Saturday, June 10, 2006

The Intellectual Bankruptcy of American Religious Practice

I was listening to NPR not so long ago when the conversation turned, for one reason or another, to religious demographics. A guest on whatever program I was listening to noted that Hispanics in America were migrating in large numbers from Catholicism to various Protestant denominations because the Catholic church wasn't meeting their needs. She specifically singled out the need for "familia", which I found incredibly irritating on several levels. That people feel no qualm about migrating from church to church for non-doctrinal reasons points to a certain shallowness in American religious practice. The masses don't seem to be that concerned at all about religion itself; they're just looking for a social club. What really makes me want to smack people is that religion, at least nominally, is playing such a big part in politics these days. I've no doubt that these itinerant sheep are the same people that the powers of darkness are pandering to when they talk about "Judeo-Christian values". But this is not (solely) a tirade against Hispanics or Protestants. No, this craptacular mistreatment of religion seems to have permeated the thinking classes as well. Neither the host nor the guest on the NPR show noted even in passing the logical inconsistency of the whole concept. Indeed, the guest seemed to think that the Catholic church was somehow failing in its duty by not providing the sense of familia which these people were seeking. Even better, allow me to relate to you an incident from my own recent past. My wife and I were living in St. Louis at the time, which is home to a major chapter of The Ethical Society. Cool, we think, a secular institution for the promotion of ethical behavior. We decided to try it out when the day's lecture topic seemed to be particularly interesting. So we get there, and its in this building which kind of looks like a church. We walk up the church-like steps into the church-like foyer where we can pick up our church-like bulletin, and then proceed through some big, church-like double-doors into the main room. Which was remarkably churchlike, lots of wooden pews in a semi-circle around a raised dais. The program commenced, we shook hands with our neighbors, and then there was a sermon... sorry... lecture. After the lecture we sang something (I think it was "Amazing Grace" with all the references to God removed) and then adjourned to the community hall for coffee and doughnuts. Now, admittedly this is coming from the other end of the spectrum, but the principle is the same. They think they're all cool and ethical, but all they really want is to get together with neighbors for coffee and donuts. By all means, enjoy yourself, have another cruller. But you can do that at a coffee shop. There's no need to recreate a Protestant service, take all the God out, and then claim you're furthering the ethical development of your members. In the end this is fundamentally a problem about people not being honest with themselves. They need to belong and religious institutions (or an ethical society) fill this need, never mind that the ostensible purpose for joining one of these institutions is something entirely different. Knock it the fuck off already.


Blogger doctor chip said...

what strange place is this...
... am I dead??



7:48 AM  

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