Here’s an idea: watching television is the church of today.
There are several meanings that statement could have. I do not mean that the loutish and boorish people of today have abandoned the Holy Mother Church of an earlier, more spiritual and sensitive age for the lowest-common-denominator amusements of the glass teat — first, because Golden Ages are in the future, not in the past, though there’s some Doppler effect that discolors the years gone by for many; and second, because I don’t think churches are all that lofty, or televisions all that wicked and lowly.
No, I mean “watching television is the church of today” in the sense of both taken as communal activities; you and your family (or circle of friends) at the pews, or glued to your seats round the glass altar.
Think of it: both are fine ways to pass your time if you have the taste. With a good circle of people the experience, though in both cases largely passive, directed at the altar of the cross or of the glass, is not solely passive: there is some chatter, some whispers, clutching of hands, sweet excitement, passion and feeling simultaneously felt and thus shared. There is, in both cases, a shared experience of something bigger, more elemental, something beyond everyday life, whether it is the Christian story of the Cross or the story of St. Gregory House of the Cane vs. Lupus. (Who am I kidding? It’s never lupus.)
This is not mocking the experience that a church service is, though for obvious atheistic reasons I don’t think there is anything actually supernatural in it. Even without the hokey supernatural aspects a church service still serves a purpose for those that take part in it. It is a pep rally for the faithful; often a somewhat formulaic rally, even. There’s familiar music, a certain formula for how the episode proceeds, words designed to engage your moral fiber, to make you think, to make you feel (though nowadays overt preachiness is seen as pretty tacky), all submerged in gluelike glittery pap moving apace to make you forget the dreary world outside for a bit, to uplift, to relieve and to entertain — I see no essential difference between that and the bones of an episode of something on TV.
(And remember: this is not saying church services are nasty because they can be compared to TV — TV isn’t nasty. Neither is this saying TV shows are sacred and special, because church services aren’t in any way special, though the people attending may think so! There are many gatherings of equal but unrecognized power: lectures when done right, workplace gymnastics, the shows of theaters and movie theaters and so on.)
And like a good congregation can make the work of a lackluster preacher better, so can good company make even a horrible movie (Plan 9 From Outer Space?) into a worthy and memorable experience of bonding and sharing at the presence of something so ritualistic and otherworldly it is almost sacred — and so for all the other stuff that some overcareful commentators claim is the sole domain of religion.
Who cares if the churches empty and fall into disrepair — the aspects of human life that they served and that are real and need an outlet will find other ways of expression; and the semi-passive sharing of the otherworldly experience may already have done so.
Which I guess could be refined to, “We don’t need no Pope; we have Transformers, wherein there is more than meets the eye.”