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The development of America as a nation started with the Founding Fathers’ imperative that all (persons) have been created equal (Wuthnow n.pag.). Focusing on the words “created” and “equal,” it is a formulation that more or less predicted the way religion progressed and outspread in the United States. Religion is an indispensable part of the American society, and, as the Wars and the post-was historical situation molded the culture of consumerism, religion is taking the form of a product that can be marketed and purchased. Consumerism is quite far from losing momentum, and religion – with its own marketing strategies – is revving into gear accordingly, which makes it the most influential factor in shaping the future of religion in the U.S.
America’s religious future: The media and megachurches
In the previous paper, an interrelation of social constructs was discussed, with religion acting as the mediator between race, class, gender, etc. The media is a tool of social construction in that they operate with frameworks that are collectively agreed upon, which explains why religion – perhaps, one of the most powerful and ever persistent social constructs – is so deeply intertwined with the media. The roles of printed and visual mass media are rapidly fading before the Internet, the omnipresent platform of opinion sharing and – more importantly – marketing.
Just as businesses increase their visibility and receive instant feedback from the consumers (and thus gain in revenues), the Church is stepping onto the way of increased Internet usage. The Pope, or rather, his copywriters tweet on a regular basis. Facebook is flooded with “pray-for” hashtags, especially in the wake of a disaster that the whole nation grieves at.
Another face of religious marketing is the Megachurch phenomenon – such churches typically have large audiences and, consequently, considerable community outreach. Such churches compete for the membership scores, for instance, by using the media extensively and integrating commercialist practices into the sermons (“Product Placement in the Pews?” n.pag.). The growth maintenance is challenging at times, which is why newer techniques are adopted by megachurches: they provide downloadable events lists on their websites, feature music stream channels, and the like.
Given that the megachurches are largely successful in their attempts to gain more disciples and become more visible, the secularization theory concerns (that of the godlessness of the contemporary and subsequent generations) are quite unjustified. Indeed, the power of religion realized through Megachurches adopting marketing techniques and making use of the mass media – particularly, the Web – does not leave the space for spiritual decadence in its primary meaning.
Individualization, non-affiliation, and ambiguities that follow
The Megachurches might dispel the secularization theorists’ illusion of the emergence of an antitheist society – but so does the individualization of religion combined with the “nones” or the non-affiliated. These factors should be also considered when discussing the shaping of American religious future because the rates of the non-affiliated and religiously ambiguous are on the rise, as the longitudinal polls analysis by the Pew Research Center demonstrates (“Nones” on the Rise” n.pag.).
The non-affiliation and the resulting non-compliance of a large part of the population with whatever religious tradition is agreed upon in their community does not necessarily mean the nation is growing atheistic. Rather, the non-compliance comes from each individual person’s search for the Truth and not finding it in conventional religious confessions, for various reasons. As a result, the practices and modes of worship do not fall under any of the categories.
Christiano, Swatos, and Kivisto provide some evidence on the secularization of the “intellectuals” (218). However, the non-enlistment as Roman Catholic can hardly be counted as being 100%-secularist: the sparsity of Catholics among the academia indicates their dispositions are rather non-affiliatory rather than atheistic.
Overall, the situation appears to present a threefold ambiguity. As the churches gain powers and expand their discipleship with the help of the mass media and marketing practices, more and more believers simultaneously deviate from organized churches while at the same time preserving spiritual values. This ambiguity can be illustrated by some examples.
Hispanic Catholics and a megachurch
One of the groups that can be characterized as non-affiliated but at the same highly spiritual time are Hispanic Catholics. The rejection of institutionalized worship might be caused by their markedness as an ethnic minority group or some other factors. At any rate, this group is known for extensive usage of Catholic symbols and practices within their community, but outside of the confession that was the source of religion-specific knowledge (Christiano, Swatos, and Kivisto 230). At the same time, megachurches such as the Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, are actively targeting the Hispanic and Latino believers – not least by providing the website information in Spanish (Lakewood Church n.pag.).
The future of religion in the U.S. is marked by power acquisition and commercialization of the churches through the media, individualization of religion, and the resulting ambiguity. The future relationships of these factors is quite hard to predict; at least the secularization theory inconsistency with what the objective reality dictates is obvious.
Christiano, Kevin J., William H. Swatos, and Peter Kivisto. Sociology of Religion: Contemporary Developments. 3rd ed. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015. Print.
Lakewood Church. Lakewood Church, 2016. Web.
“’Nones’ on the Rise.” Pew Research Center. Pew Research Center. 2012. Web.
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“Product Placement in the Pews?” Wharton University of Pennsylvania. Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. 2006. Web.
Wuthnow, Robert. “Divided We Fall: America’s Two Civil Religions.” n.d. Web.