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19 June 2018

Religion as Institutionalized Boredom

I just caught a recent episode of Fresh Air with Paul Schrader and Ethan Hawke discussing their forthcoming film First Reformed. It's a good interview. This part of the exchange really caught my attention:
SCHRADER: …I like to go to church on Sunday mornings to organize my thoughts, organize my week and be quiet, and you don't walk out of church 'cause you're bored. You go to church to be bored, to have that time, and you could have it in your room in the lotus position or you can have it in a pew. It's essentially the same sort of thing for me, and that's what I enjoy about it. 
…Church services have now sort of split into two camps. One is the old, traditional, devotional service, which is based on silence and Bible study, and the other is the arena, which is an entertainment-based performance with a lot of communal interaction, and you know, I won't say one is better than the other 'cause there's good Christians in both, but for me, I prefer the devotional. 
HAWKE: …I don't go [to church] consistently anymore, and…as my kids grow up, I realize I didn't give them that, and I have some sadness about [it], particularly listening to Paul speak about organizing the week, and having institutionalized boredom is a great value. [empahsis added]
I really like Hawke's coinage there, "institutionalized boredom." It gets at Richard Niebuhr's ritualistic/pietistic dichotomy. A lot has been written about how the Mainline Protestant religions are faltering because they have accommodated to mainstream culture (or, conversely, that they have been overwhelmingly successful in transforming mainstream culture into their own image), but ironically, the "arena camp" has arguably been much more accommodating. Inasmuch as (and increasingly so) the "devotional camp" offers an alternative to mainstream culture, we would expect a resurgence in popularity, or at least a slowing of the decline.

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