Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Has Buffy slayed the church?

I stumbled onto an interesting, troubling, and somewhat hilariously weird article yesterday, citing a recently published study that allegedly claims Buffy the Vampire Slayer has been inspiring young women to leave the Church and take up Wicca.

That couldn't be right. What PhD'd sociologist worth their salt would make such a ridiculous claim? A lone TV show that's been off the air for almost a half-decade can't have that much influence on women's church attendance numbers. So I dug deeper, and leave it to the British press to actually publish the whole story, instead of just the catchy headline:
The report claims more than 50,000 women a year have deserted their congregations over the past two decades because they feel the church is not relevant to their lives.

It says that instead young women are becoming attracted to the pagan religion Wicca, where females play a central role, which has grown in popularity after being featured positively in films, TV shows and books.
The study, which mentions Buffy as just one source of information young women have had regarding more female-centric religions like Wicca, actually looks like it'd be worth a read (if I could find a copy anywhere online). The author, Dr. Kristin Aune, seems to be making the entirely plausible claim that the church's generally poor attitude toward women has driven them off in large numbers. She goes on to offer several suggestions as to how churches might work to bring women back into the fold, things like actually ordaining them, not vilifying their sexuality, accommodating women who work and/or raise children, and generally being more inclusive. Seems pretty damn reasonable to me, especially considering that, in my experience, churches that have already adopted these methods and attitudes do pretty well for themselves.

I was raised in the Presbyterian church, not the Church of England that's mostly referenced in the study, so my experience is certainly different (as is everyone's, really). Though I'm no longer an active participant or member in said church, I am thankful that I was raised by parents who both took their faith seriously and raised me and my siblings to be independent-minded, compassionate people. I was never told or shown that women couldn't or shouldn't be full participants in church (or world) activities, either as lay people, deacons, elders, or ministers. It was, in fact, a baffling surprise when I first learned about other denominations and religions that forbade women from playing any role they so wished.

My reasons for leaving the church are personal and not terribly acrimonious. But I can completely understand why other women have left out of disgust or downright disenchantment with how they're viewed and treated. If Buffy the Vampire Slayer has anything at all to do with this phenomenon of women leaving the church in droves, it is as a symptom, not a cause. More enlightened views of womanhood have existed in some form or another for hundreds (thousands, if you want to get technical) of years, and the progression we've been experiencing is just part of an ongoing process. Like all things, churches must evolve with the rest of society if they want to remain relevant, vital forces in their communities. Pulling their heads out of the generally sexist past would certainly be a good start.

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