Here’s news from the Baltimore Sun, about church closings in the city and surrounding area. Excerpt:

The driving force behind the trend is the well-documented decline in Americans’ commitment to organized Judeo-Christian religion.

Denominations large and small report falling membership numbers, decreased attendance and faltering financial support. The decline began accelerating in the 1990s.

Membership at churches and synagogues has fallen by nearly 20 percentage points since World War II, according to Gallup.The Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church USA have lost nearly half their members since 1967. More than a thousand Catholic parishes have closed since 1995.The number of Jews who call themselves culturally but not religiously Jewish is rising sharply among millennials.

A few faith traditions have fared better. The Muslim and Orthodox Jewish populations are growing, and evangelical Christianity’s numbers are holding steady. But more than 20 percent of Americans say they’re unaffiliated with any religion. That’s the highest number ever.

One influential Christian author has said such changes are nothing new. In works such as The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why, Phyllis Tickle argued that the Christian church has undergone a clarifying shakeup every 500 years.

The Rev. Daniel Webster, canon for evangelism and media for the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, has studied and written about the current trend for nearly two decades.

While it’s hard to pinpoint a single most important factor, Webster says, it’s impossible to ignore the repeal of most of the old state blue laws, regulations that had long placed restrictions on commercial activity on Sundays, starting in the mid-20th century.

Today’s faith leaders must compete with everything from youth soccer and pro football games to shopping at the mall.

“When I was growing up in what I call the salad days of the 1950s and early 1960s, the question in the neighborhood was ‘What church do you go to?’” Webster says.

“Now it’s, ‘Why do you go to church?’”

“We no longer live in Christendom. We really have to accept that it’s a thing of the past.”

More and more often, the answer seems to be: shed your baggage, move more nimbly and sharpen your sense of mission.

On Sunday evening, I spoke at a private Benedict Option event in Orange County. It was gratifying to meet so many interesting and engaged Christians there, including some Biola University professors, and a contingent of Norbertine friars, an orthodox and growing community of Catholic priests and monks from nearby St. Michael’s Abbey. I was also able to speak with some Evangelical laypersons and pastors from the area, and met a couple of guys who attend St. Barnabas Orthodox Church in Costa Mesa. (I had planned to go to the liturgy there on Sunday, but was unavoidably delayed in Malibu — a big disappointment for me.)

The decline of active Christianity was a frequent topic of conversation after the talk. One thing that really got to me, because it’s shockingly common, and hard for me to understand: that so many Christians believe Sunday sports is more important than church.

I spoke at length about this to one pastor’s wife at dinner last night. She said that at their mission church, they struggle with parents who want their kids to be Christian, but who refuse to put church before Sunday morning sports. Soccer first, Jesus second. People see the institutional church in consumerist terms, as something that ought to be there to meet their family’s needs on their own terms. If Sunday morning sports is more important to the family, well, pastor, why do you have a problem with that?

Her husband, the pastor, told me that one of his biggest challenges is figuring out how to tell his congregation what they need to hear, versus what they want to hear. He said that after I had listened to his wife explain the mentality they’re up against in the suburbs, and it made me a lot more sympathetic to the challenge all conservative/orthodox pastors face. As a pundit, it’s easy for me to say exactly what I think, and let the chips fall where they may. Unlike these pastors, I am responsible neither for the fate of souls nor for keeping the lights on.

The reason I have so much trouble wrapping my mind around the fact that Christian families really do choose Sunday sports over church is that it is so blisteringly obvious that this is spiritually suicidal, in the sense that kids catechized by the popular culture in this way will not practice the faith as adults. The faith will likely die in their generation. Their parents and their community will have taught them by example that God is less important than sports. Or, to put it another way, that sports is the true God.

(Interestingly, this morning a Catholic friend from Baton Rouge texted me, about Sunday:  “We still pretend that it is off limits. But it will get taken over when people realize that no one is using it for church anymore.”)

See, this is how assimilation happens. You can carry around in your head the idea of God, and that you affirm your religion, but that’s vaporous if you don’t put it into practice in this ordinary way. I bring up in speeches a lot the challenge I received from a Christian undergraduate at a talk earlier this year: “Why do you say practices are so important? Why isn’t it enough to love Jesus with all our hearts, as we were taught growing up?” This Sunday sports thing is one reason why. Not a single Christian parent who chooses sports over church believes that he or she is denying the faith. After all, they still believe, in the sense of affirming certain propositions, right? But unless the faith is manifested and embedded in practices — communal practices — it is not going to last.

