When the apostle Paul says, “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ” (Colossians 2:8), what does it mean to 21st century Christians? There is a poignant reminder that there is a present and real impact that popular beliefs held in culture can overshadow how spiritual beliefs are integrated into organizational life in the culture of the church.
Recently, evidence of a shifting paradigm reflecting views about interest in organized religion and current spiritual beliefs, presented in an opinion article written by Chris Mooney, reports, “Across the Western world — including the United States — traditional religion is in decline, even as there has been a surge of interest in “spirituality.” What’s more, the latter concept is increasingly being redefined in our culture so that it refers to something very much separable from, and potentially broader than, religious faith.” The disparaging remarks about about traditional religion and interest in spirituality reveal a perspective moving toward synthesizing postmodern religious beliefs into a new form of spirituality.
A Modern Definition of Spirituality
Mooney indicates that the shift in modern culture has redefined how previous beliefs about spirituality synthesized into a contemporary application form a new perspective, “Nowadays, unlike in prior centuries, spirituality, and religion are no longer thought to exist in a one-to-one relationship. Spirituality is something everyone can have — even atheists. In its most expansive sense, it could simply be taken to refer to any individual’s particular quest to discover, that which is held sacred. What is apparent is that post-modern views have embraced an eclectic point of view that demonstrates a shift in authority and knowledge from beliefs held in the Christian Bible to what is relative to the present culture.
Application: A Non-specific Spiritual Relativity that Shifts Truth about Spirituality from Biblical Truth to Personal Experience.
This report by Mooney illustrates how the locus of truth forming current beliefs about spiritual ideologies has shifted from the institution to culture, from culture to the collective opinion, and the collective group to individual relativity. Therefore, we can all find our own sacred things — and we can all have our own life-altering spiritual experiences. These [beliefs and experiences] are not necessarily tied to any creed, doctrine, or belief; they grip us on an emotional level, rather than a cognitive or rational one. That feeling of awe and wonder that sense of a deep unity with the universe or cosmos— such intuitions might lead to a traditional religious outlook on the world, or they might not. An analysis Mooney’s observation reveals a contemporary presentation of spirituality emphasizing cultural relativism as the absolute, the hermeneutic, for understanding what spirituality means in the 21st century. Conclusions can be inferred that spirituality may mean something quite different from what is contained in the historic view of God that defines spirituality in terms of a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. One fundamental question that needs to be answered is what this non-specific spiritual relativity has done to bolster belief in the essential nature of God. Is the new form of spirituality a belief in God or the antithesis of what has been believed for centuries?
Is Modern Spirituality Atheism in a Rebranded?
What may not be apparent to many casual onlookers is that in the re-branding of spirituality into the synthetic form that spirituality has taken on the form of agnosticism and for some atheism. The Nuevo spirituality has gained the attention of entertainers and Richard Dawkins, the most prominent atheist of them all who reports that he has certainly felt spiritual uplift. In response, he has written an entire book, Unweaving the Rainbow, about the wonder that comes with learning how things really work. Dawkins, in a recent interview with Al-Jazeera, said that “spirituality can mean something that I’m very sympathetic to, which is, a sort of sense of wonder at the beauty of the universe, the complexity of life, the magnitude of space, the magnitude of geological time. All those things create a sort of frisson in the breast, which you could call spirituality.”
“But,” Dawkins quickly added, “I would be very concerned that it shouldn’t be confused with super naturalism.”… It does not require science and faith to be logically compatible, for instance. Nor does it require that we believe in anything we cannot prove. Spirituality simply doesn’t operate on that level. It’s about emotions and experiences, not premises or postulates. What can be taken away from what Dawkins says is that in his view of spirituality there is nothing definite that is founded on premises of truth, it is the subjective experience of a human experience that is in no way connected to any belief in God.
