A Very Suburban Christianity

Jul 24 2012 @ 2:54pm

Fred Clark laments the effects of sprawl on religion:

I believe that American Christianity has been shaped by the suburbs far more than the suburbs have been shaped by American Christianity. To borrow a word from the Apostle Paul in Romans 12, American churches have conformed to the suburbs.

The effect of this has been huge and pervasive. It has tended to favor forms of church and flavors of theology that fall toward the conservative end of the culture-war spectrum, but it’s misleading to therefore refer to this as a more “conservative” theology. Radical changes and a massive break with the theology, traditions and institutions of the past aren’t usually the sorts of things we describe as “conservative.”

The suburbanization of American Christianity has had a huge impact on institutional and denominational structures. Automobile-shaped development has produced an automobile-shaped ecclesiology. The car has abolished the possibility of the parish. And that, in turn, has helped to redefine “neighbor” as a matter of preference more than of proximity — as optional rather than obligatory. That redefinition is rather significant, since “Who is my neighbor?” is kind of an important question for Christians.

That's a fascinating take on the new fundamentalism and the Prosperity Gospel (echoed, of course, by Mormonism). It's a faint echo of how Islamist fundamentalism required the location-free Internet to take off. A geographically disassociated, global religion necessarily becomes an ideology, because, unlike the parish, it does not have to grapple with local reality, with differing views, with different temperaments. Obviously, suburban Christianity is not universally prone to these flaws; but it has its sodomistic dangers. And those are arguably as important to the content of  Christianity as any labels of "conservative" and "liberal." Certainly there is nothing conservative about Christianism; in many ways, its simplistic conflation of Biblical literalism and politics is anathema to conservatism as it has long existed in the Anglo-American tradition.