It is encouraging to see that in some locales the religious spirituality of the modern American, aptly described as Moralistic-Therapeutic Deism, seems to be running it’s course. This Moralistic-Therapeutic Deism has equipped multiple generations of Weimericans with the spiritual tools necessary to live self-soothing and self-absorbed lives, all the while avoiding uncomfortable issues, such as knowledge of an objective moral order, the worship of something other than self, the burden of formal religious obligation and extremely inconvenient topics such as sin-guilt before a watchful and Holy God. Yes, the Boomers have taught us that is perfectly acceptable to pursue our passions with reckless abandon, to be true to who we are or want to be, and to chase our dreams because we are the center of our own little world which, appropriately, revolves around us.
Becoming your own god consumes much time and energy and a consequence of this self-idolatrous activity is that some things must be sacrificed or jettisoned. Things that work against your own worldview or things that serve no self-interested purpose need to be removed in Weimerica – like, the religious traditions of your grandparents. Let’s face it, the church is full of hypocrites, why would we want to join them? Besides, we can have church at the lake or the country club just as easy as we can have it downtown.
Not to mention, we can talk to God any time we please; there is nothing special about being in that church building. Yep, those are the standard Boomer talking points that we have all heard before. Tragically, this level of ignorance, self-deception and self-absorption has come at an immense cost, mostly at the expense of our younger generations. The fruit of living such self-indulgent lives unmoored from religious instruction and observance has resulted in a pitiful cascade of dysfunction that has afflicted untold numbers of modern families. It is characterized by broken homes, fatherlessness, serial divorce, single mothers, substance abuse among young adults and increased levels of functional poverty just to name a few.
It wasn’t always this way. Yes, we remember Grandpa and Grandma. Their home was different. True, they had less stuff than we have today, but they loved more. Grandpa didn’t graduate high school, but he could do anything and had more wisdom than any man we knew, including our own father. We understand the reason that Grandpa and Grandma’s home was different was because they were from a different era and were not “modern” in the conventional sense.
Quite obviously, Grandpa and Grandma lived to serve, not themselves we moderns do, but another God. Their faith, which they were very open and serious about, made them different in a good way. They prayed and prayed regularly and often out loud. They were kind, generous, humble and gracious. They read their Bibles every day. They faithfully attended worship services every Sunday morning and Sunday night, and even the prayer meeting on Wednesday evenings. They served their congregation in many capacities over the years and regularly tithed what they had to further the work of Christ, both home and abroad. They were real Christians who lived a life of faith worthy of emulation that bore authentic fruit that touched everyone within their sphere of influence. They weren’t perfect people mind you, but they were truly good people and this goodness was palpable and memorable. Many of us have memories such as these.
It is a blessing that numbers of young Southerners have become wise to the narcissistic foolishness of the modern lifestyle and are turning back to the spiritual traditions of their forefathers. Diligent and observant young Gen-X and Gen-Z parents now face a daunting task of attempting to recover a neglected tradition, while working to ensure that the spiritual and cultural cornerstone of authentic Christian faith is recovered and passed on to their children. Meanwhile, they are hoping to break the destructive cycles of personal and family dysfunction. This is no small task.
The spiritual landscape of America has changed dramatically since the 1950’s. Decades ago, the markets were closed on Sundays and the South’s churches could be heard lifting up hymns and praises to the Living God while the Word of the Living God thundered from the pulpit. Church attendance and giving were things that always increased and never decreased. Churches were renovated, expanded, or sold to other churches so new ones could be built.
Not everyone went to church, but most did, as church attendance was assumed. The church was an epicenter of social activity and was a place that lifelong friendships were made and ties to the community were formed. Back in those days, Christian ethics still permeated most sectors of society to the degree that the Southern Christian felt that his community and to a smaller degree, his nation, were still home. Perhaps the picture being painting here is a bit romanticized. I’ll grant you that, but the lines and numbers are historical facts.
Once we decide to begin the difficult search to find a local church to attend, what exactly should we look for in a church? In true modern market capitalism style, the options for church are endless. Indeed, much has changed in 50 years and today’s online, multi-campus, relevant, outreach-obsessed, coffee shop containing, program and entertainment-driven church is a far cry from the church Pawpaw was baptized in as a young boy.
Pawpaw’s church was special and most of the modern venues don’t seem too genuine for some reason. Something has been lost, but we are going to have to dig a little into the past to figure that mystery out. What are the differences between the churches of yesterday and today? Is there a connection between the historical change that occurred within America’s churches and the influence that the church has on its culture today?
Stay tuned for Part II.
-By Octavius Hood
Oh, I'm a good old Rebel, now that's just what I am; For this "Fair Land of Freedom" I do not give a damn! I'm glad I fit against it, I only wish we'd won, And I don't want no pardon for anything I done.