Another Week Ends: 1a. This week featured a point-counter-point on the religious decline in America. Fewer people are […]

1a. This week featured a point-counter-point on the religious decline in America. Fewer people are […]

Todd Brewer / 11.1.19

1a. This week featured a point-counter-point on the religious decline in America. Fewer people are going to church, particularly millennials. Accordingly, Christine Emba sees genuine cause for alarm. Millennials prefer low-cost, substitute religions (read: seculosities!), and the church may not be there as a fallback option in the future:

Faith and practice can’t persevere through our generation without attendance, and neither can the hope they tend to bring. And while that may not seem like a problem now, it will soon. We still want relationships and transcendence, to be part of something bigger than ourselves. Our drive for those things isn’t likely to wane, despite how ambivalent we might feel about ancient liturgies or interminable coffee hours or even pastors whose politics have taken a sharp turn MAGA-wards. […]

Some of us are turning to convenient, low-commitment substitutes for faith and fellowship: astrology, the easy “spiritualism” of yoga and self-care, posting away on Twitter and playing more games. The Pew and BLS surveys are MRIs for the soul: They give a snapshot of busy millennial life that many will easily attribute to our phase of life. But while phases pass, the underlying needs and wants will continue to matter. What happens when sleeping, working and gaming more than our elders begins to make less sense? If we’re closing the church doors behind us, we’ll have to find somewhere else to tend to our spirits — and our hearts.

1b. By contrast, Ross Douthat parses some of the subtrends of the data and finds some reason for optimism. If Christianity is in decline, it is principally among those whose religious affiliation is “lukewarm,” while the numbers of strongly affiliated Christians have held steady since 1990. Likewise, millennials aren’t going to church very often, but this is in keeping with generational trends since the baby-boomers. Whether millennials return to church as they get older remains to be seen.

On a topic that is so freighted with fear or triumphalism, I appreciate Douthat and Emba’s more reasoned analyses. It’s easy to panic over trend-lines, which can feel like a threat of imminent doom. Seculosity is alive and well. And yet…there’s always reason for optimism, remembering that the fate of the church is not up to us (see below).

2. While we’re on the subject of substitute religions… For a window into the world of exercise phenom Peloton, check out this feature from The Cut. The Peloton community certainly sounds a whole lot like a good church to me. Where can I sign up?!?:

A lot of the talk in the Peloton moms’ group concerns home renovations, outfit consults, and luxury-handbag selection. “I realized that people are actually lonely,” Livingston says, “and if you are a lonely person, because of your job, or your relationships, or your body, and you get on your bike and you sweat it out, and then you get a group of people saying, ‘You go, girl’ — oh my God, you got a shout-out — and all of a sudden you get 100 likes or 200 comments, you feel, I’m not that alone.” In this way, the cult of Peloton is simply a very contemporary mash-up of the very on-trend religion of high-end fitness (and self-improvement) and the social-media culture of competitive self-love. But the connections with other riders do seem to be meaningful. “Now 99 percent of the posts in the moms’ group start with ‘NPR,’ which means ‘Non-Peloton-Related,’ ” says Livingston, “and those are like, ‘My kid has lice,’ ‘My husband left me.’ It goes so beyond the bike.” The information that riders share with one another is sometimes shockingly personal.

3. Talk about wearing your failures on your sleeve! Sewing all your rejection letters into a skirt you wear to your Ph.D. defense may feel a little like “I told you so” self-vindication, but the idea of holding onto your failures in the midst of your accomplishments strikes me as a wonderful picture of humility and its benefits:

Kirby said the creative project felt like a curative way to handle her many rejections. And it also struck her as funny. “This doesn’t mean that I’m totally okay with all rejections now,” she said. “It’s still just as painful when it comes across through my email. … But sitting down and spending time with your rejection letters to make a craft out of them is kind of therapeutic.” Some of the letters, she said, stung more than others. “But when I put them together, they didn’t really seem as painful anymore,” she said.

4. We aren’t worthy of Halloween. Trick or treating may be one of the only times when we actually meet our neighbors, which makes it a perfect opportunity for peer-pressure and self-righteousness. File this under yet another cautionary tale of humans ruining a good thing. Fun-size or full-size? Here’s hoping you chose wisely…

A trip to the store to stock up on Halloween candy sends one signal, so does eyeing what our neighbors are handing out or seeing what your child brings home in their treat bag. What you then hand out to trick-or-treaters can then become less about handing out the mini Twix that you secretly love and more about keeping up with the Joneses. Much of what we do is dictated by social norms and by comparison, no one wants to look cheap, says Deloitte behavioral economist Susan Hogan.

Small agrees that people might feel a small compulsion to show off, or at the very least, not be perceived as less than. However, what you give out is much more than a display of wealth status. Your Halloween treats can signal not just what you have, but aspects of your character, such as your generosity. “A lot of this has to do with social signaling and how they want to look to others and how people want to look is complex—high status and wealthy and caring and moral,”

5. Celebrating the other October 31st holiday (Reformation Day), former Mockingbird Conference Speaker Chad Bird, posted on the Church and reformation today. For all the anxiety there might be about the future of the church (see above), it’s genuinely refreshing to read:

Only the Gospel will reform the church because only the Gospel is LIFE. And that life is Jesus. Not Jesus and your-pet-project, not Jesus and your-moral-crusade, not Jesus and your-plan-to-improve-society. “Jesus, Jesus, only Jesus,” as the old hymn insists.

This life of God in Christ is for a dead world full of dead people mimicking life badly. The life of God in Christ seeping into every pore of the church and vivifying all it touches. The life of God in Christ which breathes vitality into the church’s worship once more; raises up preachers who are electrified by a proclamation that determines to know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified; gathers young people who are sick of cotton candy spiritualism and starving for the meat and drink of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

6. Finally, this has been the week of Kanye, for good or ill. But before you get tired of hype, this fauxDavid Bentley Hart review of Kanye West’s “Jesus is King” is comedy gold on so many levels.

As I listened to “Hands On,” a particular standout, with its powerful if ungrammatical refrain “What have you been hearin’ from the Christians?/They’ll be the first one to judge me/Make it seem like nobody love me,” I wept at its prophet-without-honor pathos. I recently wrote a short book in which, with a bit of gentle ribbing aimed at my more punitive friends, I proved, to any conscience not utterly deformed by the habit of deference to an orthodoxy of recent vintage—no older, certainly, than Augustine of Hippo—that everyone will go to heaven. You’d think people would be grateful, but truly, the response has been such as to make a man “feel alone in the dark,” surrounded by those who “only see the wrongs, never listen to the songs.”