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The Esteem of the Church

  • November 29, -0001
Esteem of the Church in the secular world has slipped to an all-time low. That, at least, is the impression one gets reading William H. McNeill's contribution to a special issue of The Hedgehog Review devoted to the emerging cosmoplitanism. In the face of a worldwide movement to create a "global community" McNeill is concerned about the world's large urban centers.

All semblance of meaningful community in the megalopolises of the world has been undermined by a wide variety of factors. But McNeill finds the Church a possible source of hope: "What is needed is a form of primary community where people feel secure at home, surrounded by others with whom to share the cares and triumphs of private life, without generating angry frictions with outsiders." He believes the Church might fill this bill: "Within cities, however, one of the greatest inventions of human history was the creation of portable, universal, and congregational religious associations that eschewed violence on most occasions, and by gathering together for worship, once a week or more often, provided members with an effective substitute for the more all-embracing primary communities that hunters and villagers enjoyed."

Churches might fill this need for primary community, but McNeill is not hopeful: "So far, religious responses to uban loneliness and urban demoralization seem the only unmistakable wave of the future that is yet apparent, and its current manifestations seem more divisive than healing for society at large." We see the wisdom of Jesus' exhortation, echoed by Paul, for churches to work together for sound, visible oneness if our witness is to be credible in the world (Jn. 17.21; Eph. 4.3).

So, ultimately, McNeill doesn't hold out much hope for the churches to accomplish this much-needed sense of local community. But he's not yet despairing. He's hit on something he thinks could do the job. Given the failure of churches to achieve meaningful unity, McNeill turns to a more primitive and, he believes, hopeful cure for the loneliness and desolation cities tend to foster.


William H. McNeill believes that finding ways to encourage community dancing and even marching drill and calisthenics can do the job of restoring a sense of community to the cities of the world. Not faith. Not the churches. Dance.

How low has the Church's esteem in the eyes of the world dipped when dance is seen as a more viable remedy for personal and social ills than the faith of Jesus Christ?

T. M. Moore

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