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Lillian Daniel nails the "spiritual but not religious" crowd

United Church of Christ* pastor Lillian Daniel, author of a new book, When Spiritual But Not Religious Is Not Enough," is profiled by Bob Abernethy of Religion & Ethics Newsweekly. She rocks the house:

ABERNETHY: At Howard University in Washington, DC recently, Daniel railed at writers and others who, she says, have blamed the church for many of the worlds biggest problems.REV LILLIAN DANIEL: What church community are you describing? Because it is not mine. And how dare you presume to paint me with that broad and offensive brush? So why is it that when the spiritual but not religious complain about Christianity, why dont we get mad? Why dont we tell them a different story, of a progressive church where your questions are welcomed, where we worship a God who invented us and not the other way around.ABERNETHY: Daniels audience included the dean of the Howard chapel and Howards president and his wife. She referred to them when she acknowledged her own part in what she calls Americas culture of narcissism.DANIEL: in which it is so easy to think, Its all about me. So much so that when the dean told me quietly that the president and first lady were here today you know where my mind went. Im from Chicago. I said, Barack and Michelle? Here?ABERNETHY: But Daniels humor is not always so gentle. She ridicules people she says try to make up their own God and their own forms of worship.DANIEL: Often some shallow combination of exercise and caffeine, coffee shops as spiritual community, hikes as pilgrimages, The New York Times as sacred text, and sunsetsdont ever forget the sunsets. These people are always informing you that they find God in the sunsets. Well, excuse me, as if people who go to church didnt see God in a sunset. You know, my take is that any idiot can find God in the sunset. What is remarkable is finding God in the context of flawed human community, and a tradition bigger than you are with people who may not reflect God back to you in your own image.Part of the nature of religion, so much beat up on in our society, part of the nature of religion is that it delivers a message that is like sandpaper against the culture of narcissism. It is not all about you and, no, you cannot make it up. The beauty of a long tradition is that it is bigger than anything we can do by ourselves.

Amen. And there's more. Read it all here...

* The original version of this post erroneously referred to Daniel as a Methodist pastor.

About the Author

David Gibson is a national reporter for Religion News Service and author of The Coming Catholic Church (HarperOne) and The Rule of Benedict (HarperOne). He blogs at dotCommonweal.



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The up to date and spiritual but not religious character in the Evelyn Waugh novel about Constantine's mother, Helena: We "have to move with the times. It's no use trying to puncture the horologium. . . what they were taught may have been all very well in the catacombs, but now we have to deal with a much more sophisticated type of mind altogether."

The courageous and right thing to do is to stay with the family and build it up. Countless women stayed with abusive husbands until death did them part, because priests told them the same thing.For an individual to stay in a family or a club or a church or any "community" where she is not valued is sick. You know, my take is that any idiot can find God in the sunset. What is remarkable is finding God in the context of flawed human community, and a tradition bigger than you are with people who may not reflect God back to you in your own image.Gibberish.

Im with you on the richness of tradition, David. But Ive never understood the impulse to ridicule people who describe themselves as spiritual but not religious. Cant we just be happy for people searching out their path to God? Why the need to get so ticked off about it?

Yuck, David.Those who avoid organized religion have compelling reasons for doing so. If anyone is using a "broad and offensive brush," it's Lillian Daniel. Her denunciation of "coffee shops as spiritual community" is fatuous. What does that mean? Is she unaware of the importance of coffee houses in our nation's history? The patriots who plotted the Revolution met in coffee houses, not in churches.

Thank you, Kevin. I too am somewhat surprised that you (David Gibson) seem to think that Lillian Daniel's judgment of the "SBNR" is something to hold up as a "good" thing when it is neither accurate nor fair. It comes across as a rant. I have been astonished at the fury so many in the clergy show to those who are SBNR. These excessively angry attacks seem to arise among those in the clergy who feel threatened by those who don't see the world, nor God, nor spirituality exactly as they do. This minister is angry about attacks by atheists on christianity that are one-sided, but she has she missed all the polls that show that most SBNR are NOT atheists? Nor even agnostic? Perhaps the professional religionists should spend some time reflecting on what "institutional" religion is doing that is driving so many away. Angry defensiveness and strident judgments are not likely to attract many back into the pews.

David's not alone in his admiration. Lillian's book at Amazon:#1 in Books > Humor & Entertainment > Humor > Religion#4 in Books > Biographies & Memoirs > Regional U.S. > West#6 in Books > Religion & Spirituality > Religious Studies > Sociology

I think that the point that Lillian makes that should have the most traction concerns the critical value of (most?) religion's corporate orientation (e.g., the Church is the body of Christ, and all that jazz). I agree that her message seems dispersed in that she's making fun of SBNRs on the basis of her reaction against atheists activists. Moreover, I suspect that she makes a crucial error in discounting the harm religious organizations can work in people's lives. When she said, "Or they have been a part of organized religion where theyve been damaged and hurt in profound ways. All you can do is respond compassionately and just be so sad that that happened," I cringed. It seems that a compassionate response has to include accepting that people have legitimate reasons for abandoning religions. The thing is, the basic subtext of her message seemed to boil down to :"Yes, a lot of religious groups blow, but some of them are progressive. Go join one of them." I don't think that that is illegitimate, but it doesn't really address some of the more profound issues that may be driving disaffection with religion.

