Christianity After Religion? Why I Yearn for Community that is Spiritual AND Religious


spiritualbutnotreligiousAt 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? It seems to me that only someone who had barely reflected on the issues at hand could actually answer yes to this question. Bass spends considerable time in her book exploring what these words “spiritual” and “religious” mean to various people (pp. 68-71), and ultimately ends up admitting that the two words have such varied and diverse connotations that distinguishing between them is hard. In fact, in chapter three, she admits that most people want to be both spiritual and religious (p. 93). Nonetheless, throughout the rest of the book, she continues to operate with a hyper-simplistic and uncritical attitude that the two are diametrically opposed.
Part of the problem with Bass’s approach is the confusion between description and prescription. Is she simply telling us truths about the reality of the world? Or is she exhorting us to change our ways? Of course, the one could very well lead to the other, but the relationship between them shouldn’t be taken for granted. Take, for example, pollution. One might describe the reality that our world is increasingly polluted, and thereby recommend or prescribe moving to an unsullied mountain range, buying a hazmat suit, or investing in pharmaceutical companies making anti-cancer drugs. This is all perfectly logical, but there is a wholly different sort of response: maybe we should try to stop polluting the place we live in. So when Bass basically describes a modern world filled with people only interested in convenient, overly-optimistic, individualistic ersatz “spirituality”, is she simply telling church leaders how things are? Or is she recommending that we join the bandwagon? Personally, I would agree that this process is occurring, but I don’t think it’s a good thing, and I would call on the Church not to simply concede that people are no longer interested in what we do and therefore that we should completely change our mission. I would call on the church to be critical of something if it seems bad.
Of course, I’m not suggesting an inflexible traditionalism. We absolutely must be willing and able to respond to modernism. But that doesn’t mean giving in completely to it; modernism has both good and bad aspects. Let’s humbly accept the former while calling the latter what they are and resisting them. I support women’s ordination, the ordination of homosexuals, Christian engagement with environmentalism, theological engagement with modern philosophy, dialogue with our atheist and secular fellow citizens, and a full recognition of the separation of the church and state. These are all certainly modern developments, and I’m glad that the Church has been forced-and it was forced-to accept these critiques.
But modernism has also brought all sorts of bad things, and I want to be able to point those out, and hope that the Church will resist them. Science has brought all sorts of really great things, but it’s also brought pollution, atomic weapons, and global warming. Modern society is much more tolerant than societies past, but it is also often extremely lonely and alienating. Capitalism has brought lots of choice at the cash register, but it’s also brought incredible exploitation and suffering for working-people. So let’s, by all means, accept the modern developments that seem good to us-and let’s fight the good fight against all the evils modernism has also brought. There’s no inconsistency here; plenty of things have good and bad aspects. And building a better world means discerning between the two.
So, when it comes to the spiritual-but-not-religious (this is getting arduous to write, from now on I’ll acronym-ize this SBNR), what does this mean? Well, Bass herself links the increasing desire for ‘spirituality’ with the development of consumer capitalism (eg. 41-43). It seems clear to me that the SBNR is the religio-spiritual manifestation of late consumer capitalism. It’s totally individualistic, and sees the Church/religious institutions as essentially businesses. Bass seems to be pointing out that these businesses are providing a ‘product’ that fewer and fewer consumers want-so why not change the product offered? That’s certainly the logic of the market. If Kellogg’s noticed that a cereal wasn’t selling well, it would be discontinued or changed, because that’s how the company can make more money and keep its shareholders happy.
But isn’t this sort of mercenary decision-making precisely the sort of thing that SBNR people would find offensive? The irony is that late consumer capitalism has so impoverished our sense of real community and the presence of Spirit that we are searching for individualized, customized, comfortable, convenient “spirituality”, even though it’s the very pursuit of this sort of thing that has impoverished us in the first place! Spiritual transformation is not a matter of finding an easy fit, a fun new practice, or following a trend. “Take up your cross and follow me” is not the sort of tagline you can put on a new yoga exercise or some new meditation technique (I am by no means dismissing yoga or mediation, which are ancient spiritual practices, but rather the insipid versions of these peddled by all-too-many Western entrepreneurs). It is a radical call to abandon every false sense of security, every false confidence we have, and trust radically in the mystery of God. Christianity, taken seriously, is intensely radical. I find SBNR so frustrating and aggravating precisely because it is hopelessly boring, so incredibly mainstream: it’s precisely what capitalism does to religion and spirituality. Lenin supposedly once said that capitalists would sell him the rope he’d use to hang them. Modern westerners will try to buy the very spirituality they so desperately search for because they have become totally consumer-ized. It’d be funny if it weren’t so damned sad.
