September 27, 2010

Alternative Realities and Mega-Churches

English: The First Cathedral, A Megachurch in ...
English: The First Cathedral, A Megachurch in Bloomfield Connecticut, during Sunday Morning Praise and Worship (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Craig James (The Religion Virus) wrote a good post recently about the Republican Tea Party and how they inhabit an alternate reality made possible by right-wing media. He suggests that the Internet, cable news, and conservative radio have allowed the Teabaggers to construct sort a of parallel reality. He's right, but he's missing one important component of this alternate reality: church.

James credits the technological advances we describe as "the information age" with allowing people to inhabit bubbles from which they can essentially cut themselves off from reality.
But in a weird twist of irony, the information age has spawned a new new cultural phenomenon: deliberate ignorance. Instead of two or three TV stations and one newspaper, now we can select from hundreds of sources for our information. Why is that bad? Because we can listen only to what we want to hear. We can choose to be ignorant of other views. We can find a news station, a web site, and an online group of friends who will do nothing but reinforce and even amplify our world views.
I certainly agree that these trends have contributed greatly to the polarization of America, even if I am not quite ready to agree with Craig about them giving birth to the Tea Party. People are not seeking out like-minded views and distancing themselves from those with different opinions in the media they consume; they do it in their real lives too. Consider the phenomenon of the mega-church.

The growth of evangelical Christian mega-churches is a trend that cannot be ignored. Many of these churches now function almost as self-contained communities. They are Christian strip malls where one can go not only to meet one's religious needs but one's social needs too. They offer entertainment, child care, and the opportunity to interact only with those who share one's superstitious worldview.

If the Internet and cable news have allowed the Tea Party to construct information bubbles, mega-churches have permitted many conservative Christians to build entire communities devoted to making sure that they are forever surrounded by their own kind.

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