fragments of an attempted writing.

Pew it stinks out there.

A lot is being made of the new Pew numbers out, showing continued declines for churches and the now one in five Americans who don't affiliate with religion.  One thing I see a lot coming from traditionally oriented Christians is the taking of the opportunity to yet again mock the fish in the barrel that are "spiritual but not religious" persons.

Every day when I go to work I get in the car, pass the JW Kingdom Hall on the corner of my street, then pass an Islamic center, then pass two decidedly health and wealth (you can tell from the messages on the signs out front) black pentecostal churches, and that is within a mile or so from my house.  I probably pass 30 or so churches on the way to work (12 miles - Memphis does have the highest number of churches per capita of any city in the country).  Sometimes I take an alternative route which runs me by 15 different churches than the usual route.  So let's call the total number of churches 45.  From what I know of these churches via things heard about them or their signage or their folks coming to my house and leaving literature and/or talking to me, I would rather my kids grow up to be "spiritual but not religious" than attend any these churches, with the possible exception of one of them.

In my adult life, I have visited many hundreds of parishes - Mainline Prot, Evangelical, Catholic, Orthodox, Quaker, Unitarian, etc.  I suppose I'd rather my kids grow up to be "spiritual but not religious" than attend approximately half of the parishes I have visited in my adult life, and that includes some particularly disordered Catholic and Orthodox ones.

Of all the bosses I've had in my life, the worst have been the practicing Christians, with the possible exception of one who was a mix of incredibly benevolent and patient and incredibly condescending and dysfunctional.  The best boss I've ever had is my current one - a philandering agnostic who brags about the number of abortions he paid for when he was in the local rich kid Evangelical high school.  The "spiritual but not religious" bosses I've had have generally been level headed and competent and fair.  My wife's best boss ever is a liberal Catholic - one of those most trad and conservative Catholics I know would rather not be in the RCC and one who sounds, when she talks about faith matters, like she is "spiritual and not religious"  -- she likes to "thank the universe" for things and send out "positive energy" and so forth.    Every Prot Christian my wife has ever worked for has been a royal pain in the ass.  So was the one Orthodox boss she briefly had (though that doesn't really count because he was a convert and his "boss style" was decidedly conservative Evangelical - he was also a monkabee who espoused the most overt antinomianism I've ever heard from an Orthodox in person, but when it came to running his business, whew - then he was all scruples and rigidity and micromanagement and dotting every i and crossing every t and yelling at you if you put too much mustard on the sandwich, and let me tell you, if my wife thinks you pay too much attention to detail and are anal about it when doing a job, you are one seriously fucked up freak).  My wife told me once that she plans on only working for liberal Catholics from here on out.  They drink a lot, they throw good parties, and they are generous.

We've shared this with my mother, and with a number of friends of ours, and sure enough, a sizable chunk of my friends seem to agree with my mother that "Christians make the worst bosses" (usually they mean by that Evangelicals, fundies, and other conservative Prots).

In every school setting I have ever found myself in, the "spiritual but not religious" folks were the sort that were more likely than the overtly hostile-to-spiritual-things or overtly religious to be reliable without being annoying.  Those that made a point of letting you know that they were practicing Christians were, 7 times out of 10, not the sort of people most of us would want to spend much time with, whereas most of the folks I have known outside of more alternative-ish (wannabe hippy - hippies younger than the age of 50 tend to be irritating as all get out) circles who self-identify as "spiritual but not religious" have been fairly easy to work with and get along with and benign enough in their spouting interpretations of life and the world, etc.

None of this is a proof of anything, of course, or an argument, or meant to sway anyone's opinion about anything.  It's just anecdotal ephemera from my life.  And it probably has something to do with why, when I hear the Pew numbers, I think, "well, of course."


14 comments:

  1. As usual, spot on. In my 30 years in business there were 3 kinds of people I tried to avoid working for: Fundamentalist Christians, lawyers and engineers. (4 if you count FLAMING gay men who seemed to like me for some reason but were mostly totally screwed up people). I also avoided doing business with subcontractors who overtly advertised their "Christianity" with fish signs or "Christian" names or logos. The very few times I did early on it was a disaster with the employees evangelizing me and my clients and other subs, being dicks, doing a bad job in some way or over-charging, and being WAY too happy for my clients' comfort zones. The people I've encountered over the years who have asked me to join their "Christian businessman's associations" were all flakes or just plain goofy. Ultimately it was a way to network with other Christian businesses to score a guilt-discount because, well, Brother, I'm a Christian too, you know. Although, I will have to say the MOST dysfunctional and weird "spritual business" was a dentist's offie I remodeled run by a Scientologist who was one of the top five Scientologist in the U.S. (He said he paid 250,000.00 to get audited his last time around and that was in the 80's). It was freakin' spooky. Dentists are anal anyway, so Scientology was probably an extention of his weirdness. He could have been Protestant, Orthodox or whatever other "spirituality" fit his bill.

    It has always fascinated me that, for all their talk of believing in "grace", fundy Christians are the most legalistic and rigid people when it comes to business and money.

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    1. I got my truck fixed once after consulting one of those "Christian businesses yellow pages" things. Never again.

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    2. Yep. When they advertise their Christianity, watch your wallet.