Now, none of this means that Bass is wrong descriptively: she’s absolutely right to point out that this trend is happening and she is absolutely right that the Church must respond to it. But I would argue that we need to do exactly the opposite of what she proposes. I think that these various trends and fads-this hyper-individualistic, consumable ersatz spirituality-will flash and burn out like many trends before it. What people are really looking for (and I say this as someone who spent years looking myself!) is an authentic, enriching, challenging spiritual community. I’ve chosen each of those adjectives quite intentionally. The problem with SBNR is that it is none of them. It’s not the least bit authentic; SBNR practices tend to smack of a cobbled-together New Ageism. It’s not enriching, because it seeks to give a sort of shortcut for spiritual fulfillment, which is a complete contradiction in terms. And it’s not challenging because it simply reinforces our own narcissistic and self-congratulatory reflexes. It’s true that we often need to be kinder to others and even ourselves. But it’s also sometimes true that we need to be called out, be held accountable. The road to Hell, they say, is paved with good intentions. SBNR is full of good intentions-but little else.
Finally, SBNR is in no way a community-it explicitly rejects community when it rejects religion. In seeking a spirituality that is personalized, individualized, and reassuring, we necessarily exclude a community. Of course, one of the problems with any community is that people-most of all other people, as Oscar Wilde pointed out-are so often boring, arrogant, needy, and upsetting. The trick, of course, is to realize that you are Other People to other people, and those same traits doubtlessly describe you. A religious community can keep us accountable, and it can keep us humble, and it can save us from the Great Adversary-our own high opinion of ourselves.
Of course, this doesn’t mean we should accept the discipline of a community uncritically-and of course, many religious communities have been unduly, even unjustly harsh, intolerant, and oppressive to lots of people in the past. But SBNR is no magic bullet; it simply trades one danger for another-and it’s all the worse because it reflects all that is worst about late consumer capitalism. I am not suggesting that we be Religious but not Spiritual-I’m asserting what past generations, I think, took for granted: if one wants to be spiritual, one must be religious-and vice versa. They don’t work apart from each other. Spirituality without religion is a convenient, comfortable, self-congratulatory illusion; religion without spirituality is stale, dogmatic, and dead. Bass and other SBNR proponents have, I think, been so fully immersed in the logic of capitalism and modern individualism that they cannot understand any other way of looking at the world-even though this modern viewpoint is diametrically opposed to the very spiritual enrichment they so desperately seek.
The main takeaway of all of this, for me, is that much of what Protestantism discarded with in the 16th century-the sacramental, sacred, engaged, community-focused rites of medieval Catholicism-is precisely what modern Christians are yearning for without knowing it. Again, let’s not oversimplify: the Reformation was right to challenge the ecclesial abuses and warped theology of indulgences of the time. But I think in many ways, the baby was thrown out with the bathwater. Protestant Christianity became a wholly intellectual, private affair, a sort of legal transaction between God and an individual human being-instead of the loving, mysterious embrace of creation by Creator. But the solution is not some sentimental, anti-intellectual New Age nonsense. It’s a restoration of a balance between reason and emotion, devotion and theology, sacrament and study. For Christians, I think this begins by endeavoring to explore deeply what the Real Presence of the Eucharist means. This does not have to translate into acceptance of the doctrine of transubstantiation (it certainly doesn’t for me) but it means rediscovering the spiritual riches of our religious practice. The alternatives are a dead religiosity or a superficial ersatz spirituality. May the Holy Spirit guard us from both.
Scott Lipscomb is an Episcopalian and a theology student at the General Theological Seminary in New York City. He has worked with the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy as well as the Virginia Council of Churches Refugee Resettlement Program. To read more of his writing, visit his blog, Life’s a Lap.

