Posts Tagged 'metropolitan savas of pittsburgh'

No religion, please, we’re postmodern

It is reasonably common that I do my grocery shopping after Divine Liturgy on Sunday. That tends to mean that it’s harder to keep wine and beer around the house with this state’s antiquated liquor laws, and it’s something of a pain, since it usually takes two or three stops total depending on what all I need (Starbucks for coffee beans, the local food co-op for most stuff, and then a conventional grocery store for a small handful of other items, which still leaves me having to go to a butcher shop that isn’t open on Sundays at another time during the week), but it’s more often than not the most convenient time for me to go.

Today, in line to pay for my staples of cheese, Honey Bunches of Oats, and bananas, the headline of the local paper grabbed my eye — “Losing their religion: Young people rejecting organized worship at an unprecedented rate”. (Note that, while I’ve linked to the story on the Herald-Times website, it will be virtually useless to you, so to speak, unless you’re a paid subscriber — the H-T apparently is enough on the fiscal bubble to be concerned about using their website as a loss-leader, and as such headlines are the only content they’re comfortable letting you see for free.) I was intrigued by what local angle the piece might have and bought the paper; Bloomington is certainly still within the borders of the Bible belt, but Indiana University on the whole is about as secular of an institution as they come, so religion is everywhere in this town (I remember a Distinguished Academic Visitor coming to Bloomington a few years ago and telling his host, “I can tell I’m in small-town America because of all the f–king churches”) but to an extent that just means that it’s ignored by more people. There is a Knights of Columbus pro-life ad on a huge billboard right in the middle of downtown, but then the town’s buses were sporting the “You can be good without God” cards a couple of years ago too.

As I was poking around to see if there was any way to find the full story on the web, I realized that the H-T story was largely a re-digesting of some reports that various news outlets have been covering for the the last month. There’s a Baylor University report on religion as well as statistics released by LifeWay Research, USA Today ran a story about them on Christmas Day (using roughly the same headline as the H-T), and GetReligion did the obligatory analysis of the USA Today piece. Still, there’s a bit of a local angle with some representative quotes from IU students and a couple of area clergy, starting with one Elyse Kienitz:

[She] says during her teenage years, her parents forced her to attend a Lutheran church where her father served as music director.

“It was a family obligation for me and my four siblings… Church just didn’t work for me. I couldn’t apply what I was hearing to my daily life.”

[…] [C]limbing out of bed at 6:45am each Sunday to attend the 8 a.m. service was sheer torture. So when she turned 20 and moved… to Bloomington, church ceased being part of her life.

“I know for a lot of people the church is a source of refuge, and I kind of envy that,” Kienitz said. “But I’m an agnostic. I need absolute proof before I believe. Creationism is not valid in my opinion. I believe in Darwinian evolution.”

I have mixed feelings about how seriously to take this, truthfully, and it has less to do with Ms. Kienitz and more to do with how the reporter chooses to present the story. Creationism is elided with Christianity and church, which is one problem, but another problem is that the writer seems to betray bias off the bat by saying that Ms. Kienitz was “forced” to attend. Now, I’ve been the five year old kid lying in bed on Sunday morning hoping that Mom just forgets to wake me up, but “forced” is a bit much. What’s more interesting, at least to me, is that the relationship between religion and family ties isn’t really explored at all, but it’s clearly there in this case, and once it’s not there, bam, the kid’s done. So what’s the extent to which this “rejection” of religion by young people is a function of a mobile society?

Then there’s Stephanie Partridge, who “made some friends in church, but it wasn’t a good fit for me”:

“My spirituality is pagan and nature-based… Organized religion doesn’t work for me because my spirituality is extremely personal and sacred to me. I wouldn’t be who I am without it. I meditate and pray at home and in nature, and that allows me to find peace of mind in the midst of chaos.”

So, “spiritual but not religious”. Bob Whitaker, senior pastor at Bloomington’s Evangelical Community Church, characterizes this issue as the desire “to adapt a religion to fit their personal desires and don’t feel they need community to shape and guide them, and to shine a spotlight on their character and motivation[.]” I’ve never been of the “spiritual but not religious” persuasion; it’s always seemed to me to treat religion as a taste in accessories, a more-or-less personalizable sensibility. I’ve got to be check my own tendency to be snarky about that, because I’ve certainly exercised my own personal choice where religion is concerned, and I have done so more than once, but it has always seemed obvious to me that a “spirituality” that is exclusively personal is essentially an exercise in self-justification.

