Monday, April 7, 2014

Another Church Recycled

Across the street from where I work in Brooklyn, New York, a large church has been shuttered due to lack of attendance. The building, which for years served as the spiritual hub for generations of Roman Catholic parishioners shut its doors for three main reasons: 

  • The first trend involved the upward social movement of the original parishioners and their children. Many of this “genesis generation” left the area for the suburbs for safer, cleaner neighborhoods and for higher performing schools
  • The second trend occurred because nature abhors a vacuum. As previous generations left the area new immigrants arrived who came from different regions of the world with competing faiths and religious and spiritual traditions. So the Church became a sort of Alamo, a building foreign to the new inhabitants who viewed it not as a sanctuary but as a symbol of “the other”
  • Lastly, the final reason for the closure comes from the fact that consolidation of parish ministries has been occurring everywhere and for years as people look less to formal ritual and a physical church to either pray or validate their spirituality
But this isn’t just an issue for old, large church structures and their patrons alone. This group of formal churches and other immense houses of worship in the United States have been closing for decades because of low attendance. And the trend in attendance continues to decline across most if not all religious faiths and denominations.

Just search the Internet and you’ll see religious leaders, the media and social scientists all acknowledging these low attendance trends. Over at Church.com, an article appeared both explaining and forecasting seven trends about the growing lack of religiosity in America.  

At godlikeproductions.com, their site notes that thousands of churches are closing yearly. In 2007, Churchleadership.org, presented an article on the decades long and ongoing decline of formal worship. In 2012, Thom Rainer of Lifeway Christian Resources wrote that there are 13 trends which are negatively impacting church membership and attendance including but not limited to the impact of the “Nones.” 

From the point of view of the financial impact of these closing, Reuters did an article about how banks are foreclosing on churches that borrowed money to build or expand and who, because of falling attendance, could not keep up their payments to make good on their debts.

But what comes with the closing of churches or other houses of worship?

  • First and foremost these closings can allow for economic development. As in the case of the church closing next to my office, the land purchase has meant a multi-year boon in both demolition and new construction jobs. 
  • Secondly, the reimagined land use provides for wider and better housing options for the people living in the area and for new families who move to the area. 
  • Thirdly, there comes economic development as the new housing may bring individuals and families with higher incomes - or at least just more individuals and families into the area – to grow the local economy. This infuses local business and new businesses alike with the energy and potential capital to meet the service and consumer needs of the new neighborhood arrivals and current residents.
  • For the local, state and federal government it means additional tax revenue.  Real estate taxes alone drive money back into the neighborhood to support local services from education to street cleaning to garbage pickup. Appropriate taxation allows government to return in labor and public service to the community something the community could not afford to do itself. 
  • It may also mean greater social connections and social mobility because groups who ordinarily would not mingle or coalesce find themselves together in common physical space. Although any new building project could mean gentrification which can alienate and create a whole litany of stresses within communities - both for those currently indigenous to the neighborhood and those moving into the area – the role and goal of renewal can be healthy if managed successfully.
However, New York City, like many cities in America and around the globe, is a city that has been a place of constant social, economic and political movement. If we could identify one central variable of what it means to live, work or exist in NYC, it is that things don’t remain the same and that there is constant change. Such transformation can be very healthy because it underscores the opportunity (and the danger) of movement.

This is perhaps why a humanist view of the closing of churches, while hard for some, is important to acknowledge and understand sociologically. As the vibrancy and social necessity of formal group worship lessens, the way we react to one another and our local neighborhood provides an opportunity to become untethered from the idea that a building and the religious authority figures inside of it are the only or best road to transcendence and positive change.

In fact, the lessening of faith gives the ownership of how we think and behave back to the people who reside within close proximity of each other, negating the idea that community needs a religious bridge or center to define who is good or bad or worthy of our communication and presence.

And isn't that what we all work for? A human connection to others, religious or not, whereby we can all live with respect and dignity within the confines of secularism. With all the legal rights and responsibilities given to us not from an outside deity but from all of us agreeing what is humane and just based on secular law, personal ethics and the finest essentials of humanism..   

