Monday, September 18, 2017

Numbers and the Church

I'm reading on our front porch, watching the rain.
"Numbers pave the road to obsession."
Adam Alter
P. 113

I've been reading Os Guinness's Renaissance: The Power of the Gospel No Matter How Dark the Times. Guinness's book is hopeful, even as he correctly identifies the indicators that the Western Church has conformed to secular culture.

One indicator of world-conformation is the Church's quantification of Christianity. "Numbers" have become the measure of "success." This is not only about the heretical "prosperity gospel." Guinness writes:

"America as the lead society in the modern world is awash with numbers and metrics, and with statistics, opinion polls, surveys, targets, pie charts, scorecards, big data, game theory and measurable outcomes—all at the expense of the true, the good, the beautiful, the faithful and the significant—and at the expense of God too. Numbers and the mania for metrics are therefore a critical element of secularization." (Guinness, Renaissance, pp. 39-40)

In the Consumer Church matters of the heart have been displaced by the number of hearts, and concerns of the soul have lost out to size of the payroll. The big questions now are "How many?" and "How much?" (The Church as a metaphysical Fitbit.)

"Nineteenth-century thinkers foresaw the rising domination of numbers, quantity and majority opinion, and warned against it. They regarded it as the overspill of the age of democratic majorities and the triumph of technocratic technocratic rationalism, through which everything would be reduced to numbers, and big numbers would be valued most of all. The pressure would therefore be toward a false notion of explanation through numbers, a dangerous authority for numbers at the expense of the true and the good, and in the end toward a disastrous strengthening of the Leviathan of the state (for what else is “big” enough and “wise” enough to coordinate and manage everyone and everything but the government?)." (Ib., 40)

Number-crunching is not irrelevant to the Church. But in the kingdom of God numbers are not number 1.