Empty Churches

Abandoned Church Photo by Matthias Haker

Abandoned Church
Photo by Matthias Haker

The photograph on this page is one of a series of abandoned churches around the world taken by German photographer Matthias Haker. Interestingly, he does not name the churches or the places where they can be located. But all are, like this one, abandoned and falling apart. The pictures tell a story much more powerful than words: like the churches, religion is rapidly becoming a thing of the past.

This is not a popular theme and I have written about it in the past with little or no response. People don’t like to think about it. But the fact remains that traditional churches, generally, are being abandoned and turned into apartments, homes, or even public houses and taverns. The latter are simply more useful in a culture absorbed by itself and its pleasures. The church which has traditionally made demands of people — following the admonitions in the New Testament — preaches to closed ears and closed minds.

To be sure, the mega-churches have grown in size while their preachers buy jet planes and try to explain their huge salaries in light of the fact that the Gospel they preach urges all to give up their wealth and follow the Lord. But these mega-churches, as I have noted in the past, are really gathering places for folks who want to give the appearance of being religious while, during the rest of the week — if not the rest of the day — they go back to business as usual. It should not be thought for a moment that those churches have anything whatever to do with religion. They simply collect people once a week in huge buildings complete with coffee bars, lounge chairs, TVs, and bookstores selling the latest publication written by the man standing before them in flowing robes pretending to be a model of religious purity.

Indeed, the commonality among all religions is the notion of sacrifice. Those who seek to follow the path laid out for them by divine direction always, without exception, must sacrifice short-term pleasure and control their desires in order to do “the right thing,” the holy thing. The notion that one can simply “go to church” once a week and ipso facto be a religious person borders on the absurd. There is nothing whatever about attending church in, for example, the New Testament, though there is a great deal about the sacrifices required in order to do what is required to purify one’s soul.

But, like the churches themselves, the notion of the soul, along with the concern for what might happen to it after one’s body finally gives up, are passé. That’s yesterday’s news. Today, it’s all about growing the numbers of communicants and making sure they are told what they want to hear and not required to do what they might find demanding. Talk about sacrifice would result in wholesale exiting of the congregation in order to find a more appealing church to attend of a Sunday. I know of a specific case in which a large portion of a congregation left a particular church because the leaders had decided that it was acceptable to hire homosexual preachers. Now, the fact that the number of homosexual preachers can probably be counted on one hand, it was regarded, nevertheless, as a matter of “principle.” That is, it was grounds for rejection of a doctrine that is consistent with the love preached in the Gospels, because those retreating members regarded that doctrine as unacceptable. Today it’s not about what others demand of us, it’s about what we demand of ourselves. And that seldom, if ever, requires any sacrifice whatever.

Thus the crumbling and abandoned churches. Nietzsche was right: God is dead. We don’t need Him any more. We’ve got Google.

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8 thoughts on “Empty Churches

  1. Hugh, this well written and pertinent. If a church is exclusive rather than inclusive, they are signing their death warrant. Keith

  2. There is a sort of humorous beauty in the crumbling churches. The huge mega-churches have always seemed like a waste of resources and space – used a day or two out of the week, then the enormous parking lots are completely empty. Nicely thought-provoking, Hugh.

    • Thanks, Susan. I recall a few years back attending an Evensong service at Chartres and finding about a dozen elderly folks in attendance in the huge Cathedral. Meanwhile, outside the town was in a tizzy over an antique car rally with hundreds in attendance. It told me a lot!

  3. As you know, I read offline when there’s power and time, and I read this two nights ago.. It made me a bit sad, though you also injected a touch of “Hugh’ that gave me a little smile…

    Yes, you nailed so much — the ‘I’m going to straighten my back and go to church – or not- and many say I’m a Christian, but then they leave those intentions at the doorstep at the end of the service.. I think there are so many un-religious people these days, that people are afraid to speak up for their beliefs, and they are also caught up in thath life that owns them, so Sundays are special for the day of rest, but not day of inward reflection.

    Last week I thought of you as I used the internet at a friend’s hostal. I was working on the Timeout’ post, and the family left for an outing and said to lock the door if I finished before they returned. I asked, “If someone stops and wants a room, which ones are available, etc..’ Sure enough, a young ‘lad’ from the UK poked his head in, looked at the two rooms, asked about price, other options in town, said he’d take one of the rooms… Back downstairs, he asked for the internet password, sat for half an hour and used the internet, then took his backpack and walked away.. never said a word, left key/towel sitting there, as I watched with my mouth agape…

    Yes, you have warned me a lot via posts of this new ‘it’s all about me’ generation…. I witnessed it first hand and was glad he was not from the USA and adding a negative strike to those who represent our country.

    Sorry for the rambling… Thanks again for a great post, even if it does make people uncomfortable. Deep down, they know…. We could all do better, and if so, our world would be a happier place.

    • Never apologize, please. Your comments are always welcome. I am aware, of course, that my posts make some people uncomfortable. But as long as we remain comfortable we will not bother to think. Thinking requires a jolt at times to get started. It is not easy or perhaps even pleasant at all times — unless we prefer to only “think” about those things that make us feel comfortable.

  4. Pingback: Germinating small seeds, pebble-stones, small and mega churches and faith – Belgian Ecclesia Brussel – Leuven

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