Here’s a passage from The Benedict Option about liturgy:

Liturgy restores the stability we’ve lost by cementing the story of the gospel in our bodies. As MacIntyre has said, if we want to know what to do, we must first determine the story to which we belong. Christian worship, done properly, provides us with regular reminders that we belong to Christ and to the story He is unfolding. It also teaches us, though, that we are not free to improvise the story but are bound to write our own chapters according to what has been revealed to us in the Book, and in continuity with what our fathers and mothers of the faith have written before us.

Even secular sociologists recognize the power of these physical acts to maintain cultural memory. In his book How Societies Remember, the social anthropologist Paul Connerton studies practices that various peoples have undertaken to hold fast to their stories in the face of forgetfulness. He says that when a community wants to remember its sacred story, the one that gives it meaning, it must make the story a matter of “habit-memory.” That is, it must absorb the story as something “sedimented into the body.”

The most powerful rituals involve the body, says Connerton. They make use of all the senses to impress the sacred story upon the individuals gathered. For example, when worshippers kneel or prostrate themselves at a certain point in a ritual, they learn in their very muscles the awe-filled meaning of that sacred moment—and it helps them remember.

Connerton’s study found that the most effective rituals do not vary and stand distinctly apart from daily life in their songs and language. And if a ritual is to be effective in training the hearts and shaping the imaginations of its participants, it has to be something that they are habituated to in their bodies.

In that passage, I’m using Connerton’s work to talk about worship liturgies, but the point is easy to generalize about cultural liturgies — that is, the habits of daily life that form us. Like, what we choose to do, or not to do, on Sunday morning.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a long blog entry about Connerton’s book. For some reason, it’s not coming up on Google search right now, but here’s a lengthy passage explaining this in greater detail:

Two quotes to start us off:

“The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” — Milan Kundera

“A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium. What they set themselves to achieve instead—often not recognising fully what they were doing—was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness.” — Alasdair MacIntyre

On the flight home from Richmond, I read social anthropologist’s Paul Connerton’s 1989 book How Societies Rememberwhich had been mailed to me by a reader who said I should read it for research on the Benedict Option bookIt is thin but very dense and unsexy, but it hit me with the force of revelation. When I read its final lines as the plane was taxiing to the gate in Baton Rouge, I felt the last conceptual piece fall into place to write this book. Reader, I owe you more than I can say. I am going to try to sum up Connerton’s argument, and relate it briefly to the Benedict Option.

Connerton begins by saying that “our experience of the present very largely depends upon our knowledge of the past,” and that “participants in any social order must presuppose a shared memory.” Those memories, he contends, “are conveyed and sustained by (more or less) ritual performances.” Finally, he argues that these performances have to be embodied to be effective. Let’s unpack this.

When a new regime or social order takes over, the first thing it does is to find ways to sever the society’s connection to its past. ISIS is now doing that in the areas it controls, by erasing any physical embodiment of the memory of the area’s pre-Islamic past. “The more total the aspirations of the new regime, the more imperiously will it seek to introduce an era of forced forgetting,” says Connerton.

ISIS is an extreme example, of course, but this happens in all societies that are undergoing revolutionary change. The Communist regimes of Russia and Eastern Europe tried this too. Echoing Kundera, Connerton says that the “there were people [there] who realised that the struggle of citizens against state power is the struggle of their memory against forced forgetting.”

Connerton discusses three types of memories — personal (something in the past that the individual experienced), cognitive (something in the past that the individual knows from having learned it second hand), and habit-memory, which he defines as “our having the capacity to reproduce a certain performance.” It’s like muscle memory: we may not remember how we learned the thing, but we can recall it when necessary. Reading this, I recalled the experience of Father George Calciu, a Romanian Orthodox priest, who was able to celebrate the Divine Liturgy while in a Communist prison because he had committed it to memory. The liturgy reminded him of who he was and what was true, in a time and place in which the authorities brutally tried to force him to forget. Connerton calls this third kind of remembering “habit-memory.”

When a society really wants to remember something as a society — e.g., mythical, religious, or historic stories that tell a people who they are and what they must do — it invents commemorative ceremonies around those stories. It is not enough to tell a particular story; the story has to be “a cult enacted.” That is, the story must convey a metaphysical truth, and thus has to be granted sacred status as an event that is taken out of the past and in some mystical way re-presented in the present. This is, of course, what the Orthodox Divine Liturgy and the Catholic Mass do. Rites are ways that societies maintain a living connection with their past, and enter mystically into it. Connerton says that “performative utterances are as it were the place in which the community is constituted and recalls to itself the fact of its constitution.”

