Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A New Spiritual Awakening?

I finished Diana Butler Bass's Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening(Harper One, 2012) last night.  I'll be writing a review later, but I wanted to raise a question that emerges from reading her book, and that of others -- from Harvey Cox to Doug Pagitt.  

Are we entering some kind of new era of spiritual/religious life?  Whether we call it a Great Emergence or the Age of the Spirit or or the Inventive Age or a new Global Spiritual Awakening, are there signs that something is different?  If so, what are these signs?

The historian in me is cautious about making such bold claims.  It's difficult to know whether you are in a revolutionary moment while you're in the midst of it.  It's difficult to know if you're at the beginning or the end.  For instance, we usually think of the Reformation being something that happened over a period of thirty or forty years, during the lifetimes of Luther and Calvin.  But you could make a good case that the Reformation took most of the 16th and the 17th centuries to work itself out.  Diana is a historian, so she understands these dynamics better than most, but the need for caution should be noted!

According to Diana's analysis, this reformation is marked by a movement from religion to spirituality.  Instead of the focus being on moving from belief to behavior to belonging, this is now reversed.  We start with belonging move to behavior (practices) and then to belief.  The focus is on experience rather than on authority or reason.  Now these are points that are up for debate, but it's an important debate, as the church moves forward into an increasingly global and pluralist context.

So, are we in the midst of a spiritual awakening?  If so, what signs do you see that this is happening?  And, what will this do to and for religious institutions?

As the pastor of a long-standing congregation, I have great interest in this last question.    


Rev. Steven F. Kindle said...

Bob, I'm going to weigh in on this topic. However, knowing that I am a rank amateur as a historian, get your salt shaker out.

As a longtime pastor myself, what I have observed in me an in many of my acquaintances, is a product of living for a generation in a pluralistic age. Rubbing shoulders with so many who are products of different religions and philosophies has leveled the playing field. We are beginning to see each religion as worthy in its own right, with none having any special claim to superiority, except, perhaps, for oneself. Postmodern notions of relative truth claims factor in as well. Yet, Augustine's famous dictum, "God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you," still resonates. Therefore, we may abandon the idolatry of religion, but not the spiritual quest. I am very hopeful that this new orientation will eventually bring the world closer to shalom. The Third World, however, is far behind the West in this regard, and will take many generations for it to make the same move.

John said...

I think we are transitioning into a new historical epoch regarding spirituality. The new era is away from spiritual beliefs and practices which are imposed on the individual by the community, whether by default or by limited assent, and into an age where ones spirituality, to the extent experienced and expressed, originates from within, or at least is explored as a matter of personal choice and/or individual will.

The period is transitional because many still accept the faith of their community by default, though even they willingly acknowledge that faith in today's world is rightly a matter of choice.

What marks the real pivotal change is the growing awareness that no matter what people say, genuine belief is not subject to external control. People will believe, or not, without regard to the externally imposed dictates which confront them, and also regardless of what they say, to appease either their own consciences or those around them who may have authority in their lives. In our age we are coming to accept the truth that genuine faith is no longer a matter of mere assent but instead has become a matter of a more wholistic embrace, "with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength."