Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The sky is falling!, and three comments

Big news! A new survey shows that many Americans are losing their loyalty to specific denominations, and frequently switch between different branches of the church, or even, in many cases, leave the church entirely! (See this article for the newspaper story.) As I've commented before, the mainstream media seems to embarrass itself whenever it covers religious matters; there's this strange, Chicken Little alarmism in reporting on trends which have been obvious for decades. Whatever. Here are my promised three comments:
"Everybody in this country is losing members; everybody is gaining members," said Luis E. Lugo, director of Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

"It is a very competitive marketplace and if you rest on your laurels, you're going to be history."
A very competitive marketplace??!!

Folks, he's talking about religious denominations! If you had read only the second sentence, you would assume he was talking about spoon salesmen or something. The good news here is that the Pew Forum appears to be a secular think tank unaffiliated with any established church, so I can perhaps understand this man's rather strange understanding of Christianity. The bad news is that there are people in the church who actually talk like this. The idea that the high-pressure sales techniques of, say, Microsoft, should bear any relation to the church's techniques for retaining membership is, quite frankly, a bit insulting.
YOU HAVE TO WORK TO EARN FOR YOUR LIVING. NO GOD OR GODS GIVE YOU MONEY. WHEN YOU ARE PHYSICALLY SICK YOU GO TO THE DOCTORS. WHEN YOU ARE SUFFERING OF MENTAL SICKNESS YOU ALSO GO TO THE PSYCHIATRISTS. NO GOD OR GODS CAN DO ANYTHING FOR YOU. ONLY THE HUMAN BEINGS CAN HELP THE HUMAN BEINGS ON THIS EARTH SO WHY DO WE BOTHER TO SEARCH FOR GOD OR GODS ? THEY ARE GOOD FOR NOTHING. GOD OR GODS WHICH ARE CLAIMED AND MADE ONLY BY THE CERTAIN PEOPLE THEY ARE MORTAL HUMAN BEINGS LIKE US... I CAN SAY THAT THEY ARE RELIGIOUS HUSTLERS WHO TAKE ADVANTAGES OF THE SUPERSTITIOUS SUCKERS
This comment was posted at the bottom of the L. A. Times article I linked to. I apologize for making you read it, but it illustrates an interesting trend. There is basically no original thought here whatsoever; not only does the author have his Caps Lock key stuck on, but he hasn't made any attempt to tailor his thoughts to the concerns of the actual article. Essentially, this is trolling.

However, this also illustrates a broader problem with atheism which has been creeping forward for years. Once considered the belief system of radicals and freethinkers, atheism has been a socially acceptable stance for long enough that it is possible to adopt it without giving any thought to its intellectual basis. In other words, it is quite possible to adopt atheism in just the same sense that many people adopt Christianity - by default from one's parents - without understanding the reason behind their belief.

One of my friends, an atheist, has only recently noticed this development and is horrified by the lack of intellectual understanding among many of these people. He's seen them use obviously faulty arguments to attack established religion. He's also disenchanted by current atheist writers like Richard Dawkins, whose philosophical understanding is based entirely on earlier writers like Bertrand Russell. I told him that this is to be expected, and is in fact exactly what established religion has been facing for years. Maybe the problems started as soon as we stopped being a persecuted church.

For intelligent and interesting commentary on this article, read Marc Geelhoed, whose blog referred me to the original article. In this post, he places the development of denominational switching in the broader context of American anti-intellectualism:
Americans have taken their religion with a healthy dose of pragmatism, with no appreciation for the nuances of doctrine, a "What are you going to do for me today?" attitude, for some time. The effects have been entirely deleterious, as far as I can tell, with churchgoers having little understanding of what the worshipper next to them actually believes about the God they are both praying to (to borrow one of Wolfe's formulations).

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