Christianity after religion?

It’s no secret that young people aren’t as likely to practice their faith, or any faith at all, as their parents, but this trend appears to be growing across large swaths of other demographics as well. Diana Butler Bass explores this phenomenon in her new book Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening. She gave an interview to NPR’s On Point, explaining how these trends might be the beginnings of a new reformation.

The author suggests that the people in the pews are demanding different, fresh, and new spiritual experiences than their religious leaders are able or perhaps willing to offer. She says that as a result, many are fleeing traditional churches and forging their own paths. The future, she claims, holds the potential for spiritual zeal fueled by conversation among the religious, the seeking, the unaffiliated, and the unbelieving.

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Listen to the interview here

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Beth Cioffoletti
6 years 7 months ago
Once again, Michael, you've put a provocative little nugget out there, and then left it hanging.  Did you listen to the program?  What did you think?

Anyway, I listened to the the first 10 minutes of the program, and heard a lot of stuff that I agree with and found hopeful.  So many in the media and mainstream Church bemoan the fact that their pews are emptying, especially of young people, but that doesn't mean that these people are not interested in God/spirituality.  It might even be a good thing.

I think that following this path, the seekers will discover anew the profound truths that are held in the Catholic tradition.  For example, contemplative prayer retreats at Trappists monasteries are filled up months in advance these days.  Many of those attending are young and non-Churched.
david power
6 years 7 months ago
Beth,

While I agree it may not be a bad thing and the question was long overdue to be asked about the content of our faith etc I think that it is very optimistic to imagine that there will be a springtime of the soul.
Most people will get lost in the desert. 
The mechanical religion of yore served as a great mental crutch and when that is gone make way for the fall.
I can only think of one catholic writer of the last 50 years who can make Christ relevant to me.
There is a chasm between the experiences of people and the presentation of Christ and the result is that people are no longer going along to get along but bringing their spiritual longings elsewhere.
Everybody has spirit but spirit without method is lost and the most unholy Church at least has method to it's name. 
Beth Cioffoletti
6 years 7 months ago
I agree with you about the need for structure, David.  Without structure, human beings fall into disarray.  Children, especially, cannot grow and thrive without a dependable and firm structure to their lives.

The problem is when the structure becomes rigid and non-responsive.  If it is a living thing, a structure can and will change.   In my opinion, the dialogue between the liberal and conservative factions of the Church is a crucial part of steering this human institution into the future.

Being lost in the desert is not necessarily a bad thing, either.
Amy Ho-Ohn
6 years 7 months ago
I listened to about twenty minutes of the interview, until they began taking calls from listeners.

It seems Diana Butler Bass's thesis is that the future of religion is to lose all the difficult, time-consuing, tedious parts and only keep the parts that are easy and fun and can be done when one has nothing important to do. No more memorizing prayers, no more studying abstruse doctrines, no more sitting through endless, repetitive, incoherent homilies, no more getting up early to go to mass on Sunday mornings, no more pressure to restrain one's carnal appetites, no more envelopes and baskets, no more groveling to stinky old men in silly costumes, no more sitting around over soggy donuts and tepid coffee listening to the parish bore tell you about the good old days. Instead, we'll all just sit down on our yoga mats once in a while and say "ommmmm" for a bit and God or Whatever will come give us a "mystical experience."

Who isn't in favor of that? It sounds great. But how come nobody ever thought of it before? Through all those centuries of saints praying and fasting and mortifying their flesh and keeping all-night vigils, did it never occurred to a single one of them that it would be simpler just to sit down and say "ommmmm" for a bit?
david power
6 years 7 months ago
Amy,

Good question you pose.I guess people were just not that smart in the past.I tried the ommmm thing and it really works.I did it  for 20 minutes on a mat and then stopped .
I feel whole. 
Crystal Watson
6 years 7 months ago
I recall that in 2007 there was a book out, "Spiritual But Not Religious" by Robert C. Fuller .... http://www.beliefnet.com/Entertainment/Books/2002/07/Spiritual-But-Not-Religious.aspx    .....  I think there have always been and will always be people who believe in God but don't like religion.  It's hard to blame them given how disillusioning religion in practice has and can be - sex abuse, turf wars, discrimination against women/gays and lesbians. 

