Hi and welcome back! I hope you’re enjoying our very unofficial Love Week around here, just in time for Friday the 13th. We started by checking out a 2008 book by A.J. Kiesling, Where Have All the Good Men Gone? In it, she gave fervent Christian men and women a survey about why they weren’t getting married. In answer, many of those men cited one fear that stood out above the rest to me: They feared divorce and its repercussions. In the 12 years since that book’s publishing, those men have only gotten more skittish. Today, let’s check out their thoughts on divorce.
(When I talk about “right-wing Christians,” I’m referring to the authoritarian flavors of Christianity. This includes evangelicalism as well as hardline Catholicism and several other variants. Once upon a time, these variants were very distinct from each other. Nowadays, though, they’re all merging together into an indistinguishable mess.)
The Fear of Big Strong
Christian Hardline Christian Men.
“Perfect love casts out fear,” wrote someone long ago. Going by that standard, today’s right-wing Christian men clearly do not feel perfect love for the women of their tribe. I say that because hooboy, they are scared spitless of divorce.
For her book, Where Have All the Good Men Gone?, author A.J. Kiesling gave 120 Christians (84 women and 36 men) a survey to answer. She recruited her respondents from Christian singles’ forums online.
We never learn which forums or how many total she canvassed, nor what flavors of Christians haunted them. She never seems to have bothered with weighting or balancing her respondents, counting only on something she breezily refers to as “the nature of the internet” to give her “a built-in spectrum of respondents” (p. 19).
The results read like pure right-wing Christianity to me.
High and Low.
Knowing what I know of mainline Christians and their evangelical and hardline-Catholic counterparts, I can tell you they simply have very different concerns and preferences when it comes to marriage. Kiesling keeps her own affiliations way, way, way on the down-low — and doesn’t mention those of her respondents, either. But they can’t be anything else.
They’re a distinct breed, these single Christians who care so incredibly much about marrying another super-fervent Christian that they hang out on Christian singles’ forums and consider non-Christian men to be literally physically dangerous to TRUE CHRISTIAN™ women (p. 34, see endnote).
No, such Christians won’t be mainline.
So when she zeroes in on her male respondents’ thoughts on divorce, I thought immediately of right-wing Christians. Indeed, I’ve heard this kind of rumbling from them for many years.
This book might represent one of the first times those men have formally shared so much on the record about their fears to a female tribemate.
A One-Sided Fear.
I wasn’t very surprised when A.J. Kiesling reports that the fear of divorce seems to be a solely male fear. Her female respondents didn’t cite that fear at all. Only the men did. And enough of the men cited it to get her attention. Kiesling writes (p. 151):
Not one woman in the survey mentioned fear of divorce as a worry or frustration in the world of romance, but a handful of men did, and their responses show just how deep the concern can run.
I’m surprised that only “a handful of men” in her poorly-designed little study cited that fear. Maybe this is yet another spot where respondents didn’t seem to be truthful.
Authoritarians solve all of their problems with coercion, even ones that coercion only makes worse. (Once it does, they add more coercion, cuz that’ll obviously fix everything!) They perceive any lessening of their power, therefore, as an utter catastrophe. To them, a loss of power feels like a guarantee that their situations will worsen dramatically and quickly.
As such, authoritarian men never learn to work cooperatively with others, much less with women — who exist in right-wing Christianity as second-class citizens set on the planet to serve and gratify them forever.
So yes, right-wing Christian men fear divorce. They fear it for the same reasons they fear going to prison: it’s a situation where they don’t hold all the chains themselves or call all the shots.
An Old Fear.
It seems like most hardline Christian men fear divorce. They have for a long time. I suspect they began to fear divorce when no-fault divorce laws came along. Yes, in almost all fifty states men can’t force their wives to stay in marriages they don’t want. To an authoritarian, that idea represents the worst disaster imaginable.
Years before A.J. Kiesling first flitted around Christian singles’ forums, we were seeing news articles like this one from The Guardian in 2005. Cultural commentators latched onto those sorts of stories very quickly, as we can see here (under “Reforms Overdue”). And the Men’s Rights Activists types latched onto it even harder. On this gaming forum discussion in 2018, “Hyena 20” mentions that fear of theirs:
From what I recall (which could be incorrect), as a whole they actually fear divorce more than they fear false rape/sexual assault allegations (not that that isn’t one of their top 3 fears, also), and many MGTOWs [Men Going Their Own Way — eschewing relationships] are bitter divorcees.
I remember a survey along those lines as well, and yes, divorce figured very highly on their list of fears. Those men split down the middle, it seems, between authoritarian Christian men and the sort of atheists who consider themselves good little skeptics.
And they have some very blistering things to say about divorce.