In simpler language, this means that the words spoken in a rite both bind its participants together and remind the people who they are, as a people. Further, the most effective rituals involve the body. Connerton:

To kneel in subordination is not to state subordination, nor is it just to communicate a message of submission. To kneel in subordination is to display it through the visible, present substance of one’s body. Kneelers identify the disposition of their body with their disposition of subordination. Such performative doings are particularly effective, because unequivocal and materially  substantial , ways of ‘saying’; and the elementariness of the repertoire from which such ‘sayings’ are drawn makes possible at once their performative power and their effectiveness as mnemonic systems.

The most effective rituals do not vary, and are removed in the form of speech and song from everyday life. And:

Finally, ritualised posture, gesture and movement, instead of flexibly combining to impart a variety and ambiguity of information as in what we conventionally describe as everyday situations, is restrictive in pattern, and hence easily predictable and easily repeatable, from one act to the next and from one ritual occasion to the next.


Connerton says that modernity is a condition of deliberate forgetting, of choosing to deny the power of the past to affect our actions in the present, so as to create a new condition of existence marked by the individual’s freedom of choice. Capitalism requires this deliberate forgetting, and facilitates it, and rites we invent in modern times “are palliative measures, façades erected to screen off the full implications of this vast worldwide clearing operation.” Here is the core:

Under the conditions of modernity the celebration of recurrence can never be anything more than a compensatory strategy, because the principle of modernity itself denies the idea of life as a structure of celebrated recurrence. It denies credence to the thought that the life of the individual or a community either can or should derive its value from the acts of consciously performed recall, from the reliving of the prototypical. Although the process of modernisation does indeed generate invented rituals as compensatory devices, the logic of modernisation erodes those conditions which make acts of ritual re-enactment, of recapitulative imitation, imaginatively possible and persuasive. For the essence of modernity is economic development, the vast transformation of society precipitated by the emergence of the capitalist world market. And capital accumulation, the ceaseless expansion of the commodity form through the market, requires the constant revolutionising of production, the ceaseless transformation of the innovative into the obsolescent. The clothes people wear, the machines they operate, the workers who service the machines, the neighborhoods they live in — all are constructed today to be dismantled tomorrow, so that they can be replaced or recycled. Integral to the accumulation of capital is the repeated intentional destruction of the built environment. Integral too is the transformation of all signs of cohesion into rapidly changing fashions of costume, language and practice. This temporality of the market and of the commodities that circulate through it generates an experience of time as quantitative and as flowing in a single direction, an experience in which each moment is different from the other by virtue of coming next, situated in a chronological succession of old and new, earlier and later. The temporality of the market thus denies the possibility that there might co-exist qualitatively distinguishable times, a profane time and a sacred time, neither of which is reducible to the other. The operation of this system brings about a massive withdrawal of credence in the possibility that there might exist forms of life that are exemplary because prototypical. The logic of capital tends to deny the capacity any longer to imagine life as a structure of exemplary recurrence.

What does this mean? He’s telling us that in modernity, the market is our god. It conditions what we imagine to be possible. We can’t dream that life should be ordered by rituals that bound and define our experience, and link it to the past, to a sacred order. There is no sacred order; there is only the here and now, the tangible. The world exists to be remade to fit our desires. There are no ways of living that we should conform our lives to, no stories that tell us how we should live. When Connerton says that in modernity, and under capitalism, we can hardly “imagine life as a structure of exemplary recurrence,” he’s saying that we can no longer easily believe that we should live according to set patterns of thought and action because they conform to eternal truths.

One more passage:

On my trip, I had several conversations with conservative church folks in middle to upper middle class social groups. Washington DC and Charlottesville, Virginia, (home of the University of Virginia), are full of such people. My interlocutors told me how hard it is to get many people in their circles to believe in anything prophetic in the Christian way of life that would prevent them and their children from participating fully in the meritocracy. When these are rival goods, mom and dad know which kingdom they serve. A man and a woman ask their pastor to speak to their college-age child, who wants to become a missionary, and ask him to talk her out of it; they want her to be successful, not to throw her life away.

In most cases, I understood my interlocutors to say, these in their social circles are not liberals. Quite the opposite, actually. What they appear to want, though, is a faith that baptizes the American Way of Life. Anything that conflicts with that they resist. Consequently, they cannot see how the American Way of Life, with its relentless valorization of innovation and individualism, annihilates Christianity by assimilating it.

You can have left-wing Moralistic Therapeutic Deism and you can have right-wing Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, but neither one is Christianity. Both are the pseudo-religion of the Rich Young Ruler from the Gospel parable. Every single one of us is subject to this temptation, by virtue of the fact that we are Americans, and we live in modernity.

