Tuesday, November 18, 2008

is religious fervency hormonal?

by writerdd

I don't mean this as a joke, but as a serious question. One of the big turning points for me as I was leaving religion, was realizing that the times I felt moved by the sermons in church were usually when I had PMS. I realized this during a period of time when I was struggling because I couldn't find a church that was meeting my emotional and psychological needs. I was probably outgrowing my need for religion, but I wasn't aware of that yet. Here's a bit I wrote about that memory, and some further thoughts on the topic:

A couple of my friends went to Cleveland Christian Fellowship a few miles south of town. I was, by now, fed up with the internal politics at New Life Bible Church, and had visited Cleveland Christian a few times in the past, so I decided to go there for a while.

It was the most cheerful church I’d ever attended. The worship team led the congregation in upbeat songs with snappy tunes and the band played background music filled with bright major chords. Electric guitars, a synthesizer, and drums made the meeting feel more like pop concert than a church service, and with their big hair and shoulder pads, the worship leader and backup singers looked as if they’d stepped out of an MTV video. Usually the worship leader segued into one or two slow songs, ballads about Jesus or the Holy Spirit, before ending with one last burst of joy and praise. Sometimes there was special music before the sermon, and someone from the congregation sang a popular Christian song accompanied by a karaoke-like recorded arrangement.

When the pastor finally came out onto the stage to speak, everyone was in a great mood, warmed up by the music, ready to be inspired for the week. The sermon was usually upbeat, too. None of fire and brimstone of Calvary Baptist, none of the quiet introspection of Smithtown Gospel Tabernacle, none of the intense self examination of the house churches I’d attended, none of the serious study of New Life. Sometimes it seemed to me like this church was not much more than a social club. But I had nowhere else to go.

A couple of months after I started attending, I surprised myself by starting to cry at the end of the sermon, when the pastor asked us to give more of ourselves to the Lord—to pray more, to read the Bible more, to witness more, to praise God more. Whatever I did, it was never enough. I always failed in my attempts to maintain my devotion. I was slipping away again, letting the cares of the world distract me, falling into sin. A tear dripped down my face, then another, then another. I closed my eyes and turned my face up toward heaven to pray, letting the tears flow freely, even though I knew my mascara and eyeliner would run. I needed to find a way to restore my relationship with the Lord and start over once again.

When the service was over, I stopped in the ladies room before driving home and was glad that I had a tampon in my purse from last month. As I took the tampon out of the wrapper, it hit me. I was crying because I had PMS, not because God was speaking to me. Had this happened before? How many times? Had all of my spiritual awakenings been the result of hormone fluctuations? I didn’t want to think about it, but I couldn’t stop myself.

For the last couple of years, I've been feeling an interest in spirituality again (although not in Christianity or any other religion), as I have begun to go through menopause. It makes me wonder if, at least for many women, these feelings stem from hormonal changes. It's always been comforting to me to realize when my bad moods are tied to physical causes, and it would comfort me now to realize that these feelings I'm having can be dealt with medically. It seems to me that many more women than men are involved in evangelical and fundamentalist Christian churches and other spiritual movements, or at least is is the women who usually start getting involved and the men often seem to go along to keep the peace in the bedroom. I wonder if any studies have ever been done about this.

Cross posted on Skepchick.

1 comment:

Justin said...

Fascinating. Wish I'd thought of that question, but then, I'm a dude.

That male/female ratio actively involved in churches is dead on, though.