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November 5, 2012 / Richard Bass

Comments in response to “Welcome to Religious Polarization”

Reginald Bibby is a leading expert on religion in Canada. Those who are interested in religious trends in the world today should know his work.

A while ago I became aware of A New Day, an analysis of the state of religious practice in Canada that he was making available as a free download. I offered to help spread the word through Alban Weekly. The result is this week’s article, “Welcome to Religious Polarization,” and the inclusion of the print version of A New Day in our product line. It can be difficult and expensive to ship books across the Canadian-U.S. border, so we are hoping to make the book more accessible to U.S. customers who may be interested.

I find the framework of “polarization” a helpful one in looking at current trends. I’m grateful that Bibby doesn’t focus on the usual objects of polarization, such as the liberal and conservative arguments. Polarization is not an either/or choice; it is a rich continuum between two plausible and existent alternatives. For more information on polarities, see “Mapping the Virtuous Circle” by Roy Oswald and Barry Johnson, from their book, Managing Polarities in Congregations.


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  1. Susan Leo / Nov 5 2012 6:18 pm

    A quick correction: Puntam and Campbell’s book is “_American_ Grace”, not “Amazing Grace” as Bibby wrote.
    And while Bibby was accurate in saying “Protestant market share has dropped… to just under 50 percent”, this skews the picture that white mainline Protestants now number a mere 15% of the population, a statistic that mainliners (like myself) should find startling if not distressing. As researcher David Roozen puts it, the mainline has become the sideline.

    Bibby’s argument is interesting. It is certainly true that people in the US are no less spiritual than they have ever been, but the good folks of most mainline churches are not much interested in welcoming those ‘spiritual’ people into their community life unless the latter are willing to develop the style and habits of the the former. As Judith states above, the structures of the church do their own good job of keeping the hungry hearts at bay. The people of the postmodern world we now live in will simply not sustain most of the structures that were birthed at the dawn of the Enlightenment. Will mainliners get that in time to save their traditions?

  2. Bob F / Nov 5 2012 3:49 pm

    It is not easy to leave a quick reply to this question of ‘Nones” and “Not Nones”. I have had almost 30 years in the healthcare arena. 15 as a level 1 hospital chaplain and 13 years as chaplain in a county wide Hospice program. Those that have some form of organized religious affiliations usually rely on that form for spiritual care. They are mostly the older folks. Same goes for Hospice. Those that are disaffected by current affiliations or younger are far more spiritual than many of those that are affiliated. I do not know if you will ever be able to rejoin them to any group. Sad, but true. The “Main Lines” are losing out with the younger people as they, when they do attend, are going for the more modern and open forms of worship. Terry Hughes has hit the nail directly on the head in the last paragraph.

  3. John Pehrson / Nov 5 2012 3:04 pm

    One of thje polarizataions I see is taking place within Christianity. The far left and the far right often fail to even say the other view is Christian. It’s a bad as the politics of the current US election. Add to it, the “creepy” churches (Westboro Baptist), the levels of misconduct across the board, the variety of views on Gay marriage, etc, and many people have concluded they want little or nothing to do with organized, or maybe I should say, disorganized religion.

  4. Judith Gotwald / Nov 5 2012 9:35 am

    The Church recognizes that it is failing — at least as far as organizational numbers go. It is desperately trying to reverse trends. In doing so we put demands for change on congregations while saddling them with age-old structure.

    It’s the structure that has to change. The newer generations have not experienced the structures of the past and feel no need for them. The dire economy reinforces in the lay mind that they cannot afford the old structure, regardless of their loyalty. Congregations are being asked to give up entirely so that the structure can continue — with far fewer Christians or congregations supporting it.

    From the online Christian chatrooms that I follow, there seems to be a strong spiritual thread among the young. The Church needs to energize that spirituality — not control it for their own benefit.

    Meanwhile, structures measure their success by their ability to keep going with the same staff and same budgets, regardless of the statistics staring them in the face.

  5. Terry Hughes / Nov 5 2012 9:29 am

    As a pastor I agree with the premise of the article, I believe religion is on the decline but people are more spiritual today. They want to see God in action through lives that are being changed. The “nones” would like to be accepted without being judged or looked down upon and they want to roll up there selves and get involved.

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