Leaving church

For some reason the latest PEW study, which finds that Christianity is in steady and accelerating decline, has provoked more than ordinary commentary this year. The latest comes from the Washington Post. The discussion does not even attempt to mount a defense of Christian belief, but bemoans the loss of ‘community.’

Here’s what really worries me: Few of these activities are as geared toward building deep relationships and communal support as the religious traditions the millennials are leaving behind. Actively participating in a congregation means embedding oneself in a community. This involves you in the lives of others and the other way around — their joys and sadnesses, connections and expectations. By leaving religion, we’re shrugging off the ties that bind, not just loosening them temporarily.

W-e-l-l-l … sort of.

As Catholicism shrinks and churches are closed, it’s a commonplace for journalists to visit a closing church and interview elderly congregants cast adrift by the prospect of their church closing. For many people it’s been the center of their life since childhood and, yes, their loss of community is disastrous; many will scarcely go out-of-doors, and only rarely speak to another human being, again.

But there is a distinction to be made between Christianity as a belief and church as a community center; the loss of the former is a good thing, and the latter can be replaced.

From the story of The Fall, to Abraham’s near sacrifice of Isaac, to the story of The Flood, to the promised carnage of The Apocalypse, Christianity sends a single and degrading message: Y’all are no damn good, so shut up and do as you’re told — or else.

Christianity cannot flourish amongst the healthy; it needs sickness and insecurity, and demands self-abasement — and its ongoing decline should be celebrated. As for community, people have been organizing themselves into like-minded groups for millennia, and will doubtless manage to do so in the future without some blustery Holy Man wagging a finger at them.

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