What Does Religion Sound Like to You?
Sonic identity and spiritual expression in the age of information white noise is a challenging nut to crack. The Pew Forum released a study on how often people speak of religion. There is a muting of conversation about religion in public life. From the survey
% who say they discuss religion with people outside their family
18% At least once a week
15% Once or twice a month
18% Several times a year
These are some stunning results. Almost 50% of respondents seldom or never speak about religion outside of the home. Why is that? What social impact comes with such silence?
What the report doesn’t tell us is if some of these conversations outside the home are conversations about ISIS, for example, but in a political framework. They talk about immigration, but as politics. The intersection of religious identity and practice with other facets of human identity is ignored or simply not preferred to other facets of social life. Religion, though it permeates social life to a greater or lessor degree, is inferred, alluded to in other public discourse.
Both of our current Presidential candidates invoke religion or religious language to help frame their political convictions. I would wager that the public discourse typically focuses on the resulting or related political conventions.
What I want to focus on is whether or not we need to discuss religion outside of our families because the steady cacophony of informational noise is effectively silencing the conversation. If the digital pundits and the information streams they represent are constantly sounding off on religious identity, do you need to? What else is there left to say about Hillary Clinton’s Methodism or the eschatological dimensions of ISIS’ belief system?
This is not to say that we do not need better information. My argument is rather to say that the quantity of information silences conversation of any sort. We’re exhausted.
“How long can you tread water?”
Well, not for very long. Five minutes. Tops. This is what I think is happening. We’re drowning in a flood of information overload and the best strategy for managing the flood of religious information is silencing ourselves or the noise outside of any but our most trusted or intimate communities: our families.
As a scholar of religious life, I have a multiplicity of filters to manage all the information that comes. I have ways of shaping the information, of putting it to work in some way, of making sense of the information other than a simple binary of some kind like “stop and go.”
If you were to give a tool to your friend who is overwhelmed with all the noise about religion in this world, what would it be?
How would you help them move past the sensationalized religious coverage (Two Corinthians, Islamic extremists, Jesus and the KKK) that seems to be the most prominent sound and help them filter it out to find something else sounding in the background?