Sunday, December 14, 2008

Why would this be the case? Is this a *good* thing?


[S]ince September, pastors nationwide say they have seen such a burst of new interest that they find themselves contending with powerful conflicting emotions — deep empathy and quiet excitement — as they re-encounter an old piece of religious lore:

Bad times are good for evangelical churches...

Part of the evangelicals’ new excitement is rooted in a communal belief that the big Christian revivals of the 19th century, known as the second and third Great Awakenings, were touched off by economic panics. Historians of religion do not buy it, but the notion “has always lived in the lore of evangelism,” said Tony Carnes, a sociologist who studies religion.

A study last year may lend some credence to the legend. In “Praying for Recession: The Business Cycle and Protestant Religiosity in the United States,” David Beckworth, an assistant professor of economics at Texas State University, looked at long-established trend lines showing the growth of evangelical congregations and the decline of mainline churches and found a more telling detail: During each recession cycle between 1968 and 2004, the rate of growth in evangelical churches jumped by 50 percent. By comparison, mainline Protestant churches continued their decline during recessions, though a bit more slowly.

The little-noticed study began receiving attention from some preachers in September, when the stock market began its free fall. With the swelling attendance they were seeing, and a sense that worldwide calamities come along only once in an evangelist’s lifetime, the study has encouraged some to think big.

My gut feeling is that many people want to be told what to do, what to think.

A manifestation of aversion, perhaps.

Perhaps anhedonia made flesh.

People quoted in the article give one explanation that they have a more "personal" experience in those Churches compared to Catholic and "mainline" Protestant Churches (there's a nice school of thought that says that evangelical churches aren't Protestant, but this is probably too much detail for this blog post). A Catholic clergyman says their congregations "get more stuff easier" in evangelical churches. An economist who recently made the link between evangelical churches and bad times noted that it's because evangelicals are lower class, compared, I guess, to other religious groups. OK, the article didn't exactly put it that way, saying instead, "evangelicals as a whole still tend to be less affluent than members of mainline churches, and therefore depend on their church communities more during tough times, for material as well as spiritual support."

Why are they fighting over bodies? Why are we supporting the down and out based on a religious identification? Wouldn't those without a "faith community" be suffering just as much, if not more?

My wife often talks about going to a church on Christmas, to get my son to see what the Christians do.

I have no problem with it, though as long as it'd be on the agenda, I'd want to take them to the best of what Christianity has to offer. On the other hand, of course, I'm a Buddhist.

But for the life of me, I cannot see the point, I cannot stomach, it borders on ghoulish this concept of salivating in response to the misfortune of others so that your pews will become full.

I might just do this Christian church thing for my son this Christmas, but ideally it would be a majorly non-evangelical church. A liberal orthodox church would perhaps be the best trade-off of ceremonial practice and sensibility, but that church likely doesn't exist, unless you count Episcopal churches as orthodox (but then there's the cake or death thing). And it would be the Christian opposite of an evangelical church.

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