In my last blog post, I talked about how little thought people actually put into their religion, even as those same people claim religion is the most important thing in their lives. A recent article in The Christian Century confirms this problem in a longitudinal study of emerging adults and their beliefs. (Seven Spiritual Beliefs of Young Adults) What emerges from the study is that those studied have the sense that they can trust their own instincts about religion, morality, and spirituality without giving the matter any real thought.
I can’t help but see this same trust in personal instinct in the way Mr. Trump approaches…well, everything. He believes his own gut feelings have more validity than the word of experts in any given field. We see this clearly in his daily COVID-19 briefings. The current tendency to dismiss expert advice is not limited to Trump. Is this prioritizing of one’s own inner sense over evidence and expert testimony a symptom of our culture’s longtime conviction of American exceptionalism? Or is it a recent phenomenon?
With regard to emerging adults and their relation to religion, the fact that they trust their own instinct to form a personal belief system may be a sign of the fading importance of religion. As the article states, “[A]ttaining religious knowledge is no different from learning other things: it takes an explicit effort.” If people are unwilling to put in that effort, the result is an uninformed belief system. In a country that consistently gives privileged status to religion, we either need to take the time to formulate intelligent decisions about religion, or acknowledge that religion isn’t that important after all and take away its position of privilege.
I find it quite easy to become disgusted with the religious community. When I heard voices saying evolution is “just a theory” or that climate change is “fake news,” I want to shake my head in disbelief. How can people be so dumb? Often, the loudest voices saying those things come from the evangelical Christian community. Since I was raised in a Christian household and still consider myself a Christian, albeit a frequently skeptical one, this is upsetting to me.
What a relief it was just last year when I discovered Christian Century magazine. (A side perk was discovering that this magazine traces its roots to my hometown of Des Moines, Iowa!) Christian Century has been around for many decades, but it had always managed to elude my orbit until I stumbled across an Atlantic article by Bianca Bosker about an app called WeCroak. Intrigued, I turned to the internet to read more and was led to a similar article, this one by Matt Fitzgerald and appearing in Christian Century.
Bingo! It’s like this is the magazine I’ve always wanted to read. Christian Century’s tagline is “Thinking Critically, Living Faithfully.” I not only subscribed, but I’ve been voraciously pouring through back issues online. Perhaps the thing I like most about it is how stupid it makes me feel. I mean that in a good way. It’s nice to know that I don’t need to check my brain at the door to be a Christian. Reading Christian Century, checking out books recommended within its pages, and following up on the authors I’ve discovered has introduced me to a whole community of intelligent people who all share an interest in religion as a faith, an academic subject, and a way of life.
Here is a short list of people whose work I have been devouring and admiring:
- M. Craig Barnes
- Nicholas Wolterstorff
- Walter Brueggemann
- Rachel Held Evans
- Barbara Brown Taylor
- Robert Alter
- Will Willimon
- Miroslav Volf
- Richard Rohr
- N. T. Wright
- Shane Claiborne
I could make this list a lot longer, but you get the idea. Also, here are three podcasts I’ve been enjoying:
There are many other great resources out there for people who want to explore their faith in more depth. I have found my own beliefs enriched by immersing myself in the fellowship of the many people who have so much to teach me. I feel like this is my first day of school. It’s nice to realize how much there is to learn.
I have been sick all this past week, and am only now beginning to feel like I am truly on the road to recovery. When one is sick, the only thing that matters is oneself, and trying to whip that self back into a healthy state. Ironically, I was just thinking along these lines when I picked up a back issue of Christian Century and began reading an article by William Brosend on keeping the self out of one’s preaching. (“Enough about me,” February 23, 2010).
Self-centeredness is a hard habit to break. I have spent much of my life attempting a career as a professional musician, and it is an occupation very given to the self. Lots of time spent practicing alone. Many auditions trying to prove one’s superiority over the competition. Scores if stage appearances basically screaming, “Look at me!” I have spent a lot of time focused on myself.
And yes, I am aware that this post is wildly guilty of shining the spotlight on myself.
Doing things with and for other people is not always easy. The rewards can be slow in coming. It can be easy to get frustrated and cry, “I’d be better off just doing this myself!”
But as difficult as it can be working with and for other people, it can be even more difficult working with and for God, especially if one has nagging doubts about the very existence of God. A lifelong habit of self-centeredness can make acknowledging God feel wildly out of character. It’s a struggle. Brosend writes, “If you saw someone that you think the congregation would like to know about, tell them about that person and get yourself out of the way.” Maybe I just need to practice getting out of my own way.