The New Church--After Religion

What Hans Christian Von Baeyer once said of science (Discover, March 1996) should also be applied to the church and spirituality: "Science, in other words, thrives on anomaly, inconsistency, controversy, and doubt. Certainty kills it."

Whereas certainty comes from the mind, doubt comes from the body: an experience leaves the question, What has happened? Who am I, now that this instance, this thing, has occurred? Certainty says, This is so because X is Y. It is an answer. And the answers which the old church is leaving us are proving unsatisfactory.

Perhaps the New Church should be like a ship at sea, not at port. The existing church sits at dry dock, getting its repairs done and reviewing its rules and regs: No homosexuality. Belief in transubstantiation (or not). Belief in infant baptism (or adult). The rules for Christ's divinity--all the stuff that has been worked out in creeds and so forth. The ship is painted with the colors of burdensome connotations: judgmentalism, bias, hatred, political activism (of the wrong sort).

However it is the ship out at sea that will be the one that will prevail. It sails along in a fog of knowing/not-knowing. The captain is unsure of his compass and maps--indeed he does not even use these as he thinks them not so useful or liable to lead him to places he does not wish to go. The sailors on-board appear a bit wobbly-legged. The mists are so pervasive that one cannot always see clearly ahead, and that is fine. This church is used to sailing through murky waters, this church is used to not-knowing. Its cargo is still somewhat overladen: perhaps too mystical, too tolerant of every and all beliefs to the detriment of core belief systems. But it sails. It reaches for far distant places. And it is a glad ship, a happy ship. No dour faces here.

Our existing church is bound by literalism and rules. As Diana Butler Bass writes in "Christianity After Religion": it categorized, organized, objectified, and divided people into exclusive worlds of right versus wrong, true versus false, "us" versus "them." She quotes William Cantwell Smith as he explained that today's church is "something whose locus is in the realm of the intelligible." God is not in the realm of the intelligible. His knowing-ness is like the ocean, like a mist we sail through. We cannot know it. But we pretend; we pretend to know this and that truth, that God wants us this way, not that way. But it is just a pretense.

Language is never literal, but we say we want only literal belief in the Bible. How can that be? God has given us a misty way of knowing and communicating: language. I suspect that is the only way we can know Him: through an emotional, felt connection through poetry, and the other arts. Through shared moments.Through the Question not the Answer. If the New Church is to foster openness and spirituality, then it has to come to grips with The Question vs The Answer, Poetry versus Literalism.

It seems the Church as it is now constituted is more or less dancing to the same tune of Dogma. It selects the answer it wants, then proposes what hermeneutics are necessary to get there. Every generation is different than the preceding one. Each has to grapple with its own question of, Who are we? As we get further away from the generations of our forefathers, we are like a stretched band of gum. It gets pulled thinner and thinner. It eventually breaks. The Millennials are that generation that has broken from religion. They haven't broken from spirituality (and if humanity is spiritual in its make-up, then how could they?) but they are no longer seeing meaning in dogma. Answers are like that: they have no mystery in them. Nothing to hold the attention. I wonder if the old Church to them seems like a dusty mathematics tome. Full of answers, and signifying nothing.

The Millennial generation thinks nothing of quitting a job then starting anew. No company men here. This puts them into situations that are constantly shifting. The Question always looms large for them. Bass notes that the old way of religion was Belief. Belief is of the mind, not the body in experiencing connectedness and emotion. Belief is an answer. What we need in churches is experience of the spirit. We need the question.

Bass sees the new church as necessarily being “more open and inclusive, with greater flexibility in gender roles, a quest for liberation and social equality, a marked liberalism in attitudes regarding sexuality, increased religious diversity, commitment to a wide range of spiritual practices, and acceptance of difference."  

There will be a backlash, much like there was after Carter, when the Reagan revolution took fear and loathing to new heights (the City on a Hill). We saw this first with Robertson, Falwell, et al, but we also now see it with the Tea Party [cf Bass, Christianity After Religion]. In a very real sense it is the Christian Church in its floundering, last gasping, thrashing ways that is keeping the Awakening from its course, keeping the Spirit from its work. There will be no stopping it, but the old Church will try; and it will fail, with the senescence of its members, with the boredom of its congregation, with the flight of youth. The new Awakening will be cast as demonic, the work of the Devil, if it is recognized at all by the Old Light churches. As Bass writes, “The New Lights of the old awakenings have become the Old Lights of the new one.”

The new, romantic, church will be concerned with the future of the world. Not the future of America. The New Light Awakening will not see boundaries on a map. People the world over need the Spirit. It will be concerned for the children of the next generation and so a Greening will occur in the Awakening. Climate Change will be uppermost in discussions. Alternative power will be the focus for churches: the churches of tomorrow will be run by solar and wind. There may be churches who specialize, some on ocean pollution or over-fishing; some on fracking and the dangers of polluting carbon sources; there will be human rights churches, and churches for the poor and disabled. There will be a lot of these, as the need will be great. There will be rain forest churches and churches for the indigenous. There may even be churches devoted to the rich...not to lobby for their influence and money, but to pray that they find the Spirit for they are far from turning toward God. The New Light churches may also finally embrace agnosticism, those who live in the gray band of not-knowing, of uncertain-ness. And of Zen, whose particular embracing of irrational un-literalism would be a heal-all to the churches of today.

The New Lights will be formed by men and women of Quality (cf Pirsig), of Spirit. They will see the old pass away and they will sense the new. They, for a while, will exist in a floating, non-choosing Way. A Way that holds the old in a balance with the new. This new man/woman is said to be a Man without Qualities (cf Musil), since he has left the old behind, and the new Way has yet to be codified and creed-ified. This Man/Woman will come from the younger generations; the old are inflexible and stiff, resistant to change. He/She will likely come from outside the church tradition. May well come from social liberation circles where there is an emphasis on equality and fairness. She (my bet is that it will be a she) will be low-born, not of the wealthy; or if from the wealthy then she will renounce it utterly. She will be something like the recent Pope Francis, I imagine; though without the baggage of the old church to surround her. She will form the new Way; the Old Lights will denounce her; and the New Church will rise again, just as it did in the 1790s, 1820s, and in the 1870s.

"We will never understand anything until we have found some contradictions." Niels Bohr

"Sufism is the religion of the heart, the religion in which the most important thing is to seek God in the heart of mankind."--Hazrat Khan

Mat 16: 6 “Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”

Jesus does not call men to a new religion, but to life.--Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Bass, Diana; Christianity after religion--The end of church and the birth of a new spiritual awakening; HarperOne. Bro. David Steindl-Rast


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