Several years ago Dan Edmunds, a diplomate of the American Psychotherapy Association, said, “One of the most destructive problems is the breakdown of community, and it is this breakdown that has often led to the breakdown of persons. Though we may put many around us, we are alone.”
For decades, a major source of community for many Americans was their local house of worship. While those attending may have had varying degrees of commitment to living out their faith, they would gather to enjoy fellowship with each other as they passed through the stages of life — from childhood all the way to life’s eventual end.
Unfortunately, fewer Americans are enjoying that community these days, and we are worse off for it as a nation. While there may be a lot of people coming in and out of our lives, fewer have the deep, abiding ties that are developed within a religious body. As a result, Americans are more alone than ever.
A few weeks ago, a new Marist poll found that while 54 percent of Americans still believe in the “God of the Bible,” they increasingly shun religious services — and the numbers are even worse for younger generations.
This is the result of the trickle-down as religious attendance declined with each passing generation. As Daniel Cox, director of the Survey Center on American Life, writes, “The parents of millennials and Generation Z did less to encourage regular participation in formal worship services and model religious behaviors in their children than had previous generations.”
As it has been said, values are caught and not taught, and millennials and Generation Zers are seeing the lack of commitment from those older than them and are following their example. As a result, the rising generation is feeling increasingly isolated.
While a slim majority still say they believe in the God of the Bible, their lack of connection with a local religious body has profound consequences not only for themselves but also for our society as a whole.
Compared to those who either infrequently attend religious services or do not attend at all, regular attenders are more actively involved in their communities and have stronger social ties with others. Is it any wonder that the unraveling of civility and our social fabric started to occur when attending weekly services became a kind of cafeteria option rather than a priority?
Lockdowns Killed People’s Connections
This has been exacerbated by Covid-19, as many houses of worship chose to video stream their services online. This means many could try to worship and watch the sermon in solitude yet never have to connect with others as part of a church body. While video streaming may have provided a new avenue for people to receive religious instruction, it also created an attendant and unstated religious isolation.
Without a rock such as a local religious body to stand upon, we have witnessed more people becoming morally, emotionally, and physically adrift — something we see played out daily across the country. In addition, with the loss of commitment to a religious body comes a loss of a vital institution that has always been a source of connection with others.
America was built on civic groups and other associations, like attending religious services. It was these associations that Alexis de Tocqueville observed “form a society,” and in their absence, society disintegrates into individualism, moral confusion, and silos of separatism.
Worshipping Alone Becomes Not Worshipping
But on the bright side, Michael Conte, a Marist poll researcher, said, “[Americans] continue to consider their religious affiliation to be a key component of their personal identity.” Many Americans still see their families, religious teachings, and religious leaders as primary sources of moral guidance — in fact, 7 in 10 respondents in the poll said America would be better off if we prayed more.
The famous sociologist Robert Putnam famously observed we were “bowling alone” more often in America as civic association began to decline. Worshipping alone would be a sad corollary.
If we are going to restore community in America, one of the first places to start is to get people back to houses of worship, instead of watching sermons on TV or not attending. Such a community changes the shape and form of our social priorities and focus — from self to selfless — as we become connected with others in the common bond of faith.
Such a vibrant and renewed community will bring restoration to our current fragmented state and bring us back together again for the common good — for us and society. This would be soulcraft at its most important, and the kind of regeneration our country deeply needs.