Keeping Spirituality Sane

What are we to make of all the books on spirituality cramming the shelves at Borders and the crowds of readers clotting the aisles between those shelves? How should we think about the mantra, “I’m not religious but I’m spiritual,” mouthed by everyone from Oprah to our tattooed daughters, or the craze for kabbalism among the otherwise not visibly enlightened?

Like others dedicated to the proposition that religion is not necessarily destructive of humanity, I have objected to the swell of new Gnosticism all around us and have argued that a bit of creed, canon, and even episcopacy (taken in moderate doses) could help keep spirituality from becoming, well, crazy.

Still, I am also committed to the notion that God uses human experience to teach us, and when some experiences become widespread, we need at least to pay attention. God may be revealing something to us. Even if we grant that a great deal of what calls itself spirituality these days is more psychic self-grooming than engagement with the Holy Spirit of God, even if we allow that the flight from religion is another form of the pandemic avoidance of community commitment in our world, there is perhaps more to be learned from so popular a movement about the starvation of the human spirit in a pathology that is as much communal as individual.

The pathology is systemic in American culture and in American religion...

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About the Author

Luke Timothy Johnson, a frequent contributor, is the R.W. Woodruff Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at the Candler School of Theology, Emory University. Two of his most recent books are Among the Gentiles: Greco-Roman Religion and Christianity (Yale) and Prophetic Jesus, Prophetic Church (Eerdmans).