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Blog // Simplicity
August 31, 2006

Are People Disinterested or Uninterested in Church?

Interest in church and organised religion is going down. But what does this mean? Are people disinterested or uninterested?

In a recent Out of Ur piece, the following comment was made,

“Many churches struggle to reach the ever-elusive young adult demographic. Are 20-somethings simply disinterested in church? Not according to Brian McLaren. He believes we are failing to listen to the questions young adults are asking.”

As a bit of a grammar geek, this immediately caught my eye. Surely the writer meant uninterested, not disinterested?

In case you are not familiar with the difference, disinterested means not swayed by personal interest or potential personal advantage (e.g., no conflict of interest), whilst uninterested means indifferent, or not concerned (e.g., tuned out).

To say you are uninterested in church or religion means you don’t really care for it; church doesn’t command your attention or focus. Those who are uninterested aren’t curious about religion.

But to be disinterested means you might be curious about and even involved in church. However, you are impartial, non-partisan, open-minded in your views about the specifics of how the religion is organised. You have no axe to grind, so to speak, because you can take it or leave it. You’re happy for things to go one way or another.

To say that many people, especially younger people are uninterested in religion is neither a startling nor groundbreaking statement (as is saying they are uninterested in programmatic church even if they are interested in spirituality). But to say they are disinterested, is something else altogether.

Consider the recent article on the role of Christianity in US politics in the Foreign Affairs journal. That was an example of religious disinterest. Mead is trying to say, “let’s suspend our educated, liberal bias against evangelicalism for a moment and look at the strengths and weaknesses of the situation.” It’s also the kind of piece what would have been hard to find in the secular press 15-20 years ago. When I was growing up the mainstream media was somewhere between disinterested and disdainful of religion. Isn‚Äôt that one of the features of our postmodern moment? The shift in media coverage of religious affairs from uninterested to disinterested?

We live in a post-denominational age – or to put it another way an age of denominational disinterest. How many times do we hear words I may be in your church, but I have no stake in your church’s infrastructure, it’s denomination.

There is also an aspect of this in my generation’s disdain for building programmes. How can we really decide what building this congregation may need in 20 years time? I will have probably moved several times by then and for all I know, what we build today will be obsolete by then anyway. I like your community, I belong, but I’m disinterested in the long term future of the building.

One of the things I found quite compelling from my experience of expat Christianity in Delhi, was feeling disinterested with the leadership issues of the church. In fact, when I got there, the sense of unity was in part because few people had any real long term stake in the church, it was much more focussed on practical people issues. This felt immensely liberating.

Maybe the writer made a simple grammatical mistake, but there’s a little genius in what that mistake might be revealing to us. It seems, to me at least, that the future of spirituality means being at times uninterested, but more often disinterested in things that consumed defined Christianity for centuries.

Responses
John 15 years ago

Hi its John from Kyneton. I would suggest it is because the entire world has been secularised by the world dominant anti-“culture” of scientific materialism in which the inherent spiritual impulse of all beings has been almost totally smothered. This excerpt from my favourite “philosopher” may provide a clue as to why conventional exoteric religion just doesnt cut it.

“The dogma of scientific materialism cannot be effectively countered by conventional (or merely exoteric) religion — because conventional (or merely exoteric) religion is based on a calling to embrace a culture of beliefs that (whether or not the beliefs themselves are truly valid) cannot really be upheld (or supported) by the presumed-to-be-separate body (or egoic body-mind) that would want to believe in it. The naive (and even utopian and ego-immortalizing) tenets of conventional religion CANNOT be really and thoroughly believed by the ego (which is INHERENTLY reactive and self contracting) is grossly and materialisticly body-bound (and the gross physical body itself is naturally programmed to produce death)

Thus, falsely upheld (or ego-bound) religion is (like scientific materialist philosopy) a symptomatic characteristic of gross ego-“culture”. Indeed, it is, principally, the combination of grossly bound (scientific materialist) anti-culture with widespread exoteric religious fanaticism that has produced the “dark” realities of this “late-time”.”

And contary to another article in Foreign Affairs titled Why God Is Winning what we are really seeing is a resurgence of the insanity referred to in the last two lines of the above paragraph —and humanity plus all sentient beings on this planet are rapidly losing.
A resurgence of what is in effect inherently aggressive and would be world conquering archaic ancient tribalistic and nationalistic cultisms — in the very worst sense of that word!

The excerpt is from The Right Human Life essay at this site

1. http://www.aboutadidam.org/newsletter/toc-february2004.html

Furthermore the “answers” of exoteric religion do not really satisfy the heart. See

2. http://www.dabase.net/tfrbkyml.htm

Rodd Jefferson 15 years ago

Fernando,

Hmmm. Great post. Thanks for the challenging thoughts. My gut reaction?
1) How did Jesus react to the ‘church’ and society of His day? I think He was at times certainly interested, but not pleased. At other times, He clearly was disinterested (give to Ceasar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s).
2) I’d love for my church to be disinterested in so many of the things we do. We should have a real heart for knowing and serving God, even if it means doing it in a way that may not be purely our cup of tea. I find this particularly the case for things like type of music, type of message, even seating layout. Conversely, we need to be interested in the right things, including the expression of grace, genuine relationships, and a concern for the world we live in – some of these may not be evident in churches in spite of their strong biblical foundation.
3) I would sadly have to say that, on several occasions, I find myself uninterested in Christianity for all of the false things we project into society. Call me a follower of Jesus, but not a Christian!

Fernando Gros 15 years ago

John, interesting thoughts. I agree that such a dualist form of religion can be very destructive and in the end unfulfilling. However, I started stripping my own belief system of unecessary dualisms a while back now – a trend that is somewhat widespread amongst a number of my friends.

John 15 years ago

Fernando. You cant strip yourself of dualisms. Which part of you is going to strip which part of you from its dualism—and so on forever and forever until Divine Grace intervenes.
“I” is the primary koan.
It cant liberate itself or regain wholeness through any kind of thinking or effort.
Humpty Dumpty and all the kings men could not put humpty back together again.
And besides which our normal western world-view is saturated with dualisms.
The primary dualism is our presumption of being inherently separate from Real God.
All the other dualisms inevitably and automatically follow in each and every moment.
The next two being the presumption of being separate from the World Process and all other sentient beings.

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