Religion 2.0

Religion 2.0 May 30, 2012

Michael Dowd posted on what he calls the “New Theism” (as well as mentioning other terms). I’m not sure that I find that particular label “New Theism” helpful, since “theism” is often associated with precisely what Dowd rejects, the idea of a personal or anthropomorphic deity.

I appreciate his comparison of the movement he is trying to spearhead with those strands of Judaism which still find religious language useful, but do not treat its depictions of an anthropomorphic deity as either literally factual or binding. I’ve long suggested that there is a need for a comparable movement within contemporary Christianity, as there have been proposals along these lines in the past, but none seem to have fully gripped the imagination of significant numbers of Christians.

Dowd  suggests the following as the “creed” of the new movement: “Reality is our God, evidence is our scripture, and integrity is our religion.

I’ve blogged about that creed and a previous commentary on it before. It seems to me that, especially as “Reality” is arguably synonymous with “Being,” anyone who embraces Paul Tillich’s approach to Christian theology and religious language will probably find Dowd’s way of putting things compatible with their approach.

I invite readers to share their thoughts and comments on this approach to religion. Is it where you think religion in general is heading? Is it where your own religious path is leading? Is it an approach which you find helpful or problematic, even if it isn’t one you personally embrace?

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  • Gary

    So, “Reality is our God, evidence is our scripture, and integrity is our religion”…If he adds the spirit of God is found within each of us, he’d have gnosticism per the Gospel of Thomas? “Those who seek should not stop seeking until they find”…rather good advice, I lean toward the gnostic. My only big question, “if reality is our God”, does 12 dimensions and almost infinite number of universes fit in our reality? Or is that the end goal for New 

  • As a non-believer, who reads this blog for the sci-fi, occasional historical scholarly commentary,  and humorous cartoons, I find this an interesting concept.  I’d be interested to know what the proponents of this creed see as the difference between it and humanism.

    • Pseudonym

       SelfAwarePatterns, it would be reasonable to see this as a subset of humanism, much like the authors and signers of Humanism Manifesto I.

      My inner lay theologian wants to jokingly call this Eternal Humanism to distinguish it from Secular Humanism, but thankfully my etymologist overrode the urge.

  • Claude

    Kind of lacks the grandeur of the Nicene Creed.

  • Dan

    Takes panentheism to mean pantheism as suggested above. His writing simply fails to make an impact. It is not science, it is not theology, it is barely philosophy. It just feels like he tries to hard to make the combo work. 

    To quote him, ”
    Since April 2002, my science-writer wife… and I have traveled North America virtually non-stop.” Why? why has he travelled North America non-stop? IS it because he is trying to sell a product? To me it seems like he is, and unfortunately not many people are buying. There is no need tA new breed of theist is emerging in nearly every denomination and religion across the globe,o amalgamate evolution with Christianity the way he does, he is no Sagan or DeGrase. At least they have the credentials to back up their work.
    Another quote ”
    We also maintain that religion must accommodate to science, not vice versa.” This piece I will give my No Shit Sherlock! Prize for stating the obvious and making a big deal of it. Even St Agustine said that should be the case. Which goes to show he is not very well read in theology or even church history.
    Ultimately, he is making a big deal about nothing. He has no data that support his view that ”
    A new breed of theist is emerging in nearly every denomination and religion across the globe,” Where is his evidence? where is the census? He doesn’t have it because it is not there. There is another form of Rev that does what he does, the inerrant preacher. The professional preacher that makes his living going from town to town speaking in church meetings and getting the money from the collection plate. He obviously has lost his faith in the Christian God but wants to earn his living the same way still. For this reason he is a sort of agnostic Benny Hinn, all talk, all show, no substance, no learning, just after the money.

    • Michael Dowd

      Dan, your critical tone is unwarranted. You know nothing about me. I am hardly doing this “for the money”…

      For 10 years my wife, Connie Barlow, a noted science writer, and I have been effectively homeless, and we give away more than we sell.

      We permanently travel North America (we don’t have an RV, we live with people in their homes as we travel in “Angel”, our Dodge Sprinter).

      We speak to groups of all sizes, ages, and backgrounds, sharing the science-based history of physical, biological, and cultural evolution in the most inspiring and empowering ways that we know how. To say it in religious terms, I show people how our best evidential understanding of the history of everyone and everything (what 98% of the scientists of the world would agree with) can be understood and experienced in deeply inspiring, soul-nourishing, personally and relationally empowering ways.

      We offer our programs free of charge. Many groups give us a small honorarium but we don’t require or request it. The main way we have supported ourselves for this past decade is by selling our books and DVDs at the back of the room after our talks, with a self-serve table. We trust people to make their own change and not walk off with stuff; but of course some do—and that’s okay with us).

