
Science is wonderful where it has the tools to grapple with its subject matter but hopeless at the study of what matters most.
The problem with science is that it has become a religion with all the worst attributes of a bad religion, eg dogma/intolerence, blind certainty, and immense narrow-mindedness!

Marc Franklin
Marc Franklin
2 months ago
Reply to  Iris C

Please tell us what ‘presence’ are these animals aware of that humans ‘cannot see’ And While you’re at it explain this ‘sixth sense’ …

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
2 months ago

I’m an artist, and i’ve absolutely no intention of joining those ranks of “deep thinkers” who eventually capitulate. I’ve absolute certainty that there’s no god (as opposed to belief that there might be) and yet… i have a deep sense of the spiritual and the ethical values that humanity has made for itself. I can enter a great cathedral and be filled with the deepest sense of awe, since it’s a human creation. Yes, it may have been planned with the ‘glory of god’ in mind, but since god doesn’t exist, it’s magnificence is a de facto tribute to the ingenuity and artistic abilities of us humans. The really interesting question is to why humans had to believe in a god to produce it. I’m happily reconciled with that particular psychological device.
If i may attempt to answer the question posed by the author: it’s because men are weak. The issue of control is a real one, and once their powers of physical or mental prowess are past their peak, they have little to fall back on. Women, on the other hand, don’t (and i’m generalising here, of course) feel the need to exert control over their environment to such an extent and therefore don’t feel this lack in later life. If they’ve given birth, they have in a very real sense created new life whereas men’s attempts at creation (books, films, etc.) may come to seem inadequate to them. Interestingly, the creation of a physical artefact such as a painting or sculpture may seem to be rather more real than something that is merely intellectual. It ‘exists’ in the world, irrespective of whether anyone is reading it or watching it!

Last edited 2 months ago by Steve Murray
Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
2 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Mmmm.. I’m wondering why you use the word “capitulate”? Sounds like you may be clinging on to your atheism with grim determination? So I suggest: be brave: in the words of O.Cromwell: “I beseach thee… considered the possibility, however remote, that you might be mistaken” – you have nothing to fear: nothing to lose. Anthony Flew (R. Dawkins’ predecessor as archbishop of Atheism) dropped his Atheism when confronted with evidence of the existence of God. Of he can do it you can too.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
2 months ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

There’s nothing “grim” about my determination to do anything, mainly joy in being alive.
And i’ll expand on my earlier post with this, just to ensure there’s no misunderstanding: even if the existence of god were demonstrable, i’d not wish to have anything to do with either worshipping or subservience to it. If i were a god, i’d not want any of my ‘creations’ to worship me, or wish to control them through requiring subservience. Of course, that’s all part of the ‘man-made’ religious structuring of what god means to them. Or even if god were described in terms of some kind of numinous presence – so what? As a creator? Well done god – now go and reflect on what you got wrong!!!!

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
2 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Wow, you have absolute certainty – I wish I could have absolute certainty about anything.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
2 months ago

It’s taken a lifetime to get here, but since this is set in the context of an article about why some men ‘find god’ in later life, i’m just flagging up that it’s not necessary.

Alan Girling
Alan Girling
2 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

I think such certainty is temperamental. I know because I have it. It prompts me, however, to be curious about other temperaments. I mean, mine can’t be the only one.

Tim Pot
Tim Pot
2 months ago

He is his own God 😉

David Short
David Short
2 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Mmmm. So you have absolute certainty do you? Sounds a bit like a God-like quality to me. Not getting a bit confused about our place in the universe, are we?

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
2 months ago
Reply to  David Short

Not in the least. And since god doesn’t exist, i can’t possibly have such a thing as a “god-like quality”.

David Short
David Short
2 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Your problem is that you believe that there is no God but you have no proof of your belief. Similarly a theist has no proof of the existence of God. Both are belief systems, neither are proofs. Having said that there is always Kurt Godl’s mathematical proof of the existence of God which you would do well to read, possibly alongside St. Anselm’s Ontological Argument. When you have read them I suggest you come back with your counter arguments.

Michael Askew
Michael Askew
2 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

How did you get to the absolute certainty? In early adulthood I knew everything. Several decades later I know nothing.

Snapper AG
Snapper AG
2 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

The wages of hubris are grim indeed.

Betsy Arehart
Betsy Arehart
2 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

How can you absolutely “know” there is no God?

Shikuesi
Shikuesi
2 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

So you recognise that cathedrals’ “magnificence is a de facto tribute to the ingenuity and artistic abilities of us humans” yet fail to draw the much more certain analogous conclusion from natural structures that are multiple orders of magnitude more complex. Perhaps it takes an “artist” to achieve this level of irrationality? These are the very considerations that ended half a century of public atheism for Antony Flew and should do the same for you. Also the questions already posed are valid – how to know a universal negative. If the evidence you know about doesn’t lead you to theism, we all know that we don’t even know how little we know of the universe compared to what there is to know, so how do we know that there isn’t relevant evidence out there that would do that for us?

N Forster
N Forster
2 months ago

As it is, this piece just seems a vehicle for the author to elevate themselves above the men mentioned in the piece.
To what avail?

Garry Craig Powell
Garry Craig Powell
2 months ago
Reply to  N Forster

I don’t see that she’s doing that at all. And why use the pronoun ‘themselves’? There’s only one author, and not claiming to be non-binary or anything.

Phil Mac
Phil Mac
2 months ago

I find the arguments for belief in a God can only fall into three categories;
1. I actually have proof of its existence and can show you this.
2. I feel there’s still a void beyond what I can explain otherwise.
3. I have a need for spiritual experience and this comes next.

The first one would be compelling but after nobody ever makes it.

The second is a poor argument. Just keep at it, or accept there’ll always be things you can explain.

The third is what this article seems to be about. It’s hopeless, you might as well just take more drugs.indeed the author even connects these.

There really isn’t a supernatural being, it’s nonsense.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
2 months ago
Reply to  Phil Mac

I would say in reply:
1. There is but it’s not scientific. If you’re a devout believer in scientism this will be tricky for you.
2. There is such a void. Even scientism believes this though it hopes to fill all the gaps with string theory and multiverses and such like.
3. If you do have such a need how do you explain it? Is it smart to ignore a need? Or just not allowed in scientism’s dogma?
Of course there’s not a supernatural being in the sense you think of! But there are sufficient pointers for some of us to believe there is a lot more than scientism dictates.. there is in fact a lot of good science that points in the direction of some omnipotent and omniscient creator.. science tells us that ultimately it all boils down to energy and information manifested from nothing (nothing we can understand). Funny that the description of 4,000 years ago ties in so neatly with the leading edge of quantum physics today. Don’t be too quck to throw out the bath water. There may be something in it after all!

William Shaw
William Shaw
2 months ago

Are you seriously holding up a handful of elitist intellectuals as representative of the male race?
Fail. Major fail.

Last edited 2 months ago by William Shaw
Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
2 months ago

Ha! Embrace fantasies of Surrender, when the realisation dawns that time and youth are slipping away, the tyranny of biology starts to loosen, and you can no longer handle fantasies of Control.

Just another self-serving biological response, where you actively pretend it’s not, when in truth, deep down, you know exactly what it is, no? Keeps them out of misanthropic mischief I suppose, although I imagine biotechnological interventions might be more reliable if that is what you are looking for.

“…people feel a compassion akin to scorn for those who have an opportunity to excite pathos and decline it…”
Fisher King, Anthony Powell

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
2 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

Your loss!

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
2 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

I’m not sure how you can know the minds of these men. If you do not want to travel the same road that’s fair enough, but unless one has evidence one should not impugn the motives of others.