Levittown was built on the promise of the suburban-American dream. The suburbs represented the American ideals of homeownership, education, low crime and complete autonomy, a bubble of safety that more urbanized areas could no longer provide. By 1958, 70,000 people had found their way to Lower Bucks in pursuit of autonomy.
Today, our community is filled with 3rd and 4th generation Levittowners, many still living in their childhood homes and neighborhoods; many with the principle of autonomy engrained into their thinking and behavior. Autonomy, at its heart, is self-rule and the motivation to be self-made and therefore self-rewarding. The reason this is important to us is because autonomy is principally-opposed to dependence, and dependence is at the heart of the Christian faith.
Dependent-trust on God cannot thrive in an autonomous culture which is a primary reason our culture has become post-Christian. This means, generally speaking, that our community is no longer interested in looking to the church for the answers to their greatest questions. But it does not mean those questions have stopped. It doesn’t mean that people aren’t searching out answers. It doesn’t mean that people have stopped feeling guilty and doing everything in their power to get rid of that guilt. It doesn’t mean that people aren’t adamantly searching for meaning and purpose in life. It simply means that the majority of people in our area aren’t interested in finding answers in the church. Post-Christianity is on the rise in our area because of low trust in the church.
This is a symptom of high-autonomy. An autonomous culture will always have low trust because other-reliance, whether human or divine, isn’t valued. So when the church fails to live up to perceived standards, lost trust is a swift and immediate result. Our community feels justified in abandoning the church because the assumption is that the church is inauthentic and hypocritical, judgmental and self-righteous.
Beyond this, grace isn’t valued in highly-autonomous cultures. Grace, the unmerited gift of God, is perceived as weakness to the self-made person. Grace can only be accepted when we acknowledge and admit our own insufficiency, which rubs against the grain of autonomy. This alone may provide the reasoning for the heightened Catholic presence in Lower Bucks and the diminished Evangelical presence.