      We not only give people the right to freely burn as many copies of our DVDs as they’d like, but our policy has always been (and I say this at the end of virtually all my sermons and seminars): “If you can’t afford to buy one of our books or DVDs and you really want it, just take it, or pay whatever you can. We just want to get the word out.” Not surprisingly, quite a few people take me up on this offer (especially in a time of economic recession).

      For the first five years of our traveling ministry we even took IOUs! We only stopped this practice after we had more than $7,000 in outstanding unpaid IOUs. (That’s also, not coincidentally, when we started taking credit card payments.) 

      When my book, Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World, first came out, with Council Oak Books, the publisher generously allowed me to make a PDF of the entire book freely available online. More than 3,200 people downloaded it for free. Understandably, however, when a big New York publisher (VIking/Plume: Penguin), bought the rights they would not allow me to continue giving the entire book away—only the first two chapters. (At last count I’m told it has sold nearly 80,000 copies, so it seems I’m making at least a little difference, with some.)

      Our Great Story website is the leading education site in the movement. We don’t charge for any of it. Check out the wonderful stuff we have for kids, families, and teachers, and for ministers and worship leaders:

      Connie has spent literally ten of thousands of hours creating all this and we give it all away free of charge because, well, that’s what we feel called to do.

      I teach and preach what I call “the gospel according to science” because (to use traditional religious language) I love Reality with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength—and because I love the entire body of life as my ‘Self’.

      This, combined with living day-to-day “in Christ”—that is, in integrity—(i.e., having no secrets, no resentments, and no unfinished business), is why I don’t have to wait and die in order to fully experience heaven.

      I wish the same for you and your loved ones.


      ~ Michael

      PS. I just delivered a TEDx talk in Grand Rapids that will be posed online soon. Also, I invite you to read my HuffPost blog: I think you may realize that you have me pegged inaccurately.

  • I definitely appreciate the effort at seeking a sort of spiritual common ground that can be affirmed by lots of people from various faith traditions.  I think the short version of the creed is workable in that way, but his longer explanation shuts out a whole lot of people (like me) who have given up on Modernism.

  • spinkham

    I think postmodern Christianity in general, and Peter Rollins in particular, has made the best use of the Christian stories.

    They are ideas I’m glad to have encountered, and I hope his way of being Christian takes off,  but secular humanism is still a better identity fit for me at the moment. 

  • Michael Wilson

    I agree with his sentiment, I don’t think it is very new. The diffence between his position and normal theism is the notion that God, or in his case Reality, acts with human motive. Its that anthropomorphism that we have been scaling back from our notions of natural agency in general. It becomes religion whenm he thincs their is some sort of intrisic value to reality or integrity. Their is no secular reason to give a shit about integrity or reality.

  • Pseudonym

    For some reason, my first thought on reading this is that 2.0 is an absurdly low version number. I think it’s at least 4.0.

    Religion 1.0 would be the days when “religion”, “art”, “medicine” and “culture” were not distinct concepts.

    Religion 2.0 would be the state religion, when religion was made into part of the identity and organisation of a nation or ethnic group. This was enabled by the rise of the city-state.

    Religion 3.0 is the stateless religion, which Buddhism did first, but Christianity was the first to be designed for.

    Religion 4.0 is postmodern religion as enabled by digital communication.

    I should also mention the significant point release around the time of the Reformation, Renaissance and Enlightenment.

    • Michael Dowd

      I like this, pseudonym, and think you are correct.

  • Tim

    It’s one thing to reject theism, that there is a personal god or gods. Fair enough. But to propose this “creed” as something that would be acceptable to Christian theists is so presumptuous, I’m speechless.

    It certainly is the creed of modernism, and I agree with Dr. McGrath that it isn’t really new, but I have a hard time even reading the ‘creed’ without deconstructing it.

    Better, it seems to me, to just be honest and begin a new religious movement instead of trying to graft such a creed on to Christianity. John Spong was right, Christianity must change or die, and it is certainly dying. Just start over instead of holding on to a sinking ship.

    • Tim, I do not expect it would be acceptable to Christian theists in the sense that led me to ask whether calling Dowd’s outlook the new theism is an apt label. But I suspect that many Christians who gravitate towards panentheist, process, and various other models of God may indeed find the language acceptable, maybe even attractive.

      I think you make starting a new religion sound easier than it is. Did Jesus start a new religion? Or did he offer his own vision of Judaism and a new religion resulted? The same question might be asked of any founders of new movements. I think that those who think they are offering a completely fresh start fail to realize just how much they owe to what they have inherited. And so the question always arises as to whether a new vision that emerges out of an existing tradition is best served by keeping an older label or rebranding itself. But either way, there is always both novelty and inheritance, I think.

  • Michael Dowd

    Thanks for this post, Jim!

    I invite commenters on this post (theists and atheists alike) to read the following essay carefully (rather than skimming it). It was written by Parker Whittle and is one of the best things I’ve read in years (truly!)…

    The God-shaped Hole: Whither Theology?


    ~ Michael