Thursday, 12 June 2008

Secularised Technological Religion

If I'm bored and tired and doing nothing I can channel hop. At the moment I seem to be living in a total community (as the sociologist would say), which is religion for breakfast, dinner and tea (actually these are the only times free of it - as even by the bog there is a theology book). So I channel hopped to one of these religious channels.

When I hear about these suburban well to do churches drawing in some numbers from far and wide, and people go visiting and report on them, I always wonder why they don't do it properly, as with say the Abundant Life Church in Bradford. I have visited the place (for a tour, Religious Education) and it is a media centre as well as a church and many outbuildings. I have seen Anglican Church Evangelicals write online how tough it is in Bradford trying to nurture the few who come through their doors just to find them going to where the entertainment and experience can be found. Here, having channel hopped there was a similar shed sized place, and here was an out of tune woman and back up male singer going on, and on, and on. I thought, I'm going to see how she stops - because she would come down and then build it up a bit and then go hell for leather again.

A ticker tape ran along the bottom, wit comments and appeals, and the whole thing is indeed technological. It is on the one hand like a rock concert, though in another way it was like jazz. No doubt she has some verses, but that endless going up and down and repetition and then a change included spontaneity. It is amplified music, and the 'ticker tape' was all about revival through the TV set.

Another thought was this place was like a disco. All these rather younger middle aged people were together (behind the security railings) but were alone, and obviously blowing out their minds into this repetition - eyes closed and some in tears as they worked themselves up.

When Steve Bruce (sociologist of religion) regards this as evidence of secularisation, despite the obvious dogma of these people if they are asked anything, what he means is that it is a purely cultural phenomenon coming through the media of the day. It is entertainment and escapism. In Florida it will have been 8 pm or so (this woman, from the point of me joining it, went on for 45 minutes when finally she stopped with some laughter and something said that was reasonably incoherent). What this means is that these people went to work or were in all day, and have come out for the evening, and blown away their concerns into this absorption into experience. These channels show all sorts of stupid hysterial and manipulation around the clock, as well as tabloid religious comment and tabloid news, but this was clearly meant to be absorbed, each individual there or at the TV screen, and to as if never bring this emotion to an end - until of course the woman performer needs to drink or go to the toilet or some such. Just before she brought it finally to an end, she made eye contact with a fellow performer, so all her dancing and twirling about and repetition had a kind of knowing above it. She wasn't as lost as the members of the audience: she just appeared to be. She was completely sweated out, and layers of clothes were to protect her modesty, so this event for her, as well as for her swaying crowd, was also a kind of workout. It was American life with the warbling about loving because "he died" and something about God desperate for people to respond - which they were presumably doing.

I write on this because there are these GAFCON types going off to try and remake Anglicanism, and against this stuff they haven't got a chance.

Presumably there are leadership structures with all these places. Abundant Life Bradford has Paul Scanlon, his family, and his teams - and everyone who goes in there gets picked up. But you don't get the sense that they are concerned about priestly orders and how many levels of ministry they have (perhaps they are Protestants and roughly follow Deacons and Presbyters), and one wonders whether or whenever they celebrate the Eucharist and how. In other words, one wonders what is the continuation between these and those more historical communities. It's like simplistic assumptions and thrown up personnel (like "Rory and Wendy", or those two at Revelation TV and their Black Churches supporters with imported Pastors reading the Daily Mail and Daily Express) - and where critical theology is chucked out, arguments about authority are chucked out, and all sorts of subtleties are lost in the media circus.

The ticker tape of this Florida repetition had people emailing in about touching the TV and being healed, and then the inevitable appeal for money. These channels tell them that if they send in their money they will get rich - many gullible people who have next to nothing thus send what they cannot afford while these channels build their empires.

A similarity with GAFCON is the obsession with Jerusalem. The idea seems to be that if they support the return of Jews there that somehow the End will come. Some of these at the nuttiest end seem to have swapped the old belief of a war with the Soviet Union to one with Iran as a way of bringing the End about. Both GAFCON and the British channels are obsessed by Muslims and Islam.

Sorry, but this is all like the lunatics running the asylum. The gassy religion that Steve Bruce thinks is secularised - and it is - still allows the manipulators and power brokers to operate. Empires build oppositions and I just regard too many of these people as dangerous. The GAFCON people are religious politicians, out to capture institutions and change them around. In the West they are a fringe of Anglicanism who have climbed aboard other cultures to try and push their agenda via setting up international structures.

Meanwhile, whatever they do, other people will sit by their television sets and send off money by direct debit, living in a virtual world for a virtual religion. Others will find a media centre where they can sway and stretch out their arms to these repetitive amplified sounds for hours if they so want their minds blowing out with emotion.

It is a form of spirituality - of course it is. It is the rock music version of whirling dervishes in Sufi Islam and Ultra Orthodox Jews jumping up and down. Yet there is something in all this technological consumption that is so shallow that it feels like the death of religion. I'll get my emotions through listening to some actual quality music - rock music included. Did she eventually shut up? She must do. I bet she went home on a high. She will have thought it was all great. And the next evening she'll pump it up again with the guitar players, keyboard player and that man bashing the drums wearing a tie.

I was at a service this morning (Wednesday 11th), fitted around my project work, among moderate folks who perhaps, many of them, don't say a lot about religion (some do), but the man in holy orders gave a rather long and thoughtful sermon and read the Eucharistic liturgy carefully with our participation as if he had done it for the very first time and meant every word. His sermon was about Barnabas and a life drama as in the text. Many questions about that, particularly translatability, but it had a quality of theological intention that I simply cannot see in this satellite secularised religion nor in the choice phrases and obsessions of the GAFCON types.


Tom said...

i attend the Abundant life Church after moving from Northern Ireland and being part of a small church of Ireland church. Its very interesting that you make comments about the church from a view that because the church has great worship and word that people seem drawn to the entertainment and the experience. I kind of see it differently. I see that people are drawn to life. why is it that the pubs and clubs are full? its because people are drawn to life. Church used to be the centre of the community and offered help and support to so many people in their lives. In many ways the established churches in part have stopped doing that. It is the churches that are determined to reach beyond themselves that are growing. It is the mere fact that as we reach out people are drawn to us. we become Christians not so we can have an experience or a bless me time but so that we can make a difference to the people around us. A positive experience that is neither in your face nor confrontational.

i think for too long the church has wagged a finger with what it doesn't believe in rather than focusing on the positive message.

Many people believe that for a church to have 3000 people it must be a mile wide and an inch deep but I have seen at first hand that it is not the case. The depth and influence that a large church can have is massive. We are able to make a difference in so many people's lives. i think when we were called to be in the world and not of the world it was meant that we should use the best that the world has to offer in a positive way to demonstrate the love of Christ and what he has done for us!

The church on a sunday is just an overflow of the lives that have been changed during the week. Over emphasizing the structure rather than the vision is self defeating - it makes ordinary people think that they have to have a position or badge to be able to do something for God.

You also mention the feeling of repetition in the services - perhaps a look at the book of common prayer or some of the best known hymns from a truly objective point of view might show the same level of repetition. I know what you mean about the tele-evangelists blabbing it and grabbing it and helping no one but trust me Abundant life isn't that!

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Very interesting. I have listened to Paul Scanlon broadcasted and thought it was not fundamentalist.