It happened in Europe after World War I. The continent was in shambles. The Western world faced depression. The people remembered: in France, Italy, Germany, and England, the troops all went to war with the blessing of clergy and the nationalistic belief: God is on our side! But in the destruction, death, and rubble that resulted from the war, who could believe that God was on anyone’s side?
It happened in the United States much later. The pastor of a small Baptist church in rural Virginia hosted a radio show that regularly featured segregationists like Lester Maddox and George Wallace. In time, the pastor told his radio flock that they needed to organize and stop the country from heading down the road to tolerance. He claimed that true believers had a moral responsibility to take back the government from secularists. Out of the fires of racism Jerry Falwell’s so-called moral majority was born. This was the beginning of fifty years of conservative religious political activism in the United States. As a result, fair minded people cringe at the words, “Evangelical Christian” and associate a religion based on love with hateful bigotry.
Over the last century, the religions of the West have been torn apart by strife, discord, and division. Daily news reports recount wars between Shiite and Sunni Muslims while Jews are divided among themselves on issues of Jewish identity, and Christians fight among themselves over political and social issues. These divisions all seem to be based on differences of creeds, beliefs, and dogma. While the conclusion is simplistic, the common view of religion in the West is that in the name of differences in dogma people have killed each other for centuries.
In her book, The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why, Phyllis Tickle explores the transition that’s occurring from religion as we know it to something far different than we can imagine. Such transitions have happened before in history. According to Tickle, they’ve happened in Western culture about every 500 years.
But what is this new kind of religion that’s emerging? Could it be that more and more people are less concerned about dogma, creeds, and beliefs and more focused on values?
Recently, I posed a question on my Facebook page about attraction to a spiritual community based on values rather than a creed or dogma. The question asked, “What would you think about a spiritual community gathered around core values, like mutual respect for all people, care for the environment, and dedication to personal growth?” I received several thoughtful responses from Facebook “Friends” who attend no church and do not consider themselves religious. Among the comments were these:
I was contemplating the exact sentiment just several weeks ago. Imagine, a religion based on a dedication to kindness, respect, and a commitment to one another and our natural environment.
Let’s check the dogmas at the door. No faith statements required; belief in miracles optional. All are welcome. Let’s do some good!
It seems to me that there are a lot of folks searching for this exact sort of spiritual fulfillment, and that it manifests sporadically in the fringes of American society (i.e. Burning Man, the Radical Faeries, various Pagan groups). I just wonder, with so few people finding what they need in traditional organized religion, and with so many seemingly wanting to connect in a more fundamental way, why such “movements” are still so relegated to the fringes.
I believe that Tickle’s thesis is correct: something new is emerging. Religion as we know it is dying. The weight of religious institutions holding onto dogma and attitudes out of sync with the world we know in the 21st Century is crushing the kinds of religious bodies that we have known. Yet, the commitment to spiritual practice, community, and the environment is growing. Are these the seeds from which something new can sprout? Are we ready to try something new? Can it happen somewhere other than on the fringes of society?
While I’m excited for the future, the road from where we are to where we someday will be is sure to be long and bumpy. But I wonder: what could it be like? Perhaps like my friends on Facebook you, too, have some thoughts to share.
© 2011, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.