0 thoughts on “Christianity After Religion? Why I Yearn for Community that is Spiritual AND Religious

  1. I agree with you that appealing to the masses in a capitalistic consumer-oriented way to keep them coming back to church is the exact opposite of what should be done. I think few people realize that without the education they received through organized religion in church through Bible study and rituals, etc., there would be no foundation to create one’s own new spirituality. On the other hand, I think so many people in our society are so damaged by the capitalistic consumer-oriented world that we live in that they must search first within to heal and then find communities that support that healing, I believe there is so much need for healing in this world, and that this is the first issue that must be addressed.

  2. Thanks for writing about this whole concept of spiritual but not religious. It is worthy of lots of discussion!
    My husband and I have been part of a faith community for nearly 25 years and have watched it transform itself as the people grapple with what it means to be led by faith, a faith that is formed through studying and acting, with studying feeding experience and experience feeding studying. We do it all in community, which is critical for our particular journey. This faith community is based on Judeo-Christian theology (progressive Presbyterians), with a smattering of lots of other faith traditions influencing us and a whole lot of real world stuff impacting who we are and what we believe. I would say that we are spiritual AND religious but not dogmatic. The liturgy and the way we present ourselves make it clear that we value the questions about faith more than dogmatic answers, we’re big believers in faith being put into action, and that there’s lots of room for doubt.
    This particular congregation has long based the glue that holds it together in the prophet Micah’s call to “Do Justice, Love Kindness (kindly), and Walk Humbly with God.” This goes along well with Jesus in Matthew 25 telling his followers that when they fed those who were hungry, gave drink to those who were thirsty, and shelter to those who were homeless, it was as though they were doing those things for him.
    These are “religious” teachings and they do guide our thoughts and actions. And, we’ve found over the years that people who might otherwise have considered themselves SBNR are drawn to our community and stick with it. We too, though, are searching for ways to be more inviting to more people, and look to discussions like this to guide how we communicate with those who might be seeking a place, a community, people who are walking a different walk than the old dogmatic talk of more conservative religious groups.
    Take a look at how we present ourselves at First Presbyterian Church Palo Alto ( and if you’re in or near Palo Alto California, stop on by. We’ve got a variety of worship services and lots of activities doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God.

    • Wiesner can write this:….. ” 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.” and then accuse others of being simplistic? Amazing.
      To suggest that non-religious people, the majority of people throughout what we know of human history, were/are uninterested in rules, or communities, is absurd, but perfect coming from a christian enrolled in a seminary. Another example of the inability for religious people to even begin to understand a universe not overseen by some god, creator, etc. Monotheism in any of its awful variations is the worst thing that ever befell planet earth. Any erosion of religious thinking or the death of any church, is to be celebrated.
      At age 77 and a 30 year practitioner/teacher of shamanism (whatever you think it is, it is definitely not a religion) I reflect on the time in college when I decided that religions have to be considered on the basis of their effects/actions, rather than their enunciated ideals. I am convinced, more than ever, the world would be a better place without them, all of them. I am sickened by the notion of “god’s will” or the “divine plan,” so often invoked when bad things happen to religious people or when governments seek to impose their will on others. “God’s work” so often turns out badly. I am angered when a president, responding to the death of children talks about heaven and jesus.
      So I am one of the flabby, new age, simple SBNR folks of whom Wiesner writes. He has no idea about this path in my life and how demanding it can be. To understand it, to participate in it, to join the community, necessitates extricating oneself from the aggressive, deadly grip of monotheism which has brought us to where we are and could render our species extinct. It takes discipline and work without the comfort of another human who claims to be “educated” about these matters and able to guide you to heaven. (always for a price I might add)
      This post by Wiesner is the soft edge of something that is truly horrific. If an individual experiences a unified field, a transcendent, holistic, integrated state in any public manner outside the confines of religion, that individual will be the target of violence or repression from the religious culture. Historically, even within the religion itself the person will most likely be punished or corrected. Religions do not tolerate individual, personal, transcendent experience. Religion, driven more by fear than by love, carries a kind face but rips off the mask whenever it witnesses personal behavior that exposes its charade.
      Meanwhile, personal transcendence and healing has nothing to do with religion and is, in my belief more common and accessible in its absence.

    • I am a member of a Presbyterian congregation in Boulder, CO and everything you said could apply to us. And I grew up in Palo Alto and Los Altos. I suggest that realizing we are all one IS the highest spiritual value. All of the previous comments come from deep thinkers. I am grateful to be part of the Tikun community. Bless you all!

