One thing that everyone ought to know by now about the suburbs is that they are generally quite lonely for grown-ups, and children. Insulation against all the dangers of the city pushes up against one of the harsh realities of rural life: one must drive a long distance to do anything fun, or to be part of any sort of scene or event. One does not casually drive forty minutes across town on a whim, generally. One most likely spends the evening at home with family, if there is family, watching the internet/television, cleaning and eating and far away from others. The neighbors rarely become so close that they are welcome inside the garage, much less the house. In the three years I have lived here, I can count on one hand the number of times my neighbors have walked into my living room. It isn’t a plot or a scheme or anything, just that the suburbs is not a communal experience for most people. We bowl alone.
The two activities that seem to unite the community are lawn maintenance to keep up appearances, and religious services of some sort. I do attend services when I feel the urge, and consider my practice a private matter. But, that’s not really the kind of religion that is popular around me. The kind of religion I experience, even in the stoic and elder faiths, tends towards the revival. The church is considered one’s “church home” and an important part of social and civic life. Children are normalized there, and taught right from wrong among their peers. The community prays together towards an afterlife that is hopefully as idyllic as the perfect hedges and long-blooming crepe myrtles.
The specific style of church that seems most prevalent in the community is the kind of church that does not shame the wealthy, and gets all up in people’s business, as the saying goes, and seems to resemble the sort of religion that takes over a life, demanding a total change of self and ideology that surrenders control of the inner life and parts of the outer life over to a communal identity that curtails the traditional bonds of family, creates hard edges around the community of the church, where those that are outside of it are eternally outside, and bless your heart and we’ll pray for you.
The connection between the hard religious right wing and the loneliness of our suburbs seems important, to me. The loneliness of the community drives us into churches, seeking fellowship and hope and a sense of purpose. We are told what to believe, and there is no opposing viewpoints in the room or in the neighborhood to stand contrary, most of the time. The city has created a region ripe for exploitation and called it an ideal for everyone, with huge rooms, and expansive lawns, all spread out. Loneliness sets in. Religion fills the gap, and a particular kind of religion that draws lines around the houses, the community, the ones who fit in to that world of wealth and hard work and home and lawn maintenance.
Now the district maps are drawn, and these communities that are set apart and united in their apartness become a single congressman. A majority is built out of gerrymanders, all crawling over the communities that are ripe for the religious right wing to rise.
End the suburbs, save America? Probably nothing that drastic. But, the disease that leads to so much evangelical right wing hate is probably loneliness, and the burbs are the place where loneliness thrives. If we can just find a way so people won’t be so lonely, and so driven to be a powerful tribe against the loneliness and the fear of death…