How Serious This Fear Really Is.
It’s become fashionable in those circles, as well as in the Christian Right generally, to refer to the breakup of a marriage as “divorce rape.” I’m not kidding. They don’t think it’s a hyperbolic way to describe divorce, either, as shocking as such clouded perception might seem.
(Hm. Interesting. This conspiracy theory sounds exactly like Hell-based marketing, which right-wing Christians tend to be totes okay with.)
(Also: I’ve been a feminist all my life, and I definitely don’t remember that meeting.)
Seriously, authoritarians see everything as a power struggle.
So I’m sure that more than “a handful” of A.J. Kiesling’s male respondents fear divorce. She never gets around to telling us exactly how many of those 36 men mentioned that fear, but she does tell us that about 20 of the combined group had been divorced at least once already. Her poor methodology irritated me throughout the book, but here most of all, I think.
An Interesting Difference in Focus.
That said, overall it’s interesting to me that the men and women in her study had very different fears and areas of focus. Oh, I mean, both sexes complained about what they saw as the general shortcomings of their counterparts. Sure. But overall, their complaints couldn’t have been more different.
The women seemed most intent on finding and landing a man who met their exacting expectations and desires. Their big fear was simply not finding a marriageable man, or finding him and not managing to land him. They worried about never getting married at all and about men who didn’t care nearly as much about Jesus-ing and following their tribe’s sex rules as they themselves did.
Meanwhile, the men seemed more focused on what might happen after the wedding day. They cited fears that their future wives would divorce them — or allow themselves to gain weight or otherwise become unattractive to their appearance-obsessed husbands. Worst of all, they feared that their future wives were “settling” for them — and would divorce them as soon as they find a potentially superior match.
As terrible overall as A.J. Kiesling’s survey is, all of that sounds very much like what I hear when I lurk Christian singles’ spaces online. When she just lets her respondents speak, that’s where the book improves markedly in value.
The Tribe That Left Nothing to Chance.
It seems like right-wing Christian men and women are evolving in different directions.
The men are drilling down harder every day on authoritarianism. They want more powers of coercion over their wives, more control over their relationships, and more ways to torment any women who refuse to fall into line with their demands.
Since there are more women needing top-tier husbands than there are top-tier men to go around, those men largely set the tone for the tribe’s dating game. They have little patience these days for dating demands they see as ridiculous and onerous. Until they’re positive they’re making the right choice, they won’t make one at all.
Women, meanwhile, seem to be moving more toward a more egalitarian, feminist headspace. They want respect and compassion from their husbands, not tin-pot tyrants who’ll use them as bang maids and their marriages as stand-ins for the power they’re losing in American culture. They’re still locked in an authoritarian headspace, but they’re chafing at their shackles more and more.
And yet even the middle-aged divorcees among them dream of a magical romance from a virginal Tom Brady lookalike with a castle in Tuscany. Or at least a Disney destination wedding.
And both of them think that mutual belief and fervent worship of an imaginary being will inevitably lead to a future of joy and love. Ai yi yi!
A.J. Kiesling: Playing the Game.
Looking at the whole picture, it just astonishes me at how very, very little today’s right-wing Christians are leaving to chance when it comes to their future divorces. They’re barely even speaking the same (love) language!
Y’all, I honestly could not set any group up for worse chances for lasting marriages, not if I intentionally tried.
And A.J. Kiesling is none the wiser. She’s part of that game herself, and she’s just angry that the men she wants to date don’t want her.
NEXT UP: The absolutely wacky things that right-wing Christian men do to try to reduce their odds of divorce. Oh my head. See you tomorrow!
Meanwhile, if a frustrated Christian woman decides to accept a date with an unbeliever, she wades into dangerous waters spiritually, emotionally, and physically–and also ignores the serious scriptural warning not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers.
Kiesling doesn’t elaborate on what she sees as the dangers in those waters, but that whole sentence absolutely stunned me. She wrote this when she was in her late 30s or 40s, but she sounds like a teenager raised on a steady diet of fundagelical propaganda. Indeed, she whines about “postmodernism” regularly in the book — without understanding her tribe’s part in creating a truly post-truth bubble for themselves to inhabit.
Maybe it’s better she’s still single. I wouldn’t wish upon anyone that slowly-dawning chasm of full understanding of just how malevolent, cruel, and yes, dangerous right-wing Christian men can be, even (maybe especially) to their closest loved ones.
So if you were feeling like A.J. Kiesling is just some wackadoodle fundagelical, some harmless woo-chirping, frustrated Disney princess looking for her Prince Charming, don’t worry. She is absolutely part of the problem Christianity faces as it declines into much-deserved irrelevance. (Back to the post!)
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