Kevin: Yes, it's a rant, but a fairly genial one, I thought, and much needed. My biases: I tend to cringe at the holier-than-thou crowd. I also greatly favor the both/and approach instead of the either/or approach. And I do think the religious-and-spiritual approach has much to recommend it -- building up a community, a culture, the common good. There is communal worship, and responsibility. There is a connection across time, forwards and backwards, as well as in the present. There is much that just spiritual (like "just religious") does not have. So yes, I like her rant, and think it is a justified self-defense against those who mock those among us who are religious as well. And I would indulge in the observation, surely belied my many anecdotes, that spiritual-but-not-religious folks are generally not terribly deep in their spirituality. In my experience it is usually a shrug of the shoulders rather than an expression of a serious commitment and practice. Sort of like when someone calls themselves agnostic. They say, Well, you just can't know. Generally, they just haven't tried to know. I tend to see a central crisis in faith and culture today as one of a lack of seriousness -- I completely respect serious atheists, or anyone who explores and commits to something is a real way. I don't think very many of us do.Okay, so there's my rant...

I don't see the "seriousness" in Lillian's book. Maybe the sample available at Amazon leaves out the deep bits. Reading about her adventures standing in line for the bathroom, etc., makes me think Burpo's book may not be so bad, after all.

Personally, I just keep a picture of a bull in my cabinet that I give some water to every morning. I consider myself to be cultic, but not religious (CBNR).

CBNR -- now that's a keeper. To be fair and balanced, as they say, here is evidence against my argument -- the spiritual-but-not-religiosity of the sublime RuPaul, today's Meister Eckhart:

If you read the whole interview you will see that she is balanced. Despite the corruption in religious communities and the "leaven of the Pharisees" a community is important as striving sinful people. As Dorothy Day says :"The church is a whore but she is my mother." If you just stay away then you are definitely missing the physical community. There is no church without community and that community is definitely physical. The definition of church is "a gathering."Jesus still dealt with the religious leaders despite their corruption. The courageous and right thing to do is to stay with the family and build it up. Even so called purely "spiritual" people have their faults. We are a sinful people who welcome redemption through Jesus Christ. We should stay together.

"You know, my take is that any idiot can find God in the sunset. What is remarkable is finding God in the context of flawed human community, and a tradition bigger than you are with people who may not reflect God back to you in your own image."Amen to that.

Bill, "There is no church without community and that community is definitely physical". That may be true in a literal sense of "church". But it does not rule out the reality that people can be both religious and spiritual without belonging to a formal religious community. If those people are Christian and strive to follow Christ's teachings, are they not also members of Christ's "body"? And if so, are they not also part of Christ's "church" - even though they are not in specific type of building with a particular group of people each Sunday? And why is it more "courageous" to stay within what many see as a dysfunctional church than to refuse to continue to enable it?

I agree vigorously with your observation about community, Bill.Maybe your observation that we are sinful people is one motive for looking elsewhere for community. Im not a sinful person, and neither are most of the people I encounter every day. Most of us try to lead decent, generous lives. Its knowing that about ourselves which makes us so gregarious.Hearing the priest say every Sunday morning let us now call to mind our sins has me looking around church and checking for the fire exits. After Mass I miss no opportunity to remind my children that this view of humanity is simply wrong. It is a contradiction of why God delights in uslacking in rigor, to Davids point.

I think some people in organized religion - especially those whose jobs are in organized religion - are actually afraid of the SBNR people .... God forbid someone might find God in their own and obviate the organization - eek! And there's a certain arrogance in the dismissal of SBNR people's spiritual depth - a lot of those people were once in organized religion and they have kept the spiritual practices they learned there.The opposite caricature by the Onion - "Father Clancy Donahue of St. Michael Catholic Church told reporters Wednesday that while he believed in blindly adhering to the dogma and ceremonies of his faith, he tried not to get too bogged down by actual spirituality." ...

Ann, we should stay with it without "enabling" it. Kevin, Perhaps you are referring to the depressed syndrome which languishes in guilt. Are you saying you are without sin. The reality is that we tend to be selfish and not altruistic. Saying we are a sinful people does not mean we do not strive to do well. We have to distinguish between those who believe they are relieved of virtue by faith alone. Gerelyn, the fact that we stay does not mean that we should accept abuse. Now more than ever, we are confronting the leaders who are not good examples and do not build up the community. I accept those small communities that meet in the Eucharist. But the church is a big tent and we should stay but not passively as we make the church better. On the other hand are you content without a community? Crystal, that many in organized religion are self serving and lack charity does not free us from the family. Peter and the Apostles had many faults. Yet they worked through things to build the church, the community. Look at how Paul worked with different factions.The fourth century brought much damage to the church and the fact is that the Fathers of the church presided over it. Yet today we have the opportunity to build the church, with Francis, more than at any other time since the bishops cannot use soldiers anymore to punish those who correct them. Othewise, where do we go? Going from Guru to Guru?

