Andrew S. posted a very interesting comment on a blog post I published for the Fo-Mo Chronicles about cultural mormonism. The gist of the original post is that a lot of people stay in mormonism long after they stop believing the tenets of mormonism because they have a strong cultural attachment to the organization and the surrounding culture. I also drew some parallels with Roman Catholicism. Andrew’s point was that having a culture or community is important but that it must be coupled with sound doctrine. I say amen to that! But it raised another question…
Are culture and community the same thing? I don’t think that they are. Let me expand on that thought.
Highly hierarchical faiths like Roman Catholicism and mormonism tend to form a culture. More loosely organized faiths tend not to.
Here is my take on this. A religious culture fosters dependency, dependency on the organization or culture or institution. A community fosters interdependency where the people become reliant on each other. This difference is in the focal point. Where is the focal point, is it on the people in community with one another with the structures supporting and encouraging that community or is it on the organization with the people being little more than a means to support it? Whether it is the insistence on Rome as being the home of the “true” church and the pope being able to draw some alleged line between himself and Peter or in mormonism with the argument that they are the “true” and “restored” church and that their “prophet” holds all human ecclesiastical authority on this earth, the organization is king and the culture is focused on belonging to that group. People in a religious culture are linked by their common cultural heritage, which should not be confused with community. That is why it is so difficult to witness to people in deeply embedded religious cultures, whether that culture is mormonism, Roman Catholicism, Islam, Judaism etc. The culture has a hold on people that cannot be easily broken even in the face of compelling reasons. For example, it is not that difficult to knock the underpinnings out of mormonism but even showing it to be a false belief system is not sufficient to cause people to abandon it. A lot of people drift along, nominally related to their culture while really ignoring the major tenets. This is really pronounced in Roman Catholicism, which explains the vast numbers of people who go to Mass on Easter and Christmas (“Chreaster Catholics”), identify themselves as Catholic and probably were married in a Roman church but ignore at will all of the teachings of Rome.
Having said that, there are an awful lot of evangelicals who have a form of dependency on the religious aspects of their faith above and beyond the faith itself. What draws nominal believers to a local church? Probably not the community, you are not really in a community if you sneak in two minutes before the “worship service” starts and then bolt out to your car afterward. It is a cultural thing. It is Sunday and maybe you feel guilty so you “go to church”. I have punched the church clock on a number of Sundays, attending because I was supposed to and it made me feel better to have met my religious obligation for that week. What I have found is that “punching the clock” can sustain you for a short time but eventually the lack of connection and community overrides the satisfaction of an obligation. Eventually gathering for a couple of hours with a room full of relative strangers stops being worthwhile. Just like “Chreaster Catholics”, there is a sizable number of attendees and “members” in Protestant churches who are attracted by the culture and are not put off by the lack of community because quite frankly they are not interested in genuine community in the first place.
We have strayed pretty far from the New Testament, not just in organizations with erroneous or heretical teachings, but even in denominations and local churches that claim strict fealty to the Word of God. We are hardly interdependent, you can go to a church for years and never get to know a soul. The only interdependency is on everyone paying their fair share to keep the institution afloat.
You may gather on Sunday morning because it is culturally what you are supposed to do but when you gather in community it is because that is what you desire to do. Big difference