At Least God’s Not Dead

Jonathan Fitzgerald is one of my favorite bloggers. When you read his posts at Patrol, it’s like you can see him leaving evangelicalism before your very eyes. And now he’s written a book, Not Your Mother’s Morals: How the New Sincerity is Changing Pop Culture for the Better. I endorsed it, cuz it’s good. You should buy it, and read it. Just to give you a taste, here’s an excerpt:

I realized just how universal the whole “spiritual, but not religious” thing had become recently while helping a friend fill out a profile. When it came time define religion, all the old standards were there, but beneath those, the final option was “spiritual, but not religious.” We considered for a few minutes, and she ultimately decided to check the box. “I can work with that,” she joked.

Jonathan Fitzgerald

On the surface, this trend may seem to indicate that old Nietzsche was right—God is indeed dead, or at least dying. But that misses the real significance of this shift. These numbers don’t point to people giving up on belief; rather, they show people checking out of organized religion. Maybe this is still bad news for those of us who have not abandoned religious traditions, but, I mean, at least God’s not dead, right?

An unadvertised side effect of this trend away from organized religion is that the transmission of ethics and morality—which has long been the domain of the church—has fallen to other institutions. Here, popular culture has stepped in and become a prominent transmitter of morality, as well as a more liberated space to explore our ideas about all things spiritual outside the constraints of a dogmatic religion.

This would have horrified my youth pastors, but I actually think it’s good news.

From the sudden popularity of comic book-based movies, through the obsession with wizardry, vampires and the undead, to popular writing about the origins of the universe and the role of religious belief in scientific inquiry, God is showing up in every corner of popular culture. The rise of the “Nones,” along with the emphasis on authenticity, has created a space in all kinds of media to publicly consider and in many cases openly believe in God without fear of ridicule or rejection.

Buy Not Your Mother’s Morals at AmazonBarnes & NobleiBookstore, or Kobo.

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  • sheila

    Very Good , God will use whom he will to get the job done.. nothing shocks me with God.

  • Ric Shewell

    Didn’t Christian Smith’s research in “soul Searching” basically say that the category of “Spiritual but not religious” was almost nothing and certainly negligible?

    • Ric Shewell

      Maybe not negligible, but definitely tiny

  • Curtis

    “popular culture has stepped in and become a prominent transmitter of morality”

    I sorta see what you are saying. But when popular culture is grounded on individualism, morality begins to fall apart. Morality becomes “whatever I think is right” without any kind of requirement to find consensus with others, or to hammer out and live our morality as a group, as a community.

    Consider Christopher Dormer. He appears to be operating under some self-derived code of morality and justice. But He is clearly wrong. Some people in the blogosphere have even rallied to his defense, because he appears to be driven by motives of pure justice.

    Of course, this type of individual morality is sickening. Morality without some test of community and history is not morality at all. At best, it is a hunch, and nothing more.

    • BradC

      A popular misconception is that when you abandon the idea of a “universal absolute moral code” you head to individualistic relativism. Relativism is the condition we find ourselves in now that the modern ideas of universalism, absolutism, etc have been soundly refuted – but it is not individualistic. Because we agreed to the concept of rationalism – that any properly informed rational person can avail “truth” – we carried the concept of individualism into the post modern condition and assume that relativism is also an individualistic thing – it is not. Relativism is a communal thing –morality exists in the community. Morality is found in the agreements of a community – Christopher Dormer is still outside the agreement of the community.
      Don’t assume individualism anymore – assume communal. Morality is a community thing – notice how morality is adjusted as new agreements are formed in our culture.

      • Curtis

        “morality exists in the community”

        I fully agree with you. But I am skeptical that popular culture has the weight of force, in itself, needed to build the community necessary to arrive at morality.

        Moral relativism is not individualistic. But today, popular culture tends to be individualistic. Popular culture is not capable of becoming a voice for morality until it demonstrates some aspiration beyond individualism.

        • BradC

          The individual is a powerful force (no doubt) – especially the consumer, but morals don’t materialize until we form agreements. The individual is still powerless to determine morality by oneself, an individual must find agreement with others to develop ideas that work. For example – Marijuana. Many communities have determined that the use of marijuana is still “wrong” except for medical use, but the Individuals in the communities of Colorado and Washington have agreed that “recreational” use is “OK”. This is how morality is shaped – in the agreement of individuals not just a singular individual.
          When the agreements don’t work (example: Racial understanding) we form new agreements and the cultural morality changes – so much so some of the ideas embraced a few years ago would be considered morally “evil” today.

  • ME

    Are the “spiritual but not religious” generally not members of a spiritual community?

  • Pete

    Its $4 as well… Bargin…

  • Dan

    Relativism based in “community” is still relativism. It leads to tribal warfare, each community jostling for influence over the larger whole. Somebody will win, somebody will lose, one group will have “power” the other will be “marginalized”, berated as bigots, charged with hate crimes, denied employment opportunities. And that will be called progress…by some.

    • Curtis

      As a counter-point, consider the United States, founded on the principle, not of religious Truth, but of relative morality gained through community consensus. (for further discussion of this see my comment here).

      We’ve managed for 200 years to survive in some fashion as a nation. Sure, marginalization occurs to some degree. Sure, there is plenty of name-calling all around, and has been since the founding of the country.

      And politically speaking, the U. S. is definitely not a pretty sight. Does the American experiment represent progress? That can be debated. But considering that other regions of the world with similar cultural divisions to the U.S. are often either ravaged by war or ruled by autocratic dictators, we don’t have it too bad here.

      Is a country based on community-defined relativism progress? That can be debated. But considering the alternatives, it doesn’t seem too bad to me.

  • BradC

    “Relativism based in “community” is still relativism…Somebody will win, somebody will lose, one group will have “power” the other will be “marginalized”… And that will be called progress…by some.”

    Sure that is how agreements are formed. Not all leads to war and fighting – many examples of diverse communities that work together in harmony. Relativism is the condition we are in and sometimes others don’t find agreement and this leads to conflict…sometimes severe. I understand that most Christians have been taught to avoid relativistic understanding, but it is clear that absolutism is over – it doesn’t work anymore. Jonathan’s suggestion is a perfect example that what we call morals are shaped by thinking, art, life, popular culture, etc shaped by agreements – not some absolute standard that exists.

  • Richard

    “Only the suffering God can help” right? The god that allows himself to be pushed out to the margins so that he can fill everything?

  • I don’t really see a problem with people dropping out of organized religions if they still believe in God, but not the organizations, in the end the important thing is to be with God and follow him and his teachings.