November 22, 2017

Another Look: A banal suggestion as to why we might be “losing our religion”

Rabbit choices

“Its a typical situation in these typical times —
Too many choices…”

• Dave Matthews

“In a world of choice, obligatory religions are not faring well.”

• Diana Butler Bass
Christianity After Religion

* * *

Diana Butler Bass once asked an executive of a coffee company how many choices were possible in one of his stores. He said there were nearly 82,000 possibilities for a drink from the menu. I drink my coffee black, but there are apparently 81,999 other choices.

Are you telling me that life and human behavior is just as it ever was? 

Are you telling me that a mundane fact like this hasn’t changed the world?

I’d like to posit something very banal here today with regard to the subject of why so many of us today seem to be “Losing Our Religion.” I think a big part of why we are seeing people move away from organized religion in the U.S. is really quite simple. Are you ready? Here it is:

Today, people have many, many different choices.

Choices, choices, and more choices. In my opinion, churches in the United States have not adequately reckoned with the fact that we live in a new world, a world dramatically different than it was fifty years ago. Today we live a world of virtually unlimited choices and options.

We’ve come so far that we can hardly fathom a culture like it was when I was a child — when there were just three television channels, three car companies, only a few places where one could find fast food, and hardly anything was open on Sundays. People listened to AM radio (only) and got their news at certain times of the day when the newspaper arrived or a news program was broadcast on TV. If you stayed up past midnight, there was nothing to watch but a static test pattern. Communication was nowhere near instantaneous and the means of communication were few and fixed — land line phone, letter, face to face.

Shopping choices were limited (no malls! no big box stores! few national chains! no Amazon.com!). Eating out options were limited, information access was limited, and entertainment choices were limited. Heck, the only diet soda was Tab (yuck!), and when you ordered coffee you got it black, or with cream and/or sugar.

Even the possibilities for where and how one might worship or practice one’s religion were limited. Churches and other religious institutions were more likely to be based on historic traditions and practices than on the “felt needs” or consumer preferences of the community. More people lived in communities where there were certain expectations about religious practice, so there were pressures of obligation that constrained one’s comfort in making alternate choices. And there certainly weren’t as many options on a Sunday for Christians to choose.

However, today people have choices like they’ve never had before. These choices are available because of many factors, but I think three are foremost:

  1. Technology
  2. Affluence
  3. Freedom

Technology is the first big driver and, I think, the key. Technology makes things possible that were not possible before.

Before the automobile and other forms of modern transportation, along with the infrastructure that supports them such as the interstate highway system developed a half century ago, it was not possible for mass numbers of people to be as mobile as they have been since. We Americans pulled up our roots, restructured our lives around the car, hit the road, and never looked back.

Advances in technology sent people packing to the cities for work. Result: the urbanization and suburbanization of our culture.

Advances in technology made the modern media age possible, with its instant and constant flow of information and communication, along with an almost unlimited variety of entertainment options. I can remember when people used to say that “TV killed the Sunday evening church service,” and I believe it. Choice brings change. People behave differently when they have choices. If they have options, they won’t always choose the ones you think they should.

Advances in technology made the “sexual revolution” possible. Would our culture’s relaxation (some would say “abandonment”) of sexual mores have happened as it did without the pill? Would pornography be as pervasive without the development of video and other media and the internet? Would phenomena such as widespread divorce be as prevalent if we didn’t have the mobility we have in our culture to move about and relocate so easily?

young girl reaching for sweet jar on top shelf

Now listen up: Of course, technology has made our lives better in a multitude of ways. I’m not casting judgment on progress or saying that we all have to imitate the Amish or go back to Little House on the Prairie days to turn these trends around. All I’m saying is that when we wring our hands about how the world is going down the tubes, we lay the blame on all kinds of esoteric or pernicious things. However, in reality, a big part of the reason can be found in commonplace changes, brought about by remarkable advances that have affected the way you and I approach life.

When you get in the way of a big wave, it’s going to sweep you along with it. And suddenly, you won’t be in the same place you were before. Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.

Advances in technology and our good use of those advances have made us the most affluent nation the world has ever known. Sure, we have our economic challenges, but our standard of living is unrivaled, and a vast number of people today are therefore free to make lifestyle choices unheard of in the past.

Here in our free society, advances in technology and our resulting affluence have led to increased possibilities in personal freedom. I’m no longer bound as tightly by limitations and circumstances. Opportunities are everywhere and more accessible to more people. I’m empowered to do more things on my own, to go more places, to purchase more goods, to participate in more activities, to make more choices for myself.

So, for example, I simply don’t have to go to church anymore. I have a greater power to choose. Like most of us, I probably no longer live in a community where I am bound in close relationships with extended family and friends that exert the pressure of obligation on me. Free from that, I can do most anything I want on Sunday. Technology and affluence have given me many, many choices.

I can travel. I can stay home and watch TV or go to the football game. I can go to any one of a dozen restaurants and have brunch with friends. I can catch up on my work at home on my computer. I can go to the store and shop on Sunday because, with everything that’s available and all the different choices people have about their schedules and lifestyles, it doesn’t make economic sense for stores to close on the “Sabbath” anymore. Also, if I want to, I can still worship with a DVD, watch a preacher on TV, do an internet Bible study, listen to a “spiritual” playlist on my iPod, and have “fellowship” texting with my friends or interacting with others on a blog (!) or on Facebook.

The vast majority of us have many, many more options in life than people had in previous generations. As Diana Butler Bass writes, “Americans, even those of modest means, exercise more choices in a single day than some of our ancestors did in a month or perhaps even a year.” 

Or to make it personal, she quotes one man she met as saying, “My life is full without church; it seems kind of irrelevant.”

I suggest that this, my friends, is the challenge for churches today and in the future. Some of the most fundamental reasons for the decline of religion in today’s U.S. society are remarkably natural and banal. There are other reasons, of course, but we mustn’t downplay the strength of the commonplace cultural currents that have transformed the way people live, communicate, move about, and decide what to do with their free time.

Because of advancements in technology and our affluence, we have arrived at a level of personal freedom that gives people a vast array of choices about how to live their lives.

More and more of them are not choosing religious ways — at least in the fashion that they are being offered to them.

 

First posted in 2013

Comments

  1. Technology breaks down boundaries between religions. I was introduced to GK Chesterton through the Internet. It’s easy to demonize another religion if you have never met someone following it. Technology introduces you to people and ideas previously inaccessible from within the Fundagelical ghetto.

    Islam as an obligatory religion certainly is not hurting. It is a throw-back to medievalism, where control over religion, education, government, and culture were controlled by religious leaders. You can see in American ultra-right wingers a longing for those good ol’ days.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > Technology breaks down boundaries between religions

      Even more so it raises the question: Why Bother?

      > Islam… is a throw-back to medievalism

      FALSE! Do not correlate the religion of Islam to the throw-back arabian nations. Some of the worlds largest, most vibrant, and technologically advanced cities are in nations where Islam is the majority religion by a healthy margin. Numerous of the island nations of the Indian Ocean are predominately muslim, and do not bear much resemblance to their arabian counter-parts.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        But thanks to Cold War and Oil, the throwback Arabian nations have CLOUT. And they can dominate Islam by money and Moral Purity. (And to them it’s not Throwback; it’s Returning to the Original Pure Form of the Faith. More Pure and Faithful Than Thou — Can You Top This?)

      • If by Medievalism you assume I mean that it was a technological backward time, that would be false. Even Europe advanced scientifically during the Medieval periods.

        • And it might be noted that during the first half of the Middle Ages, the Islamic kingdoms and empires were well ahead of Christian Europe in regards to science, mathematics, literature, architecture, and social planning. Medieval Islamic societies were also much more tolerant of religious diversity (and free thought in general) than Medieval Christendom … and (as a whole) more tolerant than today’s Islamic nations. The Muslim world was just slow about jumping aboard the industrial revolution and has been playing catch-up ever since.

    • It’s easy to demonize another religion if you have never met someone following it.

      This in a nutshell. I was raised in the fundamentalist church to distrust everyone else because they were wrong. No fellowship. We are independent. The cracks started when I met Lutherans, Pentecostals, Catholics, Evangelicals, who were better people, better Christians, more loving, showed more of the fruits, etc. But still disagreed with each other.

      The entire religion of Christianity I was raised in was predicated on others being wrong and us being right. From YEC to dispensationalism, the whole gambit of human history and experience. And guess what? THEY were the ones who were utterly wrong.