I don't know when the spiritual-not-religious dichotomy began, but it has gained a lot of traction in the last seventy-five years or so from Alcoholics Anonymous and other twelve-step programs. Many alcoholics come to AA after trying, or trying to try, everything else, including church. But structure, ordered community, and a system of beliefslet alone condemnations and anathemas, or uncomprehending appeals to exert will powerare as helpful as expecting a cat to do algebra. So AA hit on the idea of making no demands. "The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking." And even that can be tenuous and faltering. Recovery is about following suggestions, not obeying commandments, and the suggestions are rooted in the actual experience of what other men and women have done to achieve sobriety, and not in revelations from on high. In the end, reliance upon God is a big part of it, but that is left up to the understanding of each member. It is a path for people who are desperate and yet still rebellious, a modern sort of sensibility."Spiritual" also contrasts very sharply with "material," of course, where it will mean a belief in an order of being not rooted in anything corporeal or verifiable by the senses. All major religions hold that belief in some form, I think, as the traditional explanation of natural mysteries, and some of them may feel threatened as those mysteries yield to natural explanations.

On the one hand, I was raised a Unitarian Universalist. By the types of people Daniel describes. My mother seems to be some sort of spiritist (I was the only person in elementary school who could have told you who Bridey Murphy was), but the idea of God struck Mother as looney. My dad believed that all organized religion was a scam, not unlike fire insurance, but really smarter because churches had figured out how to make their money tax free. He said that God may have created the world but He was clearly no longer interested in it, and the proof was right there in the newspaper every night.I confess I felt a kind of despair in their ideas from the time I was fairly young, it wasn't until I was 24 that I could admit that I felt pulled to more traditional Christianity (me and T. S. Eliot, both Unitarian converts to Anglicanism, and there any other parallels end, except for liking cats).On the other hand, my parents had some ugly, even traumatic, encounters with organized religion. They wanted to live rational and ethical lives, though they imposed reason and ethics somewhat selectively on themselves. But I know traditionally religious people who do that, too. Their journeys may have been side-tracks, but they knew bad religion when they saw it. And they were heart-sick when I was baptized because, as far as they were concerned, it meant embracing close-mindedness, empty ritual, and the smug pew sitters.And having been, for the past 20 years, a denizen of both Anglican and Catholic communities, I can't say that I don't see some truth in their characterizations.So while I understand what Daniel is ranting about (however good naturedly) and agree with it, I also suspect she has no idea what her views look like to people who were damaged in some way by religion. She might want to check her charity-meter.

For the past 20 years? Yikes make that more like 35!

Bill, how do we stay in without enabling? How do we "work with" the hierarchy? We have no voice EXCEPT our money and our feet. We cannot "work with" those who don't want to work with us AND who also hold all the power. They take our money and refuse transparency or accountability nor do they ask those who are funding them what they think church is and should be. As Gerelyn noted, hanging around to be abused by the one in power doesn't help build anything good. Sometimes you have to tear down the collapsing structure before you can begin to rebuild.Crystal has pointed out what seems to be a factor in the shrillness of those like Lillian Daniel - they do seem to feel threatened by those who have active and deep religious and spiritual lives outside church doors. Some "need" community. Nothing wrong with that, but why are they so angry at those who don't need a formal religious community in their religious and spiritual life?

Bill, i'm not saying there's no value in community. But every post I've seen at a Catholic site about SBNR people has been derogatory. Why not respect them as different but ok?

Crystal, Right. We should recognize good will wherever it is. Ann, while there are many legitimate objectors, there is a tendency for some to rebel for rebellion sake. As I read Daniel that may be to whom she is referring. She does not deny the shortcomings of religious leaders. As critics of SPNR people go, wouldn't you say that Daniel is rather mild compared to the monarchists in the church. People like that are angry at immigrants and other minorities. The challenge is always to rebuild the church. The mediocre will always be there.

R. R. Reno over on First Things is also denouncing the spiritual but not religious today, and doing it by trashing Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama:

And so our age applauds the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, and other adepts of negation and critique. God without priests. Churches without authority. Faiths that are optional. Its wonderfully liberating. The divine cant get his hands on us anymore! Now we can be spiritual without being religious. Its the luxury good human beings have always wanted: bespoke worship, idols made to spec.

Lillian Daniel and R. R. Reno make me want to be spiritual but not religious. Or maybe neither spiritual nor religious.

Get yourself a bull.