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

COSMOS: Exciting All of Us to Seek True Wisdom

"To believe in a universe as young as six or seven thousand years old is to extinguish the light from most of the galaxy, not to mention the light from all the 100 billion other galaxies in the observable universe." - Cosmos Narrator Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson

Our Hero,
Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson
It's been reported online and in print that the Creation Museum/Answers in Genesis/Ken Ham wants equal time with Neil deGrasse Tyson (NdT) on the COSMOS: A Space Time Odyssey reboot. I imagine that the intense pressure creationists are feeling about being left out of the secular, accurate and free science show must be driving them BONKERS (very unscientific label). Why? Because their 6,000-year-view of the age of the universe, god-directed evolution and theology-based science really negates current actual knowledge of...well...what real science tells us about the 13.8 billion year age of the universe, the randomness of biological evolution and religion-free science.

In the latest COSMOS episode, NdT momentarily takes on but also very directly addresses and refutes the idea that the entire universe is just 6,000 or 7,000 years old as a small minority of evangelical creation scientists claim. How do we know the true age of Earth and the universe? We have many science tools to use, but outside of what geology, biology and fossils tell us, it is what astrophysical science can explain and then reveal that is so amazingly beautiful.  

Because we know, can calculate and then measure the speed of light, something that is constant throughout the Cosmos, we can see way past the Crab Nebula (about 6,000 light years away), and thus see way further back into space-time. Also, as Tyson points out, the Hubble telescope can actually "see" all the way back to the most distant light of the first stars created after the big bang. This light is measured at close to 13.8 billion years. Isn't it wonderful what we humans can know and learn because we use our minds to critically explore and then explain reality.

NdT noted that if the whole universe were just 6,500 years old, that only a very small percentage of our galaxy could then be seen, let alone none of the other galaxies or the rest of the known universe. Such science and logic is delightful and reaffirming for the minds that accept these facts, but for doubters it must be unnerving and explosive to not only find their dogma so openly challenged but because this great science is on FOX television stations, real and actual science can be circulated and shared freely to anyone who tunes in to watch. 

Of course NdT and the producers of COSMOS will not nor should they give any time to the fringe science that is creationism.  That would simply raise its value and sadly for some uninformed minds, make creation science appear equal to real science.  But these are not two sides of one coin because there is no coin here. There is real science and then there is not real science. So it's not that creation science is "less" scientific, it is that creation science just isn't science period.

And it is not just the majority of scientists or those of us who accept and who also trust the scientific method that feel this way. When put on trial, the United States court system has found creationism and Intelligent Design to be a form of theology-based science and as such a violation of the First Amendment which separates State and Church.

Secular humanism, which trusts science as equally and empathetically trusts humans to do the right thing, is a direct threat to anyone who accepts a worldview that requires faith to inform their ideas and actions.  Even non-evangelical faiths such as what can be considered left-of-center Catholicism views secular humanism as dangerous to the firm structure of their religion. In fact, at the same time these "missions of mercy" are feeding the poor, aiding the sick and offering shelter and clothing they are also actively indoctrinating the needy into a very particular theology. Free is NEVER free.

Our Hero,
Dr. Carl Sagan
And it is not that science cannot be challenged. Theories and concepts are being reviewed all the time and when better ones are discovered they are overturned with little public fanfare (excluding the Higgs-Boson and poor dethroned Pluto). That's because the scientific method represents the healthiest way humans can observe and then question reality. Because that's the way real science works, it is not static and it is founded on inquiry, doubt and the questioning of authority.The complete opposite of creationism and Intelligent Design theology.



  

Monday, March 31, 2014

A Must to Watch - Four New Excellent BHA Videos on Humanism

Our friends at the British Humanist Association* (BHA)  just shared four new videos on humanism with me via email. I urge everyone who reads this site to discover, watch and enjoy them.  

Aside from the videos being beautifully produced they are also intellectually brilliant and elegant.  They are all narrated by Stephen Fry and each is about three minutes in length. But don’t let that short time fool you into thinking they are sparse in any way. These brief videos truly encapsulate what it means to be a humanist.

The videos cover a fair range of topics.  The title of the four videos include; “How Do We Know What is True”; “What Should We Think About Death”; “What Makes Something Right or Wrong”; and “How Can I Be Happy”

While each of the videos point to human kindness, reason, empathy and caring for our existence, I’d have to say that my personal favorite is the video concerning “Right or Wrong.” As I continue to write my book on being good without god, this particular video explains how the constructs of “right and wrong” are indeed internal and based on our DNA, which then express themselves in culture, geography and law.

I certainly hope you will enjoy each of the BHA videos. They can be taken separately and also viewed together. And in their own way each is a superb discourse on our humanity and how to think and behave like a humanist.
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*Thank you for sharing with me Steve Ollington. :-)