One Size Fits All Spirituality

One Size Fits All Spirituality August 15, 2018

This is yet another one of those blog posts that has been more than two years in the making, as I have continuously pasted in links, but failed to ever find or make the time to fully elaborate the germ of an idea that led to the creation of the draft post in the first place. As someone who has been involved in a number of different religious communities in different traditions, and who enjoys not only playing and listening to different genres of music, but also participating in worship that features those different musical styles, I can appreciate everything from contemporary Christian music with electric guitars and drums, to choral singing and organ in a cathedral. As an introvert, I can appreciate the kind of service in which most of the focus is on others doing things in a professional or semi-professional capacity. As an educator, I know the value of getting everyone engaged to the extent possible. And in all of those capacities, I appreciated many of the humorous postings (such as the video below) that poke fun at customized religious services, but in a way that might just also merit some serious discussion.

But let me start with the College Humor video that I think got this started. Then I’ll share some other links to posts related to this topic. Make sure you read all the way to the end of the post for the cartoon that awaits you there!

Local Church Offers ‘Introvert Service’ Where Nobody Has To Talk To Anyone Else

Can I Say This At Church podcast on “A Flexible Faith”

Richard Beck on Tribes and Community

Adam Palmer: How Liturgy Saved My Faith

Pete Enns on the importance of ritual.

Preaching Apocrypha: Postscript

The mainline Christian Century imagined Christians and churches, like starlings, organizing themselves and working collectively without the need for an appointed leader. The conservative Evangelical Christianity Today had a piece on why it is nearly impossible to be a scholar-pastor.

“Is Eclectic Christianity an Oxymoron?”

Jonathan Bernier on Lonergan and space

“Atheists are Sometimes More Religious Than Christians”

Jim Spinti wrote about how one size fits all – except when it doesn’t. Karen Johnson wrote about the different racial experiences of American Catholics.

Open up a new world of honesty, authenticity, and an appreciation…

Sermon-less Church: A Thought Experiment

The Non-Denominational Reformation

Why social media is not a substitute for church.

Two Patheos blogs debated whether offering worship services in multiple styles is a good or bad thing.

Seven Things I Wish All Pastors Knew About Academics—Part 2

I Wish Pastors Knew … Part 2 (RJS)

The Cookie Cutter Church Challenge

Totally Tongue-in-Cheek but Hopefully Enlightening

My Feeble Attempts at Satire Miss the Mark

Different Faiths, Same Religion

Evangelizing the Nones

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  • Phil Ledgerwood

    I definitely have mixed feelings about this.

    On the one hand, I love experiments and adaptation. I know the value of finding a ritual manifestation that enables you to fully express and experience what you want to express and experience. I know the value of learning to love and serve in environments that don’t fit you as well. Even the Torah changes to fit the changing circumstances of Israel, and there’s no reason Christian expressions of faith and faithfulness should not do the same. In addition, the varying manifestations are a testimony to the fact that all of us are really trying to make sense of our experience with God (even atheists, apparently, according to one of the articles above), and different facets of that will be significant to different people.

    On the other hand, the exaltation of the individual is something that has deep roots in American values but is largely absent from the cultures that produced the biblical writings. This isn’t in principle a problem – from the early church fathers forward Christians have worked through how ancient Jewish writings are relevant to their own context. But in practice, it has certainly turned out to be a problem. Seeing the Bible as a handbook for how an individual gets to heaven doesn’t just “miss out” on significant truths the biblical writings communicate; it weaponizes them. We no longer think of the biblical writings as a people’s experience with their God and their thoughts and interpretations of that, but rather they are an infallible instruction manual for life, outside of which there is no way to get to heaven when you die. We “walk through the garden alone” but have all but lost the sense in America that God is a collective experience with not just us, but our neighbors, and as the articles above demonstrate and Jesus alluded to, we come to realize the category of “neighbor” may be broader than we imagined – certainly broader than just ourselves, at any rate.

    • John MacDonald

      As a secular person, I think it’s important to learn about Jesus because he was one of the most (I would argue the most) influential people who ever lived. I’m learning slowly but surely. We’re just lucky such a large portion of humanity didn’t choose someone terrible as their model.