I am not aware of any "spiritual" tradition that does not have a corresponding "religious" body to bind it together. The etymology of religious means "to bind" or "place and obligation on".All spirituality, in my view, needs to be embodied in some fashion. Berdyaev has a wonderful quote to that effect: "Bread for me is a material question; bread for my neighbour is a spiritual one." That does not mean that we are going to be feeding our neighbours "spiritual" bread, it means actual bread. However, what animates us are impulses that bring us beyond our own egoistic natures. Those impulses are, or at least can be, referred to as spiritual impulses but the binding nature of the obligation comes from religious traditions.In a similar fashion, I do not see how spirituality itself cannot be embodied in a community which in turn builds and nurtures it.Even Kaballah Jewish mystics, as far as I understand it, rely heavily on the group.Simone Weil was a mystic that I admire. She was never formally baptized in the Church but she saw the importance of it both as an institution and a body. The American (although not exclusive to America, USA has mythologized it heavily) experience of individualism has had a profound impact on religious sensibilities. The myth of the individual is a strong one in American culture.Religion has a lot to teach us about community, about living together in a big tent and what that obligation means as Bill has been saying.Flannery O'Connor, Simone Weil, and Bonhoeffer all, I think, struggled with the question of Christian ecclesiology in a postmodern world.But I think it is a mistake to cast aside religion as it is, in fact, the vessel through which spiritual traditions have a binding effect on us. We are not always on the side of the angels!!

@ Crystal Watson"God forbid someone might find God in their own". Can one "find" God in any meaningful way without being in communion with other women and men?

Anthony,I don't know for sure, but I would think that a relationship between an individual and God is always possible, whether that person is all alone or in a community. In that video talk I linked to above, Diana Bass said that in 2009 a study found that about 50% of Americans said they believed they had had a religious experience. I think that's what's important to many people - a personal relationship/experience of God - and though you may arrive at that through some religious practice like prayer or meditation or the Spiritual Exercises, I'm not sure that you would need to be part of a community to achieve it. For one thing, it isn't really a human accomplishment alone - God is part of the equation. Don't know if that makes sense (except to me ;)

The etymology of religious means to bindYes, the "lig" part means to bind (as in ligature), but the "re" part means re (again). Religion means to re-tie, to re-bind, as if the original bond between the Creator and Her child had been sundered. Who is capable of doing the re-binding? People like Lillian, of course, priests, shamans, ministers. Naturally she opposes the notion that go-betweens are not needed, that re-ligion itself is not needed, that our spirits can commune with Creator Spirita without help.

Can one find God in any meaningful way without being in communion with other women and men?The desert Ammas and Abbas, the stylites, the anchorites, the hermits, etc. manage.(As do those who follow Jesus' injunction: when you pray, go into the closet and shut the door.)

Gerelyn:Yet we have a historical record of what occurred with that movement to the desert. St. Benedict discusses the varieties of monasticism and the disparate practices that did not always lead to an ethical and upright life.The "rule" was devised precisely to address this tendency.Jesus, for his part, was not irreligious but was deeply involved in the religious controversies of his day as the book "A Marginal Jew" demonstrates.

oh, an example ...I've been listening to a video series from Georgetown University on the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola. The first one is here, for those interested ... the start of the second one ... ...the speaker emphasizes that the Spiritual Exercises isn't about doing good acts but instead the retreat is about allowing God to reveal himself to the person making the retreat. By the end of the retreat the person will probably come to a decision about how to make the world a better place with what he's experienced, but it's the experience that comes first and that can only be individual ..."[S]o often the Spiritual Exercises ... have been interpreted as moral uplift, giving new motivations for good activity, giving you a sense of moral strength, stamina, to go about living the Christian life the way you should. Now there's nothing wrong with that, but it eviscerates the whole idea of experience and of new revelation, of the introduction of new designs that God might have for an individual ... how you should perform instead of how God is revealing God's self to you.""

PSI am a bit ambivalent about this question as I found Bonhoeffer's "religionless Christianity" compelling. Still, I am uneasy about a kind of free roaming spirituality unhitched from any tradition.

Yet we have a historical record of what occurred with that movement to the desert. St. Benedict discusses the varieties of monasticism and the disparate practices that did not always lead to an ethical and upright life.Benedict praises the "Anchorites, or Hermits, that is, of those who, no longer in the first fervor of their conversion, but taught by long monastic practice and the help of many brethren, have already learned to fight against the devil; and going forth from the rank of their brethren well trained for single combat in the desert, they are able, with the help of God, to cope single-handed without the help of others, against the vices of the flesh and evil thoughts."(Your claim about Simone Weil is off, too.)

Methinks Susie Starbucks ain't Evagrius Ponticus.

I give her credit for reaching out to people that are spiritual but not religious. Catholics should certainly be doing the same.It just seems to me that Paul of Tarsus' entire ministry consisted of planting Christian communities, and then trying to help them to cope and thrive. If living communally isn't the normative way of living a Christian life, then we can save a lot of trees by cutting about half of the New Testament out of the Bible.I don't know how one can be a Christian without being part of a community of disciples. It seems to me to be a constitutive element. If we care about people, I believe we should be initiating them into our community.

