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Your Analyst Was A Placekicker For The Falcons

Examining the attempts to replace religious observances with secular equivalents.

Robert Rackley
Robert Rackley
2 min read

I woke up at 4 AM a few days ago, hungry from fasting. I decided to check out what the internet had in store for me and ended up perusing through videos on YouTube. My early morning restlessness led me to a bizarre video from singer Caroline Polachek and I followed that rabbit trail to an interview with her.

As with other times I’ve seen her interviewed, Polachek is lively, engaging and articulate. One part that struck me, though, is when she talks about the magic of crowds at her shows singing in unison. She understands the positive power that a group of people singing together brings. However, when she tries to come up with an instance of people coming together to sing in a way that expresses transcendence, the best analogy a creative and intelligent woman like Polachek can come up with is… a sporting event.

This seems strange to me, since at least once a week, I go and sing with others in praises to God in church. I think it’s another oddity of living in the post-Christian West that people now have a kind of ignorance of religious traditions. Apparently, I’m not the only one who finds this to be odd or concerning. Even atheists are lamenting the disconnection from religious roots. Derek Thompson writes for The Atlantic about the decline in church attendance.

That relationship with organized religion provided many things at once: not only a connection to the divine, but also a historical narrative of identity, a set of rituals to organize the week and year, and a community of families. PRRI found that the most important feature of religion for the dwindling number of Americans who still attend services a few times a year included “experiencing religion in a community” and “instilling values in their children.”

Despite his own unbelief, Thompson recognizes the value that a church community provides. Justin Brierly is a Christian who is capturing the stories of those who realize how much our culture is indebted to Christian values in his documentary podcast The Surprising Rebirth of Belief in God. Shocking as it may seem, prominent new atheist, Richard Dawkins, is now calling himself “a cultural Christian” (though this may be due to his xenophobia more than anything else).

Recently, author and professor Gary Shteyngart wrote a much-discussed and sometimes hilarious piece for The Atlantic about his time aboard a Royal Caribbean cruise. He was interviewed about the piece by Hanna Rosin. His experience of the fervor of the cruise aficionados sounded a familiar tone to what others have been describing about filling in the gap left by declines in religious observance.

So, on this ship, what I was seeing was people desperately trying to belong to some kind of idea. And I feel like the cruising life because these people are so obsessed with the cruises that they wear these—half the people or more were wearing T-shirts somehow commemorating this voyage on the first day of the cruise. So I think I really offended a religion. I insulted not just a strange hobby that people engage in, but a way of life.

And I think that’s the future. Trying to understand America today is to try to understand people desperately grasping for something in the absence of more traditional ideas of what it means to be an American, right? And this is one strange manifestation of that. But it was, for me, an ultimately unfulfilling one.

There are, of course, more direct ways that people are trying to replace traditional religious practices with secular ones. There are churches for humanists and just plain atheists under the premise that if you just take out the supernatural stuff, church services could be kind of cool. My hunch is that trying to create something based on nothing will not work in the long run.

Faith

Robert Rackley

Orthodox Christian, aspiring minimalist, inveterate notetaker, software dev manager and paper airplane mechanic.


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