It occurred to me while reading this that the most dangerous enemy we face is not the State, and what it might yet do to individual Christians and their institutions and businesses. The most lethal foe is the Empire of Amnesia, which induces us at every turn to forget who we are, to forget who God is, and to forget what He wants from us. The Empire of Amnesia does not force us to forget our sacred Story as the Soviet empire did to believers; rather, it entices us to forget so we can set free our passions. So we can have our best life now. So we can be as gods. And as Ross Douthat once wrote, “no conservative dream, in the 400 years from Francis Bacon until now, has proven strong enough to stand in its way.”

This is the mission of the Benedict Option: to turn away from the Empire of Amnesia, to build “new forms of community” that can offer sustained resistance to it, and to give ourselves, our children, and our communities resilience in the face of its power, and ultimately to create, over time, the conditions for the resurrection of Christian civilization.

All that might sound like a lot of theoretical hoo-ha, but what it means, deep down, is this: Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods Before Me. Not on Sunday morning, not ever. Choosing Sunday sports over church is many things, but it is also to induce cultural amnesia into your family, and to embrace a new, godless culture and its liturgies — sports on Sunday morning, say — by sedimenting its values into your family’s bones. You are teaching your children and yourself that there is no sacred order other than the one you choose. Do not be surprised if they learn this lesson well from you, and as adults, choose not to pretend that they really believe in God. And you will not be blameless in this.

I know I’m being harsh here, but people, this ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco, this ain’t no foolin’ around.  We American church people like to tell ourselves that if the secret policemen were to show up at our door to arrest us for being Christians, that we would bravely go to our fate, as the martyrs and confessors of the past did. What crap. Many of us won’t even say no to soccer on Sunday morning. If the secret police in some distant dystopia were to come to our door and ask if we are Christian, we will already answered that question many times in the past, by the quotidian choices we will have made.

This is why I am, yes, alarmist about the Benedict Option and the future of Christianity. Things really are as bad as all that. When I talk about “strategic withdrawal” as necessary for the preservation of the Christian faith, I’m talking about things as mundane as taking your kids out of sports leagues that require them to play on Sundays (or Saturdays, if you’re Jewish) and holy days. It really is a big deal, bigger than most people realize. You might think, “He’s saying head for the hills, but we can’t do that, because we have to stay engaged, to be salt and light to the world.” Come on, really? If you really want your kids, and yourself, to be salt and light, then you cannot choose sports over Sunday worship, because in so doing you will have lost your savor, and accepted assimilation over fidelity.

Believe me, I’m not lecturing from my high horse. These conversations in southern California I’ve had these past few days have highlighted to me ways in which I can and must do better as a Christian and as a father, in strengthening the liturgy of my life and my family’s life. I have not been doing as well as I ought to be doing. The good thing is that it is never too late to change.

So, to go back to the Sun article:

“We no longer live in Christendom. We really have to accept that it’s a thing of the past.”

More and more often, the answer seems to be: shed your baggage, move more nimbly and sharpen your sense of mission.

Yes. Ordinary Christians have to wake up and comprehend what has happened, and is happening. A reader wrote today:

I just wanted to thank you for speaking at the Santa Monica Catholic Church this past Saturday night. I first heard of you and your book, The Benedict Option, from a New Yorker article my sister gave me. I was drawn to your story because I too am an outsider and your longing for a sense of home is something I can sympathize with.

I’ve never written to a public figure before, but I wish to encourage you to continue raising awareness of the growing threat to the church and our world as a whole. Some of the other panelists’ attempts to dismiss you as ’alarmist’ were well intentioned, but naive at best. Living in the comfort of one of the most affluent neighborhoods in the world can dull one’s sense of reality. But I am no different.

This past Sunday, I was leaving my church after a joyful time of worship and bible study only to encounter a gruesome scene: someone had committed suicide by jumping off a high rise luxury condo two blocks away from my church. The police had to close off the street because of the blood and body parts.

I know one shouldn’t extrapolate too much from one data point, but I took this as a challenge that the church needs to do more. The field hospital metaphor for the church shared on Saturday is apt, but incomplete. Due to the rising hostility against our faith, many who are in need of the Gospel would never darken the door of a church. How can we share the Gospel to a world that doesn’t want to hear it?

The Sun article said churches, to survive, have to “sharpen” their sense of mission. I take that to mean that they have to stand for something clearly and firmly. I mentioned to my interlocutor at dinner last night that I sometimes think that churches ought to focus more on being finder-friendly than seeker-friendly. That is, if you water down your sense of mission to make it accessible to the kind of people who would rather go to soccer games with their kids on Sunday morning than come worship and commune, then you risk driving away those who do come, and who may well be desperate for formation and discipleship.