      So myself, and an entire generation, sees it for it is. A house of cards filled with lies.

      • “The cracks started when I met Lutherans, Pentecostals, Catholics, Evangelicals, who were better people, better Christians, more loving, showed more of the fruits, etc.”

        Ha! I’d go even further and say the cracks for me starting appearing when I met other people who were better people, more loving, etc. That is what began my movement away from “a people set apart” and toward all of those for whom Christ gave Himself.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Most important, better people who were outside your Christianese bubble. (Which according to the Christianese bubble, cannot possibly be.)

          Just like the creative arts. Once you’ve experienced the real thing, you’ll go for THAT instead of the Christianese knockoffs. And often become a None or Done, not necessarily voluntarily.

          • This.

            When I became a Christian I briefly considered abandoning all the music I enjoyed (secular) and avoiding R-rated movies. Then I realized that I could be a Christian and still enjoy those things, and not only enjoy them but find God/Christ in them. I have since found that some Christian music is actually good, but I’ve yet to see a truly outstanding “Christian” movie.

          • Coming back to this. Rick Ro, you bring up a good point. Many would probably roll their eyes and scoff that things like secular music or R-rated movies are deal breakers for many. But that’s missing the point. The point is that so much of how to do this religion, how to be righteous, how to fit in, is abiding by these rules that say touch not taste not. Some spiritualizing is done, like avoid appearance of evil or the “think on these things” verses, but it’s still rule based, law based. R rated movies and secular music really don’t matter; the spirit behind banning them, and setting up avoiding them as measures of success, is the issue.

          • Richard Hershberger says:

            “I have since found that some Christian music is actually good…”

            Personally, I am very fond of Bach sacred cantatas.

          • I’m pretty fond of this beauty. The magic begins at 37 seconds.

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qt5aUbKK32M

  2. CM, i would suggest it is more about the US becoming far more ethnically diverse, and, with that, a much greater religious pluralism. For example, Hispanic/Latino immigrants are very active in both the RCC and in various Pentecostal denominations. You might not see it in your ‘hood, but in the one i used to live in, it was A Thing. Ditto for peaceful Muslim immigrants, many of them refugees from Sudan and Somalia, as well as various Arab and W. African countries (the latter two groups wrre immigrants, not refugees).

    Just because a whole lot of white folks are Dones – or Nones, who very often do believe, but have had it with religious institutions – doesn’t mean that the entire country is like that. Just isn’t so.

    • +1

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > US becoming far more ethnically diverse, and, with that, a much greater religious pluralism.

      True, but overall the trend-line for religious participation is still flat, at best.

      And if this diversification is **visible** depends on where you live. Immigration to the United States is very much **not** evenly distributed; immigrants concentrate very heavily in the coastal regions and dense urban centers. Places which are already the least ‘Christianized’ places in America. Places which for much of middle-america (geographically) exist only on TV and in the news, and people there hold views of these places often decades out of date. Middle-america is itself a numeric minority, but we do not feel that way about ourselves [not most of us anyway], those other places are the ‘strange’ places.

      • Adam, i think that’s likely more about self-perception rsther than reality.

        For example, i now live in a rural, mid-Atlantic verdion of Middle America, where

        – the small groups of immigrant Central Americans have bern bringing new life to isolated RC parishes

        – the local version of a Bible/mega-church is booming (unfortunately), and is bleeding off *many* smsll churches of established denominstions, from RC to Luthersn and Methodist to Mennonite and Church of the Brethren

        Just because you might not be aware of similar patterns ehere you live does *not* mean they’re non-existant. I think it’s all around ud, yet is easily missed by middle-class white folks.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          > i think that’s likely more about self-perception rsther than reality.

          Nope, looking at national numbers; the settlement pattern of immigrants is very clear. About the only exception is Hispanics/Latinos who settle all across the Southwest for obvious reasons.

          That does not mean there are not places which are exceptions.

          > yet is easily missed by middle-class white folks.

          Diversity certainly is.

          • Umm… the East Coast has very high concentrations of Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Dominicans, Haitians, people from Central America, Mexico, the English-speaking Caribbean islands – just all over, especially in the cities but also in the country. One reason that there are a bunch of new immigrants here is that they feel they can get enough farm and kosher chicken plant work to be able to save and buy their own land. (many were farmers.) Still others are Puerto Rican incomers from NYC, Philly, etc. who want to live in smaller towns – some of them came here as Fresh Air Fund campers originally, and now want to raise families here.

            We even had a Vietnamese Buddhist monastery near here for a number of years. You really would be surprised at the changes in local populations, I think, if you were able to take a closer look at the data. Of course new immigrants from pretty much anywhere are concentrated in cites – at first. The 2nd and 3d generation people often end up in completely different locales, and there are industries that draw people from many other countries – stockyards in KC MO and Chicago brought a lot of Mexicans to those areas, no? (I’ve seen it in KC MO, though the jobs they hold are pretty diverse today.)

    • > Just because a whole lot of white folks are Dones – or Nones, who very often do believe, but have had it with religious institutions – doesn’t mean that the entire country is like that.

      A very relevant point.

  3. I don’t think obligatory, socially enforced religious belief is faith. It is only where there are plural options, including the ability to opt out, that faith can become fully actualized and living. By giving more and more people such options, not just an elite, privileged few as in past ages, modernity makes faith more, not less, possible, appearances notwithstanding.

    • Klasie Kraalogies says:

      Exactly. For most, religion is culture. For some it is an optional element, for some it is an important element, and for some it is the heart of the culture.

    • Richard Hershberger says:

      This. In addition, there are many non-obligatory reasons one might join a church that have nothing to do with faith: making social or business contacts is a big one. A lot of people who go to the local prestige church are there for these reasons.

      I’ll say one thing for joining a small old mainline congregation: many of the non-faith reasons to show up don’t apply. It may be a small group, but it is unlikely that anyone is there in the hopes of selling you a mortgage.

  4. Christiane says:

    too many choices . . . I agree, but it could also be called ‘too many distractions’ . . .

    ““I call heaven and earth to witness against you today,
    that I have set before you
    life and death, the blessing and the curse.
    So choose life
    in order that you may live, you and your descendants”
    (Deut. 30:19)

  5. The Old and New Testaments are full of admonitions about the dangers of wealth – how it gives a false sense of security and undermines faith. I’d say that the applications to present day America are obvious.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      I agree, I also think it is fair to respond: You mean vs. the “true” sense of security that comes with faith? As in when they prayed it would rain and the dust bowl came anyway? Or when she prayed for healing and the tumor still grew? How often is the priest’s duck-and-cover to say – pretty much: Well, when I said “security” I did not mean any real safety, but a safety after failure [death] which I cannot demonstrate.

      That is harsh and over-simplified; I think it is. But it sure sounds like how a whole lot of ‘religion’ is articulated. When one sounds like a huckster, especially when people have options, they go elsewhere.

      “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” – that I think can cut through the options problem. But that is not an Individual faith, it is a [**gasp**] Social one. Which presents us with a serious Religion vs. American Culture dilemma.

      • “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” – that I think can cut through the options problem. But that is not an Individual faith, it is a [**gasp**] Social one. Which presents us with a serious Religion vs. American Culture dilemma.

        But why be “social” if one can easily get by with buying one’s own food, having “friends” on the cloud, driving one’s own car, and having one’s own living space? You see, wealth impacts our social cohesion as well as our spiritual (if indeed they can be separated).

        • But when the social and religious cohesion you describe determines certain religious beliefs, is there really any faith involved? And doesn’t such a social structure mean that some, the rulers, have choices, while those beneath them don’t? If the lord of the manor, or the king of the realm, decides to become baptized, then all his subjects are required to be baptized into the new religion: is this Christian faith?

          In addition, I think that wealth is dangerous to faith, but so is poverty: it makes one vulnerable to spiritual predators and phonies like Benny Hinn, who undermine rather than support faith. The project to extend a decent, human life to all people, a life not crippled by material want, is not the enemy of faith; just the opposite, I think it increases the only conditions under which faith may thrive.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says:

            > But when the social and religious cohesion you describe determines
            > certain religious beliefs, is there really any faith involved?

            I will be gutsy – I say “Yes”. Note: you said “any” as in “any faith”, as a term of degree. There is a possible error here of imagining a world of complete autonomy and freedom and one thoroughly totalitarian; most humans have not lived in either. Certain environments may present people with choices; others with no choice, and still other environments may present them with noise from which, if they feel so motivated, they must dig out the choices [and shocking – a good number of people will not feel inclined to bother].

