Of Spirits, Some of Them In The Sky

Once upon a time, in the dark years BT (Before Twitter), there lived in the Heartland of America a college football gridiron coach by the name of Woody Hayes. A coach who was famous for his victories, and also for his hates.

* Michigan. (This was when there still was a Michigan.)

* Sideline photographers.

* The forward pass. Of which he is said to have said, “Only three things can happen, and two of them are bad.”

This is how Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba has come to think about blogging “in his own person”. Most of the things that can happen are bad.

The post can sound whiny. Which may accurately reflect my personality, but I’d rather not front-and-center that, if you don’t mind.

Or, it can sound as if I have “the answers”. As if. A person who, these days, needs Quilly to remind him which name he’s supposed to be signing to the checks is not someone who should be suggesting Solutions to the world’s Problems.

But I heard something this morning that’s been tugging at what’s left of my mind all day, and I’d count it a favor if you’d let me talk through it with you.

The “thing” was a lecture (a sermon, really) on the theme of “The Decline and Fall of Christian America”. Yes, Newsweek had a cover story on this topic three months ago. Yes, I don’t normally pay any attention to Newsweek. The main point of both the magazine article and the sermon was “lots fewer Americans call themselves Christians these days, and what are we going to do about it?”

To which my first reaction was “Um … celebrate?” After all, We the People have allowed ourselves to be ruled, for the past eight years, by certain persons who have identified themselves as “Christians”, and what have we got to show for it?

* Vietnam in the desert? Make that two Vietnams in two deserts? (And it looks like Osama bin Laden, like Ho Chi Minh, will die, a hero, of old age.)

* A hole in the map where Michigan used to be?

* And another one being sawed out for California?

The news, seems to me, is not that there are fewer people going to church, but that there’s anybody going to church. If, as our speaker suggested, Christianity and atheism are competing for Our attention, maybe the atheists should be given a shot at running things on the grounds that they could hardly do any worse.

The problem with atheists, however, is that they tend to be individualists. Especially the intellectual atheists of the sort that Richard Dawkins (for example) champions. The sort that Dawkins himself has likened to “herding cats”; for whom the most congenial organization, after “None”, would be Conan Doyle’s Diogenes Club, where no member is permitted to take the least notice of any other. Not exactly what you need when you’re trying to rally the troops to fight internal and external battles.

Effective religious organizations are wonderfully good at rallying the troops, of providing a sense of belonging for their members. For good or ill, depending upon whether you belong to Desmond Tutu‘s group or Jim Jones‘s.

So why aren’t the mainstream churches doing any of this rallying? It’s not like nobody’s looking to belong to a group where some incarnation of the Flying Spaghetti Monster is in charge, if the increasing numbers of mostly young people who identify themselves as “spiritual” are any indication.

Trouble is, those increasing numbers of young people are listening to hip-hop, and are likely to consider Nearer My God To Thee a little lame. Not to mention sermons without either special effects or a point that makes sense (unless you’ve spent six years in that church’s Bible study classes).

In return, the parishioners who have spent the six years in those Bible study classes are saying “We put a lot of time and effort into making this church what it is. We like it this way, it’s staying this way. We’re not listening to any Eminewhosis. You want to be with us, you’ll sing Nearer My God To Thee with us, and like it.”

Which might possibly have been a better sell if the generation insisting on “church as it is” hadn’t been the one that blew the country’s budget with amoral business practices and avaricious, and ultimately failed, wars, and blotted Michigan off the map. That young people aren’t willing to follow such a lead should come as exactly no surprise to today’s graybeards and bluehairs, who came to their majority chanting the slogan “Don’t trust anyone over thirty“. What goes around comes around.

So, in this Amoeba’s opinion, the mainstream churches (including many of the evangelical ones that sprang up in the heyday of the Christian Wrong Right) will dwindle, while new ones (that may or may not be “Christian”) will spring up to take their place. Full of people who wish to be spiritual.

It’s not like this sort of thing hasn’t happened before. Did you know that, in the dark ages BT, even longer ago than Woody Hayes, Nearer My God To Thee was considered radical church music, on the order of today’s hip-hop? It was radical music (based on tunes from popular music of the era) for the radical breakaway (from the Church of England) church of John and Charles Wesley – today’s staid old “mainstream” Methodists.

What goes around, comes around.

(Forgive me for suggesting this … but if God, however you imagine her, is as all-seeing, all-knowing, all-encompassing as We proclaim, isn’t it just a teeny bit presumptuous, arrogant even, for us to say where She will be putting us after we die? Whom are we really worshiping …?)

  – O Ceallaigh
Copyright © 2009 Felloffatruck Publications. All wrongs deplored.
All opinions are mine as a private citizen.


  1. Growing up a Badger, it was normal to loath a Wolverine and a Buckeye. Woody on the other hand was just like Bobby. Someone you both hated and admired at the same time.

    The Newsweek article was very strange. Besides rambling all over the map, it didn’t draw any conclusions at all. Unlike this brilliant post I might add.

  2. omfg!
    why on earth did you choose that particular clip?
    you dislike disney
    this version is so NOT representitive of the
    version that you and i are familiar with
    lion king sucked!

  3. Brian, the Newsweek article probably couldn’t afford to draw any conclusions. Too many advertising dollars at stake; can’t afford to offend any of ’em. And thank you. But why ain’t I rich?

    Nancy, I go for the music, and out of (as one atheist put it in Dawkins’s The God Delusion, “loyalty to the tribe”). I do think that a church that hasn’t gone the way of a Jones or a Falwell provides one of the few effective counterweights to the crass materialistic individualism of modern American society – as came out of the mouth of Spock, “the needs of the many outweigh those of the few … or the one.”

    And as for the clip, you two. Yes, it isn’t the greatest, but all the other ones I scanned were either too sappy or achingly amateurish. Don’t get me started on The Lion King … the whiteness … the Cleaver family gender role models (which don’t even come close to those of Panthera leo) …

  4. All I’m gonna say is welcome back and I love the lion king LOL. I need to digest this more and get back into the OC thinking mode 🙂

  5. Yup those pesky Methodists were rebels. The Church of England threw good ol’ John out of the pulpit, and brother Charles wrote lyrics to bar tunes. Scandalous! lol

    And you’re right, the successful groups are the ones that are willing to reach out to “kids with their crazy music,” and technology, etc. (Has there been a generation that hasn’t said that of the one that followed it?) That’s evangelism.

    On the other hand, the existing church still needs to be fed, or they’re going to drift into apathy, not good. There needs to be more than maintenance of their faith but continuing growth. (Just like with anything.)

    It shouldn’t have to be a question of “either/or.” There has to be a way to do both. The mainstream churches will have to figure this out, or they won’t be “mainstream” much longer.

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