We need Christian families and communities who are all about Chariots Of Fire, not Minivans Of Apathy.

UPDATE: A reader comments:

We are Mormon and moved from Utah to a very religious and conservative part of Texas recently. We were aghast at all the Sunday sports leagues for kids, which we had never seen in Utah. My kids play ice hockey, but we refused to play on Sunday, and as a result my kids were treated like trash (“letting down the team by not playing on Sunday!”). I remain really shocked by this treatment from people who consider themselves devoutly Christian. And now I see how wonderful it was to be in a place (Utah) where no one would ever think of scheduling a youth sports event on Sunday because no one would show up! We are also told by our Church leaders not to go to stores or amusement parks or such on Sunday–that is, to try not to spend any money at all on Sunday so that businesses would not be needing as many workers on Sundays (so that these workers could go to Church instead). I agree with you that we need to draw lines and stand firm on these issues that might not seem important, but which surely are.

God bless the Mormons for holding the line!

UPDATE.2: Reader TimG, an Evangelical pastor in Mexico:

Here in a very Catholic neighborhood in central Mexico, Sunday morning is soccer morning. The fields are full (ripe for harvest?) and the faith is skin-deep.

My 14-year-old son joined a football team (American) and most of their games were on Sunday. We had to make a choice. Church won. We did squeeze in a couple afternoon games.

The point is that this goes beyond the US. It’s a human thing. In the book of Judges “After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel.” It’s a continuous battle every generation, although I’m pretty sure the problem in Israel back then wasn’t soccer on Sundays.

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71 Responses to Chariots Of Fire Vs. Minivans Of Apathy

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  1. Lllurker says:

    “The payoff for parents (homeschooling or not) is the usual: bragging rights, adult bonding with other adults who are enduring the same hardships for their kids, that special sense of superiority over all those other parents whose kids aren’t as accomplished, etc”

    Erin that’s a pretty harsh generalization. Unfortunately there are parents like that, but that sort of attitude isn’t widespread, at least it hasnt been anywhere that I’ve lived. That’s a little like judging all religously inclined parents by those few arrogant folks who seem to believe that their religiosity somehow makes them superior to others.

    One aspect of the chase for sports scholarships by the way is this for-profit coaching industry that has popped up in recent years. Sometimes parents get persueded into spending significant sums of money on years of professional coaching and training for children who didn’t have the prerequisite athletic ability to begin with. Parents who excelled in sports themselves are generally able to make a reasonable determination as to whether their own kid actually has the athleticism and drive to one day play at the college level. But the parent who didn’t personally play a sport at a high level, or who never played sports at all, can be an easy mark for a training pro who sells them on the idea that with enough hard work (and expensive training) their kid can develop into scholarship material.

    For some children playing at the college level is a realistic aspiration, but for most it isn’t, and an experienced coach can usually sort this out pretty quickly, but the coaches are in also a position where there is a financial incentive to see oodles of potential in every kid.

    Incidentally, back to the competition between church attendance and Sunday sports, our priest at the Catholic grade school my son attended actively discouraged scheduling sport events on Sundays, and he had a standing rule prohibiting them altogether on Sunday mornings. Of course he only had the clout to do this because he was in charge of both the church and the school, but I think most of the parents appreciated his prohibition. I know I certainly did.

  2. EngineerScotty says:

    Unless you have Christendom (and blue laws, and cultural pressure to be in the pews on Sunday, and no pro sports on the television), you will have things competing for your time on whatever day you keep holy.

    Is the lament that we don’t have Christendom, and that people do have choices besides church on Sundays, and there’s little social penalty for not being there? Or is the lament that many Christians are making the wrong choice absent compulsion to make the (in your view) right one?

    If the latter, then I’m at least somewhat sympathetic to your despair. If the former; not at all–that doesn’t give you large numbers of dedicated Christians, it gives you large numbers of superficial ones, who are merely going along to get along. Other than the fact that it makes it easier to be a dedicated Christian, by removing temptation from your path, I’m not sure what it buys you. (Indeed–a whole lot of conservative Christian political activities, as well as much of the BenOp, seems to be oriented around removing temptations from people’s paths. Which sounds like a recipe for a lot of salt with little flavor).

    And a society that arranges itself around people being at church on Sunday–puts non-Christians, as well as those Christians who keep the Sabbath rather than the Lord’s Day, at a disadvantage. Perhaps dedicated Christians don’t care about the concerns of the heathens and infidels in their midst…

  3. grumpy realist says:

    Well, it used to be that everyone showed up at the church-they-were-expected-to-attend because if you didn’t, you would be talked about. Discussed. People might refuse to do business with you.