      • Lao-Tzu, Gautama Buddha, or Rishabhanatha, would have been better choices. Jesus gave us 2000 years of hell.

        • The Mouse Avenger

          Excuse me, but I have to agree with Mr. McDonald… 🙁

          • Fine with me. I just prefer the gurus who didn’t create a religion with a hell.

    • The article titled “Atheists Are Sometimes More Religious Than Christians” demonstrates nothing of the sort. It extrapolates from the Pew findings to claim that “nones” are more religious (by virtue of some of their survey answers) than Christians in “several European Countries”. Two problems with this generalization: the first is that Christians in “several European Countries” clearly don’t represent Christians in general, and the second is that the “nones” do not represent atheists. Only a minority percentage of the nones are self-described atheists.

      It is true that there has been a growth in “atheist churches” (though the article ignores the fact many of these started in Europe, not America), but “atheist churches” are building humanist communities; they are certainly not, as you say, “trying to make sense of our experience with God”.

      • Phil Ledgerwood

        I was being tongue in cheek.

        • Yeah, I figured. My main problem is with the article itself, which makes generalizations that are not supported by the data. When I said the article “demonstrates nothing of the sort”, I meant that it does not demonstrate what the title of the article states.

          I appreciate other points in your comment, but I’m not sure how they draw together. Are you saying that American individualism is leading us to lose the collective experience that churches are meant to provide? Roger Olson’s articles seem to argue the opposite: that churches teachings have become so amorphous, you can’t tell the difference between them anymore. He’d like the differences spelled out somewhere.

          Like you (I think), I appreciate a bit of ecumenism,

          even with atheists ;^)

          • Phil Ledgerwood

            I definitely appreciate ecumenism, even with atheists!

            No, my point about individualism is more about how the exaltation of the individual can (and at least for American evangelicalism, I would say -has-) resulted in views of biblical writings that by nature of the case become insular and combative.

            If the biblical writings are a multivocal, contigently historical testimony to how a large group of people understood God and their journey with Him over time and hopes for the future, then there’s certainly room for ecumenism. There’s also room for disagreement, debate, or contradiction while still recognizing that “we’re all in this together.”

            But if the biblical writings are a unified, transhistorical, instruction book about how an individual goes to heaven as opposed to hell when they die, then I think the dynamics change significantly. Now, the stakes are very high and so is the amount of non-negotiables. The focus is on me, my life, and my destiny, and if you believe exactly like I do, then we’re in this together in some sense, but if you don’t, we’re hopelessly separated. I think you can see this play out in the sheer number of American evangelical denominations.

            I’m not trying to reduce everything to this factor, but what I was trying to get across is that I think some of the ills and anti-social behaviors that plague American evangelicalism come from a spirituality that is very me-centric. I mean, God’s whole raison d’etre in that scheme revolves around me. So, there’s my tension – on the one hand, I like the idea of a wide diversity of worship experiences, expressions, etc. to reflect the different ways people connect with this aspect of their lives, but I’m also concerned that we may be aggravating that highly individualistic impulse. In most American evangelical churches, you could probably install dividers between every seat and everyone would be perfectly happy with that.

          • Sounds like a reasonable diagnosis of the sort of white evangelicals that voted for Trump. Though I’m not a Jesus follower myself, I don’t understand those who think they’re following Jesus by toting guns, rejecting immigrants, and tearing down public education and healthcare.

          • Phil Ledgerwood

            Right? Such a thing seems like it could only make sense to someone to whom the Bible was about personal afterlife salvation and not much else.

          • . . . and you can italicize “personal”. Nobody else’s salvation (in this life or after) seems to matter in this worldview.

    • The Mouse Avenger

      On the one hand, I love experiments and adaptation. I know the value of finding a ritual manifestation that enables you to fully express and experience what you want to express and experience. I know the value of learning to love and serve in environments that don’t fit you as well.

      This may be a rather odd comparison to make, but this exactly reminds me of how–wait for it–Jim Jones would join different churches, before he ended up forming the Peoples Temple.

  • John MacDonald

    I went to a special education seminar once and we were grouped according to our aptitudes/preferences to solve a problem (e.g., linguistic, logical mathematic, bodily kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, etc). I was grouped with the intrapersonal people. Suffice it to say we didn’t have a very lively discussion, lol.