          • and then he and and his whole household were baptized and believed

            Really? What choice did they have.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says:

            > Really? What choice did they have.

            It is possible they did not even think of it in those terms.

          • More than likely, yeah. Different culture, different expectations. Free will or self choice is a bit more modern.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          > driving one’s own car, and having one’s own living space?
          > You see, wealth impacts our social cohesion

          Yes. I think we agree on this. And it is what it is.

          I spent a lot of time on this topic and
          (a) I see a fair number of people exercising opt-out clauses from that scheme. Not the majority. But just 4-8% in a nation of 300M people is a whole lot of people. That people make that choice – often for very pragmatic reasons – I find encouraging. They make that choice in degrees; there is a lot of space between the Suburban Tract Home and the Amish Farmers Village. The advantage of stepping back from the Tract Home [see (b) below] can be a huge step forward in financial stability; and as a side bonus you may get to experience neighbors again – something I suspect most of middle-america has never experienced. Many who try it discover they actually like it.

          (b) This individualized life-style will end, for most people. I am 107% confident of that. Not catastrophically, but gradually. Many of them will try to hang on, rather than adapt, and for many it will be real financial hardship. Because if you sit down and crunch the numbers – it helps to have a civil engineer next to you – the truth comes out that much of this prosperity – very much especially the STH – is nothing but unserviceable debt. It is not viable; it was not viable the day it was built, and now it is 30… 40… 50… years old; the clock is running out on many places. The DOT of one state after another is switching to a “fix-it-first” policy, and some [like Missouri] have even come out and publicly stated they have a it-will-not-be-fixed-only-some-will-be-saved policy. If you crunch the numbers on some of our pretty prosperous places with the sweeping green lawns the ratio of public infrastructure to private investment is as bad as 40:1 [yes, FORTY TO ONE]. That cannot be described as anything other than hopelessly unsustainable. This can be viewed as both a crisis and an opportunity.

          There is a lot of criticism of Millennials in regards to that they are delaying marriage and children, they have low rates of home ownership, they have staggeringly lower rates of auto driving – perhaps these are decisions rooted in pragmatism, and a much clearer picture of the way America is actually structured. Add on to this the graying of the Boomers out of the work force and back into single-hood. This will make a society different in many ways. I am not convinced that is entirely a bad thing; these are certainly interesting times.

          • turnsalso says:

            you may get to experience neighbors again

            Fact: The only good experience I’ve had with neighbors has been in apartment living. Part of me suspects that’s just because the apartments were in more affluent areas, while our current neighborhood is a decaying city, but part also thinks maybe it’s because apartments force you to care enough not to inconvenience your neighbors, while single-family units allow the “keep to yourself and stay out of people’s business” mentality.

          • The “Amish Farmers Village” you are imagining is not duch a rosy place. Rural poverty in this area, with its msny Amish and Mennonite farmers, is very muvh on the rise. Why? Easy: local employers have been shutting down and moving their operations to other countries (where overhead and pay are much less costly) for the past 20+ years, while once-thriving retail businesses have been pretty much sacked and razed by Walmart.

            Schools here are nothing like as good as in more populated areas, and medical care is dearly bought, as rural docs have more patients yhsn thry csn hanfle, snd most dpevislidts are *at leadt* a 90-mile one-way trip from here (you have to go 4-5 hours plus one-way for more and better selection). Farming is very hard and anything but lucrative, and a lot of younger people simply can’t afgord to do it anymore.

            Besides all that, the culture shock is a great leveler here, for people eho move from suburbia. And there honestly isn’t much for young people, nor had there ever bern during my lifetime (I grew up here and am a returnee).

            Yes, there are some compensations, but truthfully? You’re idealizing rural life; it is limiting in ways that you haven’t expetienced (plural “you”). I would be batsh*t crazy without the internet. And it’s not just me; lots of people are in this boat. They can’t afford to live closer to the amenities found in larger towns and nearby small cities (which have also bern gutted by manufacturers that have closed down; see above).

          • Err, most specialists…

            Apologies for typos, as always.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Besides all that, the culture shock is a great leveler here, for people who move from suburbia.

            South Park has covered (and snarked) this over and over. Kyle’s Mom, the Concerned & Compassionate(TM) Social Activist who’s quick to play the Anti-Semitism card, moved her family from New York to South Park for just that reason. (As stated in the first musical number in the South Park movie.) And like a lot of urban expats fleeing big-city suburbia for mythical pastoral bliss, she immediately tries to make South Park exactly like the big-city suburbia she fled.

            And there honestly isn’t much for young people, nor had there ever been during my lifetime (I grew up here and am a returnee).

            There’s always pot and other drugs.

            That”s according to a bud of mine who grew up in Redding, a small town near Mount Shasta which was overrun by expats from Suburbia (who built a new Suburbia there, Condo Assoications and all) just as the town’s only industry (the sawmills) shut down for good. Again, all these expats fleeing Irvine tried to turn Redding into Irvine North, prices, snobbery, and all. (Redding’s only income these days is summer tourism, and maybe that fix-all, Casinos.)

          • HUG, you do realize that Kyle’s Mom is a caricature, yes?

            The things like medical care (lack of it) figure into culture shock big-time. So does the school system and almost nonexistent money for public services like the library.

            If you haven’t lived in a rural area, it can be hard to see past the cartoon stereotypes that you’re citing. Rural poverty is another shovk, btw. It is pervasive. So are nice little country-style houses, but it’s imposdible to avoid seeing poverty. Unlike in suburbia, again.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            There is a lot of criticism of Millennials in regards to that they are delaying marriage and children, they have low rates of home ownership, they have staggeringly lower rates of auto driving – perhaps these are decisions rooted in pragmatism, and a much clearer picture of the way America is actually structured.

            A lot of those “staggeringly low rates of auto driving” come with mooching rides off Mom or friends/resources while Millenial’s body sits in the passenger seat while plugged into Social Media on their smartphone/security blankie.

          • HUG, your postsare predictable today. Sadly.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says:

            Numo: “You’re idealizing rural life;” You misread my comment. I idealized neither the Amish Village [which I would not want to live in – and is an economic non-starter] nor rural life [which I have lived, also an economic non-starter, and in America – at this point – pretty rare; most people who dream of themselves as rural are suburban/exurbian (the suburbs beyond the suburbs)].

            It is exactly my point that roads, schools, etc… in less populated areas are declining. And that this is economically inevitable.

            It is my objection that people talk about our economic future with a pronounced fallacy of the disambiguated middle.

            > it is limiting in ways that you haven’t expetienced

            I have. I left. Although the region I lived in – where one could go horseback riding for hours – is now been swallowed by exurbia, including tracts of streets, power meters, and gas vents overgrown with shrubbery as after the 2007/2008 crash the houses never got built.

            > while once-thriving retail businesses have been pretty much sacked and razed by Walmart.

            Exactly. This is Bad Economic Policy. The big boxes almost to the one consume more in public infrastructure than they produce in value. Eventually the ship rolls over.

          • Fwiw, the only “Amish village” i know of is an Amish-themed torist trap outside of Lancaster, PA.

            I did see your comments on infrastructure – and i agree. Buy, as with your stats on urban vs. rural, it only tells part of the story. Even with all of this, the majority of the country is rural, and that’s unlkkely to change. But one of the worst blows to said infrastructure happened in the early 70s, with the formation of Conrail and Amtrak. My hometown used to have a total of 18 different east and west-bound passenger trains a day. Now it has 1. People used the passenger service a lot, but now they have to drive or take a bus. And that single train no longer stops at most of the smaller stations en route…

          • Adam Tauno Williams says:

            > Even with all of this, the majority of the country is rural

            Yes, geographically. But fewer and fewer people – relatively speaking – live there. And then if you look at it economically the difference is even more profound – the metro areas of America consume just over 10% of the land mass – yet produce 75-79% of economic value. This is some pretty basic economic data which most Americans are oblivious too – most Americans are JUST WRONG in the direction the value/taxation/return flows go.