    Now, in light of the 60-hour work week and dual-career families and needing to get in all those special activities that are so important for your young child so that he’ll have something to put on his ever-increasingly important college application I’m not surprised that families decide to do something else. It’s surprising that anyone shows up at all…

    Fact is, the time to fight tooth and nail for people to act “Christian” was out back when corporations were starting to take over. You should have insisted that no, people were not robots to be worked to death and disposed off like tin cans when a cheaper worker could be found elsewhere. That decent salaries should be paid to everyone. That “community” was something that really existed and that corporations should stop thinking just about stock prices and start acting as “good citizens” themselves.

    But no….the Ayn Rand “Christians” came around and put “the Free Market” in the place of enshrinement (no matter what they claimed to be worshiping) and you let them take over and well, here we are.

    Sucks, doesn’t it?

    [NFR: You are awfully sour about Christians. Do we ever do anything you approve of? If Christians lobbied to keep blue laws, you would be complaining that we were forcing our religious beliefs on people who wanted to shop or work on Sundays. — RD]

  4. Jen says:

    I am not a regular churchgoer myself. But every time I visit my family and attend their unbearable megachurch, if it’s during football season, the pastor always has to work in a mention about the relevant college/NFL games. Maybe he thinks it’s the only way to keep people focused on the sermon.

  5. MikeS says:

    I’m glad I was in a conservative Reformed church when my kids were growing up, it provided institutional encouragement for keeping Sunday as the Sabbath. No sports for us.

  6. Erin Manning says:

    Gromatics, your numbers are about 140,000 students. Even if we assume that 200,000 students or so will annually receive at least some partial scholarship for sports, that is still not all that many considering that over 20 million college students enrolled in Fall 2017 in the US. For those students who only receive an average sports award, the amount of time they’re expected to devote to the sport can seem like a poor trade-off. When you compare this to the costs incurred by some parents over a child’s 12 or so years of sports involvement in school, it makes sports seem like a rather poor college investment for the majority.

    Lllurker, my comment was directed as those sports families who really make sports the king of their lives–the people who are traveling significant distances, spending lots of money, and prioritizing sports to a degree that looks pretty crazy to anybody outside of it. People like the ones mentioned here:

    One mom quoted in the article says she does what she does because it’s “expected” in her affluent community, and the other parents will think she doesn’t love her kid if she doesn’t spend all her time and money on the child’s sports. That’s not normal.

  7. Erin Manning says:

    This is enlightening. “Follow the money,” indeed:

    Quoted from the above article:

    “There are few better places to take the measure of the youth-sports industrial complex than the Star, the gleaming, 91-acre, $1.5 billion new headquarters and practice facility of the Dallas Cowboys. Turn left upon entering the building and you’ll find the offices of Blue Star Sports, a firm that has raised more than $200 million since April 2016 to acquire 18 companies that do things like process payments for club teams, offer performance analytics for seventh-grade hoops games and provide digital social platforms for young athletes.

    “Blue Star’s investors include Bain Capital; 32 Equity, the investment arm of the NFL; and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who leases Blue Star space in his headquarters. The company’s goal is to dominate all aspects of the youth-sports market, and it uses an affiliation with the pros to help. Blue Star’s logo bears a not-coincidental resemblance to the one seen on national TV every Sunday, and the company’s conference room has a view of the Jones family boardroom. The connection is clear for kids and investors alike.”


    Why would anybody go to church, instead? There’s no money in it…

  8. Geoff Arnold says:

    All of this reminds of of the idea advanced by the philosopher, Dan Dennett of “belief in belief”. Many people who profess a belief in the tenets of a religion (and hence identify themselves as members of that religion) aren’t truly committed to those beliefs. However for social/cultural reasons they accept that religious belief is important, and hence they “believe in belief”.

    Once the culture ceases to value religious belief (by, e.g., prioritizing it below sports, etc.), the need to “believe in belief” vanishes,, and thus the respect for the tenets is shown to be evanescent.

    Of course the same people still cling fiercely to the idea of membership. All those Texans still claim to be Christians. But their membership was never connected to actual belief in the tenets of Christianity; it was just about belief in belief.

    (Recommended: search YouTube for “Dennett belief in belief”. It affects more things than religion.)

  9. charles cosimano says:

    [NFR: You are awfully sour about Christians. Do we ever do anything you approve of? If Christians lobbied to keep blue laws, you would be complaining that we were forcing our religious beliefs on people who wanted to shop or work on Sundays. — RD]

    Grumpy would not be the only one and it would be more than mere complaining. It would be throwing anyone who supported them out of office. The simple statement would be, “Who the hell are you to tell us when we can and cannot do business?”

