Notes on Political Venality, Pomposity and Associated Stupidity.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

"The Great God Place"

In his excellent 1999 book, "The Great Good Place," author Roy Oldenburg posits the following; our communities and our lives have changed (for the worse) as we have lost access to what he calls "third places," that is, places that are neither home nor work... places like local restaurants and taverns, where people would once gather after work to help "blow off some steam." They weren't fancy places...just local joints. And people weren't going there to "get hammered!" but just to ease the transition from the work world to the home world.

I bring this up, because it fits neatly into a theory I have. Let's call it "Name Tag Nation."

Since the hyper-suburbanization of the United States began, it has gradually disconnected people from each other. Few people actually connect in any realm outside of the home. While they spend many hours shopping in chain stores and eating in chain restaurants, they almost never get to know the people who wait on them. Instead, they participate in a scripted "play" of sorts. "Do you have our frequent buyer card?" "I'm Britney and I'll be your server." We all know the questions, and we've all practiced our lines as well. And the name tags really help. They exist just as vague proof that the person across the counter from you actually is a human being who has a family and a life outside of Barnes & Noble.

Where is this going? It's going to church. I feel that the ascendency of the "self righteous right" and their dependence on the Bible as the font of all wisdom is, in part, due to this disconnect between people and their communities. Those rather soft and comfortable bonds that used to link us to our towns and neighborhoods are gone - but not the yearning for connectedness. And that's where Smiling Preacher Joe walks in. Today's evangelicals have found, in Jesus, their own "great god place," where they share similar backgrounds, thoughts, memories, hopes and fears. Church has become, for them, a refuge from the emptiness of the 'burbs. Don't get me wrong, religion has always filled this need. It gives succor to those who are in pain, whether that be physical or spiritual. But I think today's participants are feeling a new kind of pain, and are, at the same time, being manipulated by an incredibly sophisticated research and marketing effort that they are neither aware of, or have any ability to fight against. The GOP "outreach" into the churches of Amerca was no different, in intent or practice, than Nike rolling out a new product in a new market. The sad difference is this; we know that corporations are, by their very nature, venal, money-making operations. So when someone tries to get you to buy their latest "must have" product, we are free to access their motives and make our own choice.

The same does not go for decisions that are based on religious beliefs. If your Church tells you abortion is bad or gays are hateful or that the "ownship society" is good - you have little choice but to accept that teaching "on faith." Few people, who are tied closely to Church (always used generically, by the way) teachings will risk the wrath of the group if they feel differently.