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  2. Things are different, yes, than they were before, but maybe not always as much as people would like to think. I remember being shocked that my grandmother was married not in a church, but by a JOP. I remember being shocked when she followed it up with saying it was because her mother was very religious, but primarily liked the tent revivals that would pass through their patch of mining and timber country - rather than the staunch Lutheran denomination we were all raised in. One can't seriously reflect on stories of the West (as it moved West from Appalachia to the Pacific) without realizing that 'religion' versus some sort of Christian-inspired 'spirituality' was the norm, at best, or the only sort of religion available in the midst of a welter of other more important focii in settlers', ranchers', and trappers' lives than church. Abe Lincolon's religiosity (or lack thereof), the film "There Will Be Blood", and the novel "The Grapes of Wrath" offer peaks into a world where religion was present but rarely central (or 'established').

    Compare that to stories of the 'burned over district' in Upstate NY that was seedbed for Mormonism, and to the Unitarians, Transcendentalists, and Christian Scientists of Puritan New England, and, well, people have always had a penchant for the odd. The old order is always passing away. I'm pretty sure the same story could be told relative to the rise of Baptist communities and other non-denominational churches, or of various micro-denominations apart from the established mainline bodies. And that's without mentioning immigrant idolatries like Catholicism and Orthodoxy, or millenarian sects like the JWs or the Adventists. I'm sure many of these groups would not have been defined as full Christian or Protestant as they were on the rise, but they were later. Mormonism is only the most recent to traverse this path. Success solves a lot of such 'problems'.

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    1. Good points 123.

      I always like to refer people to this book when these matters come up:
      http://www.amazon.com/Radical-Spirits-Spiritualism-Nineteenth-Century-America/dp/0253215021/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1349894079&sr=8-1&keywords=radical+spirits

      There is solid evidence that a large majority of adults living after the Civil War engaged in necromancy at some point, and that a solid 20%+ were regular participants in spiritualist activities. It was culturally transformative in many respects, as the author well documents.

      My maternal grandparents dropped my mom and her sisters off at church and didn't become churchgoers themselves until later in life. My paternal grandparents went to the richest church around in order to facilitate business transactions and socializing. A lot of my grandpa's family from WVA didn't attend church, and some who did only did so regularly. And this sort of thing was all very normal. It wasn't as if people who didn't go to church in the 1930s wore scarlet letters on their chests. In the hollows, and in places like Memphis, there are and were so many tiny churches that are little more than 2 or 3 families and a few stragglers doing their own Word of God Apostolic Holiness Tabernacle of the Lord Seventh Day Pentecostal Bread of Life Transformers in Christ thing that you may as well call that "spiritual but not religious" anyway. You are right to connect this to the history of frontier spiritualities in this country.

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  3. My dad, a farm boy from northern Michigan, remembers a lot of arguing about Scripture and quoting from it, but little in the way of churchgoing. And his family was very superstitious, wary of black cats and given to some parapsychic stuff, like my grandma always dreaming of a death before she heard about it. My dad's brother experienced this same thing when my dad died. And my aunts have dabbled in both pentecostalism and spiritualism. My grandma ended up first a Nazarene (her grandpa had been a holiness preacher in a tiny denomination, The Church of Daniel's Band) and then a Pentecostal of the Jesus Only variation.

    I'd be wary of generalizing about liberal Catholics from your anecdotal experience; the postmaster at a town just south of where I work was a very liberal Catholic and a real prick to work for. His liberalism did not instill respect for either workers or the union or the contract.
    I pretty much think there are honorable people of every and no religious and political stripe, and assholeness is also universal.

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  4. All of this pretty much lines up with my experience. The absolutely worst boss I ever had was a former Baptist preacher. Everyone hated him, and he screwed me over so badly that he's one of only two or three people in my life about whom I've had occasional fantasies of his dying in horrible ways. There are, of course, jerks and nice people in all denominations (and among those of no denomination). However, it seems that there is some evil inverse of "grace building on nature" whereby Christian jerks are transcendently jerky far beyond the realm of ordinary jerks.

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  5. Once upon a time, a retired Church of God pastor worked for me, and he could be an asshole at times. He considered me an atheist, but that's not an unusual view. I got my revenge, however, by asserting that he'd be eating my dust at the Rapture and by telling strangers that his nickname was Whiskey.

    If I were intent on being screwed without a kiss, I'd buy a car from the salesman with a Bible on his desk.

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  6. If I were intent on being screwed without a kiss, I'd buy a car from the salesman with a Bible on his desk.

    Visibilium, you beat me to it! That's precisely what I've learned over the years: When a contractor or repair person tells you he's Christian, watch your wallet. Sad but true.

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  7. Of all the bosses I've had in my life, the worst have been the practicing Christians [... ] Every Prot Christian my wife has ever worked for has been a royal pain in the ass.


    John 15:19  If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.

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    1. I'm sure they tell themselves that all the time. It follows the same perverse logic as every Christian communion and sect in the world telling itself that its persecution is a proof of its truth.

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    2. The last refuge of the asshole is always, "I'm just telling the truth."

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    3. “The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.” - Gloria Steinem.

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  8. 123, that's exactly right. The biggest assholes I've known and the worst relationships I've had have been with people who bragged about how honest they were, how they "just told the truth", and how they didn't go in for PC bullshit. I'm not dissing honesty as such; but there's a certain type of people that use it as a club to beat you with, or an excuse for being an asshole, or for trying to push their views on you. Not being "politically incorrect" and "being a world-class jerk" are not synonymous.

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