            > But one of the worst blows to said infrastructure happened in the early 70s,
            > with the formation of Conrail and Amtrak

            Yes; one of the reasons I am on the executive committee of The Michigan Association Of Railroad Passengers; I do transit advocacy. I watched this first hand. The freeway passed my home town – which was on the highway and the railway before that. The state removed the railway. The big farms and what industry we had left, the businesses closed, and those you could commuted 30-45 minutes each way. The political regime of course tried to play this off as an effect of automation, globalization, etc… when what it was was **disinvestment**! Now the town had no economic anchors, and things went in a pretty predictable direction. There is a library, a public school, and even a municipal water system [for ~2,000 people]…. no way, no how, that can be maintained with the tax base. It is really frustrating trying to have this conversation amidst all the rhetoric that is not interested in reality.

            My advice to anyone in those many places across America is grimly: get out while the getting is good.

          • I dunno, Adam. When I was still in the D.C. area, a lot of people who worked in the District were moving very far out – as in 3-hour *one-way( commutes – so that they could be in the country.

            People here easily spend $$$ for the 60+mile one way commute to our state’s capital. They don’t want to live there; the cost of living is just too high (though their gas bills have to be killing them).

            I could give a lot more examples, but of course, they are all anecdotal and don’t figure into the kinds of stats charts published in the media and used by governments and associated services. Not until one gets to the local level does the picture start becoming clearer, per who is moving (even in small numbers) into various rural areas, and why.

            I could never afford to live in or near a city again, so I’m kind of stuck on the road to Nowhereville… and I’m not alone in that.

        • buying one’s own food, having “friends” on the cloud, driving one’s own car, and having one’s own living space?

          Ah. You just described the Boomer lifestyle. Now, describe the Millennial one. Seems to be the complete opposite: we all share food and meals, we have friends “in the cloud” but also in tight knit urban communities, we all rideshare or Uber, and we all share apartments or have communes.

          It’s so clear to me now.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says:

            A bit of an extreme reading – but there is a lot of truth this picture.

            One Caveat: this describes the life of the segment of Millennials: educated, and almost certainly born to an already prosperous Boomer home.

          • Extreme, yeah.

            And very good point about that particular segment of Millennials. Lots don’t have it that good.

    • Which is odd, since you’d think our current economy would drive people back to church, right? Especially the millennials who have no wealth…

      I guess the lack of money drives people away from God.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > Especially the millennials who have no wealth…

        The poverty of the Ms is exaggerated; there is a regional correlation, and – of course – with education. Home ownership rates among Ms is higher than among Xs – an under-reported factoid. But nobody cares about us Xs anymore. 🙂

        > I guess the lack of money drives people away from God.

        America was more religious when it was wealthier – or at least had greater income distribution. I do not really buy the wealth:religion correlation either way. Could be it has more to do with cultural predisposition [religion is *inherently* a social act] and …. the people in charge of the church.

  6. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    Marketing people talk about a dilemma known most often as “paralyzed by choice”. Present someone with a whole lot of options…. and most people will opt out – they won’t choose anything. Cookies, mustard, even candidates, it doesn’t matter. If the choice is made obligatory people will go with the ‘nearest’ option, or if that is not relevant, the cheapest.

    How much of the decline of religion in the modern west, especially when Religion joins in the cultural noise making, attributable to paralyzation-by-choice? A boring and mundane reason. Once someone just walks away from the decision – and everything appears to be just fine…

    • Once someone just walks away from the decision – and everything appears to be just fine…

      A curious dilemma. If God were to attach immediate and visible consequences to disobedience to Him, the world would be full of nothing but “rice Christians“. If He holds back and allows disobedience to take its “natural course”, you will of course get mockers and skeptics. In either case, faith itself is rare.

    • “Marketing people talk about a dilemma known most often as ‘paralyzed by choice’.”

      This reminds me of a wonderful scene in “Moscow on the Hudson” when Robin Williams, whose character has defected from the Soviet Union, goes to the store to buy coffee and is completely overwhelmed. It’s one of my favorite Robin William’s scenes.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VHIcmoY3_lE

      I have a friend who spent several months in Africa (I forget which country) and had a similar experience upon returning to the U.S.

    • “How much of the decline of religion in the modern west, especially when Religion joins in the cultural noise making, attributable to paralyzation-by-choice?”

      Exactly. In order to compete with the other choices offered, the church has changed its message so that the message is no longer unique. The “product” the western church is “selling” just does not stand out from all the other choices for “life improvement” that are out there.

      We no longer preach Christ, and Him crucified. If a man died and rose again, that changes everything! But that is not the message most churches preach and so we get drowned out.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        Attempting to compete is a fatal strategy.

      • If a man died and rose again, that changes everything!

        Wasn’t this a dime a dozen per claims and myths back then? That message doesn’t fly in modern science, aka, understanding the physical laws and relations of God’s creation.

        • Side thought – we should give glory to God for allowing us to realize that his voice never thundered in the storm, but instead was just the science behind thunder and lightning. God giving us that much insight into his creation? Amen.

          • StuartB,
            Why do you invoke God’s will when talking of human discoveries? What has his will to do with it? Isn’t talking about God’s “allowing” and “giving” as much a piece of magic as talking about Jesus’ resurrection, which you insist in a comment below cannot be known? How can we know that God is “allowing” or “giving” anything?

          • You’re right, Robert F, I shouldn’t. I guess I have a kneejerk reaction to whatever I think sounds like someone saying “science tries to disprove God” or something. Like we should hold on to the idea that God speaks in a thunderstorm, rather than embrace the truth that in God’s creation, that’s just thunder and lightning and not God speaking, and never has been (and thus, any words or sayings or theology we devise from ‘hearing in the thunderstorm’, we can immediately disregard).

            It absolutely is a piece of magic. Ancient magical thinking.

            It’s a holdover thought in me, I guess. That every good thing we learn is from God’s will or by God’s will. and yet I don’t believe God’s will is like that in the least.

        • “Wasn’t this a dime a dozen per claims and myths back then?”

          Well, sure, but beside the point. Is this claim true? If so, then, yes, it changes things because dead men just don’t come back to life. It does’t take a modern understanding of science to know this.

          “That message doesn’t fly in modern science, aka, understanding the physical laws and relations of God’s creation.”

          Christian Wiman writes, “Religion has always emerged at the edge of what humans know. As that edge has been pushed further and further into the unknown, as our reach has extended into space and the atom and even the chemistry of our own needs and desires, some people have assumed that existence is, in the end, knowable. This not only contravenes centuries of human experience, duplicating the hubris that has doomed us so many times in the past, but more crucially, it violates, even desecrates, the most intimate, ultimate experiences of our own lives.”

          What I understand Wiman to be saying, and I would tend to agree, is that in the face of modern science, this message is just as important and meaningful, if not more so, than it has ever been.

          • Is this claim true?

            We will never know.

            By faith, some accept it. Others don’t. It is entirely by faith.

          • Stuart – imo, faith is the point. The. point.

          • Anytime we talk about God in way that affirms God’s existence and action in the world, we are speaking by faith. Science has no need of that hypothesis; that doesn’t mean God doesn’t exist, and act in the world. We are not limited in our humanity by scientific language and methodology, which of necessity must proceed on atheistic assumptions: when science brings God into the explanation, it’s failing as science; when we as humans bring God into the discussion, we are not failing as humans.

          • Amen Robert and numo!

            Sorry, kneejerk reaction from my fundamentalist upbringing.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Marketing people talk about a dilemma known most often as “paralyzed by choice”. Present someone with a whole lot of options…. and most people will opt out – they won’t choose anything.

      It’s a form of Analysis Paralysis (but on the other other other hand…), and Superior Intellects(TM) are very prone to it. (But on the other other other other hand…) Type Example: John F Kerry (“When I Served In VIETNAAAAM…”) in his 2004 Presidential campaign (but on the other other other other other hand…), who called his constant Analysis Paralysis “nuance” (but on the other other other other other other hand…). There’s a danger to this, and Kerry also showed it in a comment that his favorite restaurant was one that only served ONE special, and how relieved he was to have his choice made for him. (But on the other other other other other other other hand…) When you’re overwhelmed by Analysis Paralysis or too many choices, you long for someone to tell you exactly what to do, exactly what to choose, exactly what to think — just to make the thrashing stop. (This also explains the appeal of cults and cult-like control-freak religious movements, from Talibani Islam to Shepherding Groups.)

    • I think things started going downhill when churches started looking at people as “customers” to be lured in in order to expand the brand. Maybe all that coincided with the rise of the Religious Right; I don’t know. Christianity became a club to join so you could be in with the right crowd, enact the right laws, and, ultimately, end up in the right place. Even feeding the poor or helping the needy became a reason to put in your thumb, pull out a plum, and say, “What a good boy am I!” so that others could see just how great it is to be you and want a piece of the action.