    You want to see Christians driven from the public square with tar and feathers added, that’s the fast way.

  10. Justin Parris says:

    I was linked here on another blog, but I’ll place my response here as well, mildly edited.

    I’m going to go against the grain here and say I disagreed with much of what he has to say. Primarily because I think he’s starting the story at Chapter 4, rather than Chapter 1.

    It’s not as if we had a glorious functioning church and people just suddenly started not attending at random because sports are fun. We’ve had churches slowly decaying for decades internally, reducing the incentive to go. I know of no one more dedicated to following and affirming himself to God than my father (if perhaps, I don’t always agree how he interprets God’s intent), but we did not go to church as a family for most of my youth. It wasn’t because of something else that was more fun for us to do, it’s that we failed to find a church that was worth the gas to it took to get there. There were essentially two flavors of church available. They either were completely without doctrine aside from “be nice to each other”, permitting and endorsing all manner of sin at every level, so long as it didn’t sound mean to other people, or they had a giant heaping pile of doctrine, both good and bad, but were spiritually dead. The congregation being too busy patting each other on the back for not letting their children read Harry Potter or eat too much sugar to care about the mixture of hatred and antipathy they bred in one another. Now if an entire family of God devoted, Biblically passionate people don’t go to church not because they have something better to do, but because your church doesn’t care about God, you don’t get to complain about the average family who takes theology significantly less seriously is uninterested. Your church isn’t empty because everyone else is such a bad person. Your church is empty because it’s a worthless church.

    The problem as I see it, and this is based specifically around being in an anti-Christian values area, is they’re mimicking strategy from First Past the Post voting in a political structure. FPTP, if you haven’t studied it and to make the story short, is the voting system the US and most countries use. Everyone gets 1 vote, and the person with the most votes wins. The inevitable problem of first past the post, is it creates strategy in voting. Since whoever gets “the most” wins, there is the potential for the overall majority to split itself between two candidates, letting the minority candidate win because even though he has only 40% of the public, the 60% who agree with each other more than not split themselves 30/30 amongst two people. So FPTP voting systems by strategic necessity always over time, without fail, become two party systems. The end result is that to get anything you want at all, you need to appeal to the widest possible base. This means dropping any principle that is unsavory to the masses. Be as bland and useless as possible to maximize your chances of success. So how does this relate to what I’m saying about churches?

    In the face of a culture that runs contrary to Scripture, churches have elected to run a “lowest common denominator” ticket. Try and be as bland and *useless* as possible to appeal to the broadest audience. The reason why this works in politics and not in a church is twofold. For one, in an election, winning is the strategic goal and no matter what, someone is going to win. It doesn’t matter how low the voter turnout is, or how low public confidence is in its leaders, someone gets the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. In a church, there’s no end election. Fostering a Godly community is the goal. It isn’t possible to cultivate a “win” from the apathetic. Second, no church can truly flourish without God’s direct involvement and God does not tolerate open defiance. In their attempts to cultivate an audience in Babylon, they’ve forsaken the Lord’s teaching and there is no Catholic (Universal) church without the Lord and his teaching.

    You don’t get to claim your flock abandoned you when you abandoned them long ago. I’m just thankful that by the time I had kids of my own I found a church that is legitimately nourishing. It’s the first time I’ve found any church in my life with any kind of working understanding of the difference between doctrine and culture.

    “All that might sound like a lot of theoretical hoo-ha, but what it means, deep down, is this: Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods Before Me. Not on Sunday morning, not ever. ”

    You’re conflating your church with God. They aren’t the same thing. If your church has abandoned God long ago, being a member of your church is heresy. I think you’re wildly overestimating the availability of good churches in these areas.

  11. JonF says:

    RE: Unless you have Christendom (and blue laws, and cultural pressure to be in the pews on Sunday, and no pro sports on the television), you will have things competing for your time on whatever day you keep holy.

    When I was growing up there were very few actual blue laws in Michigan. The only ones I can think of involved Sunday alcohol sales (none before noon). It was voluntary choice in accord with community norms that motivated stores not to open before noon on Sundays and kids’ sporting events never to be scheduled on Sunday.

  12. JonF says:

    Re: One of the big changes that has occurred is how many orthodox or conservative Christians eat out in a restaurant after Sunday services. In my youth this was unheard of.

    In her widowhood my Catholic grandmother operated a restaurant in the little town in Ohio where she lived. The family did early mass on Sunday, then went down to the restaurant to open for Sunday afternoon. Sunday dinner (a big meal eaten in the afternoon) was a thing back in those days, and some families would want to give their womenfolk a treat by taking them out to dinner rather than having them slave away in the kitchen after church.

