by: Scott Lipscomb on January 11th, 2013 | 16 Comments »
At the beginning of this past semester, I was invited to read Diana Butler Bass’s Christianity After Religion. I attend a small seminary, and it seems that this book was suggested as a way to encourage the vast majority of students who are clergy-in-training to confront the reality that religious institutions have lost both influence and respectability over the last 5 decades, to say nothing of the 2 centuries before that. The world has changed; and as they say: change or die. Bass seems to have a very clear idea of what the Church must do to remain relevant to modern people, and she lays down the challenge, as she sees it, and her proposals for meeting that challenge. I was appalled by the shallowness of her analysis and the pandering of her proposed solutions. Let me get to some details.
Bass is, essentially, a supporter of the “spiritual but not religious” line of thought. In short, proponents of this attitude want to pursue a personal spiritual “quest” but are uninterested in religious institutions, rules, or communities. This is a simplistic description, but this is part of the problem: the spiritual-but-not-religious attitude is itself a gross oversimplification, as if spirituality and religiosity were two distinct modes of action or being that one could pursue independently of each other and a whole host of other cultural, social, and political practices.
I realize that this spiritual-but-not-religious attitude is embraced not only by Bass but also by many of Tikkun‘s readers and writers. Indeed, communications from Tikkun and the Network of Spiritual Progressives frequently reiterate how the network actively welcomes atheists and agnostics who identify as “spiritual but not religious,” so readers should know that I speak only for myself and not for Tikkun in my criticisms of this line of thought.
To me, the spiritual-but-not-religious approach, at least among Christians, seems to be a reaction against a traditionalist, conservative, rule-obsessed 19th century Protestantism. But is a rejection of this specific type of religiosity a rejection of “religion” altogether?