James K. A. Smith on The Future of Religion in a “Secular” Age


James K A Smith (http://www.calvin.edu/~jks4/) is a Philosophy professor at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI and a Christian.

Dr. Smith makes some excellent points on this topic.

I’ll pick a couple paragraphs (it’s better to read the whole article)

The “spirituality” of the spiritual-but-not-religious often imitates this sort of excarnate religion, often without realizing it. Our self-help spirituality is remarkably “Protestant,” one might say.  Give us a few inspirational aphorisms, a few “thoughts for the day” to get us through the grind, a couple of poignant one-liners on the side of our Starbucks cups, and that’s the “message” we need to keep significance alive. This is spirituality cut to the measure of thinking things who inhabit a disenchanted cosmos.

But what might stop people short—what might truly haunt them—will be encounters with religious communities who have punched skylights in our brass heaven. It will be “traditional” Christian communities—drawing on the wells of historic, “incarnate” Christian worship, with its smells and bells in all its Gothic strangeness—who embody a spirituality that carries whiffs of transcendence that will be strange and therefore all the more enticing. I make no claims that such communities will be large or popular mass movements. But they will grow precisely because their ancient incarnational practice is an answer to the diminishing returns of “excarnate” spirituality.

And when the thin gruel of do-it-yourself spirituality turns out to be isolating, lonely, and unable to endure crises, the spiritual-but-not-religious crowd might find itself surprisingly open to something entirely different. In ways that they never could have anticipated, some will begin to wonder if “renunciation” isn’t the way to wholeness, if freedom might be found in the gift of constraint, and if the strange rituals of Christian worship are the answer to their most human aspirations. The haunting of the secular will be mutual, we might say.

What Christian communities need to cultivate in our “secular age” is faithful patience, even receiving a secular age as a gift to renew and cultivate an incarnational, embodied, robustly orthodox Christianity that alone will look like a genuine alternative to “the spiritual.”