  3. First of all, I’d like to point out that your description of Bass’ analysis as an over-simplification is itself a simplification. Any description we give to any phenomenon is necessarily a simplification. It falls far short of describing the totality. I can only speak to my experience and observations. I know many people who might fall into the SBNR category. Most of these subscribe to either New Thought / new age or inter-faith principles. These essentially are: There is no reality outside of God / Spirit / Source. The appearance of sin, sickness, death, evil are the result of seeing/believing oneself to be “separate” from All That Is. (In Buddhism this is described as identification with so-called objective reality due to “split-mind”) We are the co-creators of our experience of existence. For me, Christianity, in its current iteration, falls far short as a theology, as an accurate description of reality. So many of its postulates are contradictions in terms. The problem, as I see it, is trying to make literal sense of teachings that were meant to be understood in metaphysical terms and were presented as parables and metaphors. It was also presented in the context of a master teaching disciples, initiating them into a direct experience of “heaven” which is an inexact rendering of the Aramaic word “malkuth”. I experience Jesus Christ’s presence daily in my life but to say that Jesus the person was/is the only Son of God, born of a virgin, sacrificed for our sins, etc. and if one believes that story they’ll go to heaven is, to me, a gross over-simplification. If only it were that easy. Christianity, like all religions, is mostly practiced according to cultural conditioning is is rife with superstitious folk believes. In Japan, the monk mostly sit in zazen and observe ceremonies relating to Buddha’s life. The goal is “enlightenment” or becoming “one with God”. This, to me, is the essence of “spirituality”. The monks also perform funerary rights, weddings, etc. that relate to people’s individual lives. This, I believe, is the essence of “religion”. Is there a substantial difference between the two? I doubt the monks would see one. Both actions arise from their commitment and obligation to “free all beings from suffering”.

    • Randall;
      “Is there a substantial difference between the two?” This question comes up all the time in circles I teach. I agree with you that the monks would not see one, but I do. For me “religion” is any aggregation of spiritual experience wherein those who have experienced transcendence, a unified field, heaven, etc. Or, when a community of any size begins to focus and strive for the same experience or acquaintance with the same “god.” That’s when the bad stuff begins to happen and the followers begin to see “the other” as less informed, less enlightened as themselves. This process seems inevitable and therefore I advocate avoiding it altogether.
      The monks are an excellent example. As you probably know organized Buddhism has its own checkered and violent past. Massive, organized violence based on the notion that “those people” are not as sacred as we are, continues to this very moment.
      It seems to me that one can fully exemplify the teachings of jesus, or other great teacher real or imagined, without practicing a religion. In fact, I know some people who do. When people get together and begin saying “we’re Christians and you aren’t,” I head for the hills.

    • With all due respect, the Christian message is simple because our problem is pride. The more complicated or personally involved, the more we take credit for our ability or actions to reach “heaven.” I believe in Christianity because it accurately describes the problem: pride. And the cure is so simple that it undermines human nature and bypasses those have yet to recognize that condition, admit it, and humbly accept. When I sum up most other religions, I respectfully have to label them as MEism because they teach or require you to accomplish a higher state on your own; whereas the creator of the Christian faith says “it is a gift” and he paid the price. What else do you want as a parent: to be recognized? Or, do you require a test and acts of service before you will accept your kids?

  4. Dave – I agree with you that the world would be a better place without religions. I’m also ready to throw “spiritual” out of my existential lexicon. It’s become meaningless to me since everyone seems to have their own idea of what it means. I can understand labeling religious zen monks or any community that exists apart for the purpose of creating an environment focused on the pursuit of Ultimate Reality. Using this definition universities would qualify and it’s no coincidence that institutions of higher learning have their routes in the monasteries of the middle ages. One could also see the monasteries as vestiges of the ancient model of master and disciples. Recall the mystery schools of Greece, Mesopotamia and Egypt of antiquity. If I’m not mistaken, even shamanism has this characteristic. My point is the distinctions we make may not be as important as we want to think. How does it relate to what I am creating or is happening in the present moment? Does the story I’m creating about my existence connect me to my head or to my heart? That’s the level of consciousness I want to make distinctions from. Of course, I recognize that this is easier to do in isolation and also very easy in community to succumb to “group-think”. That’s not always a bad thing any more than isolation a good thing. To me, there is not a right or wrong answer here. In fact, I don’t even see the need for the question.

