A couple of days ago, I came across an article on the Church & Postmodern Culture site by Chad Lakies. His basic argument is that “therapeutic religion” has become the norm not just within evangelicalism, but within religion in general. After I read it, I really didn’t get it, so I posed the following question to the author:
I’m confused as to what the problem is with “therapeutic religion”?
Not long after that, Tony Jones reposted the article on his blog. Many people seemed to share my confusion in the comments section on Tony’s blog.
If religion isn’t therapeutic, I don’t see the point in it. A healthier person creates a healthier community.
Mike Horn concurred:
Transformed people transform communities
Dan Hauge asked:
how do we expect to actually sustain and do all these important justice-y things if we neglect our own emotional and spiritual well-being?
And, my friend Matt Moorman added:
It has been my experience that a good therapist will “comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” (Where have we heard that before?) The point, of course, is neither comfort nor distress, but HEALTH and WHOLENESS.
There were a few other really helpful comments (go check em out!).
Recently, I’ve been writing a series on Sustainable Christianity, and, in response to a lot of this, I wrote the following:
I’m sorry if your version of Christianity requires you to throw individuals under the bus, “for the greater good.” More and more of us are saying, “Umm, no thanks.” The great thing is, no one has a monopoly on Christianity.
It’s just not good news. To me. Or to a lot of other people.
I’d still like to know what Tony thinks about all of this. But, on my way home from work yesterday, I listened to Doug Pagitt’s interview with David Hayward (which is definitely worth a listen!) in which they touched on this topic as well. In clarifying what David means by “help yourself,” at his online community The Lasting Supper, he said: “I believe in spiritual independence – even though we’re interdependent – that is, responsible for ourselves, for our own spirituality… I think the healthiest, best relationships are when each partner is healthy independently. That makes for the best community, when each person is healthy independently.”
I can’t remember where, but I remember Diana Butler Bass talking about how she sees the rise of spirituality being a positive thing, because it means that people are taking ownership of their own spiritual development. I’ve seen the positive benefits of independence balanced with interdependence in my own marriage of 14 years, and in many other relationships. But, sadly, in most of my experiences with churches, I’ve seen the opposite (which I think goes back to the kind of “gospel” or “message” that is being advocated).
So, here are some more questions this has raised for me:
Why is this idea of “therapeutic religion” so scary to so many people? Why is “spiritual independence” so often equated with narcissism, selfishness, individualism, etc.? Is an allergy to spiritual independence actually a symptom of a much deeper problem with the individual or group who opposes it? Is this balance one of the defining marks of a more enduring approach to Christian spirituality, or religion in general?
What do you think?