Yes, there are reasons for hermits. But most of us do better in groups, and groups maintain traditions, including understandings of all sorts of things that individuals cannot reach on our own. One life simply isn't long enough to learn what a whole long series of people have learned. And then there are the Sacraments. . .I think that part of the problem with the Catholic Church these days is that too many people were brought up to "believe in" the Pope and bishops, rather than believing in the Church. Yes, the popes and bishops have authority to speak as best they can for the whole, and when they do so we're really dumb when we dismiss what they say out of hand. There is more wisdom in a group than an individual. Sure, groups make mistakes, but individuals make even more.

Has anyone ever wondered how these anchorites, stylites and hermits ate a balanced diet and otherwise took care of their physical needs? Especially how did those "athletes for God," the Stylites, who lived on platforms on top of pillars and did hundreds of push ups while waiting for the imminent return of Christ, get enough nutrition and sanitation to keep going without getting sick? Did they not have helpers who might be called a community? Two Byzantine Emperors visited Daniel the Stylite. Was the visit for advice or was it like the visits of present day politicians to religious leaders such as a prominent Bishop or the Rev. Billy Graham? What kind of advice could these people give? Or did the visitors just come to look at them for a Sunday afternoon entertainment?

I'm a little bit dismissive of the SBNR people myself (perhaps unfairly so); the ones I run into actually don't seem very spiritual.

Over the last sixty years Ive noticed a change in the referent of the word religion. In two of the most famous definitions of religion offered in the modern era, the accent falls upon the individual. William James:

Religion, therefore, as I now ask you arbitrarily to take it, shall mean for us the feelings, acts, and experiences of individual men in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider the divine. Since the relation may be either moral, physical, or ritual, it is evident that out of religion in the sense in which we take it, theologies, philosophies, and ecclesiastical organizations may secondarily grow.

Alfred North Whitehead acknowledged a definition of religion on its doctrinal side, as a system of general truths which have the effect of transforming character when they are sincerely held and vividly apprehended. but his emphasis, too, will fall on the individual:

In the long run your character and your conduct of life depend upon your intimate convictions. Life is an internal fact for its own sake, before it is an external fact relating itself to others. The conduct of external life is conditioned by environment, but it receives its final quality, on which its worth depends, from the internal life which is the self-realisation of existence. Religion is the art and the theory of the internal life of man, so far as it depends on the man himself and on what is permanent in the nature of things.This doctrine is the direct negation of the theory that religion is primarily a social fact. Social facts are of great importance to religion, because there is no such thing as absolutely independent existence. You cannot abstract society from man; most psychology is herd- psychology. But all collective emotions leave untouched the awful ultimate fact, which is the human being, consciously alone with itself, for its own sake.Religion is what the individual does with his own solitariness....Thus religion is solitariness; and if you are never solitary, you are never religious. Collective enthusiasms, revivals, institutions, churches, rituals, bibles, codes of behaviour, are the trappings of religion, its passing forms.They may be useful, or harmful; they may be authoritatively ordained, or merely temporary expedients. But the end of religion is beyond all this.

Its interesting that now, among the SPNR, religion is taken to mean all the externalities, whereas all the internal dimensions are assigned to spirituality. The latter term used to refer to reflection on the spiritual life, as in the great classics or in works presenting the wisdom of the Christian spiritual tradition. Now spirituality is commonly individualized so that someone may speak of my spirituality where when I was young we might have spoken of my spiritual life. At Catholic University where there is a graduate program in spirituality, some students were surprised to learn that its most important courses explored the classics of Christian spirituality.

"I think that part of the problem with the Catholic Church these days is that too many people were brought up to believe in the Pope and bishops, rather than believing in the Church. "Hi, Ann, there may be something to that. There is also the phenomenon, reported in surveys, whereby many people feel connected to their local parish community, but not so much to the universal church.

I suspect that the "SBNR" category isn't monolithic. Understandably, there has been some commentary above that takes into account the subset of folks who formerly were connected to a denomination but for whatever reasons(s) have become alienated. But surely there is another cohort out there, possibly a bigger cohort than the unchurched, who never were really "churched" in the first place. A typical scenario that I see around me would be the children of a 'mixed marriage', in which, say, a Catholic married an Evangelical, and they had children. Both parents have a religious patrimony, but to keep harmony within the family and possibly because of a lack of fervor, the family doesn't really practice either Catholicism or Evangelicalism. They don't worship regularly (or at all), they don't pray regularly as a family, sacramental milestones are missed, and so on. And yet throughout the children's lives, there are reminders of the religious patrimony: baptisms, weddings and funerals in the extended family; or they spend the weekend with the grandparents and are taken to the grandparents' church; they see that some of their friends do have an active religious life, and perhaps some of their friends have even witnessed to their faith. These households aren't actively atheistic, and I can see that the products of such families may have inherited a sort of spirituality.

