Friday, November 7, 2014

Opting out of the church+car culture: A cautionary tale

From Toledo, IA
Our neighborhood church
(Not a megachurch)
Adam Graber has a great piece up, called:
How Cars Created the Megachurch

His main point is that over the past century, the technology of the automobile has re-shaped our cultural habits and thinking to that which illustrates a high degree of selfishness. With the automobile - and the whole raft of societal and cultural shifts that have followed in its wake; e.g. shopping malls, Wal-Marts, and yes megachurches - many (not all) Americans have unprecedented levels of choice when it comes to any number of things: places to eat and buy stuff, sights to see, and houses of worship. The world is our parking lot (or landing strip, if necessary). Mass automotive transportation has thrown off the supposed constraints of geography and distance, and we have become a different kind of people as a result. Namely, more selfish ones.

Yes, of course selfishness has always been part of the human condition, but as Graber points out "(c)ars made selfish habits much easier to indulge, and now for many of us, selfishness is simply necessary." At the end of the piece, Graber only briefly mentions the digital age we've only recently entered, whose societal and cultural effects are only now starting to become noticeable, studied, and reflected on. (I just finished reading Nicholas Carr's The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, and whoa...) The cultural logic and habits of the 21st digital age only build upon and amplify the consumeristic, selfish tendencies ushered in by the 20th century's major technology innovations: the automobile and the television.

What this means for churches is that they're all now "subject to forces beyond any one pastor's control," and "even pastors of the smallest churches are subject to the church shopping culture" (not just the megachurches singled out in the title).

Are all these technologies purely negative? By no means! (I'm on a Internet-connected computer typing this blog post, after all, and have been a technology worker my entire professional life.) But neither are they purely good. In an age where technological optimism seems dominant, there needs to be an emphasis on discernment with a critical eye, and coming up with alternatives if necessary.