Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Steve Jobs of Religion

Those of us in mainline churches have likely done a lot of thinking about how we can appeal to the unchurched, many of whom are not atheists, but have yet to find the church they like--or at least, that's what we hope.

In an essay in today's The New York Times, Eric Weiner ponders why we're so bad as a culture, those of us in the U.S., at talking about faith, spirituality, and what we really believe.  Early on, he asks, "For a nation of talkers and self-confessors, we are terrible when it comes to talking about God. The discourse has been co-opted by the True Believers, on one hand, and Angry Atheists on the other. What about the rest of us?"

He posits that religious choices these days are often aligned with political choices and that many people reject both.  His thesis makes some sense:  as we've become more and more of a nation of non-voters, we're more and more a nation of non-churched.

And yet, those of us who know about the variety of ways that the church has worked in the world can make an endless list of ways that the church has made the world a better place.  Not all of us are waiting for heaven.  Not all of us are angry people who have given up on this world.

Weiner speaks to a different dichotomy: 

"We are more religiously polarized than ever. In my secular, urban and urbane world, God is rarely spoken of, except in mocking, derisive tones. It is acceptable to cite the latest academic study on, say, happiness or, even better, whip out a brain scan, but God? He is for suckers, and Republicans.

I used to be that way, too, until a health scare and the onset of middle age created a crisis of faith, and I ventured to the other side. I quickly discovered that I didn’t fit there, either. I am not a True Believer. I am a rationalist. I believe the Enlightenment was a very good thing, and don’t wish to return to an age of raw superstition."

Those of us in the mainstream denominations haven't done a very good job of showing that there are plenty of other options.  I attend my Lutheran church where I'm not asked to give up my scientific beliefs.  I'm sure there are many other churches like mine.

Weiner concludes:

"What is the solution? The answer, I think, lies in the sort of entrepreneurial spirit that has long defined America, including religious America.

We need a Steve Jobs of religion. Someone (or ones) who can invent not a new religion but, rather, a new way of being religious. Like Mr. Jobs’s creations, this new way would be straightforward and unencumbered and absolutely intuitive. Most important, it would be highly interactive. I imagine a religious space that celebrates doubt, encourages experimentation and allows one to utter the word God without embarrassment. A religious operating system for the Nones among us. And for all of us."

It's an interesting proposal and a very different way of thinking about the ideas of mission and outreach.

The Steve Jobs of religion.  Hmm.

If we invented a new way (which might be a very old way) of being religious, what would that look like?  Would we adopt some monastic traditions?  Would that way embrace technology in ways that we haven't before?  And what would a new way of being religious offer in terms of creativity? 

Those are the strands that immediately came to my mind:  monasticism, technology, and artistic creativity.  I don't always weave those strands together.  What would happen if I did?

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