Increasing Informality

In Chapter 5 of American Religion: Contemporary Trends, Chaves discusses the trend of increased informality not only in worship, but in broader American culture as well.

Growing up, the expectations for what I wore and how I acted at synagogue were made very clear to me not only by my parents, but by the example of my peers. I dressed up for Saturday services and high holidays, always sure to choose something loose-fitting, that covered my shoulders. I was taught to respect the adults of my synagogue, and make eye contact and listen intently when they were speaking, whether it be directly to me or to the group. Before I could even read Hebrew, I would follow along in the prayer book with my finger, and once I could read Hebrew, I followed along just as intently. I have retained these habits, and didn’t fully realize there was a religious reality outside of my own cultural norms until fairly recently. Doing my congregation visit reminded me of how much these norms very from one community to another. I find it interesting that while American culture is increasingly informal, I am still much more comfortable in formal religious settings than in more informal ones.

Chaves also mentions the upward trend of children addressing adults by their first names. As a child, my parents did not emphasize using titles rather than first names for adults. Instead, I would call elders and peers alike by whatever name they were introduced to me as. At the same time, I recognized the implied respect that went along with using titles. Discrepancies between how I referred to my elders and how today’s children refer to their elders is most obvious to me in the area of family members. When I was young, I found it socially appropriate to call my aunts “Aunt Lori” and “Aunt Lisa”, and use similar titles for my uncles and grandparents, as a way of letting them and others know I respect them every time I refer to them. I think I realized at a young age that when you respect others they are more likely to listen to what you have to say, but that is beside the point. My biggest pet peeve is when children (specifically in my family) call their aunts, uncles, and even grandparents by their first names. Hearing my younger brother refer to our grandfather as “Jerry” is infuriating. From what I can tell about this younger generation (from my very limited realm of knowledge), the lack of verbal respect for elders points towards less automatic respect overall, which I think has something to do with increased access to technology, but that is just my speculation.