The Inquirer ran a story this Sunday about the Orthodox churches in Northern Liberties, which are struggling from declining numbers and changing demographics. A quote by a religious leader in the community got me thinking: "Nowadays, people like to be different from their parents, who wanted to be members and belong to things." Do people of my generation no longer want to belong to things? No. They want to belong, but they want their belonging to be on their terms. When they don't want to belong anymore...well, that's that. That, I think, is the plague of the 'spiritual but not religious' trend: People not appreciating being told what's what by somebody other than themselves.
The article also got me thinking about the breakdown of marriage and religion. I often liken my becoming Catholic to a marriage between myself and the Church. There were no take-backs; the deal was for better or for worse, and as my parents said of their own marriage, 'divorce was never an option.'
Nowadays, options are the name of the game. "It's not that I don't have a spiritual dimension in my life," said Rick Schroder, 49, who moved to Northern Liberties because of it's 'very cool bohemian ambiance.' "[But] organized religion is not doing it for me." Organized religion "not doing it" for people is a common complaint. If you think about it, the same complaint could be made against marriage. "My husband/wife is just not doing it for me anymore." "I'm just not into the whole 'for better or worse' thing." Etc.
The rabbi of a Jewish bowling league at North Bowl in No. Libs stated in the article, "[the league] is just as important as the religious thing for creating community. Not everybody likes praying." Come again? As I see it, trying to have a spiritual life without prayer is like trying to drink water that's missing a hydrogen or oxygen atom. It's like a marriage without sex, or communication, or whatever. It is a major part!
I admire the Orthodox holding their spiritual and theological ground in the face of a hard-pressing modernity and not conceding to trends, or trying to market their religion. They are going to continue to struggle and will have to adjust, but I'm sure they will survive. Just as the institution of marriage has survived, and will continue to survive, through the commitment of people who put their own petty wants and ego-driven desires--sometimes, their very selves-- aside for something greater than themselves.When those building blocks begin to crumble, watch out...for that's when a society begins to fall apart.