Christianity After Religion
Diana Butler Bass, HarperOne
Checking my Facebook entries, this was posted for edification and no-doubt, comment: “Religion is for people afraid of going to hell; Spirituality is for people who have already been there”.
Diana Butler Bass’ new book is a commentary about those who claim to be spiritual but not religious. Or about religion and change — specifically how Christianity, especially in the USA, is changing and how people are questioning conventional patterns of faith and belief.
It is one of many on the scene at the moment as well as web and blog sites claiming to advance “spiritual but not religious” (SBNR). While Bass has visited and lectured in Australia — she is probably coming again in 2013 — there are only suggestive comments on Australian and Canadian religious life. Her audience is definitely her own turf: America.
Dating major changes in the 1970s and then the 1990s, Bass claims there has been a major reversal in contemporary American spiritual longing. Away from the “believing-behaving-belonging” model of the past, to the current “belonging-behaving-believing” journey. “Therein,” claims Bass, “lies the difference between religion-as-institution and religio as a spiritually vital faith.”
Let me share a Bass example. Jesus did not begin with a question of belief. Instead, his public ministry started when he formed a community: “Follow me.” But over the centuries, theologians, especially the neo-orthodox kind, have argued “that the church began with Peter’s confession to Jesus: ‘You are the Messiah’ … Christianity did not begin with a confession. It began with an invitation into friendship, into creating a new community, into forming relationships based on love and service.”
Likewise, “the early community that followed Jesus was a community of practice. [They] did not sit around a fire and listen to lectures on Christian theology. They listened to stories that taught them how to act toward one another, what to do in the world.”
Her writing style results in an easy read, generally speaking, although at times I laboured under some of the historical American content which was totally outside my experience. While her arguments seems to rest on “religious” or “spiritual” — many of her live presentations include these two columns on a white board discussion session — not enough care is taken on a third column — the church/religion “alumni”, where theological thinking and biblical criticism are still important, along with experience, a social and environmental concern, coupled with both inclusive and pluralism shapings.
Bass is a regular commentator on religion, politics, and culture for such media as USA Today, Time, Newsweek, The Huffington Post and The Washington Post — many of them, it appears, are part of the Murdock stable! She has also received acclaim for her efforts from the likes of Harvey Cox, Bill McKibben, Richard Rohr, Marcus Borg, and Brian McLaren.
Rev. Rex A. E. Hunt