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Over the Hill?

By Carl S ~

Here in Maine, our local newspaper, the Lincoln County News, features a column called, "View from over the Hill." It's written by a 73 yr. old ordained priest. Lately, most of his topics are about his background and past experiences. The subject of a recent column (7/30/15), is quite different because he wrote it to be read before an annual meeting of his bishops as it deals with the future survival of his particular small church. After reading it, I sensed an unintended pre-mourning for the passing of religion itself.

The priest is upset because religion does not have the nostalgic meanings for others as it does for him. He seems to be unaware that church attendance was in past times mandatory and/or community-bonding. (Currently, these kinds of gatherings only happen whenever a tragedy such as a mass shooting occurs.) Attendees HAD to get together, HAD to pretend to believe, and HAD to be polite to one another, because every Sunday they would meet up again with those same people who also pretended, etc.

With this in mind, we may wonder: Perhaps one reason why overt non-believers are shunned and distrusted by believers comes from some understandable aversion: envy of the non-believer's honesty, an exemption of her or him from having to pretend, and from having to practice phony, "charitable” politeness.

It's a long article, so I can only excerpt some of his high points, quoting directly. To begin: He was driven to a hospital to visit a relative. He writes: "On the ride over, I was thinking of this article. I was sorry to see, all the way over, churches converted to other uses, churches showing obvious neglect from their congregations, and just plain abandoned country churches. Theses churches all once provided spiritual support to large groups of people and, for whatever reason, lost their influence with the folks going to other churches."

Perhaps he is unaware of the increasingly abandoned and "converted (an interesting use of that word in this context) to other uses" churches throughout the world. There are good reasons why churches have "lost their influence," which he seems incapable of seeing. He says the patrons "went to other churches." Yet, statistics show that people are leaving churches for good, internationally, and not going to other churches.

What about that "spiritual support" he claims they provided? What happened to those people who left; what did they do without it? Did they "spiritually"' fall apart or become immoral, sink into despair, become cruel and inhuman? Or did they find that they could do very well without that "spiritual support?"

To us and his church hierarchy, he writes with nostalgic regret of times when, "Culturally the church influenced civilians. I remember when... the entire street full of folks would cross themselves as the Angelus bell rang. Today, culturally, our young folks have super-extravagant, expensive, heavily produced religious shows that whip up the folks to levels that can't be sustained in daily life. When these folks go to a local church to be with real people, what do they find? Will they find Jesus there, or a group of polite, standoffish folks?"

Does he truly mean they will find "real" people finding "Jesus" at a local church, and not at a mega- church? Isn't one reason why the churches are becoming unattended happens to be because the reality-based civilians outside are finding out that the people who are inside them are not "real-based?"

Towards the end of his article, the author notes that nowadays, "people come to me to visit my home, to see the place, to go swimming, to relax, and sooner or later the conversation eases around to what they want to know without having to ask the question. Make sense?"

"I hardly ever hear anything alarming, just folks hurting, folks wondering what went wrong, folks who don’t know how to say I'm sorry. My advice, for what it is worth as the senior cleric (he doesn’t mention that he's the only cleric), is to be yourselves: be kind; be attentive to folk's real questions; always show forth Jesus' love and acceptance; lead, don’t condemn. "

With all due respect, except for his "Jesus' acceptance" part (Jesus "accepting?" Doesn't he read his gospels?), any thoughtful and caring person would give that advice. The need for a cleric is superfluous. The need for religion with its claim that it can fill up a "hole" in us with its god is also superfluous.

We have the awesome majesty of a real universe before us, with its own "revelations" open and waiting for us as if for children discovering the world around them. It replaces the majesty formerly claimed by gods, whose "glory" requires regular appeasement, offerings, and even killings in their names. Currently, gods are in comics and on movie screens, where they belong. We have traded the ambiguous supernatural for the real, all-natural. Our "spiritual," as he would say, is "currently" equated with awe itself, and our good touchy-feely emotions.

My wife and I recently watched a program about human altruism and compassion, which begins in infancy. Researchers have run experiments proving that compassion can become a virus on its own, that the practice of compassion makes each of us more generous and outgoing, feeling better about ourselves by making others feel good.

Later, in a restaurant, we watched the interactions between two young women and a toddler. They were making one another smile and laugh, and their pleasure was contagious to all who saw them. These qualities are living within our very genetic nature, the "spiritual support" we need and find, without the superfluous guilt and encumbrances of faiths. Given these facts, shouldn't the churches be emptying faster?