In Chapter 2 of Religion: The Social Context, McGuire explores the difference between religious belonging and religious belief in a pluralistic society. She writes that “declining community attachment” has contributed more to the decline of church participation than the decay of “traditional belief”. Later in the chapter, she writes that urbanization, greater geographical mobility, mass media, and education have weakened “ties to local community”, and thus commitment to religious institutions in modern societies.
In my life, these theories go hand in hand. After leaving my small Maine town to study in southern California, I have found myself surrounded by not only a more ethnically and politically diverse population, but a population with very different worldviews–as in comprehensive meaning systems–than I have grown up around. This physical separation from the community that shaped my religious credence has not served to strengthen my commitment to religion. Despite and perhaps because of this detachment from the community, I have learned how to practice as an individual, which is a much more introspective and personally meaningful approach to religion. I have found myself studying religious texts and concepts that I didn’t study before because my religious fulfillment came from simply existing in the community. I now have a much deeper understanding of and connection with my religion because I have taken the time I might have otherwise spent in services analyzing which parts of the religion I agree with, and which parts I find outdated or closed-minded. With this understanding I have been able to make my own choices about which commandments and traditions to actively implement in my life.
In short, distance from my religious community awakened dissociation between church and practice, which served to strengthen my relationship with religion.