Wednesday, April 12, 2006

On Christianity and Bowling Alone

Boy, was this deadline a doozy. I work for a bimonthly Christian magazine (no, I am not Christian) as a copy editor. It's great fun and you get to read a lot of interesting stuff that you would never have otherwise. I've been working for this magazine on and off for about 3-4 years, and with every issue, I learn something new. The magazine has an evangelical take, which I've come to learn, means that the main mission is to reach the unchurched to save their souls from burning in everlasting hell.

In this issue, I learned that not all Christians think that way: the Orthodox Christian Church is divided into mainline, evangelical and Catholic denominations. Don't ask me which are the Lutherans, the Episcopalians and the Southern Baptists, I haven't the faintest clue. But what I do know is that Mormons aren't included. Neither are Jehovah's Witnesses. Those are cults, apparently. All this info may not be fascinating to the average American, but I come from a land where Hindus form 80 percent of the population. I didn't even know that all Christians weren't Catholics until I came to the United States. Well, there was this one Protestant in my convent school (yeah, I went to convent school, that's another story -- a fairly common one in India), but I hadn't any idea what that meant.

Another thing I've learned while working at the magazine is that Mormonism is the fastest-growing religion in the United States. And that attendance in Orthodox Christian churches is declining steadily. As one pastor mentions in the upcoming issue, there was a time not so long ago when someone referred to the Lord, and everyone knew who that was. Now, Christianity is in a competitive situation.

And guess what, the competition isn't another religion. It's TV. It's the malls. It's the Internet. Crazy, huh? Another church leader referred to a book called Bowling Alone by Harvard sociologist Robert D. Putnam. Apparently (now I am quoting a quote, so I don't know how far this is true), Putnam says that Americans are increasingly disengaging from their friends and family and engaging in solitary activities. The social fabric seems to be not only stretching -- the Internet is tearing big holes into it, as virtual reality seems so much friendlier than the world outside your computer.

It makes you really think, doesn't it, how's it all going to end? Maybe I should read Putnam to find out.

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