Friday, April 30, 2010

Spiritual, Not Religious

Survey: 72% of Millennials 'more spiritual than religious' - USATODAY.com: "- Sent using Google Toolbar"

Most young adults today don't pray, don't worship and don't read the Bible, a major survey by a Christian research firm shows. If the trends continue, "the Millennial generation will see churches closing as quickly as GM dealerships," says Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources. In the group's survey of 1,200 18- to 29-year-olds, 72% say they're "really more spiritual than religious."

So, secularism has finally hit the US. No surprise that--the only surprise is that it took so long, that the US was anomalous amongst affluent countries so long.

Before I saw the big picture I imagined that the problem was the way in which churches were screwing up, not giving people what they wanted. If only, I though, churches would do more elaborate, archaic, exotic services and advertise them aggressively, if only they maintained gurus in residence to run meditation sessions and teach mysticism, if only they'd stop preaching and moralizing and concentrate on running an aesthetic, historical costume drama people would flood in.

But I was dead wrong. Secularization is global and inevitable: religion only lingers amongst the poor--in the third world and amongst the lower classes in the US. And most disconcertingly, people don't want the magical mystery tour--the elaborate, exotic ceremonial, the historical costume drama, the romance. They don't want a window into another world that's more thrilling and intense than ordinary life, they don't want aesthetic experience or religious ecstasy--they don't want metaphysical thrills.

I lie in bed reading myself to sleep with Byzantine history. That's my fantasy: a world of the most elaborate ceremonial which religiousity pervaded everything: icons, processions, guilded, jewel-encrusted, brocated, over-the-top sensual high church--the world as grand opera. Why on earth don't people want this? Why are they satisfied with less? Why aren't they after that buzz?

Well, they aren't. And it happened so fast. I've lived through an historic epoch, through what is effectively the collapse of Christianity which has gone in one generation from the cultural norm to a peculiarity, the ideology of a proletarian minority fighting a rear-guard action to preserve a socially conservative way of life.

Still there are those counterfactuals. Would Christianity have collapsed so fast if churches hadn't effectively bought into the Enlightenment critique of metaphysics or, before that, the Reformation attack on folk religion?

2 comments:

Andrew Brown said...

Secularization is global and inevitable: religion only lingers amongst the poor--in the third world and amongst the lower classes in the US. Harriet, that's just not true in Asia. You can see xianity spreading among the Chinese middle classes; in India there is a huge retreat from secularism at the same time as it's getting richer, and among the classes who are benefiting from the process.

H. E. said...

Intresting. I've been to China a couple of times confabbing with my Christian counterparts. Numbers are impressive but it's still a tiny percentage of the population and largely (my impression) a protest movement against state-sponsored state-promoting neo-Confucianism. They haven't got a chance, any more than the abortive democratization movement that collapsed in Tienemen Square.

As for India, is it Christianity or Hinduvta you're talking about? Again I think a political movement. But then so is conservative evangelicalism in the US.

Maybe not a counterexample either though because China and India didn't go through either the Reformation or the Enlightenment, which made religion pointless and boring.