Jim Pauwels, I'm not convinced that Rev. Daniel's angry tone in "reaching out" to SBNR would attract many who are turned off by organized religion. She is angry, patronizing, dismissive, sarcastic, and judgmental. Who would be attracted to someone's church who insults you and your intelligence AND your spirituality and then says - BTW, services on Sunday are at 8 am and 10 am with Fellowship at 9.I suspect the reason a lot of Catholics were brought up to "believe in the pope and the bishops" is because this is what the Catholic church teaches officially - the pope and the bishops claim to be "channeling" God's voice and thoughts and wishes on earth - the vicar of Christ. The church claims magisterial and on occasion papal infallibility. The church itself raises its young to substitute the institution for God. How do you propose to change these church teachings?Bill, how does one stay in the church (thus supporting the current structure) without enabling? How do the people in the pews who are voiceless in the church "work with" the hierarchy? Or sometimes even with one of the new young arrogant pastors who believe that they, as priests, are ontologically superior to the people in the pews?

Anne ==As I understand it, the Church teaches that the popes and bishops have to teach what the Church believes. They have to consult with the Faithful to find out what that is. Unfortunately, this bunch doesn't seem to have gotten that message.

"Im not convinced that Rev. Daniels angry tone in reaching out to SBNR would attract many who are turned off by organized religion. She is angry, patronizing, dismissive, sarcastic, and judgmental. Who would be attracted to someones church who insults you and your intelligence AND your spirituality and then says BTW, services on Sunday are at 8 am and 10 am with Fellowship at 9."My take on her message is that she is appealing to those who don't find fulfillment from pilates, Starbucks and the NY Times - those who are left with that nagging feeling, "There must be more to life than this." And as I read her, she has a two part message for them,"1. You're right, there is more to life, and the way to find it is to situate yourself in the great Christian tradition by joining a denominational church like mine; and 2. you should check our our progressive church, which is not homophobic and judgmental and sexist."

And so our age applauds the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, and other adepts of negation and critique. God without priests. Churches without authority. Faiths that are optional.The whole SBNR idea is so I'll defined, how can anyone comment on it. What about the Dalai Lama or the Anglican bishop has anything to do with "Churches without authority"? Anyone even know the Dalai Lama's name? We refer to him by title only. Maybe we can include the Pope among those who are not religious?There are real issues to be discussed about spirituality and religion, but there is a lot of silliness out there that has little to do with it. Rev Daniels at least is grappling with a part of it, religion as community.

" She is angry, patronizing, dismissive, sarcastic, and judgmental."Jim P. ==Yes, she is. And some of the SBNRs are angry at her for it. And some judge her, even as they accuse her of being "judgmental". So there's a lot of irony in the situation -- people being judgmental about others who they see as as being judgmental. At least she admits that she judges, and does so because she thinks that, yes, there are some sure moral matters. I think that a lot of this problem == or, better to say 'these problems' -- are concerned with just what the sure moral matters are. I think there aren't many people truly think there are no sure moral matters, but in the American intellectual climate right now there are many who make that claim. This is, I think, one of the reasons that the Catholic faithful now includes so many super-conservatives -- the intellectual times are so very threatening that they go for what they think is the most solid of teachings, i.e., the notion that the Church NEVER changes. They simply cannot emotionally tolerate the idea that some day they actually might not know what to do about a moral matter. It's better, they think, to be able to ask Father for answers for everything.At the other end of the spiritual/psychological extreme are people who do not accept themselves as inclined to sin. Their problem, they say, is Original Sin. Some of them find it extremely difficult to admit that they are sinners, and their solution is to believe that nothing is sure, all morality is subjective, we must do our own thing, as if others have nothing to teach us. Sometimes such people were brought up in a super-conservative background where accusations of sin never stopped, and their reaction against that is quite understandable. But I think that there are others who are are looking for an easy way out of real personal responsibility. No existential angst for them.

Hi, Ann, regarding, She is angry, patronizing, dismissive, sarcastic, and judgmental. - I just want to make sure that it's clear that this wasn't my characterization - it was Anne Chapman's, which I quoted in a subsequent comment. FWIW, I also think you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

"There is also the phenomenon, reported in surveys, whereby many people feel connected to their local parish community, but not so much to the universal church."Amen to that!

I know many people who claim to be spiritual but not religious. Many of these good folks admit that they were only superficially attached to an organized religion, or that they heard that this or that group was hypocritical. This seems to be like a person who insists multi-vitamins dont work, having taken only one or two tablets. Lillian Daniel rightfully suggests that these folks might try a church community like hers - progressive, and where all questions are welcome. This would likely exclude our Catholic church, where those who ask certain questions or propose certain ideas are inviting a world of grief.

