Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Marx Was Right

According to the January issue of Christianity Today, a recent study entitled “The Church vs. the Mall: What Happens When Religion Faces Increased Secular Competition?” shows that church goers are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, and less likely to attend church when statewide “blue laws” are abolished.

Blue laws make it illegal to open your business on Sundays and have been around since the founding of the original 13 colonies. Blue laws were in effect when I was growing up in Massachusetts in the 50’s and 60’s, and were repealed only when business people made it clear that the state was loosing tax revenue to neighboring Connecticut which had abolished blue laws and was open for business on Sundays. While some argue that blue laws fell because they violated church and state and forced non-Christians to rest on Sundays (I remember that The Crown Supermarket, the Jewish grocery, was open on Sunday in my hometown of Springfield, MA), it was economics not the constitution that killed the beast.

What is interesting about the study is not that it shows that when church has to compete with shopping, shopping wins, but that when Christians don’t go to church they turn to drugs and alcohol instead. Not all Christians, of course, but enough to make the fact a primary point of the study. Marx was right: religion is the opiate of the masses, and, given the chance, they prefer the real thing.

How to we get people back in the pews? If this study is any guide we have two choices. First, we could reinstitute blue laws and shut down all Sunday commerce except passing collection plates and church bingos. Just to be safe I would put people found not going to church in the stocks in public places. This too was popular in Massachusetts, though long before my time. If this sounds a bit harsh, churches could become more like malls, something many mega-churches are already doing. I would add bars and opium dens to the mix just to make sure all Christians feel called to come to church on Sunday.

If this works, and the aforementioned study suggests it will, mosques and synagogues might try the same thing. In Israel, of course, most Jewish businesses are forced to close on Saturday, which means that most Jews are shopping in Arab stores. I have only anecdotal evidence for this, but having recently returned from Israel, I did not get the sense that Jewish Israelis were flocking to synagogue. So maybe a bit of booze and hash would help.

The main point of the study however makes it clear that for many people religious observance is attractive only if the alternative is watching paint dry. Unless of course you are drinking and drugging while watching, in which case watching paint dry may be preferable to attending church.

I feel bad for all the good clergy who are loosing out to their parishioner’s preference for booze and drugs. They are doing their best but without legal sanctions they just can’t win. Thank God.

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