Cultural Christianity and Atheism
In Al Jazeera’s Riz Khan interview with biologist Richard Dawkins , the article continues and states how Richard Dawkins sometimes describes himself as a cultural Christian. He says that he is fond of the sort of mild Church-of-England Christianity where nobody really believes it or takes it very seriously, a bit like many of his Jewish friends who call themselves cultural Jews but who are actually atheists. Unfortunately, the position of Dawkins is not his alone, but a popular position that is embraced by many advocates of current opinions about spirituality. The conclusion leads to a formidable fact that what is contained in much of the spiritual rhetoric being bandied about today is nothing more than the resurrection of atheism.
The view inside the church and the source of conflict: Secularization of the Sacred
What is apparent is that there is a shift in thinking about spirituality that is not only outside the church, but also is influencing how things are done in the church. In a 2005 article in Christianity Today “Spirituality for All the Wong Reasons”(March 2005) managing editor, Mark Galli presents a series of questions to Eugene Peterson about how spirituality is viewed inside the church. An interesting observation at the beginning of the article is the point that Peterson makes about how spirituality is compartmentalized and disconnected from the material life, “It avoids the ordinary, the everyday, the physical, the material. It’s a form of Gnosticism, and it has a terrific appeal because it’s a spirituality that doesn’t have anything to do with doing the dishes or changing diapers or going to work. There’s not much integration with work, people, sin, trouble, inconvenience” (p. 44). This point of view is well supported and demonstrated within the sacred-secular distinction that characterizes the lived experience of many people inside the life of the church.
Dr. Albert Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary says, “The real question posed by Mooney’s USA Today column is whether Christians possess the discernment to recognize this postmodern mode of spirituality for what it is — unbelief wearing the language of a bland faith.’
Mohler’s observation that, “Chris Mooney might be on to something here. The American public just might be confused enough to fall for this spirituality ploy. Will Christians do the same?” (Albert Mohler) demonstrates that there is a significant influence being place upon historic perspectives of spirituality that is having an impact upon beliefs and practice, but also on organizational behavior inside and outside the church.
What is apparent is that there is cultural change that is influencing not only what is thought, but also how thoughts and ideas are influencing what is believed. Only time will tell what comes of these current developments in American culture and how it will influence not only culture, but also the spiritual lives of the people of this generation and the generations to come.
- The downfall of Richard Dawkins’ credibility (circleh.wordpress.com)
- Matthew Chapman: The Atheist in the Closet (huffingtonpost.com)
- Everyone Has Got A Spiritual Life (christianlifehacker.wordpress.com)
- Belonging and Believing (stephenlbaxter.wordpress.com)
- Christianity After Religion — A Review (bobcornwall.com)
- Reflections on God 7: Current Beliefs (jaydei.wordpress.com)
- I had a better impression of Canadians before I read that tripe (freethoughtblogs.com)
- Why I am an atheist – Quinn Mander (freethoughtblogs.com)
- Spiritual but not religious (intrepidreport.com)
- You want evidence that religion is bad for the species? OPEN YOUR EYES. (freethoughtblogs.com)
- Atheism: Richard Dawkins’ Beliefs (brighthub.com)
- Spiritual Life of An Atheist: Both Thumbs Up for “Religion for Atheists” (sannejohnson.wordpress.com)
- “In the beginning there was God…” (awaywithworlds.wordpress.com)
- ATHEISM IS FALSE Richard Dawkins And The Improbability Of God Delusion e-book (qeabbmbe.typepad.com)
- The Dawkins Challenge (thecatholicthing.org)
- The God Delusion author Richard Dawkins to write his memoirs (telegraph.co.uk)
- Richard Dawkins and Dan Barker Have Done the Church a Favor – Ray Comfort – On The Box (richarddawkins.net)
- Militant Atheism II – Atheist Critique (lifeofafemalebiblewarrior.wordpress.com)
- America’s Spiritual Crisis (pilgrimpassing.com)
- Pell vs. Dawkins (unlearningtheproblem.wordpress.com)
- Religion and Atheism on Q&A (stumbledownunder.com)
- Archbishop of Canterbury: Goodbye to all that… (standard.co.uk)
- How the presence and quality of fathers affects belief in God (winteryknight.wordpress.com)