The Steve Jobs of Religion

The Steve Jobs of Religion December 14, 2011

Each week, it seems there is some new article that gets repeatedly shared in my Facebook feed.  This week, it was this Op Ed piece in the NY Times by Eric Weiner.  In it, he describes himself as one of the “Nones” – those with no religious affiliation, neither a “True Believer” nor an “Angry Atheist”.  His piece closes with the plea, “We need a Steve Jobs of religion. Someone (or ones) who can invent not a new religion but, rather, a new way of being religious.”

That last bit created a flurry of online thumbs ups from my friends.  Comments alternated between asking where is this Steve Jobs of religion, to claiming to be him.  I did a little of that myself.  As a pastor whose True Believer friends suspect him of being an Angry Atheist, and whose Angry Atheist friends suspect him of being a True Believer, let me offer a few observations:

The institutional church will never be Apple. It tends to value and produce replicas, not originals.  If the institutional church attempts to be Steve Jobs and create a church for Nones, it will more likely resemble a Zune than an iPod.  Need I say more?

The Steve Jobs of religion will not be a product of the traditional church. He will not offer the church equivalent of an Apple-Store-in-a-box distributed through a denominational publishing house.  Nor will he or she be a former Evangelical who writes the 500th book about how they one day discovered that Jesus talked about feeding the poor.  He will be an indigenous None and his new way of being religious may not fit into any model that is recognizably Christian, so …

The Steve Jobs of religion may produce a way of being religious that is not Christianity. I once bought into the idea that if only the Nones, (the people formerly known as SBNR’s, and formerly known before that as Seekers, and before that affectionately referred to as Heathens) could be exposed to a more liberal compassionate and rational Christianity, they would happily sign up.  Experience has taught me that this is not necessarily true.  The religion or God they seek may or may not have anything in common with how Christians understand God in Christ.  In other words, we Christians may get all excited about the emergence of Nones, but in the end, they just may want nothing to do with us.

Many churches yearn to become the kind of place Weiner describes in his piece, an unencumbered interactive “religious space that celebrates doubt, encourages experimentation and allows one to utter the word God without embarrassment.” Some of us have been creating such spaces for quite a while. Has it resonated with the Nones? Or just with nobody? I would like to hear about your real world experiences, both as churches and as Nones.

Have our attempts to be a Steve Jobs of religion resulted in iPads, or Newtons?


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