And it's not as if any religion holds the copyright on spiritual practice - you can appreciate and practice centering prayer or Ignatian imaginative prayer or lectio divina or do the examen or pray the hours without becoming a Catholic.

The Onion once had a kind of funny reverse aericle on this -"Priest Religious But Not Really Spiritual" .....  http://www.theonion.com/articles/priest-religious-but-not-really-spiritual,17373/
Beth Cioffoletti
6 years 7 months ago
And it may be a sign that we really are becoming a more secular society, which, again, may not be a bad thing.

Maybe then we will awaken to the sacredness of everything, not just Church-stuff.
Beth Cioffoletti
6 years 7 months ago
As a matter of fact, Amy, some of those fasting and praying saints did, in fact, discover the power of sitting down and saying "Jesus" for awhile.   Check out the desert Mothers and Fathers of the 3rd and 4th centuries.  It's called the Jesus prayer and is the historical basis of Centering Prayer, a Christian form of meditation.
J Cosgrove
6 years 7 months ago
I have a question.  What is spirituality?


Is is just a nonsnese term or does it have some specific definition?  Is it a way of putting other people down by saying I am spiritual and you apparently are not.  Is it a flow of serotonin in the neurons or a dopamine transmission?


What are people actually seeking when they say they want spiritual experiences?  We have all had very powerful emotional experiences, sometimes bordering on the ecstatic but how does one classify something that is spiritual with something that is just emotional?  We can all concentrate on our navel have a mental experience but is that spiritual?  Are we just witnessing differences in human due to DNA differences and gene expression or are we actually describing some state that has no physical explanation?


And an aside based on the OP.  What is being reformed? and what is  it being reformed to?

 
STEVE KILLIAN
6 years 7 months ago
Thank you very much, David.  I see he's a very prolific writer.  I''ve just added The Religious Sense to my Wish List.

See, I wasn't jesting - just trying to find the needle in the haystack!
C Walter Mattingly
6 years 7 months ago
Around my church: pews fuller. In my diocese, two years ago, 5 vocations to the priesthood. One year ago, 9 vocations. This year, 22 vocations. 
I hope this sort of problem grows for us. 
Jeanne Linconnue
6 years 7 months ago
I have not yet had time to listen to the interview, only read the book summary and a few brief reviews.  She seems to be part of the overall emerging church movement, which is a quite fascinating part of the post-religious religion or post-religion spirituality movement which is capturing the minds and souls of so many who are just plain sick and tired of so much of the nonsense and hypocrisy in organized denominational religion. It seems reminiscent of Harvey Cox's classifications in The Future of Faith, in which he organizes christian history to date into three eras - the first was the Age of Faith, which was centered on Jesus's life and teachings and on building the kingdom by living as Jesus taught; the second, from the 4th century to mid-20th was the Age of Belief, when the church moved away from ''the way'' - living as Jesus taught us to live - towards dogma, and doctrine, and the creation of a hierarchical class that assumed all control for developing these doctrines and dogmas and enforcing them (too often by force).  Heresy was born. He believes the third age, the Age of the Spirit was born in the 1960s, and that christianity is in the very earliest stages of a profound shift away from doctrines and dogma to spirituality and relationship. Those who share these general views believe the return to fundamentalist, law-and-order religion in many denominations, including the Catholic, represent a sort of desperate last-gasp attempt to hold onto the old age of christianity, one that is passing away.

It's all quite interesting. I will listen to her interview when I have 45 minutes.
David Cruz-Uribe
6 years 7 months ago
"The Age of the Spirit" is back?  In the 12th century Joachim of Fiore made the same divisions, predicting that the imminent 3rd age of the spirit was dawning.  In this new age the (institutional) Church would disappear since it was no longer needed, and men and women would live together "in the spirit" with Christians and infidels all united.  His ideas had a powerful impact on the radical wing of the Franciscan movement (the so-called Spirituals) who saw St. Francis of Assisi as being the herald of this third age.   So there is really nothing new under the sun.

These ideas are flawed, but they should be treated seriously if only because they point to deep discontents and longings that need to be addressed.  The spirituals were dismayed by what they (rightly) felt was the betrayal of the ideals of St. Francis by his immediate followers among the "moderates."   They felt that the moderates were selling out to the institutional church, seeking the kinds of possessions and power that Francis had turned his back on.   It was understandable (sad, but still understandable) that they would gravitate to the quasi-apocolyptic vision of Joachim of Fiore to explain their situation. 