Even if that’s the case, however, are those who feel that way coming by it honestly in our culture? We’ve taken so many things that used to be experienced almost exclusively in a communal context and made it possible for the general population to experience them now in a 100% user-defined bubble. Music is no longer something one hears in the context of a gathering; it’s something that an individual listens to in order to shut out the rest of the world. Movies and TV are watched on personal devices that require no interaction with anybody (except maybe the screen). Work is done from home. We can shop for almost anything we could possibly want without ever having to interact directly with a person. Even friends and family have been fed through the individualized electronic pipe via Facebook. So why would religion be any other way, particularly if church is just going to repackage everything in a language that’s trying, usually poorly, to ape what you’re feeding into your brain through the earbuds? It makes it “accessible”, but does it actually make it worth anybody’s time in the long run? This is a question I would be very curious to hear the “bishop of Facebook”, Metropolitan Savas of Pittsburgh, consider.

Is the real issue perhaps not that we’re in a post-religious world but a post-communal one? Is seeing a need for physical interaction with a real person in a geographical location something that has simply become itself a quaint throwback?

Ned Steele, a local Methodist pastor, says that church is “just not relevant to that age group [of 20-somethings]:

“People in their 20s believe in scientific research and truth, and when they come to church and hear about creationism they feel like they’re back in the Middle Ages. Too often the church is judgmental when it comes to different lifestyles and sexuality; and we preach the exclusivity of Christianity too much, as if other paths to God don’t count.”

This is a fascinating statement. 20-somethings believe in “truth”, but they apparently don’t want to hear that Christianity is the “truth”. (I’m curious what else one would go to church to hear.) So what is it they want to hear about truth? That truth exists, but that the truth is that there isn’t really any truth beyond that truth we pick and choose for ourselves?

Again, let’s perhaps concede that maybe these 20-somethings are coming by it honestly. Truth is what can be reproduced in a laboratory, truth is the homeless person on the street, truth is the real story behind this or that person’s public ascendancy — might it be fair to say that “truth”, as understood in our present-day collective mindset, is a construct that itself is actually never constructive?

I don’t quite know what to think when I hear about “young people” “rejecting” Christianity. I’m not going to lie, some of the things expressed by Ms. Kienitz and Ms. Partridge resonate with me, but it stopped being a family matter for me in seventh grade (and was really only imperfectly so to begin with), so whatever I believed I had to own for myself early on, and the questioning that some of that prompted in me was only of the dominant Evangelical Protestant paradigm, not of Christianity itself or the overall need for a worshiping community. If anything, my problem in my teens was having been brought up to consider the continuum between Evangelical Protestantism and non-Christian cults to be minuscule, so that when I found early on I could not honestly identify as an Evangelical (nor, as a couple of folks made clear, did Evangelicals want me to identify with them, if I wasn’t going to believe certain things) and thus was led to believe I perhaps shouldn’t even consider myself a Christian anymore — well, I craved the community that Evangelicals seemed to be telling me I couldn’t have. Would I have felt the same way if I had Facebook and an iPod? Hard to say.

There’s the whole matter of solutions looking for problems I brought up a little while ago. I’m not sure what to say about what problems these people actually have, except to say that they want to know what Christianity actually has to do with how life gets lived in 2012, and probably they want to know in terms that don’t make it seem like a dated museum piece or in terms that don’t come across as reactionary. But how do you that in a way that doesn’t make church so secular-looking that there’s no real point in going to church anyway? If church is going to look like a hipster coffee shop, well, why not just go to a hipster coffee shop and listen to one of Mark Driscoll’s podcasts over your cappuccino? The coffee will be better, and frankly so will the music, probably.

A friend of mine was talking about how his priest handles skeptical youth by saying, “That’s okay that you’re questioning those things. We love you anyway. Keep coming.” Maybe rather than trying to keep up with “who” the 20-somethings “are”, it’s better for the Church to remain steadfast in what she is so that the 20-somethings know that they can always come home and know that their room will be ready — but maybe even that’s going to be waiting for calls that never come.

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