[CITASA] religion, community structure, and suburbanization

Adrienne Redd adrienne at redd.com
Tue Jul 24 21:30:04 EDT 2012

A friend forwarded me this link:

> I believe that American Christianity has been shaped by the suburbs far more
> than the suburbs have been shaped by American Christianity. To borrow a word
> from the Apostle Paul in Romans 12, American churches have conformed to the
> suburbs.
> The effect of this has been huge and pervasive. It has tended to favor forms
> of church and flavors of theology that fall toward the conservative end of the
> culture-war spectrum, but it¹s misleading to therefore refer to this as a more
> ³conservative² theology. Radical changes and a massive break with the
> theology, traditions and institutions of the past aren¹t usually the sorts of
> things we describe as ³conservative.²
> The suburbanization of American Christianity has had a huge impact on
> institutional and denominational structures. Automobile-shaped development has
> produced an automobile-shaped ecclesiology
> www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/2012/06/29/why-dont-you-people-ever-seem-to-
> live-near-churches/
> The car has abolished the possibility of the parish. And that, in turn, has
> helped to redefine ³neighbor² as a matter of preference more than of proximity
> ‹ as optional rather than obligatory. That redefinition is rather significant,
> since ³Who is my neighbor?² is an important question for Christians.

And my comment was this:

There is literature concurring with this thesis above (that the
communicational and transportational shape of the world, in turn, shapes
belief and devotional practice). For example, a very, very difficult book
entitled Beyer, Peter. (2006). Religions in global society. New York:
Routledge. It¹s an interesting question - how non-co-present (that is to say
virtual) contact in religious communities molds and re-configures
communities of faith.

I reside four doors from one church (Methodist), a block and a half from
another (Baptist) and three blocks from another (Catholic) and have more
than a dozen other synagogues within a mile radius. I entered Keneseth
Israel (and subsequently Beth Sholom) only  because my son had childcare
there when he was younger. A\fter 10 years in the town where I currently
live, I only recently entered the Methodist and Baptist churches for
services, because I was recruiting for the Obama campaign. Churches (and
other houses of supernatural belief system) once performed social service
and even infrastructure needs, particularly when political authority was
fragmented pre-Peace of Westphalia (Anderson, Benedict. (1983/ 2006).
Imagined communities: Reflections on the origins and spread of nationalism.
New York: Verso). 

However, with greater bureaucracy and capitalistic fulfillment of social
services, Medieval institutions (housese of worship) have become obsolete.

The phenomenon of globalization stresses people¹s established social AND
economic status and (in my view) they may then revert to hyper-traditional
identities and communities what I have elsewhere called ³white working class
panic.² This reversion or ³panic² is sometimes framed in religious terms
(explored in Armstrong, Karen. (2000). The battle for God. New York:
Ballantine Books). 

It may not seem obvious that racial-xenophobic identity panic is related to
ethnoreligious identity. However, for example, during the Bosnian conflicts,
attackers asked imminent victims to pray, and thereby identified them as
Serbs, Croats or Bosniaks based on which dialect they spoke. This act of
prayer (learned in childhood and difficult to fake) stigmatized people as
belonging to one of several possible religious groups. Similarly, Catholics
and Lutherans in the U.S. recite ³grace² and the Lord¹s Prayer and other
oral texts in different ways. These affinities and early patterns are shaped
by where people live physically and how they communicate (virtually or in
physical community) etc.

Not connecting it to religious practice, but connecting it to urban studies,
a professor at Temple U. (Bill Yancey) wrote and lectured about
³institutionally complete² communities in which people walked to their
barber, school, grocery store, church, etc. and in which people had chance
meetings with members of all those types of circles. When people only drive
and only have intentional and/or virtual ³meetings² the reinforcement and
fulfillment of social needs in a larger community erodes. People have less
sense of their (different or more peripheral) neighbors; and people in the
small town in suburban Philadelphia where I reside surely have no sense of
people in North Philadelphia only two miles away. When people don¹t see
different people, or poor people, or people of different faiths, those
outsiders seem much scarier and the fantasy of depraved, indolent people
sucking away the prosperity of society via a bloated (secular) social
service state seems much more frightening.

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