Response to “America’s Empty-Church Problem”

Maybe it’s the values of hierarchy, authority, and tradition that churches instill. Maybe religion builds habits and networks that help people better weather national traumas, and thus retain their faith that the system works. For whatever reason, secularization isn’t easing political conflict. It’s making American politics even more convulsive and zero-sum.

Source: America’s Empty-Church Problem – The Atlantic

This piece does a good job in summarizing the overall tilt towards secularism in America and its effects across the political spectrum. I agree with the above sentiment that the decline in church membership is helping to steer our country towards an atmosphere of conflict and zero-sum games.

However, there’s a good deal to unpack here. For one, there are all sorts of overlooked privileges incorporated with projecting that “things were better when we all went to church.” Second, conflating complicated movements like Trumpism, Bernieism, and Black Lives Matter into causations based on church attendance is problematic at best. Third, we can’t overlook the very real damage that many churches and associated hierarchies have done to children and adults over the last century, from misogyny to blatant racism and sexism to sexual abuse of children and young people.

My main pushback, however, would be the first sentence in the snippet above. Hierarchy, authority, and tradition are certainly values that some churches instill in their congregants. But, as someone from the Baptist tradition, I bristle at such overarching statements about what values churches instill. Our tradition emphasizes religious freedom over hierarchy, soul competency of each believer over authority, and congregational determinism over tradition. Of course, that has led to a whole host of problems for us in Baptist life, but it’s a reality that doesn’t get expressed when all of American Christendom is pitched into one descriptive bucket.

I would have ended this piece in a way that framed church as an opportunity to experience a different reality (I’m coming at this from someone who is ordained in a faith tradition, of course) and how it’s good for each of us to hear that we aren’t the center of the universe, we should be kind to each other no matter what, we should consider the lilies more often, and the ability to love others as themselves is the ultimate measure of a person. Those are things we Americans need to hear more often.

Oh, and wear a good suit at least once a week.

 

Church Marketing and Political Issues

Six-in-ten religiously unaffiliated Americans – adults who describe their religious identity as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” – say the questioning of religious teachings is a very important reason for their lack of affiliation. The second-most-common reason is opposition to the positions taken by churches on social and political issues, cited by 49% of respondents (the survey asked about each of the six options separately). Smaller, but still substantial, shares say they dislike religious organizations (41%), don’t believe in God (37%), consider religion irrelevant to them (36%) or dislike religious leaders (34%).

Source: Why America’s ‘nones’ don’t identify with a religion | Pew Research Center

One word: Marketing.

Philanthropy and Underserved Communities

The average person thinks, “Of course philanthropy is about helping the poor.” In fact, just one out of every three dollars is intended to benefit underserved or marginalized communities. Even with a very broad definition—low-income communities, communities of color, women and girls, LGBT communities, people with disabilities, the elderly—it’s a small percentage of philanthropic dollars.

In our last analysis, 90% of the 1,000 biggest foundations in the country direct less than half of their dollars to benefit underserved communities. It’s shocking.

via Yale Insights – How Can Philanthropy Do More Good

“Invisible Wire Pullers”

Eerily familiar to the American left…

Prideful of their own higher learning and cultivation, the intellectual classes could not absorb the idea that, thanks to “invisible wire-pullers”—the self-interested groups and individuals who believed they could manipulate the charismatic maverick for their own gain—this uneducated “beer-hall agitator” had already amassed vast support. After all, Germany was a state where the law rested on a firm foundation, where a majority in parliament was opposed to Hitler, and where every citizen believed that “his liberty and equal rights were secured by the solemnly affirmed constitution.”

— Read on www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/when-its-too-late-to-stop-fascism-according-to-stefan-zweig

Overwriting Monuments with AR

I do think augmented reality and voice-first computing (Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant etc) will get us out behind computer screens and keyboards and into the “real” world. What “real” means is subjective, and that will only intensify in the coming decades as computing comes full circle to being something that we naturally do with our voices and thoughts and without the need for a keyboard and mouse.

Now we just need a good pair of AR glasses from Apple or Google or some startup we haven’t heard of yet that’s working hard in a garage to change the world…

Last year, Movers and Shakers assembled a team of coders, artists and designers who use augmented reality technology to do their work. Their goal was circumvent the city’s decision by replacing the statue and similar monuments with digital ones of other historical figures — namely, people of color and women. “I think we have an opportunity to harness the storytelling capabilities of this technology,” said Glenn Cantave, founder and lead organizer, when explaining the group’s motivations. “Who’s going to own our narrative?”

— Read on theoutline.com/post/5123/movers-and-shakers-digital-sculptures-new-york-city

Romans 13 and American Appeals to Authority of the Government

Good read on the historical uses of Romans 13 in American history to justify obedience to the government in light of our Attorney General’s use of that text today to defend the deplorable and immoral and utterly un-Christian internment camps we’re setting up along the Mexican border for children that we’re forcibly separating children from their asylum-seeking parents…

As I wrote at my own blog, I’m not sure we should “act as if the New Testament has any kind of authority over the religiously plural officer corps that protects a democratic republic that separates church and state.” But Pence is hardly the first prominent American to make such public use of these Christian scriptures — though what they mean has been hotly contested since even before the Republic won its independence.

— Read on www.patheos.com/blogs/anxiousbench/2017/05/mike-pence-romans-13/