The Rock inspires a new religion

You ever notice the looks on the faces of most of us college kids when a Christian spokesperson hands out pocket Bibles by the bus stops? Those of us who don’t give the distributor the proverbial hand at least accept the Bibles with a slight, Minnesota-style smirk.
And how about the Bible-banging orators of springtime? I remember one Mall-area speaker accompanied by two teen-age minions who somberly held a movie screen-sized sign that read: “You won’t smirk in hell!” Meanwhile, the orator bellowed dismal prophecies into a megaphone at the passers by who were, naturally, smirking.
And of course, there is the prototypical collegiate disdain for the “Christian right,” which manifests itself in our very own newspaper, among other places, almost daily.
Why the disdain? At first glance, one would think it would be the product of enlightenment. The more educated we become, the more exposed to the beliefs and religions of other cultures we become. The logical question for us to ask, then, is why is ours so right?
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, since 1973 the rate of college graduates in America has doubled. In the last four years, the number of Americans that read the Bible on a weekly basis has fallen from 47 to 37 percent. This bears striking resemblance to the decline of churchgoers in the last five years: from 49 percent of Americans who attend mass weekly to 37 percent.
Pope John Paul II spoke of the decline of Catholicism in the Americas while visiting Mexico this weekend. He referred to this period of time as the “age of death,” in which violence, pornography, atheism and euthanasia are thriving while religion suffocates.
Actually, though, the religious market seems to have simply shifted. The founders of “The Rock,” an alternative church which opened this weekend, would probably agree. In case you haven’t noticed, The Rock has posted a slew of its own propaganda all over campus. It sells itself as being a church for people “interested in God, but not religion.” Furthermore, it is a church “strictly” for single 20-somethings and college students. Interestingly, there’s no mention of its being Christian on the posters, but it certainly is. Also attached to the propaganda is a Surge commercial-like warning: “This is not your parent’s church!” Because I was feeling a little rebellious this weekend, I decided to check out The Rock’s debut on Saturday in the theater of Blake school. Upon entering, I was given a flyer with a section I was supposed to fill out and give back. The queries eerily resembled market research questions.
I walked into the theater, and found myself suddenly among about 300 or so pumped up Gen Xers, clapping and stomping to the beat of Dear Doctor Luke, a Christian rock band employing about two too many guitarists and a Casio keyboardist whose instrument lacked bass of any kind. Just before the sermon, Dear Doctor Luke did its risky rendition of “Everybody Hurts,” probably about the same time in which Pope John II was lamenting the demise of his sect in Mexico.
The pastor and co-founder of The Rock, Mark Darling, was both spastic and smooth. While betraying to the audience his problems with anger and violence, he compellingly assured the attendees that he understood their pains and anxieties about life in general, and relationships in particular. Remember, it’s a singles’ church. Sprinkling his delivery with cultural references such as Everclear, REM, and Mike and the Mechanics, he stressed his disdain for religious tradition, creeds and memorized prayers. Over all, the atmosphere in the theater seemed to be thick with energy.
Walking to my car, it struck me that religion might not be on its deathbed after all. Despite the Enlightenment, Industrial Revolution and current Information Revolution, America seems as religious as ever. Most Americans believe in the existence of heaven. Very few people believe death marks the end of existence. In addition, according to surveys conducted by the International Social Survey Program, Americans are among the most religious people in the world. More Americans believe in an afterlife than many other countries and believe more strongly in the devil’s existence. Americans are also the most likely to report having made some kind of contact with the dead.
In some regards, Americans seem to be becoming more religious. More Americans believe in the devil, reincarnation and have communicated with the dead now than in polls taken just 20 years ago.
But of course, we college kids know better, which is why we smirk at those amusing Bible-banging believers in the springtime. Not so fast. According to the ISSP poll, there is actually a positive correlation between education and faith-based beliefs. For instance, Catholics with four or more years of college are more likely to believe in an afterlife than Catholics with only a high school diploma. Moderate Protestant figures didn’t vary as much, but nonetheless weren’t made less religious by education.
But wait a second. I seem to have contradicted myself. If fewer Americans than ever before read the Bible and attend weekly mass, then how can it follow that we’re at least as religious as we’ve ever been? Because, suggests the data, we want a new drug, not rehab. Or maybe because Americans want all the cushy beliefs attached to church without having to suffer through the dull sermons.
Despite that its ads resemble a campy Levis commercial, I found The Rock exemplified the notion that while our culture is changing, our need for spiritual growth is not.
So the next time we’re approached by those mosquito-like smileys who want to stick a Bible in our shirt pockets, we should think about this for a second, and then smirk.
Rob Kuznia’s column appears every Tuesday.