Building Another Church in Mississippi

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In some parts of the United States, evidence of declining interest in organized religion is easy to spot. Church attendance is not what it used to be, and churches are desperate to fill their pews. Some have even closed or been repurposed to serve secular functions. I haven't seen any of this for myself, mind you, but I have been told repeatedly that it is happening.

Here in Mississippi, located in the heart of the American bible belt, we have more churches per capita than anywhere in the United States. How fitting that our levels of illiteracy, child mortality, poverty, and all sorts of social ills are also among the highest in the nation. At least the solution to the many problems facing us is clear: we need more Christian churches.

Back in 2006, the front page of my local paper ran a story on a $25 million expansion to a nearby church. I found myself thinking of several more productive uses for $25 million. In a town still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Katrina (e.g., some people were still homeless at the time this story appeared), it seemed criminal to squander these funds on something as pointless as expanding a church.

At the time this was happening, I wrote:

Instead of selecting any of a near infinite number of beneficial uses of $25 million, we will modify a monument to superstition and ignorance, making it larger so that more believers can be accommodated. Such are the consequences of faith.
Since 2006, my views on this subject have changed little. Mississippi is so poor, and the need is so great that one would have to be willfully blind not to see it. We have far more churches than we need, but what are they contributing? Are they helping or hurting? As new churches are built and old ones are expanded or repaired, many other needs are being neglected.

Some claim that we are lucky to have so many churches because they provide a number of services to their communities. Do they? The nature of these services is rarely clear and usually includes cryptic references to the "spiritual needs" of the community. I see little evidence that most of the local churches are providing any tangible good. Instead, I suspect that they may be part of the reason for our poverty, the sorry state of our education system, our crumbling infrastructure, and our backwards attitudes.

A new church is being built very close to where I live, and it is a big one. Construction has been delayed several times. In fact, more than four years have passed since the land was cleared. It looks like the building is very close to being completed now. Like all the other churches, this new one will not be asked to pay any property taxes. That would have been a clear example of how a new church could have made a tangible contribution to the community. Instead, we will end up with yet another unnecessary monument to delusion.

Perhaps the strangest thing of all is that this new church is literally next door to another church and directly across the highway from another. But of course, those are the "wrong kind" of churches (i.e., different denominations), so they won't do. What a waste!