Great Resignation

Although many people my age are retired, I’m looking at a couple more decades of work at least.  A large part of this is because I specialized in a field I didn’t realize was dying.  I suspect clergy in the eighties, when I had to decide on majors and education choices, thought the declines in church attendance were a blip—a statistical anomaly until things went back to the way they “usually were.”  I majored in religion as an undergrad and then went on to seminary and finally to a doctoral program, all along that trajectory.  At every step of the way I was assured there would be jobs.  I’m seeing now that religionists don’t always look ahead.  It’s important to look back, but society begs to differ.

The reason this comes to mind, apart from being part of my daily reality, is an article a minister sent me.  The piece by Melissa Florer-Bixler  in Sojourners is titled “Why Pastors Are Joining the Great Resignation.”  It explores a number of reasons around pay and working conditions that ministers are quitting.  My thought, unscientific but logical, is that many of them are realizing society has moved away from the standard church model.  They recognize that the insistent biblicism that led to a past of Americans being in church under threat of Hell has diminished.  “Worship,” as it is generally done, no longer speaks to people.  I’ve experienced a great many worship styles and venues.  (I still attend them, but I’m a creature of habit as well as obligated by profession.)  When the realities of the world sink in you start to see the old model of praising an angry God because he demands it just doesn’t make sense.  People like Trump get elected anyway, so what’s the point?

Many pastors are underpaid.  Unless you run a mega-church budgets are tight and the need of people is great.  Much of the effort of the congregation I attend is directed to social justice causes.  There are so many.  So very many.  People are in need and the pat answers of call to worship, opening hymn, and sermon just aren’t doing it for them.  Congregants need pastoral care, as do people unchurched.  I’ve been through seminary and a professor in one long enough to know that few really get the idea of how to inspire by their words.  These are folks looking for a living who don’t fit into the capitalist model.  So there’s a decline.  As I read the piece I wondered what jobs they were switching to.  If my experience is anything to go by, the options are limited.


Beliefism

A question never adequately resolved revolves around the status of atheism. What exactly is it? Well, I suppose it is many things, actually. One thing that seems indisputable is that religion has been part of human culture from the beginning. It would seem likely that not all believers carried the same level of conviction, and there may have been “atheists” shortly after theism evolved. The difficulty is that both belief in god/s, and/or the lack thereof, are matters of personal conviction. That somewhat blurred line has been crossed, according to some, by the recent growth of “atheist churches.” In several web stories my friends have pointed out to me, a growing movement of atheist “mega-churches” has been noticed. These are groups of atheists who meet for many of the same reasons religious folk do, sans salvation. It is a social occasion, and a chance to fellowship with like-minded non-believers, and to support their lack of faith. Some atheists bristle at this (as do some religious), claiming that it cheapens the atheistic enterprise (or that religions somehow hold a copyright on belief-based gatherings).

Herein lies the rub. Atheists are no more cut from the same cloth (or lack of cloth) as religious believers are. There are varieties of unbelief. Some obviously see that the weekly gathering has benefits. There’s no question that atheists can be every bit as humanitarian as religious believers are. Besides, who doesn’t like to meet with people who think like them? “Minister” might not be the leader’s title of choice, although it has a long pedigree in politics as a secular title (as, for example, in the Ministry of Defense). The slow decline in mainstream Christian services, however, might suggest that atheist services would be inclined to grow. Weekends were originally created for religious reasons and still generally remain the religious meeting days of choice. Some religious groups do not insist on doctrine to be members—Unitarians are a prime example of this—but the value of meeting together is human, all too human.

Clearly the purpose of an atheist gathering is not primarily worship. I should imagine, however, that wonder is still part of the non-religious vocabulary. God is not necessary for feelings of awe and joy. And sometimes it is fun to get together for some structured activity that isn’t work (for those who have jobs). An Associated Press story, however, points out the irony of the gathering of “people bound by their belief in non-belief.” There is, however, believing going on here. There can be no escaping it. Despite all the problems associated with omnipotence, the idea of a deity where the buck indeed stopped was an ebenezer for grounding belief. Even the most outspoken of atheists share this with the literalist and the moderate—they all believe. And as long as people believe, they will seek groups of those who share similar views. Why not? Even the truth requires belief.

What does it  mean?

What does it mean?