We need to figure out what about our own Church alienates the young, and we need to show them that we provide a positive, viable alternative to the vapid amalgam that often passes for the "new spirituality."
david power
6 years 7 months ago
Thanks Jeanne for the concise summary of the book.
At first I thought it seemed reasonable but then I remembered my Nietzsche and his depiction of the early Christians was hardly as "Angelic" as we imagine.
Reading the Didache also dispells any ideas of a doctrine free existence.Of course there are grades and shades in everything.
David gives a very balanced optic of the great franciscan struggle of which the Holy Father wrote his dissertation.
St Ignatius of Loyola also famously had to deal with such prophecies.
I think that if we see a true Saint like St Francis and those who adhere to his spirit we are less inclined to be fastened to dogmas but it is the exception and not the norm. 
Amy Ho-Ohn
6 years 7 months ago
"What is spirituality?"

I have always thought of spirituality as a watered-down version of mysticism. Mysticism is the process of getting to know God through visions, like the one in Isaiah 6 and Ezekiel's Merkabah vision. That sort of thing has been fairly popular in Christian history. St. Anthony and St. John of the Cross went in for it, and a lot of other saints too. But visions like that  usually require starving oneself and/or sleep-depriving oneself in a big way, so it's not for everybody.

Instead, a lot of modern people seem to go for a less arduous, more accessible sort of "premonition" of divine presence. They say one can get this kind of vision-lite by sitting on a yoga mat and saying "om" or by sitting on a mountain and contemplating the view or even just by sitting in a church repeating repetitive prayers. Occasionally this results in visions or voices, but usually just a kind of nebulous "feeling." But it's not an emotional "feeling." It's a "feeling" like somebody is there. Or sometimes a "feeling" like one is part of some larger universal system of togetherness and cooperation. (Probably the E. Coli in my intestines get that feeling sometimes too.) That's "spirituality."

I personally think this is mostly bunk. Of course, it would be very encouraging to have a vision that Somebody exists and is watching over us. But even if I had one, I would be inclined to doubt it was anything more than an unusual but unexceptional neurological phenomenon.

An extremely interesting insight on these kind of neurological phenomena is Jill Bolte-Taylor's description of her massive stroke. It's about twenty minutes here:

http://www.ted.com/talks/jill_bolte_taylor_s_powerful_stroke_of_insight.html

She's a lot more interesting than Diana Butler Bass, IMHO. 
Beth Cioffoletti
6 years 7 months ago
Except when those "mystics" are apophatic, and turn away from all visions and voices and feelings, preferring to know through unknowing.

I tend to think of spirituality simply as one's realtionship with God, however one decides to express that.
Anne Chapman
6 years 7 months ago
Beth, #19. You are closer to definining spirituality than are some, who confuse spirituality with mysticism. They are not the same thing. Most who define themselves as ''spiritual but not religious'' think of spirituality in the terms you express - spirituality encompasses all that surrounds the journey to relationship with God. For some, that happens through organized religion and all that it encompasses - liturgy, formal spoken prayer, elaborate and rigidly defined rituals, etc. 

For others the relationship with God develops more easily away from the ''madding crowd'' - in small communities and/or  in silence - usually both because this type of spirituality also usually works on human relationships which are part of the whole divine relationship. This understanding of spirituality often has contemplative prayer such as centering prayer at the heart of it.  Seldom, if ever, does this definition of ''spirituality'' involve visions or mystical experiences or hearing voices!! ;)  And it is not meant to. Centering prayer opens us to listening - it gets our own chattering voices out of our heads just a little bit so that we can hear God's voice instead - but that is not to be taken literally! It clears the mind so that what Amy prefers to call ''insight'' can become unburied with some of the clutter cleared away. And it doesn't require experiencing a massive stroke.