"FWIW, I also think you catch more flies with honey than vinegar."I guess that's true if your goal is to "catch" people. I'm not entirely comfortable with that kind of faintly predatory terminology. The unchurched-but-spiritual who have bad experiences with organized religion and have rejected it for do-it-yourself spirituality generally stay in the tall grass specifically because they don't want to be "caught."Certainly, I've heard evangelicals talk about the "souls we've brought to Christ." I'm sure those folks are sincerely interested in those souls, but it does smack of trophy hunting to someone looking in on the outside.

Gerlyn:I do not have Weil's book "Waiting for God" handy at the moment but it is one of my favourites and I have read it and profited from it a lot. BTW, as chance (or providence?) would have it I lent it to a SBNR friend of mine although I suspect that she is SBNR simply because she was never raised in an explicitly religious home in the sense that we are describing it.However, in that book, Weil clearly states that a magisterium or church as keeper of dogma is indispensable. However, she felt that the Church was guilty of an abuse of power when she forced love and intelligence to model their language upon her own. This abuse of power, she believed, is not of God. But that is besides the point, maybe we disagree on the necessity of a community for the individual believer. I can only say that based on my experience, it is fairly important in order to assist in disciplining my own wayward mind not to mention, occasionally, wayward impulses....:(

Yes, Simone Weil said the function of the Church as the keeper of dogma is indispensable. Also:"But I have not the slightest love for the Church in the strict sense of the word, apart from its relation to ail these things that I do love. I am capable of sympathizing with those who have this love, but I do not feel it."

I wonder who they were for whom Simone Weil said that she had not the slightest love. Who constituted "the Church in the strict sense of the word"?

"I love the saints through their writings and what is told of their lives - apart from some whom it is impossible for me to love fully or to consider as saints. I love the six or seven Catholics of genuine spirituality whom chance has led me to meet in the course of my life. I love the Catholic liturgy, hymns, architecture, rites and ceremonies. But I have not the slightest love for the Church in the strict sense of the word, apart from its relation to all these things that I do love "

I have some Jewish friends who like to follow their traditions - gatherings of family and friends, food, singing, rituals - but who do not believe in God: are they RBNS?

I wonder who they were for whom Simone Weil said that she had not the slightest love. Who constituted the Church in the strict sense of the word?Hi, Joseph:Imho, Simone Weil was deeply disturbed. In many many ways and for many many reasons.I think there are people who read into her writings what they need to find. There are people who use her as Dorothy Day is used. I guess I wish people would leave her alone. Since that's unlikely to happen, I wish people would read about her life, her family history, her illnesses, etc., etc., before attaching too much meaning to her writings.

Lillian's book this evening: #1 in Books > Humor & Entertainment > Humor > Religion#4 in Books > Religion & Spirituality > Religious Studies > Sociology#4 in Books > Biographies & Memoirs > Regional U.S. > West

Ann: "And some judge her, even as they accuse her of being judgmental. So theres a lot of irony in the situation people being judgmental about others who they see as as being judgmental".That statement may be true, but I have never read any articles by SBNR about these condescending scoldings. Perhaps you can guide me to some? I have even done a google search, and while I find plenty of scolds out there like Daniel (James Martin is another who is very hot and bothered by the idea that people might not need priests and ministers and formal churches) I don't find too many who are scolding people like Lillian Daniel.This blog article is "vinegar" from start to finish - the title signals that what is to come will be haughty and demeaning - [she] "nails" the SBNR CROWD." I have seen these kinds of dismissive and insulting attacks on the SBNR on Catholic websites many times now - all take the same tone. If these articles are seen by SBNR as representative of the type of people in the church "community", why would anyone choose to join a community of people like this?And why do those who seem unable to have a spiritual life outside a formal community find it so difficult to understand that others may not share that need? I suspect most SBNR are perfectly willing to accept that those on this board and many other Christians and non-christians "need" a community for whatever reason. They find it helps them in the spiritual journey. But others don't.People are different - that is no surprise. So why expect everyone to live their spiritual lives in precisely the same way? And why be so nasty to those who have made a different choice than your own?Perhaps another perspective is needed - for example, this article called "Celebrating the SBNR" - the language is much more respectful and, frankly, more "christian" than is the title "Nailing...the SBNR". This blog is written by the Associate Dean of Religious Life at the University of Southern California.He begins with "Every day, I ENJOY conversations with students who fit into the category of SBNR - "spiritual but not religious.".... example of a more positive take is by Amy Thomsom Sevimli who is ordained in the ELCA and currently serves as Assistant to the Bishop in the Metropolitan Washington D.C. Synod."I know about the discomfort of getting on an airplane and telling the person sitting next to me about what I do.....So when I read about Lillian Daniels similar experience, I was sympathetic to her situation. What I was surprised by, and not terribly sympathetic to, was her reaction to the person sitting next to her on the airplane. She seemed especially put-off by those who identify themselves as spiritual but not religious.......But honestly, why would someone who can read our condescending views of their sense of spirituality want to come to church at all?I firmly believe that the best way we can connect people with God in Christ -- and with the way we worship that God in church -- is by first listening to their spiritual story and only then telling our own. ....Spiritual but not religious is not an impediment to that conversation but an invitation if we are willing to accept it."

