"What if there were a war and nobody came?" was a question sometimes posed by the peace movement during the Vietnam war era. Similarly, I wonder today, "What if there were a religion and nobody believed?"
This is not just an idle or persnickety jab. I think it is a serious question anyone might ask of the bathroom mirror. But the question also has some social and empirical oomph in a story out of Brazil this morning: The Catholic church faces a new difficulty: No longer are the Pentecostals their sole competitor in Latin America. Now they have to cope as well with the fact that some if not many young people are simply setting conventional religions persuasions to one side.
"The religion didn't stick with me," said Maragato, now a 24-year-old journalism student. "In the past, the church was much more a part of Brazilians' daily lives. Today, young people can easily seek out other ways of thinking."
A new study by Brazil's top research institute finds Magarato's views represent a sea change among a younger generation of Brazilians and present a fresh challenge for church leaders already struggling to hold on to parishioners across Latin America.
What if there were a religion and nobody believed?
The Occupy Wall Street movement, meanwhile, currently represents a cauldron of political energy that any politician would give his eye teeth to tap into ... and lead. But the movement is currently leaderless and, moreover, wary of the bouquets politicians are laying at its doorstep. And some think that their leaderless status is quite a good thing ... who wants to get trapped in the same old pay-to-play political compromises of the past? On the campaign trail, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney dragged out what might have been or might still be a winning political card when he spoke up yesterday for "a stronger military that would allow the United States to lead the world and help deter future violence." Somehow I can imagine Occupy Wall Street saying, "Oh puleeze! How often do we have to listen to drivel that simply does not accord with facts ... and on the tenth anniversary of America's war in Afghanistan of all days?!"
Leaderless. Self-reliant. And full of juicy juice. How wonderful it sounds and in some respects is. No one has a leader. You can't tell me what to do! These are bald facts even when you omit the raucous teenage flonging of the individualistic dong.
And yet, and yet ... we all choose leaders. For purposes little and large, we pick leaders because, in the end, we want to accomplish something. Like the high-roller at the craps table, there is delight in holding the dice, in controlling the scene. But then, inevitably, the dice must be rolled and control relinquished: We pick a leader in the mind or at the table or in politics and ... the devil is in the details and the question becomes who will see the details through.
Leaderless. Self-reliant. And full of juicy juice. What a delight! And yet too, who has the courage to live in a leaderless world? It takes balls because it is scary. Easier is to convene a set of beliefs or judgments or biases and assert a leadership that will show the way ... and invariably screw the 'leaderless' pooch. Is there another choice? I don't think so: Everyone has to be a thorough asshole if they want to discover what it takes to stop being an asshole. Of course we don't call the leaders we choose "assholes." We dress them up. Why? Because they are mine and my stuff deserves nice clothes.
Each makes a choice. OK. I see nothing wrong with it. But finding the courage and determination to go the distance with our chosen leaders ... ah, there's the rub. Will it be the sanctity of the Catholic church, or the promises of a politician or some other well-formatted vision of what is now and what is then? It's a choice. And yet taking responsibility for that choice is hard. I'd rather let someone or something else take the responsibility -- some virtue, some vision, some widely-accepted movement. "This movement is good ... that's why I follow it."
It seems to me inevitable and human to follow. But the best uses of leadership and follower-dom are to come to a recognition of personal -- really intimate -- responsibility ... and the determination and willingness to find peace in that responsibility.
Full of juicy juice.
Isn't that, in the end, the truth?
Full of juicy laughter?