Earlier today, Misty and I were discussing recent research on females and sex* and I somehow got us on the subject of mega-churches, those churches with thousands of Sunday worshippers headed by celebrity evangelists like Joel Osteen and other figures. We’d been discussing why in the majority of cultures and societies, pairing up has been de rigueur. We wondered if there’s a biologically or psychologically (I’m including culture and other environmental factors in this) driven aspect to pairing and where lies the distinguishing line between the two. We then discussed family and friends as tribes. Misty wondered if a nation as large as ours can be effectively governed given the population size and differences between groups of people. An American in decline argument, essentially, noting that other empires have collapsed often over ethnic, religious and cultural differences.
That’s how we got on the subject of mega-churches.
First let me say this: None of the below is meant to be at all derogatory. These are serious questions.
In discussing tribes and the problems of governing large groups, I thought of those religious figures who oversee certain mega-churches. I wondered if it was possible for the spiritual “leader” to fully tend to his flock. There’s a reason the congregation is called a “flock” – it implies a personal, caring touch paired with close spiritual counsel and leadership. At least that’s how I interpret it.
Granted, many such churches probably have a large staff of pastors and other religious figures charged with tending segments (there’s that divisiveness again) of the flock – teens, seniors, grieving families et cetera. But in that case, the head of the church is nothing but a headliner to draw crowds of 15,000 worshippers each Sunday who can never be individually tended by, usually, him.
I suppose this is why I enjoyed Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead so much when I read it while in NYC a few years ago. It is the thoughts of an old country preacher put down on paper for his young son. I thought it had beautiful pacing. It made me slow down and enjoy the thoughtful (definitely not geographical) travels with this man of intelligence, compassion and personal, loving, loyal tending to his flock. And his admission of failures. I sincerely enjoyed the novel. More important, it made me feel the necessity of truly being there for someone, even if you have no blood or marriage relation.
Obviously, it’s not as if the novel taught me, essentially, the golden rule for the first time, nor did it necessarily make me better at following that rule. It did, though, probably re-spark my interest in mental health counseling (I have a few graduate hours in the field). I probably wouldn’t make an inspiring traditional religious figure, but I can offer my support in other ways.
Ultimately, though, I don’t know how the personal touch of compassion – not from a stage or over the airwaves but for you, personally, and your family and community (the entire membership of the congregation, that is) – can be provided to so many. And I guess I don’t think it proper, especially if we aren’t to worship idols. I can see a perspective that says as long as the worshipper is emotionally strengthened and strengthened in his or her faith, it doesn’t matter. I, however, would counter that is it the leader’s duty to personally tend his flock.
Which brings me to the last thing we discussed in that conversation before we headed out to grab a coffee at Bennu: That not coveting thy neighbor is probably the most often violated of the commandments. Even the lower animals do it. The difference, of course, being that we have a more developed sense of consciousness and will. Not that those things stop us from acting like baboons at times.
I honestly don’t think any of the above is controversial. It certainly isn’t meant to be morally, religiously, politically or otherwise offensive. Just a few uninformed thoughts on the subject.
*Most reviewers seem more interested in the findings that women like and want sex just as much (or more, at times) as men. To which, I, say, Duh.