Thursday, February 11, 2016

Waiting for the Big One

This may just become my preferred image for Lent.

I've been holding onto this post for some time.  Now, thanks to Southern Beale, I have a reason to revise and release it.  I'll start with the original premise, and adjust it below:

These statistics may be completely bogus.  Assuming they aren't, they are quite interesting:

While self-described atheists and agnostics tend to be highly educated, 77 percent of those who describe their religion as “nothing in particular” haven’t finished college. Many of these people, largely white, aren’t necessarily hostile to religion; they’re simply as alienated from their local churches as they are from other institutions, including political parties and labor unions. Almost half of those who claim no religion but consider religion important earn less than $30,000 a year. These struggling, detached, impious whites are a crucial part of Trump’s base.

I don't care about the "Trump's base" part, I care about the "nothing in particular" description of religion.  Here are the "nones" you hear so much about in certain quarters.  "[T]hey’re simply as alienated from their local churches as they are from other institutions, including political parties and labor unions."  "Bowling Alone" is not a new phenomenon; but it has yet to trickle down to the common knowledge of the "knowledgeable" on the interwebs.

Daniel Dennett says the rising disaffection with religion (and presumably religious belief) is caused by the rising information level available due to the internet.  I'm guessing people who make less than $30,000 a year don't make high-speed internet, and the computer to access it, a top priority.  I'm also thinking people who haven't finished college are not, by and large, that concerned with the latest "proof" of atheists espoused by Richard Dawkins or Pharyngula (if they've heard of either person).  Daniel Dennett, of course, is not alienated from institutions; like Dawkins and Pharyngula (and Sam Harris and Bill Maher), he makes his living from an institution, and relies on other institutions to carry his thoughts abroad and make him famous from them.

The gap between Mr. Dennett and his running mates, and the people identified in that quote above couldn't be any wider.  One might say they can't even see each other.

The irony of the quote lies in this:  the founding figure of Christianity lived as, and taught as, one alienated from institutions.  He lived and walked among the ptochoi, the homeless; the invisible.  The Pharisees and Sadducees and scribes in the Gospels are not historically rendered figures but representative, just as the shepherds are:  the former represent the institutions of life in Judea; the latter represents the people alienated from those institutions.  The people Jesus spoke to were not learned and wise, not educated and powerful.  They were quite the opposite.

If the time has truly come that the institution of the Church, in all its forms and guises, is no longer serving the people of God, if it no longer reaches those "struggling, detached, impious" people described as supporters of Donald Trump, the problem for the church isn't political.

It's existential.  It's fundamental.  It's theological and ecclesiological.  It's, pardon the apparent pun:  institutional.  I am not saying it is absolutely the sign of the end of the ecclesia; but if the ecclesia is leaving those people behind, then what, or who, is the body of Christ and the clouds of witness for?

Now, standing alone that's just a critique of the church, and a rather simplistic one.  But let us never forget the church reflects the culture; how else did the Roman church become part of the empire, it's hierarchy reflective of the model of Rome?  Where else did Protestantism come from, but the massive social changes that were already shaking 16th century Europe?  So Southern Beale, in a "coincidence?  I think not" post, tells me this:

Those who don’t vote tend to be younger and less educated, according to the Pew Research Center. More than half of those who sat out the election in 2012 had no more than a high-school diploma and less than $30,000 a year in household income.

Those are the people Sanders has to get to the polls if he hopes not only to win the Democratic nomination, but also to lead troops of the party’s congressional candidates to victory in the general election, establishing the legislative majority his agenda requires.

At least in New Hampshire, though, younger, poorer and less educated people did not turn out in disproportionate numbers for the Democratic primaries, according to exit polling data gathered on behalf of major television networks and the Associated Press in 2008 and on Tuesday.

Nineteen percent of Democratic primary voters — which, as it happens, can include independents under New Hampshire’s rules — in New Hampshire were less than 30 years old, just one percentage point more than in the state’s primary in 2008. Thirty-one percent had less than $50,000 a year in income, compared to 32 percent in 2008. And the share of primary voters without a college degree apparently declined from 46 percent in 2008 to 40 percent on Tuesday.*
To the politics of that let me add that Hillary went to Flint, Michigan to sympathize with the poor there suffering from the abuse of a state government more concerned with money than people.  Sanders, after New Hampshire, went to Harlem to eat lunch at a famous restaurant with the Rev. Al Sharpton.  Which figure seems more concerned with the poor?

But this isn't about politics, it's about the response to politics, politics being how we do business as a national government, as a society.  At least it's part of how we do business (I use the metaphor advisedly).  The other part is how we treat each other simply as human beings in everyday life.  And the rude fact is, especially in these days where the internet is taken as the vox populi, especially by those who spend all their time on it (raises hand guiltily, points finger down toward self), there are a lot of invisible people out there.

Who speaks for them?  Who is speaking to them?  Who is noticing they aren't showing up?  Hillary went to Flint, Michigan:  that's a safe photo op.  Bernie went to Harlem, to a restaurant.  That's an even safer photo op.

When either one of them is seen among the poor, as LBJ and RFK were seen once upon a time, let me know.  We're still afraid of the poor in this country:  in our politics and in our churches.  And nothing about our national condition is going to change until we change our hearts and minds on that subject; until we pay attention to the people we keep invisible.

* and just as in Iowa, the turnout in New Hampshire for Democrats was down from 2008.  Where is that blasted revolution?  Maybe it will take something more than politics to improve things around here.


  1. I have been toying with the idea of asking a few friends to get together to read through plays - serious ones, not the idiotic stuff that gets played in theaters around here - and in the process I've been reading a lot about the problems of theater companies. One of the big problems for start-up and even established theaters is taken up with maintaining a physical location, a staff, an infrastructure, etc.And the biggest problem of all GETTING AN AUDIENCE TO COME AND LISTEN AND PAY TO LISTEN. Reading about this you have to wonder how much of that isn't from the same problem of the institutional church aren't the same as for live theater. And live theater doesn't make nearly the same audience challenging requests that churches do.

    That Christianity, not to mention Judaism, Islam, etc. have never been the easiest of sells to people who are primarily interested in pleasure and fun and brainless distraction has always been a factor. That all of them are prone to use by people with wealth and power for other reasons but whose lives demonstrate they never were serious about it is just the icing on that cake. It's something that Jesus talked about, yesterday's lectionary had something about the necessity of taking up your cross daily, if I recall.

    This is an excellent post, the best commentary on the NH primary I've read.

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  3. Remember "What's in, and what's out?" Middle class is in, and poor class is out. A visit to Flint right at this moment in time seems to me to express sympathy with struggling people more so than a meal at a restaurant in Harlem known for its celebrity clientele. Still, it's only a moment in time for the candidates, and they'll soon return to talking about the middle class, a number of whom are slipping unnoticed into the poor class, even as they speak.

    Of course, it depends upon the meaning of "poor", and political candidates seem to have little clue.