      • Suzanne – exactly. It’s all franchised business now; it’s all driven by a business model. (In certain denominations and places of no apparent denomination.) Sales, marketing, entertainment, attractions galore – the whole deal.

  7. Is “our religion”, worth saving. ? I wonder looking at the west, how much “christianity” is actually authentic. Take a look at WW 1 for example. How could it be that “christian nations” could get themselves into one of the worst bloodbaths in human history. If the majority of citizens were Christians, where were the protests at the decision to go to war over national vanity ?

    If the majority were “hoodwinked”, possibly most “real” Christians were wiped out in the war and the social philosophies that took over was liberal Christianity, nihilism & atheism. After WW2, multiculturalism mixed with errant streams of Catholicism & the corrupting of the desire to find common ground with other religions, further diminished Christianity. Mix that with the Gospel of “let-me-have-my-own-interpretation” & bingo !

    Today, choice has a fair bit to do with it as well. Once people take history seriously they can look at Buddhism for example, & look at Christianity & wonder, which nations have promoted tolerance, peace & equality over the last 300 years…

    • turnsalso says:

      Surely majority-Buddhist Southeast Asia can’t be said to promote “tolerance, peace, and equality.” Or majority-Buddhist Japan, especially if you push that back to 500 years.

      WWI can be “sold” to the masses because of the sense of morality, even Christian morals. Do you side with the “poor Slavs oppressed by the Austro-Hungarian Empire,” or with the “legitimate government under attack by terrorists?” No need for “national vanity” or trying to decide who the “real Christians” are.

      • Klasie Kraalogies says:

        Exactly. WWI, would hardly have occurred without the collusion between church and state. Never mind all the colonial iniquities. That includes the East. The identification of Orthodoxy with the state in Russia laid the ground for a complete replacement by a new religious state, Stalinist Russia. Stalin after all merely used the entrenched association between belief, salvation and the State. He didn’t have to invent it.

        Nationalism is( from the left or right) is but a different religious expression itself. And always finds ready allies in power hungry clergy…

      • Japan is majority Shinto.

        Yes, war can be “sold as…” , that is part of being “hoodwinked”. Demonise the “other” to ensure imperialist supremacy over the world.

    • Majority-Buddhist Burma/Myanmar is the site of continued persecution of a peaceful Muslim minority ethnic group, the Rohynga. Fact is, a lot of Buddhists there are followers of militant vletics who wsnt to literally eliminate the Rohynga.

      Some people seem to use religion as a justification for prejudice and violence, no matter what religion they subscribe to. As in this case, as in the former Yugoslavia, as in …. fill in the blanks.

      • Militant clerics.

      • +1.

        Is it Indonesia or Australia that’s having its own migrant crisis because of Rohynga fleeing persecution?

        • It’s not Australia, it may be Indonesia although I haven’t heard much about that. From what I have read it’s the countries surrounding Burma/Myanmar that are dealing with it, with forcible repatriations, etc. I think Vietnam figures large in the scheme of things.

      • Also, from the news feed, let’s not forget majority-Buddhist (95 percent!) Thailand’s latest fad, the luk thep doll, which people are treating like children… because the dolls have been undergone a ritual that is claimed to imbue them with the soul of an actual child. Human trafficking is so ubiquitous in Thailand that now they’re trying to buy and sell captive children after they’ve died. And people are going for it.

        So much for samm? kammanta…

    • How could it be that “christian nations” could get themselves into one of the worst bloodbaths in human history.

      I was thinking this morning about The Troubles in Ireland, the constant wars between Catholics and Protestants. In some ways, it’s a religious war, in other ways, political/governmental war. No easy answers. But more and more I can see how these wars start. Sometimes, one side absolutely will not tolerate the existence of the other, so the other side has to grudgingly pick up arms to defend, because turning the other cheek means slaughter of the innocent. I see this thinking everywhere. Even here in the comments at iMonk sometimes.

      • It’s very much political, and came right from Elizabeth I and, not much later, Oliver Cromwell. Especially Cromwell, with his brutal wars in Ireland and the “Ulster Plantation.”

  8. If the majority were “hoodwinked”, possibly most “real” Christians were wiped out in the war and the social philosophies that took over was liberal Christianity, nihilism & atheism. After WW2, multiculturalism mixed with errant streams of Catholicism & the corrupting of the desire to find common ground with other religions, further diminished Christianity. Mix that with the Gospel of “let-me-have-my-own-interpretation” & bingo!

    This strikes me a way too simplistic. Christianity in the West has always been mingled to one extent or another with secular identities – ethnic strife within the medieval Catholic church was a big issue. And there was skepticism and nihilism aplenty in the 19th century, before the world wars.

    Besides, there are those who would argue that “real” Christianity is pacifist, and therefore any “real” Christians would not have been at the front to have been wiped out in the first place. 😉

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > This strikes me a way too simplistic.

      +1

      > Christianity in the West has always been mingled

      And there is no need to apologize for this. Of course it is commingled. Librarians like to categorize things; but reality is that Religion, Politics, Economics, and State Craft are inseparable. Attempting to delineate clear boundaries and *responsibility* is pointless.

      > Besides, there are those who would argue that “real” Christianity is pacifist

      Yes, the Purity Debates. They are not “real” X because of Y, so therefore… Just be more like “the early church” (about which we know next to nothing). 🙂

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        They are not “real” X because of Y, so therefore… Just be more like “the early church” (about which we know next to nothing). 🙂

        Isn’t that the same motivation/justification of all the extreme “throwback arabian” forms of Islam that are in the news today?

      • And what we DO know is ignored because it’s not what the Purity Police want to do.

        I was fortunate to be raised in a more mainstream Campbellite church… they referred to the Didache in one of our Sunday School classes! About immersion! And why sometimes it wasn’t practical!

      • The Purity Debates here on iMonk, the “No True Christian” thing, has really helped me. When before I was akin to say so and so or such and such aren’t “really truly christian because x”…now, I just shrug my shoulders. Because you can’t really define it, can you. They are and aren’t. No one is and isn’t. So there’s really no point in arguing or fighting or defining.

        It’s incredibly freeing and liberating.

      • Klasie Kraalogies says:

        Not just in the West. In Orthodoxy, very often you cannot distinguish nationalism from the Church. “Hellenism is Orthodoxy, and Orthodoxy is Hellenism”: It is hard to imagine a more faith-jingoistic statement than that.

        • Yes, and in Russia, too. For that matter, you can see the fusion of church and state in some famous Byzantine mosaics, in Istanbul, that depict the emperor and his wife (forget which ones, would have to look it up) standing, along with church notables, with Christ, Mary etc.

          The original fusion of church and state was … the Byzantine Empire (eastern half of Roman Empire). Big, big time,.

        • It is illegal for Greek Orthodox people – in Greece – to convert to Catholicism or to any Protestant denomination. There is long-held, always-simmering resentment against Catholics (which is also an ethnic thing: Italians, etc.) too.

          • Sorry, slight misstatement jsut above.

            It is not illegal to convert, but it *is* highly illegal for other religions to proseletyze – though the Greek Orthodox church is exempt from this statute.

            There is a lot of religious intolerance, and I wouldn’t be surprised if people who did convert, to, say, a a Protestant church would suffer legal consequences, along with the people at their local church.

    • “Christianity in the West has always been mingled to one extent or another with secular identities”

      On my worst days, I sometimes think that the success of Christianity through the centuries is not due to the truth of the Gospel but that it is so malleable it can be shaped to fit any culture and support its values and priorities. But that’s just on my worse days. 🙂

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        On by best days I believe this. 🙂 I believe *BOTH* of these things are true. Look at the wild crazy thing that is the Universe – one should expect true to be a very malleable thing.

        There is no reason to use and either-or-construct about this.

  9. I agree that the “authenticity” problems were occurring way before WW1. Maybe in history Christianity has always had a prolonged waltz with nominalism or heresy. Maybe as humanity has developed socially, on one hand it has become a bit more “honest” and on another, secular and religious issues have caused people to abandon faith in Christ.

  10. I’m cold does someone here have a blanket

    • A blanket would make you feel spiritually autonomous; it will be better for your faith if you’re too poor to have one. Lol.

      • maybe the statement meant something else. Yet still the degree of coldness falls. Really why would it be better for my faith to be to poor. LOL

        • The answer I’ve always heard is because it trusts you to rely on God and His Power alone more. For when you are weak, then you are strong.

