The Church of the Churchless

Carla Axtman

This is SO Oregon:

Susan Nielsen, The Oregonian:

And Oregon isn't called "God's country" for nothing. Many people who've moved here for the natural beauty say they feel more spiritually grounded at the coast, in the mountains or out in the garden than they do when stuck in a pew.

Second, people here might attend church more often than you think -- even in Portland. They just don't make a big deal about it.

"I do think that Portland has a great number of churches that would surprise us," says Joanna Klick, a transplanted Presbyterian turned Unitarian. She describes "basement groups, living-room groups, silent groups, severe doctrinal groups with partially self-manufactured theology, historical and cultural groups, and splinter groups of major faiths," to name a few.

Her church doesn't go for showiness, and that's fine with her. She prefers services that are educational and insightful over the "expansive, emotional, often personally embroidered stories" sometimes found in conventional sanctuaries.

Third, faith and religion are not the same thing.

"I am one of those Portland weirdos who actually does attend church weekly," says reader Kristi White. It can be hard for churchgoers not to feel like outliers in this otherwise open-minded city, she says, but she has discovered "there really is a deep spirituality in the people of Portland."

I love that we're a state that carves our own way. We celebrate our spirituality not by putting butts in the seats in churches (although some of us do), but by taking care of each other and the place we live.

It's reflective of our values as Oregonians, as far as I'm concerned. We've always been a state that marches to the beat of our own drum. We've never needed others to tell us how to do the right thing. We gut check our values and beliefs, and then we make it happen.

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    I don't know if the content of this actually describe Oregon culture or not. It does look like "churchianity" is in decline, especially among the young. Certainly for the most part churchianity has ceased to be a moral force in our society. Religious movements have been a powerful force for good at former times in ours and other societies. The evangelical movement among the poor of newly industrialized England was a force for bringing Fabian Socialism and socio-economic policies for the poor and working classes. Religion was a powerful force in the anti-slavery battle and in the civil rights struggle in the 50s and 60s in this country. There is a hunger for authentic spiritual practice, I believe, but supporting bricks and mortar institutions and the professionals who staff them, who mainly support status quo economic injustice and its structures, is properly falling from favor.

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      Unfortunately, what does get in the news (remember: Good News is No News) is all the intolerant, bigoted, dimwitted, and controversial stuff that spiritual groups do. Throw in the people in the limelight who use Geezus like an assault, and is it any wonder why 'churchianity' (Love that term. Consider it stolen) is driving people away? Church runs a soup kitchen that feeds hundreds? Not worth the time. A priest touches an alter boy? Bingo, prime time news.

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    According to Gallup Oregon ranks in the bottom ten of states for church attendance at 31%. There are also some studies that about half of people surveyed about church attendance lie about their attendance so the actual numbers may be much lower.

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      I also wonder in 'churchianity' intensive states if people don't overstate their attendance, too. There has been enough studies that show that people lie about their drinking habits, eating habits, and porn consumption (without realizing it), is it any wonder if they also lie about their church attendance?

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    It seems like this comment thread is missing the point entirely.

    It isn't about whether churches or religion are in decline or overstated. It's about Oregonians having a strong, robust moral compass that we follow.

    It's not flashy. It's not a product of a handful of people who tell us what to do from a pulpit or other stage. It's about the beliefs and values that we hold and cherish as part of being here.

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    I surely do wish that the dearth of churchianity could so easily translate into love of our special land & environment, that being Oregon. Carla is there, which is great. But Carla may be in the vanguard, which, hopefully, will some day be the mainstream.

    Lack in belief in the fairy tales of religion does not necessarily translate into heightened consciousness. Check Ayn Rand.

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    "Lack in belief in the fairy tales of religion does not necessarily translate into heightened consciousness. Check Ayn Rand."

    Well, stated. I dispute Carla's quasi magic premise that somehow there is mysterious thing about living in Oregon that gives us values of connection to the land and each other. Culture evolves from experience, but it also is transmitted from those who come before us. And much of that culture is informed by religious values. For myself any kind of eco-spirituality must involve a vision of life that is interconnected and unitive in essence, likewise for a true social justice. Consciousness that is rooted in these values, must also be rooted in a lived experience of interconnection or communion. That is what spirituality is. Connection is what humans hunger for. Too often what churchianity gives is mythical membership in a grouping that defines who is in and out of the circle of belonging. Authentic spirituality is where all life belongs and we belong to all of life.

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      Shorter Bill Ryan: Don't believe your lying eyes.

      We've deliberately gone out of our way, as Oregonians, to protect land and set up systems to keep it that way. We've piloted and implemented innovative conservation laws because of the the values of the people here. And when others come knocking to tear that down, we, the citizens of Oregon, thwart them.

      We're the state that's willing to shrug the bonds of organized religion to retain the right to choose abortion and for terminally-ill Oregonian adults to die peacefully & with dignity. In fact as a whole, we're defiant in the face of those who would try to force us otherwise.

      It's not perfect and there are situations where we haven't been the best that we could be, certainly. But the fact that we find our way, as Oregonians, without some overarching religious structure to tell us how to get there is part of the essence of who we are as a people.

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    Just an observation - There's a fine line between confident pride and smug self-congratulations. I found the original post quite appealing... some of the follow-up much less so.

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    This works for me

    "The Gods are not exactly lazy, but they are self-respecting and refuse to waste good mystery on work that we should do ourselves." Talbot Mundy January 1926

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    Carla, you're a hopeless romantic about Oregonians. Yeah, I'm born and raised, but I'm not looking through the lens you are. We've done some good stuff comparatively speaking in this state. But I also grew up with the guys who would cut down the last stand of timber to make their next payment on the 4 wheel drive pick-up and who shoot anything that moves for entertainment out in the woods, and who dump their trash in the stream. We're still dumping poison in our rivers. We're still gobbling up good land for sprawl and highways. We're not the land of environmental enlightenment. I wish we were.

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