Demographic Shifts

  • Issues with the increasing number of old people in the US;
  • Issues with the fragmentation of evangelical churches.

Salon, Mary Elizabeth Williams, 23 Jul 2023: Live long and flounder: An aging expert on the looming crisis of our longer lifespans, subtitled “A new book, ‘The Measure of Our Age,’ explores the growing problem of our graying nation”

First, the good news. As author, MacArthur Fellowship recipient and founding head of DOJ’s Elder Justice Initiative M. T. Connolly writes in her new book, “For millions of people, there has never been a better time to be old.”

Over the past century, we have expanded our average lifespans by an incredible thirty years, and we’ve done it with astonishing advancements in medications and other interventions to improve our health and mobility.

Now, here comes the really bad part. Our collective aging is wildly outpacing our social, financial, medical and caretaking abilities. In “The Measure of Our Age: Navigating Care, Safety, Money, and Meaning Later in Life,” Connolly lays out some stark statistics. In a little over a decade, we will have more people in this country over the age of 65 than under the age of 18. People eighty-five and older are “the fastest growing segment of the US population.” Half of them require financial assistance, and three quarters of them have some form of disability.

Another example of a changing world and how human nature is having a hard time keeping up; consider how hostile Republicans are to social programs that would address such a shifting demographic. Or any social programs.

Despite what Elon Musk has warned, the idea that “low birth rates is a much big­ger risk to civ­i­liza­tion than global warm­ing,” is false. But it is true that our rapidly graying population and willful ageism is creating a crisis that’s only going to accelerate in the next few years, even in spite of a slipping average lifespan in the U.S. (Additionally, the risk anthropogenic climate change poses to civilization cannot be understated.) Throw in the deeply complicated burdens of caregiving — often fraught with profound financial strain, painful isolation and at times, intergenerational abuse — and it becomes clear, aging poses significant problems on multiple fronts.

The bulk of the article is an interview with the author of that book.


The Atlantic, Russell Moore, 25 Jul 2023: The American Evangelical Church Is in Crisis. There’s Only One Way Out., subtitled “Evangelicals can have revival or nostalgia—but not both.”

The No. 1 question that younger evangelicals ask me is how to relate to their parents and mentors who want to talk about culture-war politics and internet conspiracy theories instead of prayer or the Bible. These young people are committed to their Christian faith, but they feel despair and cynicism about the Church’s future. Almost none of them even call themselves “evangelical” anymore, now that the label is confused with political categories. “Sometimes I feel like I’m crazy,” one pastor said to me just days ago. “Does no one see that the Church is in crisis?”

The writer is a conservative evangelical who left the Southern Baptist world. A familiar theme here:

Some evangelical Christians have confused “revival” with a return to a mythical golden age. A generation ago, one evangelical leader said that the goal of the religious right should be 1950s America, just without the sexism and racism. Today, even those qualifications are evaporating. Surveys show that, when compared with other religious groups and the general population, white evangelicals are the most susceptible to white-nationalist tropes such as the “Great Replacement” theory, and their institutions caricature the most basic commitments to racial justice as “critical race theory.” Denominations that are glacially slow to recognize documented sexual-abuse cover-ups are lightning quick to expel congregations they find to be too affirming of women’s leadership.

My take so far: an elaborate fantasy world, based on religion and commitments to golden pasts that never existed, cannot stand up to too much exposure to reality, and it’s becoming more and more difficult for the religions to shield themselves from reality. It creates classic cognitive dissonance — the mind struggles to reconcile two contradictory systems of thought — and this is what makes the religious especially prone to conspiracy theories that claim to ‘explain’ everything.

The idea of revival as a return to some real or imagined moment of greatness is not just illusory but dangerous. In the supposedly idyllic Christian America of the post–World War II era, the evangelical preacher A. W. Tozer wrote: “It is my considered opinion that under the present circumstances we do not want revival at all. A widespread revival of the kind of Christianity we know today in America might prove to be a moral tragedy from which we would not recover in a hundred years.” Tozer knew that the confusion of revival with nostalgia could amount to exactly what contemporary psychologists tell us about trauma: What is not repaired is repeated.

Is the solution to abandon the supernatural comforts of religion? Of course not; most people simply cannot do that. They will invent rationalizations. This is clever:

The answer is instead what it has always been: Those who wish to hold on to the Old Time Religion must recognize that God is doing something new. The old alliances and coalitions are shaking apart. And the sense of disorientation, disillusionment, and political and religious “homelessness” that many Christians feel is not a problem to be overcome but a key part of the process.

“God is doing something new.” This can explain anything!

The writer goes on about maintaining “a commitment to personal faith and to the authority of the Bible” and I realize he and I are not living in the same universe. But that is true about me and most of the people on the planet.

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