  13. Seven sleepers says:

    I don’t think this “forced forgetting” is a useful hermeneutic. After all, people have sued the internet to create “the right to be forgotten”. It isn’t a forced forgetting, but an absolute remembering. Nothing is forgotten, and nothing passes into myth and the fog of memory. Everything, simply everything, is a few clicks away. Every battle. Every sin. Every crime. Every pockmark. All there. And this total remembrance is what is demolishing our culture. And I am not sure it is bad. Absent this total recall, men find it easy to abuse themselves of pride in things we should not otherwise be proud of, i.e. Nationalism, or Institution worship (wink wink).

    No, the problem is, in former times, the minutiae of living floated off into the ether. Battles were forgotten. Sins were erased by the healing hand of time. People got on.

    Not anymore. If there is a forced forgetting, it is because we live in a dictatorship of remembrance which has crowded out the simple possibility of letting things lie. In other words, the easy forgiveness of forgetfulness has been banished. And minutiae rules every day and hour.

    Now, this generation is being faced with a situation in which we must practice the hard forgiveness: the type that cant simply forget, bc of the internet, but faces the thing in the new, pseudo ever-present, and decides to no longer be a victim to it. This is the source and center of several of the culture war fronts. It’s not a forced forgetting, but a mandatory attention to things that are not godly, and not eternal, due the technology of pseudo-eternal memory.

  14. Floridan says:

    But games mostly are not. This matches my own memories and the general reporting of high school sports in the newspaper.

    It’s not high school sports that usually play on Sundays, it is recreational/youth leagues. In part this is often due to the availability of fields and volunteers (a referee can’t cover two games at the same time) as well as limited time available for each sport (football has to give up the fields to soccer at a certain date).

    At a higher youth level (“travel”), tournaments are usually held over weekends to accommodate school and work schedules.

  15. sdb says:

    In most regions, it is travel soccer and base(soft)ball clubs that are playing on Sundays. These are run independently of the schools, and seem to be where most scholarship students are drawn from. The public schools generally do not have Sunday games.

  16. Lllurker says:

    James K: “. It seems as if the South and Midwest have actually been more likely to embrace games on Sunday – at least, as far as I can tell.”

    A lot of kid’s sports these days revolve around weekend tournaments. This has always been the case in Tennis and some of the other sports, but now it seems to me that it has become more widespread. An example would be an invitational basketball tournament where the various area gradeschool teams will all play each other at one school’s gym over much of the weekend.

  17. sdb says:

    There’s a deeper question I think you should be asking. To what degree were higher rates of religious observance due to social pressure rather than sincere belief?

    To set up this dichotomy is to misunderstand the social nature of the Christian faith. The spirit may be willing, but the flesh is weak – understanding that weakness, we need community to provide the encouragement we need to avail ourselves of the means of grace. One form that encouragement can take is social pressure and clearing away of temptation to do other things. The blue-laws and social expectations of yesteryear were valuable to many people who may have otherwise drifted. To suggest that these people are lesser Christians because social pressure helped them persist in the faith is to underestimate the extent to which all Christians are utterly dependent on God’s grace to even believe.

  18. Any parent who thinks that compelling their children to attend Sunday worship faithfully every week (and forswear activities that interfere with church) will ensure that their children will grow up to be faithful Christians is mistaken. My parents took this approach: my siblings and I were required to attend Sunday school and Sunday worship (both morning and evening), and we were very strongly encouraged to participate in youth group, boys’ and girls’ clubs, midweek prayer service, Bible study, etc., etc. We also attended Christian schools. As adults, two of us are churchgoers while the other three became agnostics. My husband’s upbringing was pretty much the opposite: his parents didn’t go to church and didn’t care whether the kids did or not, yet two of the four ended up becoming Christians and churchgoers. It’s enough to make a disinterested observer wonder if it makes any difference how you raise your kids.

  19. James Kabala says:

    sdb: I thought so, but in past threads, some have said that it is an increasingly common practice for schools as well.

  20. Hound of Ulster says:


    I would rather have ten true believers at Liturgy every Sunday, then 100 people going through the motions because they are forced to by the State.

  21. Dale McNamee says:

    Regarding “blue laws”… I live near the Amish, Mennonites,and Church of the Brethren and every business is closed on Sundays… You won’t see much activity until you hit the urban areas…

    I like the quiet and the lack of the frenzy that is the the hallmark of America…

    As for sports… Karl Marx called religion the “opiate” of the masses… It isn’t, sports are !

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