Dietrich Bonhoeffer remarked in his famous prison letters about his gratitude for life among prisoners who were not pious, noting his surprise at what life was like with them. In a very different context, I too have found compelling the "desacralized" spaces of secular culture. In rock culture, especially in the ecologies of bars or rock halls, musicians professional and amateur, recording studios, roadies, and fans, there is a range of spiritual identifications, but a substantial amount of independence from received religious traditions. This culture has been a school for "deconversion," a process that is now the focus of emerging scholarship in practical theology. Deconversion is the poor cousin to conversion. Whereas most of our theological attention and evangelical effort aims at conversion, scholars are beginning to suggest that the ways in which people leave faith/religious/spiritual practices behind is as worthy of study as the ways in which a new faith/religion/spirituality is taken up. Exit can be its own theological phenomenon.
In my most recent book, Witness to Dispossession, my final chapter argues that a critical awareness of how power functions in Catholicism in particular and in Christianity in general is more than enough warrant for the commencement of deconversion, and for theological study of this process through which so many people pass. All of this is on my mind as I talk with students and colleagues about how they are dealing with the Catholic implosion with which we are faced. Two recent blog posts have been particularly striking to me. Speaking to Catholic deconversions are: Kate Henley Averett at the "From the Pews in the Back" blog; and Jessica Coblentz at her personal blog. This kind of material is going to make many Catholics uncomfortable. But as John Barbour argued in an early work in this genre (Versions of Deconversion, University Press of Virginia, 1994), Christian theology stands in need of deconversion narratives, not only as mournful signposts, but as material for helping Christianity take the full measure of itself.
New York City, United States
Cross-posted to Rock and Theology