Exploration of the possibilities What could happen if the "nones" shift their focus from trying to fix a dying empire toward discovering what can be possible as pioneers blazing a new trail?
The Christian media empire, the institutional church, and faith-based progressive political organizations continue to promote false spiritual buzzworthy slogans such as “if you build a better church they will come,” “we’re on the cusp of a new kind of Christianity,” or “if you follow my way of being, you will receive spiritual enlightenment, sacred sexual ecstasy, and other beloved blessings.”
Note to self: Whenever you see someone grooving to the latest spiritual buzz coming from their favorite Christian celebrity (or other spiritual guru), don’t engage. They’re so consumed with mouthing the latest holy hispterisms that they cannot realize this spiritual buzz is more BS than believable.
Such progressive phrases seemed cutting edge when I started writing for the religious satire magazine The Wittenburg Door in 1994. By 2008, when The Door first closed, this talk of a/theism, godless Christianity, and other missional marketing memes was starting to sound out of tune.
Now it’s at the point where those still pushing their holy hipster branded platforms sound like those aging one-hit wonders playing the same old song to an ever-graying audience.
I get this pull toward that which is the familiar. We like to feel comfy, especially during times of turmoil. Yet we need to remain mindful of that fine line when seeking out those voices that give us comfort so that we do not become mindless worshippers of their spiritual buzz.
The only way I can refrain from losing what’s left of my mind these days is to read the news instead of listening or watching whatever the corporatized media wishes to feed me. Even then, I have to carefully curate my RSS feed and newsletters so that I can be informed without becoming inundated.
For those who think I’m addressing primarily conservative evangelicals, I see this as a bipartisan issue. Sorry to be a party pooper, but these days the progressive church (and those who market to this crowd) sound increasingly like the Democratic Party.
In my post at Religion Dispatches analyzing the 2021 National Prayer Breakfast, I observed how President Biden’s endorsement by progressive faith leaders, coupled with the rise of organizations like Evangelicals for Biden and The New Moral Majority, point to the continued infusion of faith and politics within the Biden administration, albeit in a somewhat kinder, gentler manifestation.
But make no mistake, this seemingly progressive display of American Christianity remains connected at its core to advancing The Family’s version of the faith to the exclusion of other faith traditions, as well as those who profess to follow no particular religion.
In the end, both pastors and politicians appear to be overly concerned with saying the right things though they walk bow-legged biblically speaking. More importantly, they’re tone-deaf to what’s happening outside the institutional walls. In my opinion, that’s where the real change seems to be happening.
While researching my Gaslighting for God series on the Wittenburg Door’s substack, author and pastor Deborah Loyd introduced me to Margaret Wheatley’s book Who Do We Choose to Be? In this book, Wheatley explores the work of Sir John Glubb, who studied thirteen empires from Assyria in 859 BCE to modern Britain in 1950. His research documented how these empires declined in the same stages, and it always took ten generations, about 250 years. He defined the trajectory of civilization cycles as beginning with the age of pioneers, then following with the ages of conquest, commerce, affluence, and intellect. This cycle concludes with the age of decadence before picking up again with another age of pioneers.
According to Wheatley’s research, we’re in the age of decadence, which she sums up as follows:
Frivolity, aestheticism, hedonism, cynicism, pessimism, narcissism, consumerism, materialism, nihilism, fatalism, fanaticism, and other negative behaviors and attitudes suffuse the population. Politics is increasingly corrupt, life increasingly unjust. A cabal of insiders accrues wealth and power at the expense of the citizenry, fostering a fatal opposition of interests between haves and have nots. The majority lives for bread and circuses: worships celebrities instead of divinities … throws off social and moral restraints, especially on sexuality; shirks duties but insists on entitlements.
In Wheatley’s analysis, human rights, social justice, gender equality, education, and healthcare benefits all surge ahead during this last stage of collapse as leaders create the welfare state. The leaders, acting as If they’ll always be in power with unlimited resources, are hugely beneficent in offering a progressive society to all.
Upon further examination, we see these efforts becoming commercialized and commodified by those self-appointed thought leaders. They promoted a new way of being that attracted those looking for change. In the end, they chose to promote their platform instead.
How do we stop wallowing in a world chock-full of commercialized crapola?
I for one can’t take much more of this current spiritual spin cycle that’s now spinning out of control. Loyd reminds me that as I lament what’s been lost and grieve for that which I cannot control, I need to shift my focus toward the future. “Wheatley’s diagnostic is sobering at best and terrifying at worst, unless, that is, we are engaging in strategic thought for the future,” she opines.
I try to find some comfort in Wheatley’s observation that we’re also at the beginning of a new civilization cycle that Glubb labels “the pioneers.” These fearless souls seek new alternatives of living ethically outside of the bounds of institutionalized religious systems.
Sounds to me like this definition applies to the “nones”—those religiously unaffiilated individuals whose numbers have now grown to the point that they now the biggest religious group in America today.
Freed from the shackles of institutionalized religion, they can be free to explore with others what we all have in common in our shared humanity.
Moving forward, I’m looking to explore the journey of the nones and others weary of the institutional trappings that seem to have infested every aspect of our being. What could happen if they can shift their focus from trying to fix a dying empire to discovering what can be possible as pioneers blazing a new trail?