  5. Dave Hanson,
    I’d like to respond to a few of your points:
    First off, your claim that “non-religious people [have been] the majority of people throughout what we know of human history” seems wildly, ridiculously inaccurate. I immediately have to assume that you are defining “religious” in a very particular, arbitrary way. And in fact this only becomes more clear when you later argue that “Monotheism in any of its awful variations is the worst thing that ever befell planet earth.” It’s honestly hard to take such a claim seriously, considering the decidedly non-monotheistic horrors of the 20th century, not to mention the decidedly polytheistic tragedies of every empire before about 500 BCE. Granted, there have been monotheists who have done horrible things, but where are you getting this idea that monotheism itself, as an idea, is the worst thing ever devised? Certainly the atom bomb, mustard gas, the machine gun, chattel slavery, etc. should all be seen as worse?
    Now I imagine that you’ll retort here that monotheism was, in some way, the root cause of all of these things. But such a claim would amount to guilt-by-association, a sort of correlative grouping together. It’s been scientific progress, most directly, that’s been associated with some of the worst offenses against humanity and especially against the environment. And science, in a variety of forms, has been pursued by monotheists, atheists, polytheists, and others. So this idea that monotheism–which I think you’re seeing as some sort of particular extension of “religion” defined in a very particular and arbitrary way–is somehow the worst thing to ever befall humanity seems factually defective.
    And then we come to your claim that my work is the “soft edge” of some imperial conspiracy. I find this sort of thing so frustrating because you’re basing this claim on exactly no evidence. You re-define religion in some way so that Christianity is included but shamanism isn’t, even though the vast majority of English-speakers would probably immediately consider shamanism a religion. Then you claim, without any evidence, that monotheism is basically Nazism, Stalinism, chattel slavery and gang rape all rolled into one. And then finally you simply associate my article with this completely fictional collection of ideas. It’s a convenient rhetorical strategy, because you don’t actually have to respond to anything I’ve said; you can just tar and feather me in abstentia and dismiss what I say out of hand, because I’m associated with a bunch of words you’ve unilaterally redefined.
    I find it interesting, to say the least, that you didn’t mention at all the main thrust of my post–that I find the SBNR movement to be a manifestation of consumer capitalism. I never intoned against its non-orthodoxy, or the fact that it may or may not be sufficiently monotheistic. These are themes *you* introduced. I was attacking SBNR precisely for what I see as its roots in oppressive economic, social, and political systems, and instead of doing the research and work to actually argue against what I’ve said, you just state without evidence or reason that I’m some sort of crypto-fascist neo-Inquisitor out to destroy shamanism.
    In short, I think it’s SBNR that’s the “soft edge” of something insidious. You can certainly disagree, but I would ask that you use facts, define your terms, and actually respond to what I’ve written, rather than simply asserting a bunch of non-facts about me and my ideas, and then dismissing them out of hand in a sort of ersatz conspiracy theory.

  6. It’s interesting for me to observe people argue passionately about their beliefs and opinions as if they were objective facts. I find myself wanting to argue against both Scott and Dave. Facts would seem to be slippery things when discussing abstractions like “religion” and “spirituality”. Religion is probably the easiest to define. It has writings that are accepted as “scripture”, It has accepted interpretations of said writings, agreed upon ritual observances and so forth. Using this definition, I think I would agree with Dave’s statement that the majority of humans throughout history would have to be considered non-religious. This might be difficult to quantify but it does seem likely given the enduring belief system of indigenous peoples in Africa, Australia and the Americas, not to mention various Chinese systems and the fact that prior to colonialism most humans had not heard of any Western religion. I think I could also state as factual that the Church helped develop capitalism. The Templar Knights Order are considered to be the first bankers. I don’t see science as an extension of monotheism so much as the other side of the monotheistic coin. For many secular people, science is seen as the final arbiter of reality. I find many of your points objectionable. They’re mostly your opinions but you seem to be convinced of the absolute “rightness” of them. When you state that SBNR is hyper-individualistic, consumable ersatz spirituality with none of the attributes of community that is just your opinion based on your experience. It is not a fact. Further you say, “What people are really looking for (and I say this as someone who spent years looking myself!) is an authentic, enriching, challenging spiritual community.” How do you know what people are looking for? Did you take a survey? What SBNR communities did you investigate to conclude that they don’t meet your criteria? Oh, that’s right since they don’t or couldn’t possibly meet your criteria they therefore don’t exist. Your also seem to imply that all SBNR people possess a belief system that is cobbled together, sentimental, anti-intellectual New Age nonsense. As I stated in my earlier post, most of the SBNR folks I know subscribe to a belief system that is remarkable similar and in my reading of this I see threads of it’s essence in all religions and even ancient spiritual writings. I honestly don’t see anything to attack. I don’t see SBNR as just another product of consumerism, though there are a lot of fads, workshops, trendistas, gurus, shaman, reiki masters, you name it and things like EST or Landmark have a cultish feel, Scientology probably is a cult and it seems like everybody’s trying to sell something no one else has but how is any of that substantially different from what the Church does? What is it selling? How is the competition doing? Got to get those numbers up to stay viable. Is it different simply because you say it is and many others agree so it’s “real” and that other thing you don’t really understand (you think you do) is “ersatz”? Are you really saying that SBNR is an illegitimate spiritual expression? Many people are suspicious of organized religion but most people have a yearning for something beyond themselves, a meaning and purpose beyond what their lives can give them or so it seems to them. I’d argue that SBNR is the form of human expression that this yearning takes and that it is here to stay. I think I’d learn to accept what is and how to work with it instead of attacking it just because it doesn’t look like what you think it should look like which apparently is medieval Catholicism. Good luck with selling that.

