Wednesday, February 2

Spirituality in the 21st century

There has been a good deal of blogospheric traffic as of recent regarding the inability of the combined faith communities in regard to engaging the 'youth', though I find categorizing everyone under 40 as 'youth' more telling than most would like to see.

Putnam and Campbell state in their book, American Grace, that the Gen-X and younger group are leaving churches at a rate 5-6 times faster than the historical average and that religious fluidity in america is such that sectarian affiliation is no longer a familial or even cultural matter (i.e. - my parents are scots-irish and Presbyterian, which means I'm a Buddhist).  Putnam and Campbell argue that one of the causes of the disaffection with organized faith is the identification of said church structure with radicalized conservative political movements in the US.

A 20-something attendee of a Catholic conference devoted to the subject of 'youth in the Catholic church' pointed a lack of resonation i.e. - Liturgy which does not inspire, a social environment which is not inviting, education that is non-educational and activities which do not engage.

The article in America about the conference notes that these 'youth' are disaffected due to the politicization of the pulpit, the euro-centric view of Catholicism is disenfranchising latino and asian-americans, and the views of the Church regarding sexuality and gender being increasingly at odds with the 21st century consensus on inclusion and tolerance.

Though I recognize and generally affirm the observations above, I still see most of these as pastoral and cosmetic changes which won't address the underlying issue.  What crystallized my thoughts about all of this is something that JD at In Exsilium said.

"Most people don't reject Christianity because they have thoroughly reasoned it out, but because they were born into a highly competitive ideological market, and an environment where it is basically impossible to piece it together for an objective judgement (as though that were possible?)."

Much of what I hear in regard to evangelization and engaging the 'youth' is about marketing.  Rick Warren and the whole 'purpose-filled' feel-good church movement is just that.  But this ignores the whole underlying tenet of authenticity which, in my experience, is key to understanding 'youth culture'.  EVERYONE is selling something and most of what people are selling is a sham.  Show me what's real, what's authentic. Prove to me that it is relevant to my interests and it's real and you won't need fancy gimmicks.  JD talks about a lack of objective judgment, but most folks who grew up in a post-modernist society don't believe in objective truth or the certitude of anything.

The other thing JD said which grabbed me was that  "Spirituality today is a consumer product". Consumer products are sterile, prepared, pre-packaged and pre-digested.  We, as a generation, have been raised to have all of the answers given to us, the truth as a consumer product.  But life isn't that way and our relationships with each other prove that.  They're raw, immediate, unpredictable and flooded with reality and emotion.  Nothing in the real world can be solved in 23 minutes (plus commercials) and nobody lives with a laugh track.  The natural world doesn't function as a consumer product either, so why should we expect our relationship with it (and it's maker) be that way?  If all of our experience shows that relationships don't function as a consumer product, why should we expect our relationship with the Divine to act like that?

One of my primary consumer products are computer games and MMO's (Massively Multiplayer Online games) have become a huge portion of those games in the last decade.  Religion and spirituality are not games...and not MMOs.  Its not about raising your piety points, grinding your prayer skill by saying the rosary, gaining levels in godliness or unlocking achievements by saving souls.  There are no save points, no spawn points and no eq you MUST have. 

On the other hand, what most folks don't realise is that life is Co-op, not PvP or PvE.  At least, that's what my guild leader, HippyNazerene, keeps saying.

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