        • w,
          Were you seriously asking for a blanket? I meant my statement to be completely sarcastic, because I thought for sure you didn’t actually need a blanket.

          I think having a blanket, and having all the material things we need to make life human, is very important; I’m not in favor of scaling back blankets, or scaling back the things necessary for a human life. Both extreme wealth, and poverty, are bad for one’s soul, and make faith difficult. My heart goes out to all those who are exposed to the elements, especially in such extreme weather; if it were me, I’m certain that my faith would not hold up.

          • Are you SURE extreme wealth is bad for the soul? I sure don’t know, but I wish God would give me a chance to test the hypothesis…

          • Tevyeh said that, Dr. Fundystan, in Fiddler on the Roof.

            “You tell me wealth is a curse? May the Lord smite me with it! And may I never recover!”

            [Segue into “If I Were a Rich Man.”]

  11. I ate eggs and toast so much sat on a floor and watched a throw away tv that rolled with one channel. Before food was so plentiful got blocks of cheese. I found this poorness did very little for my faith. Maybe for a myth.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Or for the Megapastor with the seven-eight figure income, Furtick Mansion, and Gulfstream 650 who’s guilting you to TITHE! TITHE! TITHE!

      It’s very rare to see someone voluntarily choose poverty like St Francis instead of gushing about godly poverty from the media center of his Furtick Mansion.

    • You mean the Bread of Life doesn’t take away the hunger pangs? (sarcasm on/off)

      Physical needs are pretty forefront when their not being met.

  12. The new religion choice is to worship ourselves in the temple of Me, Me, Me, it’s all about me. Advised to follow our bliss we lose sight of the greater good and very few comprehend let alone are interested in seeking the joy within (permanent) vs the pleasures from without (transitory).

    • There you go, Lexiann! Spot on!!!

      Mankind basically goes for self-interest. Rich, poor, educated, uneducated, racial groupings, ethnicity…NOTHING really trumps self-interest. And when multiple choices are offered, self-interest has a field day!

      Certainly massive events can change the landscape, such as two world wars fought on European soil, but self-interest STILL reigns supreme.

      • But as Franklin might say, what’s so bad about that? Self-interest has created quite a bit of good in this world.

      • Sure, self-interest has always been at the center of human affairs, and those most skilled in pursuing their own interest — or the most ruthless about getting what they want — have always tended to rise to the top.
        In earlier ages and still in many parts of the world today, the social order was and is maintained by convincing the masses to submit their self-interests to the self-interests of the elite few, who will supposedly see after the basic needs of the many in the course of pursuing their own interests. This is usually achieved by packaging it with propaganda about the common good or conforming to natural or divine law.
        What has developed in the West — particularly in the US — is a state of affairs in which the most successful self-seekers are those who create and provide avenues for each individual person to pursue his or her own interests. Of course, it all goes much smoother if everyone buys what their sold when it comes to what they view and define as their own self-interest.
        It’s like a strange medieval tournament in which all the peasants are promised a crown — and all they have to do is run faster, work harder, look better, be more popular, and want it more than every other peasant in the land. But at the end of the day, very few crowns are actually given out, and the tournament organizers are the ones sitting on thrones.

    • Modern Christianity teaches that Jesus died for YOU and will save you from hell and put you into heaven and bless you all the days of your life. It’s a religion all about Me, Me, Me, because after all, salvation is a free gift to anyone who takes it, don’t you deserve it?

      Christianity is truly the religion of self. Piper was on to something with his Christian hedonism.

      Was it ever not about self-interest? Maybe when Jesus walked the earth.

      • Hhmmm. Don’t know. Kinda have concluded my life, our lives , are not about ourselves. Too many experiences led me to this. However I firmly believe we must take care of/nurture ourselves in order to be of any good while here, but that is the difference between self care and self centered. Yes Jesus died for me, us, but feels more like the community “you”…as also defined by what Jesus and Paul call the church, the body of Christ. Oh well just some interesting thoughts.

      • Reading them honestly, the teachings of Jesus as presented in the Gospels are at utter variance with both individual self-centeredness and the larger world systems built upon and fueled by human selfishness. But, like you say, modern Western Christianity has managed to circumvent that conundrum by selling Jesus and selfishness in the same package deal. Now, serving God and serving money are presented as the same thing if done with good intentions and within a “Christian” context.
        But I agree with Lexiann in that I believe that Christlike selflessness is still possible. But resisting my dead flesh and its desires and walking according to the Spirit is bitterly difficult. It’s something I can’t do on my own. I need His help every minute of every day.
        But this has never been about us or our capacity for selflessness through self-discipline. It’s about Jesus, the sacrifice He made, and letting Him live in us and through us.

  13. I would like to point out that words mean something. If the coffee store has “nearly” 82,000 possibilities and you drink your coffee black there are NOT “apparently” 81,999 other choices. Nearly 82,000 is not the same as 82,000 so at most there are only 81,999 possibilities. With your black coffee out of the list there are only 81,998 other choices. At most. Apparently. Unless you were rounding.

    Just keeping it real.

    • Christiane says:

      Hi BEEN THERE, DONE THAT

      coffee . . . I remember going into a little shop in Georgetown (Wisconsin and M Street) in Wash. DC . . . this was in the early 70’s and they sold different kinds of coffee beans which they would grind for me and put into little bags (I had come back from Montreal with a love of ‘french’ coffee) . . . I remember blending several types together to get my own ‘blend’ . . . this was done ritually with great ceremony and I was quite proud of it in those days long ago

      nowadays? plain old Folgers Columbian . . . no ceremony, little tiny four cup drip pot, no nonsense, no waste

      time changes us or at least our priorities – but I think I still rather like that young woman who blended her own coffee long ago . . . I just know she got left behind when life got in the way

      • Richard Hershberger says:

        When I inadvertently or unavoidably find myself in one of those places I ask for the closest approximation they can make to what I would get at Denny’s.

        • Christiane says:

          🙂

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          When I hit a Starbucks (usually on long road trips), I have a standard order: House decaf with a shot of hazelnut. Two packets of raw sugar and it’s great for the road.

          Some years ago, there was a radio commercial of some Starbucks groupie (with very pretentions gourmet vocabulary) changing and elaborating her order constantly until the barista goes (“We close in about nine hours.”)

    • Klasie Kraalogies says:

      It is not that difficult to reach a large number of varieties:

      Let’s say 5 different roasts. 4 Different sizes. Regular, one shot espresso, two shot espresso. No cream, cream, milk, milk substitute. hot / iced. 6 different flavouring syrups, or no syrup. Chocolate / cinnamon / nothing sprinkled over.

      Then you have lattes with all of the above, except the milk/cream inside, but with or without cream on top.

      That is 15 000 odd different combo’s. You only need about 1 more variable of 5 different choices, then you will have around 80000 combinations.

      That was fun.

  14. So much to absorb here. When I was growing up in the rural/suburban Midwest, we attended the Lutheran Church because our family had always been Lutheran. I went to Lutheran school and knew virtually no one who wasn’t Lutheran until I got a part-time job while in (Lutheran) high school and met Baptists, Catholics, and a Hindu! Then, in college, at a public university, my horizons broadened considerably. I met Jews, and Muslims, and Nazarenes, and other faiths I had previously not even known existed.
    Why tell this story? Because that was the normal way for many, many of us to grow up 50 years ago, but those days are long gone and are not coming back. Most people I meet now who are non-church attenders do not hate religion; they just don’t see the point. I almost chuckle to hear clergy or other church people rail against the “war” on Christianity in this country because I think, “You should be so lucky! They aren’t out to destroy you; you aren’t even on most people’s radar. They barely know you exist.” I think that is partly why we see so many extreme groups cropping up. Being “persecuted” is more palatable than being ignored. They are like the little kid in elementary school who can’t get the teacher to notice him, so he raises his arm higher, stands up, grunts, and jumps.

    • Peace From The Fringes says:

      Excellent point. How does the old saying go…….the opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      “I almost chuckle to hear clergy or other church people rail against the “war” on Christianity in this country because I think, “You should be so lucky!”

      This.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Has anyone approached those 22 Copts (who went under ISIS beheading knives on camera) for comment on “the war on Christianity in America” and “Persecution in America”?

    • Suzanne – yep!

  15. But the real choice is not between thousands of types of coffee. The REAL choice is between coffee or NO coffee. It is the same with religion. The REAL choice is NOT between religion A, B or C. It’s between religion and NO religion.

