The Death of the Church

How incentives and the hierarchy of human needs have diluted the Church's desire to act on its core beliefs.

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Church
http://www.trippingandstumbling.com/2015/05/the-death-of-american-church.html

The other day I was handed an article from World Magazine called “Silent Crossings.” The article discussed the new abortion bill, S.311, the Senate blocked that would criminalize healthcare professionals who failed to give life-saving care to infants born alive during an abortion procedure. The article summarized how little attention this bill seemed to receive and how, by and large, people’s actions seem unfazed by it. What struck me most was the article’s comment on how no changes in church sermon series occurred. Life even seemed to go on as normal for the church, and this struck me as particularly odd and surprisingly true.

You see, I grew up in the church, and while my family was Protestant, we also had many extended family members who were Catholic. I also had been a member of several churches in my youth and visited dozens of others. Throughout my whole church experience I never once ran across a belief that abortion was morally okay. It was always talked about in the same light as murder. From as far as I can tell the Catholic church still holds to the sanctity of life, from conception to birth, and so does the majority of other denominations. After reading this article I started looking around at how churches were operating and what their members were discussing as issues. I have yet to hear abortion or this bill mentioned.

This was strange and foreign to me. An institution so dedicated to the sanctity of life has remained eerily quiet over what seems to be an obvious breach of that sanctity by their own definition. Now I am sure there are plenty of church members who do not consider a baby as human life in the womb. I am not here to address that debate. However, if we are to ignore the debate of when a baby in the womb becomes a human life protected by the law than we can better focus on the issue of the Senate bill. This issue directly relates to already being born after a failed abortion. By my understanding of even some of the more liberal church ideas, any infant born is human life and the termination of such life is a significant, moral injustice.

Recently, I have been studying praxeology and economics. I find how humans act and what incentives drive them to act in order to meet needs is an interesting topic and it has become a hobby of mine. As I thought about the church’s silence on this issue, I could not help but put it into a praxeological perspective, and I realized that the American church has become complacent and lazy in its beliefs. From this praxeological approach, I realized that there did not seem to be much incentive for church members to oppose this bill and act against abortion. In order to act, people first need to have an incentive to act, and the benefits must outweigh the risks. Also, a common reason people act is to fulfill a need, and Maslow outlined a hierarchy of human needs: 1) physiological needs 2) safety needs 3) love and belongingness need 4) esteem needs 5) self-actualization needs.

In my experience, western culture and capitalism have established and created such wealth that the first two needs are already met for most American church-goers. The church itself, if you have gone to one recently, tends to feel more like a social club rather than an instrument of change. Quite often just by being a part of this “social club” one can fulfill the need for social belongingness. Thus, I suggest that by being an average or consistent American church attendee you likely have your first three needs met. This means the last two needs are more self-focused in nature. The pursuit of changing abortion laws and living out verbal convictions for the benefit of others tends to be put on the backburner and gets in the way of accomplishing these self-focused needs. Why leave your cozy job and income, Netflix, and couch to go protest? Why risk one’s reputation and prestige arguing an increasingly unpopular mainstream opinion? Acting in this manner would likely contradict the pursuit of fulfilling the final two needs. In extreme cases, it would even mean risking already established safety needs.

If abortion truly is murder on a large scale and the church cannot prevent it through peaceful measures, than the only other option is forceful measures if a change is truly desired. The fact is that this is not even an option that crosses people’s minds. Even if it did, they would not dare vocalize it for fear of seeming like a radical and potential domestic terrorist by insinuating potential violence. Can you imagine church members protesting or doing sit-ins and risking safety issues that come with some protests? Some yellow-vest protesters in France got arrested and dealt with other safety issues when clashing with law enforcement. It is almost unthinkable to imagine a few church groups risking anything near what the French people risked over a tax dispute in order to stand up for what they say the church believes in when it comes to moral issues.

The simple take away from this is that the church and its members value their reputation and pursuit of self-interested goals over pursuing change that might negatively impact their image. It will act like this even if the change is something they claim to be a high moral value, such as abortion. If the church will not risk needs 3-5 than they would never risk the first two needs either in pursuit of a verbal and written moral belief.

This brings me to my conclusion. If the church will not act to protect what it deems life, than why would it act to prevent corruption, other “lesser” moral evils, or even to help the poor and just be a consistent living example of Christ. The church, after all, is supposed to be the body of Christ. Therefore, I claim the church is dead and its beliefs so diluted by social pressures and self-interest that no significant incentives, strong enough to create action, remain for the body of Christ to act as a meaningful agent of change in the world today. It will continue to act as your feel-good, friendly neighborhood social club for the immediate future, but there is no foundation or substance to hold it up for long.

Disclaimer:

I am in no means encouraging violent action to address this issue. I am merely stating what humans typically do to enact the change they highly desire and cannot achieve by other means. For example, Americans risked all five basic needs to free themselves from British rule. Here, incentives were high enough and the risking all five basic needs for the rewards of being free was deemed worth it. The church will not even change a sermon series or organize a protest to argue with the recent Senate bill being blocked.

Also, while this article was inspired by a recent article on abortion, its premise can be applied to almost any major church belief with ease. Adultery? No biggie! Lies? Meh! The rest of the ten commandments? They look nice in stone, but do not hold them to it, that takes incentivized effort, and who needs that!

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