New study reveals findings on “Pew Paralysis”

Do you look like Jack Nicholson sitting in the pew? Then you may be a POOPer. (Photo by Reuters)
Most Seventh-day Adventist church-goers, ranging from the casual to the committed, have experienced what researchers call “pew paralysis”— once seated, they remain confined to a space roughly within 5-12 inches of their seated position.

It is perhaps best epitomized during meet-and-greets at church services, when those afflicted will stand (though most continue sitting), extend their hand a maximum of 6 inches from their body, and swivel their torsos only enough to shake hands with people sitting to their immediate side, front and (rarely) back areas.

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“Something about the rows of seating causes those afflicted to lose the use of certain motor skills. Walking, two-stepping and other leg movements are non-existent, kneeling is done with much difficulty, and hands rise only to waist level and no higher,” said lead researcher Dirk McKenzie.

Curiously, motor functions return to normal levels once the person is outside of church. Indeed, researchers have observed sufferers to to run, skip, and clap their hands as soon as they are outside church doors.  This “paralysis only on the pew” has led researchers to call those afflicted, “POOPers.”

For years, researchers have been perplexed as to the cause of the phenomenon. “Previously, we had thought it was due to fear of other people,  but had to dismiss that idea because if they were scared, why come to a place where people are known to gather?” said McKenzie.

Researchers then posited that shyness might be the core of the problem, but when approached by other people, most POOPers were able to maintain a conversation for an average of 5 minutes and later indicated that they enjoyed the interaction and wouldn’t mind more of it.

After years of interviewing and observing those with pew paralysis, researchers noticed that what POOPers had most in common was a sense of entitlement: They thought they deserved to sit down; they should not be required to move or serve if it did not suit them.

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The article, published in the Science and Observation Journal of Adventists (SOJA), related that most POOPers attribute greater significance to the slightest of their actions, though the context of their thoughts varied within subset populations.

For example, those that only occasionally came to church believed that because their visits were rare, the normal rules of social engagement should be suspended for them. Consequently, they were more likely to be outraged by what they perceived as a lack of friendliness, though they themselves did not take steps to encourage social interaction, e.g. they came in late and left early (thus bypassing the more interactive social times of the church program, such as Sabbath School and potluck);  and rarely approached, made eye contact, or otherwise engaged others unless someone else did it first.

Members who attended church regularly were more likely to express beliefs like: “I actually woke up early on my day off, showered, got dressed and made it all the way to church. That should count for something,” or “I’ve been working hard all week. I deserve to relax; after all, Sabbath is a day of rest.”

Those with higher socio-economic status were also likely to include thoughts like, “I donated a lot of money for these pews. I should get to sit on them. I’ve done my service already.”

Others characteristics of POOPers include low thresholds for frustration, higher tendencies to criticize, broader ranges of anger displacement and unrealistic expectations of others. For example, POOPers are more likely to believe that sermons should not only be the source of their spiritual growth but also maintain their spiritual lives. Consequently, when a sermon does not “feed” them (as is statistically inevitable) POOPers voiced the loudest complaints, and not only denounced the speaker/pastor, but also were more likely to bash all church members and the denomination at large.

Researchers found that the stagnant spiritual lives, resentment and loneliness most POOPers frequently experience can be alleviated by doing acts of service. “Unfortunately, that involves the one thing POOPers have the hardest time with,” said McKenzie. “Getting off their butts.”

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