    For the first time we are creating societies where this choice is really possible.

    • Yes, this. With a million and one alternatives.

    • +1. Good observation/analysis.

    • By “NO religion” do you mean no institutional religion? Are you assuming that people in Europe and the US, and a few other places around the world where this option is widely available, who disaffiliate from institutional religion practice no other forms of spirituality, believe in no religious concepts? I’m not sure the data would support you, if that’s what you mean. Metaphysical beliefs and practices are rife in Western societies, far as I know; take a look at the size of the religion section in any major book retailer; take a survey of religious blogs on the internet.

      What has happened is that religious belief has gone much more private in modernity; people patch together their own private little religions-for-one, using a little of this and a little of that. They may have a friend or two or three who share their interests, more-or-less, with much room for personal variation. Religion is being customized to fit the consumer in a big way; but I don’t think human beings as a whole, in any society, are any less religious now than they were 500 or a 1000 years ago. Don’t mistake de-institutionalization for irreligion.

      • But I think you are underestimating the growth of the group of folks for whom religion is simply irrelevant. They don’t hate religion. They just never think about it one way or another. Many many younger people feel this way. There might be another “Great Awakening” but I wouldn’t bet on it.

        • How big is this group? How do you know that they have no interest in religion, broadly speaking and outside of institutional religion? How do you know how much real interest human beings as a group had in religion in former ages? Hasn’t disengagement from and disinterest in religion always been one possible choice on the palette of human options? People have always had choices, at one level or another; that the Church ruled Western Europe in the Middle Ages does not mean that everyone it ruled was engaged and interested: there has always been the option of inner emigration from religious concern, even when it irreligion wasn’t socially acceptable.

          I think there’s a lot we just don’t know, about the past, about the the inner workings of the people who are disaffiliating from institutional religion now. We do know that in the West, and Western outposts around the world, the institutions of religion have become much weaker, and people, including many older people, are disengaged or disengaging from them.

          None of what I’m saying should be construed to mean that I have great hopes for “revival” of interest in Christianity in the West. I don’t.

          • Down here in the Southern Bible Belt, I’m seeing a growing number of people who while they seem to believe in the basic framework of Jesus, God, and the Devil, Heaven and Hell, they intentionally shy away from any more detailed or in-depth information on the subject. It’s like they view themselves as already having been disqualified for Heaven, so they’d rather not think about it. Or maybe some of them choose to think they will go to Heaven, and they’re afraid they’ll find out that they don’t meet the grade if they explore too deeply into religious matters. Of course, there are so many different signals and answers being broadcast out there regarding what is required for salvation or what a person has to do to make God happy that many people have just given up on the issue altogether.

  16. I am living this choice right now. Two days ago the little Lutheran church I have been attending the last year and a half met with the Bishop. The upshot, since the congregation can’t get the required number of 16 people together to make official decisions about winding things down, the synod will take over the administration of the process. There is a sister church in the parish available, but it might have a year left before facing the same end. For all practical purposes, both churches have been operating as if it were 1976. It is not sustainable. In my opinion it is not rescueable. For now I’m a Done and enjoying the break. The pastor and I both left at the end of the year. I spoke with the new interim pastor about trying out a spoken service. He had no idea what I was talking about and when I explained it he looked at me like I was deranged.

    I don’t have Adam’s big city choices available by choice, but I do have an option available as soon as daylight lasts long enough for driving home. There is a Friends meeting that happens within reasonable driving distance during the week in the evening. I could handle that, or so I would like to think. I’m going to give it a try. My prediction is that the people meeting will not only understand what contemplative prayer is about, but will actually do it and be glad to have me joining in.

    Here when I mention contemplative prayer many have no idea what I”m talking about and look at me as if I was deranged, but it’s better here than at that little Lutheran church, and that was better than the local Methodist or Evangelical churches. I like all these choices. I consider free will the bedrock of what makes us human and an astounding gift from God. Free will doesn’t really have much meaning without options. Seems necessary for growing up.

  17. I suppose I’d be categorized a “done” now, although the only thing I’m done with is the local church. Still have a strong faith, which has actually broadened over the years to appreciate all sorts of corners of Christianity. I’d say I’m more devout now than I have been in the past.

    But participating in the local church never served me well, not growing up in a denomination or the last decade or so in a non-denom. Never got to be in one that was run in a healthy way. Been burned by pastors with problems as well as congregations with problems, and denominational administrators with problems. Church for me was never a safe place, let alone a place to grow in faith.

    So I would argue that at least for some of us, personal experience with incompetence, conflict, corruption, cover-ups, bullying etc. in the local church finally gets us to a point of doneness. It took me a good 55 years to get there, but I do not miss all the personal drama and infighting among ordinary folks trying on their own to keep a local church afloat, with no idea, really, of what they are doing or how to go about it.

    Our local churches suffer from many of the same problems as other civic organizations in this day and age. People doing the best they can within a model whose time has passed.

    • +1
      I’m also a Done and had a similar experience, though mine also included work for a “christian” parachurch ministry, from which I eventually had to resign to preserve my personal integrity. None of the experiences of participation were without serious problems in the leadership and other laity. I’m not talking about simple human foibles or eccentricities or even the odd nutcase, but about really serious breaches of ethics, failures, insensitivity, hostility, incompetence, etc.

      I’m still pretty serious about my faith, but I’m not ready to participate in a local church.

    • I appreciate your thoughts and am sorry for your experiences.

      I would like to pose a question(s) to you and John: Do you see church, at all, as a place to experience worship, Word, Sacrament in a community setting, but not a place to dedicate much time and effort more than that there; or do you see it having no place in your life at all?

      Also, how do you see issues of Christian community/fellowship come into play? Do you think it is important, and if so, do you try to associate outside of a formal church setting?

      Finally, if you thought there was a model of church that might work, what would that look like?

      Just trying to get more insights from you.

      Again, thanks.

      • I would like to pose a question(s) to you and John: Do you see church, at all, as a place to experience worship, Word, Sacrament in a community setting, but not a place to dedicate much time and effort more than that there; or do you see it having no place in your life at all?

        Why these choices only? It’s a place to engage in worship, Word, Sacrament and community, or at least it’s supposed to be. I understand this. I’m just saying it’s mostly been done not very well in my experience.

        Also, how do you see issues of Christian community/fellowship come into play? Do you think it is important, and if so, do you try to associate outside of a formal church setting?

        It is integral, of course, or at least should be. But again, it hasn’t been done very well in my experience, even, perhaps especially, when I have been actively participating, involved and contributing my time and energy and skills. Outside of a church setting I keep in touch with those I know and try to help when needed, but it’s something short of full community, but then again, it wasn’t really any better in church.

        Finally, if you thought there was a model of church that might work, what would that look like?
        I don’t know what model would work, or if any “model” would (why do we always fall into institutional language?). I do like what I see in some of the mainline denominations and among groups like the Quakers.

      • When I am out of town, I try to attend worship in churches of my home denomination (UMC). I truly miss the worship, the liturgy, the lectionary, the church year, taking communion, and the communion of the saints. I also appreciate being able to look at the people and their clergy, hope that everything is well between them, pray for them… and then leave them, never being the wiser as to what’s going on behind the scenes, and carrying no sense of burden or responsibility for keeping their church going. I’d spent all my life either watching my parents try to lead in their church, or, as an adult, being in leadership myself for about 25 years. I gave the best years of my life to church leadership, and probably shortened my lifespan in the process. In the end, it made no difference to the local institution, although I do think I set a good Christian example for those who were paying attention, and helped them in their walk with Christ.

        I do keep in touch with a number of people from four different churches. They are some of the best people I know; we went through terrible times together and I would still trust them with my life. At the same time, I lost people I considered very dear friends because of church conflicts. I miss them tremendously.

        In my experience, the local church model relies on laypeople to:
        support the enterprise financially
        know how to keep the building up to code
        be responsible and knowledgeable to govern both ministry and financial matters
        Be open to “look to the future” and reach out to the community and the world
        Understand what the Christian faith and life is about and apply it to what the church should be doing
        put in a lot of volunteer hours for all sorts of ministries
        and more.

        I don’t think most local church congregations, especially the smaller ones, can keep up with all these things, or even in some cases, have the basic skills among the people, to do many of them well. But I don’t know what else would work. Maybe that’s one reason megachurches and satellite churches are in vogue. There’s a template to follow and a main office, and the others are just franchises.

