Religion and Community Building

I’ve been running this blog for a while now, so I might have already covered this topic, but it recently surfaced in my mind again, so I’m going to discuss it anyways:

I get the feeling that local communities have been slowly disintegrating over time in America. Not all communities in general – there are clearly a lot of communities being built online through social networking websites like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. Our overall potential to connect to people has increased greatly with the advent of the always online transition – it’s expected that your average American should have internet access and almost always at all times, through the magic of their smart phones. However, many of our inherent, location based communities have been suffering. Not necessarily as a result of the internet, but maybe.

Think of your standard American communities: family, school, church, maybe sports, work, the store, maybe? Do I meet friends at the store? Not really, now that I think about it. But I’d imagine in smaller towns it’s a more frequent occurrence. Especially if you live in one of those rural towns with only one local store. Anyways, school is still a mandatory one for most students, and work of course is still mostly localized – few jobs allow people to work remotely. Sports are still big, but apparently viewership of live sports has also been tanking recently. Though attendance in general still seems to be going good, I’d say the general feeling of attending sporting events in America seems to be plateauing or decreasing. Though I’m speaking out of my ass here. Church attendance, of course, has been declining precipitously. Evangelism doesn’t really hold the sway it once did in America. Anyways, this is all kind of beside my main point, which is this: Religion is among the strongest of communities in any area, and in my opinion it’s a bad sign that religion is declining in America in favor of atheism.

I’m not saying that I like Christian fundamentalism – I don’t – I think it sucks. However, I think the innate pull of religion is actually pretty important to societal connections. In America, we have a lot of freedom to discover or build our own communities – join a meetup of jugglers, attend a toastmasters group, whatever. However, a lot of people don’t partake in extracurricular activities – in fact, their lifestyles can be pretty isolating when you consider a lot of popular activities nowadays – after work, if you’re watching Netflix, unless you’re hanging out with friends or family, you’ll be watching it alone. It’s not conducive to meeting new people. Online social media websites have the potential to meet people, but because it’s over the internet, you’re not necessarily guaranteed to meet people that are local – meaning you might find friendships, but there’s a big difference between friends you visit regularly and ones you only communicate with online. Though this doesn’t necessarily preclude you from becoming more intimate – it’s that the online barrier does present more obstacles to intimacy than a physical face to face interaction, in my opinion. Online media in general isn’t particularly conducive to meeting people face to face – after all, the time you’re spending online literally takes away from time spent in face to face interactions.

Of course, you do have online communities specifically designed for local consumption: think of sites like Nextdoor or Meetup. With Meetup in particular, the point is to find new local communities to join, usually centered around some hobby or activity. This is good. It’s great to meet new communities. However, there’s a giant gulf between interest based communities and religious communities. Interest based communities doesn’t tell you anything about the values of a person – If you join a ping pong group, all you know is that this person theoretically likes ping pong, or is maybe curious about it. If you join a religious community, you have an idea of what values to expect from people in the community, and their overall mission. At least, in theory. This isn’t accounting for adversarial people or people who don’t follow the tenets of the religion. Of course, you’re always going to get people who don’t exactly fit the mold of the religion – you probably get like a normal distribution of people who follow the religion in terms of strictness. That’s true of any community, of course. But the religion provides a relative anchor at which to deviate from. Without even that anchor, there is no expectation of what kinds of values to expect from people, which is what you get in interest based communities. So what does this mean? I think this stronger bond will naturally create more intimate communities.

I had this cousin who’s Christian. He was visiting me from out of state to attend this Christian convention, but he only stayed with me for part of the trip – the other part he stayed at some guy’s house, who he met at this Christian convention. When he was asked why some guy would let him stay at his house even though they had just once before (At last year’s Christian convention), he said (and I’m paraphrasing here, it’s been a while) “We’re brothers in Christ – I guess our relationship just grows faster.” I do think there’s a lot of merit in that. If you follow the tenets of your religion, and you’re pretty strongly invested in your religion, and then meet someone who you judge to also be a pretty strong follower of your religion, then you guys have a pretty strong inherent bond – there’s a lot of commonality between the two of you. Likewise, if this were an interest based group, you could also build a strong bond through that connection to your interest, but as I said earlier, I think the religious bond is inherently stronger. Religion answers a lot of questions about our purpose in the world – if you’re aligned on those things with others, you’re naturally gonna be more tight.

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