  7. Randall,
    I never claimed my opinions were facts–I have no idea where you are getting that position from. I freely admit that my perspective about SBNR is my opinion. My discussion of the role of facts came into the picture only in my rebuttal of Dave’s rather baseless accusations against me and his, I think, arbitrary use of words like “religion”. And by the way, the idea that an institution or community is not religious if it doesn’t have “scriptures” is extremely odd and not at all the way sociologists would use that word; such a definition makes it seem likely to me that you are trying to define religion in such a way that it is synonymous with Abrahamic monotheism. But religion and Abrahamic monotheism are not identical; the latter is an example of the former. For just a small sample of the diverse ways in which scholars of religion, sociologists, psychologists, etc. understand and define religion, just check out the wikipedia page on it:
    As for SBNR being here to stay, etc. There are lots of institutions with staying power that I dislike, and will passionately argue against in public. Slavery, for example, was a powerful social institution that survived for millennia; there’s no reason to justify it simply because it exists (I am not here trying to somehow link SBNR and slavery, but rather using this hyperbolic example to show what I see as the error in your logic). Obviously there are a lot of people who like SBNR, want it to stay, etc. And I disagree with them. I don’t understand why my disagreement with them is immediately cast as my being in favor of “medieval Catholicism”–when did I ever defend medieval Catholicism? I’m a member of a church that ordains women and homosexuals, for God’s sake! And in fact I explicitly joined this church *because* it was so progressive on these issues. (Note the bio blurb above about my being an Episcopalian). Clearly I’m not as regressive as you would seem to think.
    And this is what I’m trying to get at: I don’t mind at all your disagreeing with me; obviously when I agreed to have this posted here at Tikkun I knew there’d be pushback, and that’s fine and good, I’m happy to have this debate. But please don’t pin these derogatory terms on me without any justification, and please use words in the ways that they have been understood by speakers of our language. My passionate assertion of my opinion is just that–it does not mean that I am asserting my opinions as facts, it just means I feel strongly! As I imagine you do!
    But I imagine that you would object to my claiming that you were asserting your opinions as facts. So why not extend the same courtesy to me; disagree with me be all means, tear my post to pieces. But please respond to what I’ve actually written, instead of building up an imaginary set of positions, some weird set of shadowy motivations that supposedly move me, so as to try and associate me with regressive and oppressive groups from history. Let my words speak, and respond to my statements, instead of building a straw-man up and knocking him down in the comments.

  8. Then why not occasionally use of phrases such as, “ my view,” or “for me..” to acknowledge that these are your opinions rather than making declarative statements as if they were a “fact”? Also, when you state, “People want…(whatever)” you imply that you know what ALL people want. Not possible. I understand that you are likely very progressive and interested in social and economic justice. I don’t understand your attack on SBNR. You didn’t convince me that they are some kind of threat to the well-being of society. To me, it sounded more like an ad hominem attack because you see any sort of community arising from this phenomenon. What about Michael Beckwith’s Agape community or is that just a manifestation of consumerism? What about the 1000’s of New Thought congregations? Or do you see these as “religious” because of the familiar form they take? I would venture that many of the people involved in these groups would identify as SBNR. It’s all very subjective, don’t you think? The reason I included the sentence about medieval Catholicism was from this line, “sacramental, sacred, engaged, community-focused rites of medieval Catholicism-is precisely what modern Christians are yearning for without knowing it.” Again, to me, it’s a matter of implying something. Why not present some ideas of some new rituals might look like? Why not find a way to make your points without attacking someone? When you do that you’re implying that you think you’re right and the other is wrong. Why does someone else’s search for God/ meaning have to be wrong if it doesn’t look the way you think it should. That’s what I got from your article. Not much about why you yearn for a community that is religious and spiritual. I hope you find this criticism more useful. Thanks for staying engaged in this discussion. I appreciate your courage to say what you think.

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