        • Good thoughts.

          I see a lot of just “feeding the machine” in your experience.

          Thanks for sharing.

  18. Richard McNeeley says:

    I am one that welcomes all of the choices as I have grown weary of the generic evangelical church.

    • Richard-

      What is the “generic evangelical church”? Are you referring to non-denominational churches, So Baptist churches, etc…?

      And why are you tired of it?

  19. Choice is good. But perhaps choice is bad when it allows us to run away from difficulties/disagreements in our current church/community. *sigh*……….

    It is ironic that this article is posted in the home of “post-evangelicalism”.

    • Choice is bad when it makes it EASIER to run to something else, but choice is good when you NEED to run to something else.

      • The hard part is figuring that one out.

        • Yep!

          • But there is no doubt that sometime it is necessary to run and never look back. This is the one, great, compelling advantage of modernity, and modernity as it applies to the churches: there is somewhere else to run to if you absolutely must. It was not so in former ages.

  20. I’m struggling to find reasons to stay in church these days. I don’t learn anything there, and the fellowship, particularly the ‘stand around with a paper cup and talk’ kind, doesn’t seem fulfilling. I don’t, for whatever reason, share who I really am with these people.

    Perhaps I should try and find a different sort of community. A real, nourishing community, if such a thing exists. I just don’t know where to start.

    Any Imonk readers live in Paris?

    • I don’t live in Paris, but I empathize with you Ben. It sucks being an “outsider”.

    • Randy Thompson says:

      Ben, don’t give up on the fellowship of standing around with a paper cup and talking about trivialities. The more time you invest in conversational trivialities with people, the more likely they will be to actually say something important to you when they have something important to say. Each paper cup conversation adds one more brick in building trust. (Think of “trust” here as some sort of brick building under construction.) Meaningless conversations pave the way for meaningful ones.

      “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. . . And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed.” An odd way to use Isaiah 40 perhaps, but I think it works in this context.

      Besides, who said our neighbors would be interesting? We’re told merely to love them, and to love them means listening, even when you have to pinch yourself to stay awake to do so. .

      • “…who said our neighbors would be interesting?”

        I can flip that and ask, “Who said that I’d be interesting to my neighbors?” I was speaking with someone the other day and I saw a glazed look go over them and thought to myself, “Oh, no…I’ve just done what others have done to me…I’ve bored them!”

        • Randy Thompson says:

          Thanks for this. By all means, do flip it!
          I’m sure I’ve bored people out of their minds more times than I care to imagine.

      • Thanks Randy. I like the image of brick building.

        And that’s an interesting use of the Isaiah passage. I think it works. One of my mentors (Rob Bell) talks a lot about the inherent goodness of life, and the gift of being HERE. I think he would interpret this passage as ‘wait. Keep your eyes open and keep asking questions (to these other people with paper cups). You may start to find something.

  21. “The human world represents a purgatorial-like range of opportunities and choices, from the most grim to the exalted, from criminality to nobility, from fear to courage, from despair to hope, and from greed to charity. Thus, if the purpose of the human experience is to evolve, then this world is perfect just as it is.” David R. Hawkins

    • Randy Thompson says:

      This “human world” is also every human heart, and if the “human world” is purgatorial-like range of opportunities, then the human heart offers a hellish range of opportunities for self-sabotage and even self-destruction. I think I would conclude my version of the foregoing Hawkings quote as follows: “My heart is a perfect place, just as it is, to start looking for a Savior, for it is a conflicted mare’s nest of fears, resentments and lusts.”

      • Yes. I cannot affirm the perfection of this world. I have no faith in that. I have faith in the goodness and love of Jesus Christ, beyond what my experience of this world tells me. The life of Jesus, his death and resurrection, is the purpose of human existence and experience; evolution did not produce that life, death and resurrection.

        • Robert you either aren’t reading carefully or you are willfully misreading. The statement says nothing about perfection of this world, it says this world is perfect just as it is for the purpose of potential human spiritual growth. It says nothing about the theory of Darwinian evolution, if you think that is the only meaning of the word “evolution”. The Bible tells us that Jesus grew in knowledge and understanding as he grew up physically. He evolved from a helpless infant as did we all, presumably including you. Everyone has the choice to refuse to grow spiritually, but why would anyone as intelligent and knowledgeable as you do that? Because of a knee jerk reaction to a word? If the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is our whole purpose here, why should we do anything? Or maybe that’s what you are trying to say. I choose to grow as best I can with God’s help.

          • The words “development” and “evolution” connote different meanings, at least at this point; I will confess to having a very strong reaction against the latter when it’s used in discussions of spirituality. I think of spiritual development, growth, as a very personal dynamic, which is not subsumed under any set of laws; evolution, on the other hand, describes processes that obey inflexible and impersonal laws. To say that “Jesus grew and developed” is quite different from saying that “Jesus evolved”. Its use by science has imparted to the latter word a very specific meaning.

  22. Speaking as a person with OCD, the options presented by todays technology overflow my senses. I find myself paralyzed when making a simple decision after consulting the internet, unable to read a book for more than 15 minutes at a time, unable to sit still and do nothing. I remember how easy it was to decide and find amusement when so little things were on my plate. I sometimes wonder how long we can keep this up..

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      It’s called INFORMATION OVERLOAD.

      And we’ll keep this up, getting more and more (“FASTER FASTER FASTER MORE MORE MORE! THEN COMES THE SINGULARITY WHEN IT ALL BECOMES INFINITELY FAST! COMPUTERS COMPUTERS COMPUTERS COMPUTERS COMPUTERS!”) until the Strong Man comes and we let The Strong Man tell us what to read, what to decide, what to think. Just to make the thrashing stop.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      There’s also something I remember from a Cold War-era nuclear strategy analysis paper on decision-making:

      Under conditions of Information Overload, there is a pull to chop out as much as possible of the firehose of incoming data, to the point where you can comprehend it. Without caring whether what you chop out is vital or not, just get it down to a point you can understand. Then make the decision (in the original paper, whether to Push the Button) on that cut-down subset of data. Throw out all the firehose-into-the-teacup torrent of information and make the decision to Push the Button or not entirely on your gut reaction from what’s left.

      This also fits into something called “Displacement Behavior”. When things are spirialing out of control, find something you CAN control and micromanage it to death, totally ignoring everything outside of that one thing. Like enforcing employee dress codes (even with VPs from HQ with rulers to measure employee hair length) while the company circles the drain. Or obsessing over how many quarts of strawberries were in the officers’ pantry at the Caine Mutiny Court Martial.

    • Robin, I wonder if a retreat at a monastery or other spiritual safe house might not provide some relief.

      • Thanks for the suggestions, we OCD people are hyper sensitive by nature, we tend to place our full attention on everything. The displacement behavior strategy works for me, I have used it before and it is amazing how much you can accomplish with a very small sampling. The monastery will only make me more jittery, when I was growing up as a young Catholic spirituality was my first and most brutal form of OCD (scrupulosity).

        • by “most brutal” I mean the thing that made me obsess and fear the most, fear of committing the unpardonable sin, fear of not doing my religious duty and displeasing God, fear of losing my salvation, blasphemous thoughts that come from nowhere..I saw religious things as an obligation and not a refuge

          • robin, I struggled with OCD (self-diagnosed) in my twenties and thirties. I had numerous rituals that had to be done in just the right order, with just the right number of repetitions; if they weren’t, I had to start over. Not to do them exactly the right way felt to me like courting disaster and doom. There was much ritual and magical-thinking involved in this.

            At some point, I don’t know how, the compulsions eased up, and I gradually discontinued many of my former OCD rituals. And this without treatment. I would say that today, twenty years later, I still have a tendency to OCD; there are one or two rituals that I can still get caught up in occasionally, at times; but I’m always able to just stop in midstream. I hope you too will one day be free from your OCD.

            Btw, I’m also a former Roman Catholic. It has never occurred to me that there might be a link between my growing up in Roman Catholicism and my later development of OCD, but that could be so. Thanks for the insight.

  23. Meh. I’m losing my religion for two reasons:
    1) Ockham’s razor
    2) Many of the most adamant Christians I know are total and complete assholes.

    So…there’s my two cents.

    • Klasie Kraalogies says:

      Yip, although I could add another few reasons along those lines. Maybe people shoild ask before assuming (another common Christian failing…).

  24. I can’t believe that we’ve gone 151 comments and no one has posted this yet, today’s theme song:

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=if-UzXIQ5vw