The Common Good

In Praise of Holding One's Religion Lightly

There will be, I assume, a thousand different ways to dismantle what it is that I am about to say. I get that. I respect it. I invite it. This is a conversation that we need to have and, thankfully, are having at a national level. That said, sometimes I wish we still lived in a time when talking about one's faith in public was considered inappropriate or rude. Sometimes, that is. Only sometimes.

Photo: Woman reading Bible, © Jacob Gregory / Shutterstock.com
Photo: Woman reading Bible, © Jacob Gregory / Shutterstock.com

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Lillian Daniel has a new book coming out. I'll refrain from sharing my opinion about the book until after I have read it. You can read Robert Cornwall's review here. The book is entitled WHEN "SPIRITUAL BUT NOT RELIGIOUS" IS NOT ENOUGH: Seeing God in Surprising Places, Even the Church. There are some handy quick reviews on the amazon.com page. My favorite is from Shane Claiborne. 

Lillian is as fed up with bad religion as anyone else, but she's also careful to celebrate good religion and good spirituality that brings people to life and makes the world a better place. May her book invite us to stop complaining about the Church we've experienced and work on becoming the Church we dream of.

This comment mediates my knee-jerk reaction to her premise and the quotation that Cornwall pulls from the pages of the book. 

There is nothing challenging about having deep thoughts all by oneself. What is interesting is doing this work in community, where other people might call you on stuff or, heaven forbid, disagree with you. Where life with God gets rich and provocative as when you dig deeply into a tradition that you did not invent all for yourself (p. 128).

Daniels wrote this well-shared post about the SBNR. It should give you a taste of what the book is like: "Spiritual But Not Religious? Please Stop Boring Me." Daniels has been rather consistent with this critique over the last couple of years. I guess her opinion has not changed. 

Daniels is not the only one talking about this subject. You can find it in the New York Times as well in an article by KJ Dell'Antonia titled, "Children, Choosing Their Religion." Nurya Love Parish responds to the column on her blog. She challenges Dell'Antonia's logic about how religion and community are related. In a comment I pointed out that Dell'Antonia conflated community and family and that in the U.S. the family holds primacy of place. And by family we still mean 2.4 kids, a dog, and a white picket fence though this definition is certainly changing. We laud The American Family as if it were salvation itself. But that's another rant for another day. 

What I'm struggling with in the conversation is the derision that comes with saying that one side is "boring" or the other side is "antiquated" or "cruel and stupid." Religion is bad for you and everyone around you for that matter. Being SBNR is shallow and boring. Well, if these statements are true then we are up Sh*t's Creek without a paddle. Good on us. Yay. 

Here is when I want to climb up on my soapbox and rail against these ideas and the people who propose them. But I cannot. Why? Well, because there are people hidden in all this statistical Hocus Pocus and rhetorical slipperiness. 

People. Beautiful, fragile-and-powerful-all-at-once people. That's who we're talking about. These are people "working out their own salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12). They are using the tools available to them in a global and often digital marketplace. They read various scriptures. They read self-help books. They dive deeply into ancient traditions. They skim the surface of spiritual fads. Sometimes they do it the other way around. They do it alone or they do it in groups. Sometimes these groups are organized. Sometimes they are not. Sometimes these groups are families. Sometimes they are clubs or classrooms. They hurt one another. They make mistakes. They experience epiphanies. They save the world with love. They destroy the world with hatred.

To talk about the spiritual life of another human being is to talk about the most vulnerable part of who we are. Paul in his letter to the Philippians is so clear that we have to work this out with fear and trembling or, stated in another way, with the utmost care and seriousness. Perhaps this is why.

People are at stake ... the who and why of being human in a vast cosmos is at stake. 

And we, we who participate in organized religious expressions of this work must hold our religions lightly. We must be careful with what we proclaim. We, with all our resources and power, are the bull in the spiritual china shop. We must be entirely compassionate and encouraging to all who are working out their own salvation "with fear and trembling" or with casual curiosity. We must speak without derision or condescension. We must offer ourselves and our traditions freely...joyfully. 

We must hold our religions lightly. 

We must. Human beings are too important for us not to.

Tripp Hudgins is a doctoral student in liturgical studies at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif., and associate pastor of First Baptist Church of Palo Alto, Calif. You can read more of his writings on his longtime blog, "Conjectural Navel Gazing; Jesus in Lint Form" at AngloBaptist.orgFollow Tripp on Twitter @AngloBaptist.

Photo: Woman reading Bible, © Jacob Gregory | View Portfolio / Shutterstock.com

 

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