Seeing the Big Picture


Cultural institutions are failing us miserably and that is causing a worldwide season of unrest. Corrupt governments that have been in power for decades are being toppled right and left. Protesters claiming to be the 99%, upset by the widening wealth gap, have “occupied” city centers around the world. Citizens are frustrated with the political paralysis in the United States. In 2010, the number of voters identifying themselves as unaffiliated was greater than those who identified with either political party.

Like so many people, I am more than a little frustrated with these hopelessly broken, but desperately needed institutions of our society.

Social services are so fractured, fragmented, and siloed in their own little world that they compete with each other and hey have created a confusing and difficult to navigate maze of services. They are focused on funding from grants, donors, and the government, and produce programs measured by output instead of outcome. They are still operating with a Great White Hope mentality, rather than treating people with dignity and partnering with them to help them achieve their own personal goals.

Customer service is laughable if you don’t need it and often enraging if you do. It is excessively automated by cheap-ass companies that can afford to lose a customer here or there and simply don’t care if they do. Their priority is sales, not service. They hide customer service phone numbers, hoping you will turn to the website FAQ or a troubleshooting forum. When you finally do speak to a person, it is usually an off-shored, underpaid, under trained, un-empowered customer service representative who can only provide very limited services. If the representative cannot take care of your issue, many companies offer no reasonable recourse. I can only assume they don’t care.

Higher education is overpriced and lengthy. It is built on an outdated model,requiring you take certain courses for a “well-rounded education” that puts you in debt for the next twenty years, rather than preparing you for a job.

Our federal government is paralyzed because of the entrenched, extreme views of each party, a serious lack of listening and negotiation skills, and the corruption of big money from corporations and interest groups. It seems our elected representatives no longer even consider the best interest of their constituents.

Churches are mired in sexual scandals, political involvement, and the building and maintaining of their own little kingdoms while people fail to see their relevance and wonder why they don’t resemble Jesus. Hence, their membership, financial support, and influence are all rapidly shrinking.

Institutions are failing, but individual values are also changing. Bigger is no longer better. Something more intimate and more trustworthy, something recommended by a network of friends is preferred. Institutions, corporations, organizations, and their leaders are all viewed with suspicion because they have repeatedly proven they do not usually have our best interest in mind.

Polished and slick programs are suspect because they are obviously designed to illicit a particular response and offer little or no room for interaction. Attempts to be cool or seem relevant are seen through rather quickly.

Distrust, suspicion, and cynicism are the prevalent characteristics of the day. We distrust those institutions and leaders who have betrayed us, and are suspicious of those for whom the verdict is still out.

What is happening in the church is just one part of that big picture. Some people think these shifts in cultural values are a once in a 500-year occurrence that takes several years or even decades to shake out. The church could be undergoing its most significant changes since the Protestant Reformation!

This dissonance has caused considerable exodus from the church. Between sixteen to twenty percent of Americans claim no religious affiliation, a number that has doubled since 1990.

Americans who describe themselves as ‘unaffiliated’ or ‘none of the above’ has been on a steady increase for fifty years and has now reached 16 to 20 percent. If this trend continues, by 2042, “nones” and adherents of other religions will outnumber Christians.

As a result, significant numbers of people have questioned their faith and even more have questioned their church. Many of these people still embrace Jesus and the idea of church, but simply do not want to be a part of an institution they disagree with. Therefore, a growing segment of the population has opted to describe themselves as “spiritual, but not religious.”

This journey usually begins by asking questions. The questions usually make us a little uncomfortable as they threaten some of our long held presuppositions. They make church leaders even more uncomfortable because they ultimately threaten their position of authority, their livelihood, and their sense of identity.

If you are questioning institutional Christianity, you are a part of a massive flow of culture and history at a time of upheaval and transition. The exodus is huge, and you are, by no means, alone!

An excerpt from my book, An Irreligious Faith: How to Starve Religion and Feed Life

About Glenn

Glenn Hager is a blogger, former newspaper columnist, and author of two books, An Irreligious Faith and Free Range Faith.
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