NY Times: Seattle has no churches left

One of the lead stories in today’s New York Times is about the visit of an important spiritual leader, someone looked to by millions as a source of wisdom and guidance. His books, and books about him, sell by the truckload. He can fill stadiums. He wears a really big hat.

No, not the Dalai Lama. He doesn’t wear hats. The other one. Pope Benedict XVI. He’ll be in D.C. and New York next week, as noted by yesterday’s P-I.

The New York Times has been mostly ignoring the Dalai Lama’s visit to Seattle, with the exception of an article on Friday so reductive and simplistic as to be almost hilarious. [NY TImes] Choice quotes:

Spirits here are soaring these days. In a town where oms often drone out hallelujahs, more than 150,000 people are expected to flock to hear the Dalai Lama during a five-day conference starting Friday.

The expectation…is that [the Dalai Lama] will stick with what got him here, “dialoguing” about the importance of an inclusive kindness and compassion: pitch-perfect preaching for an area with one of the country’s lowest rates of church attendance and a notable lack of interest in mainstream American religion.

Much of Seattle has long had Sunday mornings free. Some Lutheran churches in the old Scandinavian fishing neighborhoods of Ballard have been converted to housing. Churches downtown have been sold. The Episcopal cathedral, on a hill overlooking the city, has struggled with budgets and internal politics.

Spirituality and self-help sections in bookstores do well, neighborhood farmer’s markets thrive, and craigslist is the place to go this week if you want to buy tickets from scalpers to see the “simple monk” from Tibet.

Because, of course, there are no churches left in this city and our idea of spiritual enlightenment is a copy of Why Is It Always About You? The Seven Deadly Sins of Narcissism.

The view from Ninth Avenue has not changed.

William Yardley, the article’s author, ought to know better. He’s been the Seattle-based reporter for the TImes for awhile now, writing on everything from sinkholes to former Senator Larry Craig to Alaska fishing deaths to local politics and Idaho silver miners. Hey William: Be a reporter. Go visit a local church or two. Or synagogue. Or monastery. Or mosque.

2 Comments so far

  1. Dylan (dylan) on April 13th, 2008 @ 2:57 pm

    Well, he is right, even if he’s blown it completely out of proportion. Seattle has one of the lowest percentages of its population in the US who say they’re affiliated with any local religious congregation. IOW, fewer people say they go to church (or temple or synagogue or mosque) in Seattle than just about anywhere else in the country.

    Seattle’s always been odd about religion. The Pentecostal Movement surged through the West after Azusa in 1905, but it never made much of an impact in the Puget Sound area. There was never a Catholic mission here like at Whitman or the California towns, so while Catholicism holds a plurality here, it never was as strong here as it was down the coast.

    The one group with a lot of success here, other than the Scandinavian Lutherans, has been the Presbyterians. First Pres was at one time the largest Presbyterian church in the world. University Pres is one of the 10 largest Presbyterian churches in the US. Even then, University Pres wouldn’t even be one of the ten largest churches in Oklahoma.

    We like making our own way here. It explains the appeal of Mars Hill, in a way — we don’t want the bells and smells, we want the warehouse with the "experience" we so desire. Of course, you get Mark Driscoll with that, so it’s not all about feeling good, I guess.

  2. colin on April 13th, 2008 @ 3:45 pm

    All true, but your points don’t equate to "oms over hallelujas" and the idea that we’ve replaced religion with spirituality and farmer’s markets.

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