Anne --I don't think anyone here has said that all SBNRs are dismissive, angry, judgmental, etc. of their critics. I certainly didn't. But your own posts do seem quite "vinegary" to me. And I'm not saying you have no right to be. But your reaction to Rev. Daniel does seem to answer her in kind.

Ann, definitely - I AM answering "in kind". Because it seems that too many conventionally religious are saying "right-on" and avoiding real reflection on the rise of SBNR, apparently preferring to take the far easier route of blaming the SBNR for the failures of their own religious communities to keep or attract 20% of the overall population and 33% of the younger adults. It seems almost to be a variation of "blame the victim". It is far too easy to call them "shallow", "undisciplined", "self-centered", "too individualistic" etc, etc etc. than do a serious examen. I am quite deliberately being "vinegary" - using the same negative tone to try to encourage those who applaud Lillian Daniels for her snooty put-downs of people whose spirituality isn't taking exactly the same path as their own to really think about what they are saying and doing, to look in a mirror and see how they might come across to the SBNR who have chosen another path - and perhaps come to understand a bit better at least one reason why some have chosen another path. I will get off my soapbox now. I've said all that I can say about it.

Ann --It seems to me that the problem is that there are many, many stories and hence many, many sides to the issues. You're right to insist that your side be told fairly too.I don't really identify with talk of either the presence of community or the lack of community in the Church. Community is not something I looked for in the Church, and in my case that's a good thing. The Church offers precious little in the way of community to single people like myself. Tradition, yes, that it offers. Tradition is the wisdom of the ages, it's what allows me not to have to relive all the mistakes of the past, or at least some of them. And it brings me the positive insights of the saints and theologians. This isn't, of course, a matter of the virtue of the teachers, though the courage of some of them can inspire. But I believe that the Church is Christ's Church, and however imperfectly it treasures the sacraments and the teachings of Christ, and encourages the Faithful to share our blessings with others. The failures of us members is not what defines it for me, and I'm old enough to know that there is moral failure everywhere.

Ann - "It seems to me that the problem is that there are many, many stories"Exactly - so why put down others because their story is not "traditional"?

I agree with all your comments, Anne Chapman. (Including the one about "nails" in the headline.)I hadn't realized how resentful some religionists are of non-religionists. The success of Lillian's book, marketed as Humor & Entertainment, is a vivid illustration of the contempt the "community" has for those she regards as idiots, stupid, superficial, sloppy, etc., etc., etc.

Anne --ISTM that, as in many groups including religious ones, among the SBNRs there are some who are holier-than-thous or whatever, and Rev. Daniel particularly dislikes them because she thinks they misrepresent her. She too has a right to defend herself. If she said that all SBNRs are X, Y or Z it would be a different matter.

Lillian's resentment of children is particularly offensive, imho. Her ham-handed mockery (aka "Humor & Entertainment) reveals a lot more about her than about those who fail to bring their children to Sunday school.See pages 5 through 8 from the Amazon sample:

Wow, she really is obnoxious. Is the whole book like that?

And I say that as someone who likes obnoxiousness when done right. That just reads like the kind of blog-posting you'd see on the Patheos Catholic channel.** That ain't a compliment.

Lillian is expressing the sentiments of many Christians, obviously. How thrilling it must be for her to see her book in the #1 slot day after day.

I mean, it's an obnoxious religion book--nothing new there. Not sure if it's worth that much agonizing.

Daniel's book (thanks to Gerelyn for the refer on SBNR children) seems to be more about galvanizing her own community of believers around a satiric picture of SBNRs rather than trying to attract any new converts. Which is good because she surely won't.She is smug and uncharitable, and will remind many SBNRs why they left churches in the first place.

-- Ive heard evangelicals talk about the souls weve brought to Christ. --And every year Catholics trumpet the number of people brought into the church via RCIA.But neither group is open and honest about the KNOWN number of people who were "in" but now are "out." And I'm sure that the known number pales beside the unknown number that has simply walked away quietly.Body counting smacks of militarism.And which is worse: being SBNR or "piously agnostic" as are so many habitues of church buildings for an hour on Sunday (or Saturday evening)?

No doubt, Lillian Daniel seems to feel about SBNR the same way I feel when I am confronted by someone from a rural state who sneers about his rugged individualism compared to my effete urban existence, without acknowledging that he is utterly dependent on tax revenue that is collected in the aggregate from people like me. I don't know whether that analogy is a fair one, however, given that the "quest for spirituality" seems to be a part of the human experience. Perhaps Ms. Daniel should focus on seeking common ground or trying to enlarge their vision of spirituality. Otherwise, I tend to agree with Anne Chapman's comments. There is a lot of room for self-examination before anybody leaps to conclusions about whole groups of people.

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