For reasons that are a little difficult for me to understand, some who live their spiritual lives within the context of traditional religion and traditional church life sometimes seem a bit defensive and to feel somewhat threatened by those whose spiritual journey has taken them in a different direction. It is doubtful that traditional churches will ever completely pass away. But, there is an evolution going on in christianity that is very interesting, revealing, and also exciting to many who had despaired of finding spiritual companionship and communities within the traditional churches.
Beth Cioffoletti
6 years 7 months ago
Anne (#20) - I like your description of Centering Prayer, especially that line about not requiring a stroke!  I love centering prayer (and think that it is the best thing to happen in the Catholic Church in a few hundred years!).
Amy Ho-Ohn
6 years 7 months ago
"Knowing through unknowing" sounds great, a lot easier than knowing the usual way, through studying, practicing, working, analyzing and thinking. But would you climb aboard an airplane, if the guy who designed it told you he "knows aerodynamics through unknowing?"
Beth Cioffoletti
6 years 7 months ago
No, Amy - I wouldn't get on that plane :-) ... but I would trust an Unknower as a spiritual guide.  And don't be fooled that it is an easier way of knowing.  There's an abyss of irrationality, confusion, pointlessness and apparent chaos to work your way through.
C Walter Mattingly
6 years 7 months ago
There seems to be a fairly constant effort by folks on different sides of the fence to edit not only the Church, but Jesus as well. One group doesn't like what Jesus said about giving your money to the poor; another doesn't like what Jesus said about the indivisible bond of marriage, so both groups try to alter. obscure, or deemphasize the emphatically clear meaning of His words in both cases. One group tries to emphasize the first Great Commandment to the diminution of the other, editing the Church into merely an otherworldy experience; the other emphasizing the second Great Commandment to the diminution of the other, turning Jesus into a very influential spiritual humanist guide or sociologist. To be sure, there are the Rolheisers whose books such as The Holy Longing expressly demands of us all both spiritual self and Church, but it seems a difficult sell to many.
This bifurcation and editing phenomenon appears to extend to the professionals as well. It seems like many in the Jesus Project have edited the Biblical texts in such ways as to promote their belief preferences, at times couching their preferences in what they like and don't like in scripture by arguing that Christ said this and not that. And they are so well-informed and bright that, like a good debater, they could convince most readers of their arguments no matter what text they chose.
We as mature Catholics have had the fairly rare experience of having lived through the papacies of two popes highly regarded by both Catholics and non-Catholics worldwide. Yet very few commentors here have been Catholic enough to express gratitude for having both of them in their lifetimes.
Is there anyone here besides Father Martin open enough to the fulness of our faith to embrace and celebrate both John XXIII and John Paul II, or are they mutually exclusive?  Individual and common liturgy, spirituality and faith tradition? In other words, are there enough Catholics catholic enough?
Beth Cioffoletti
6 years 7 months ago
ps (to #23) but Unknowing is not everyone's cup of tea - so if you're not drawn to it, it's ok. 

I'm very glad, though, that it is and accepted, and even treasured, "way" in the Catholic tradition.
david power
6 years 7 months ago
Walter,

Don't be patting yourself to hard on the back for "accepting"  Popes.Our Faith is not in a mishmash of papalism, it is in Christ Jesus. 
There is no catholic measure there is only a human measure.Many People of other faiths and of no faiths are probably closer to Jesus without any need to have a papal cocktail poured for them.
Be the best christian you can be and don't worry about the Popes. 
C Walter Mattingly
6 years 7 months ago
David,
I wish I could pat myself on the back on these issues. I did not because Frs. Rolheiser and Martin seem far further along that path than I am from what I have read of them.
But the different emphasis of two prominent popes is just one particular aspect of the far larger issue which I attempt to sugggest with the several examples.  
STEVE KILLIAN
6 years 7 months ago
re David Power #2: ''I can only think of one catholic writer of the last 50 years who can make Christ relevant to me.''

Who, David, who????? Tell me who he (or she) is so I can read everything he's written! 

Do you know any non-Catholic authors that do that, too?  Give me their names, too, I'm not picky! 
david power
6 years 7 months ago
Hi Steve,

I do not know if you are jesting or not but I will have a go anyway.
The writer that has stimulated me the most and made Christ beautiful and real is an Italian Priest called Luigi Giussani.
I don't buy into every word he says and am ambivalent about the group that he formed but he is the only writer that has avoided jaded apologetics and gone right to the point which is Jesus Christ.He is novel.
Start with the "Religious Sense" and also his books "Is it possible to live this way" it may be that he is too oblique for you or else he will be the breath of fresh air to you that he is to many others.

Good luck !    

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