The Church of Shut Up

November 10, 2007 | By | 8 Replies More

Did you ever notice how evocative moments of silence are?  I’m always emotionally moved when the PA announcer asks for a moment.  The silence of tens of thousands of people is powerful, indeed.

American culture is usually out-of-control cacophonous.   If we aren’t yapping with each other, there’s a TV or radio blaring.  We are pummeled with noise everywhere we go, including waiting rooms, stores and airports.  We even bring our yapping and music to “quiet” places, such as national parks. We just can’t help ourselves.  It is getting much too hard to find quiet places anymore.

Image by Erich Vieth

Image by Erich Vieth

That’s why it’s such a joy to be reminded to shut up, even for a moment, even if once in a while.   I also appreciated this simple attempt to remind the crowd to be quiet out of respect for Abraham Lincoln’s accomplishments.

Not that this sign worked very well.  People still talked, almost as much as ever.  Children ran around unrestrained by their parents.  People shouted things like, “Hey Bill!  Isn’t it about time to go get some hot dogs?”

So here’s my idea.  Someone should start a new church called “The Church of Quietude” or “The Church of Shut Up” (depending on how it is best marketed in a particular locale).  After the congregation files in, the person leading the “ceremony” would announce that everyone needs to be quiet for the next hour.  Completely quiet.  The church leader would announce that anyone persisting in making noise will go to hell (not really, but it would get the attention of some of the folks who need extra incentive).

Perfectly quiet.  For one hour.  No fidgeting with programs or candy wrappers, either. Or iPods. The goal would be a complete hour of silence.

Maybe people attending would recognize how incredibly and delightfully different it is to be in a truly silent environment.  They would get used to hearing their own thoughts and their own heartbeats.  They might even learn to steer away from their inner thoughts entirely, focusing on their breathing or on the (what I would believe to be) overwhelming feeling of being merely one person among many people.  Sam Harris might even appreciate this service.

This idea is not original to me, except for the twist of doing it once a week for entire congregations.  Can you think of a better way to spend one hour per week than having everyone shut up, shutting off their internal and external spigots of noisy sound and music?

Note to ministers:  this will also cut down on your sermon preparation.

Perhaps such a church service would help people to recognize the near futility of words, insofar as words are often used for expressing “ultimate” meaning.  Fewer absurdities and inconsistencies would be uttered at this service than at any other.  The silence might bring revelations.  It might even bring humility.  It might bring a centeredness and a calm that would extend beyond the service.

Some would be tempted to call this silence “God.”  Some would call it sanity.  The smart ones wouldn’t call it anything at all and they would simply benefit from it.


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Category: American Culture, Communication, Religion

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (8)

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  1. Mary says:

    What a fabulous idea, Erich. I'm up for it. 🙂

  2. Vicki Baker says:

    Into Great Silence

    What you're describing is also very close to vipassana (insight) meditation or a meeting of the Society of Friends.

  3. miles thompson says:

    great idea – i think what you describe sounds awfully close to a quaker 'service' – at least in my experience – or to a zazen meditation session.. 1 hr, total silence.

    the difference is that whilst the zen buddhists i went to claimed that there really really was nothing more to it than just sitting still for an hour (no really) you could kinda tell that maybe there was something else that was going on for the people who'd be doing it a while.. also there was this really fierce dude with a stick wandering around like a school teacher. as for the quakers your mileage may vary in terms of how non-dogmatic they are but the ones i went to claimed to me at least that there was no need to 'believe in god' or any of that just sitting still for an hour was all required.. the problem there is that occasionally they would all burst out into (supposedly) spontaenous four part harmony – or someone would get up and talk about balloons for a minute or two before lapsing into silence – which kinda ruined the perfection of an entire hour of silence..

    maybe you are riught – take away all the hints of dogma and just concentrate on silence for itself

  4. Pete says:

    I agree with you totally. I wonder if the desert is the refuge for silence.

    BTW, attend a zen class or service. The emphasis is placed on focus and discipline, but the side effect is a silent environment.

    By the way, there is no "really fierce dude with a stick wandering around like a school teacher" …

  5. Erika Price says:

    Vicki has anticipated the comment that immediately came to my mind: don't quakers already do this?

    I don't think we hush ourselves to respect the cold, dead statue of an old, dead guy. I don't think he minds. We do it to make the area and the moment seem special, out-of-the-ordinary. This implies that quiet respect is out-of-the-ordinary itself. Personally, I don't want silence so much as I want sound of value. If only people would chatter endlessly about thought-provoking things rather than the nothingness that normally spills out of mouths on buses, elevators, sidewalks, hallways.

    Do chatterboxes talk on and on to escape silence? The power of silence seems to strike introverts as beautiful, extroverts as terrifying.

  6. Erich Vieth says:

    Erika: Amen to you and your comment! Perhaps you caught me projecting, in light of this post on introverts:

  7. xiaogou says:

    Erika, unfortunately there are some people who are compulsive speakers. They speak on and on due to something about their psyche. Yet, there are others I believe who just like to control the conversation and fear losing control or not being the center of the conversation.

    But to the original post, Zen and many of the Buddhist sects practice meditative silence and in Japan, there are those fierce guys walking around swatting people on the back if they fall asleep. In real Zen Buddhism there is no time limit. The idea here is to reach a state where the problems, questions, fears, loves, death and other emotions are put aside and the person meditating finds the zone of perfection (this is the idea of no-mind.) The reason this is that the world is an illusion and to see the reality you need to rid oneself of the worldly things and reach enlightenment. For the westerners who practice Zen this is very difficult as one needs to sit on their legs and it gets very painful (also for many modern Japanese as this is not the way they sit anymore) or they fall asleep. This is why many of the western Zen temples do not have the fierce guys walking around swatting people. Legend says that Daruma sat this way so long that his legs atrophied and when pushed over he will automatically right himself. For those of you who do martial arts if you can enter that state of mind, it is a weird experience as one can do things that you would think impossible. Can’t explain it as it has to be experienced.

    In medieval Europe there were the monastic orders that practiced the vow of silence and they would not speak at all as long as they were part of that order.

  8. Angus Weimar says:

    This monastic orders are still existing today, although their numbers declined, they account for a very important part of the Church…I would recomend ot you the site of the Cartusian Order in the United Kingdom, specially You have some monastic orders this page :

    I would however recommend a walk through their site… It is refreshing and simple and can offer an explanation to those who look reticently to this life in the Church. Each of us has his own gifts, may we all discover how to best use them.

    thank you and sorry for the inconvenience

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