Saturday, September 26, 2009

Lapsed Evangelicals

In other posts, I have written about the choirs and the services at Church and how different it is from civilian life. Of course, one of the big differences in the Chapel versus home is the number of women. More women than men attend Church for the very good reason that women are more likely to be poor and disadvantaged than men, and the Church ministers to those with needs--material and spiritual. And for the same reason, the Church has more old people than young people.

So Chapel services are about 90 percent male regardless of denomination, which more or less reflects the population. But considering that 80 percent of the military is under 25, the soldiers attending Church are, by Army standards, somewhere between old and ancient.

So where are the kids? Avoiding Chapel just like their college-bound counterparts avoid Church. In fact, I've talked to young men who were active in youth group, went to Church every week and chucked all of it right after basic training. You want to go to Church during basic because those who don't clean the barracks.

I asked one young man I have known for a while about why he never goes to Chapel after being in Church every week. He said that everybody went to youth group because they hung out there, but they were all getting drunk on Friday and Saturday. He said that a lot of things they were taught turned out not to be true. And he was sick of feeling phony.

It was hardly the first time I had heard that. The Lapsed Evangelicals are actually fairly easy to spot. They are among the leaders in getting in trouble, but they are genuinely polite when I get one of them for a work detail. The bad kids whine and complain by reflex. The LEs break the rules, but generally accept the punishment and are good soldiers.

They still have the culture game to play when they go home. More than one of the LEs avoided that problem by going to Europe, Hawaii, or some other place rather than home for leave. A lot of studies say they will come back to the Church when they have kids. I'm not sure. The guy I talked to today and other LEs are rejecting what they see as a fraudulent subculture for what they see as real life.

And an aggravation of that perception is some of the people they see in the Army who attend Church. There is choir member known for having fits in the workplace, a guy who got relieved for incompetence as a squad leader and believes (and talks about) many conspiracy theories, arch conservatives who talk about Liberal conspiracies, and a whole collection of strange people. There are, of course, some of the best people in the unit--soldiers who work uncomplaining in the worst conditions this deployment has.

One of the things I most looked forward to on this deployment was meeting more of the kind of believers I served with in Germany. But my last overseas assignment was before the Evangelical Church was swallowed by the politics of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell and the Christian Right. The Army reflects the nation it recruits from and even the LEs vote straight Republican. They may be doubting God and rebelling against their family, the Church and (particularly) their youth group, but the don't go so far as to become "Librals." The LEs that go to college do that.