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Peace, spirituality, values, and activism
from a Jesus perspective

Redecorating, Renovating, and Reconstructing Christian Faith – pt. 2

In my previous post I raised the possibility that, given the vast migration out of Christian “houses” (a metaphor for various forms of Christian believing, behaving, and belonging), Christian faith in the west might require more than “redecoration” and “renovation” of these houses; it might require some fresh (re-)construction.

One form this construction might take is to build walls or fences against western cultural changes, such as rising secularism and individualism, each of which have had a corrosive effect, respectively, on creedal forms of faith and congregational forms of practice. The problem, here, of course, is that secular and individualistic currents of culture seem happy to remain on the other side of the barriers Christians have built. Or, conversely, and at the same time, individualism and secularism have seeped through our fences and flowed over the walls, right into our Christian houses.

A significant part of the shift toward secularism and individualism is a particular understanding of human agency—that our lives and our world are up to each of us, and not necessarily informed by or constrained by wider social, political, or spiritual forces. We see ourselves as “unencumbered” selves, as the philosopher Michael Sandel puts it, neither restrained or empowered by principalities and powers beyond our individual spheres. Or, as Charles Taylor says, we live in a (shrinking) “immanent frame.”

Nevertheless, at the same time, the spheres of life are increasingly seen as unstable and chaotic, unsettled and bewildering. If we were to reflect on such themes as identity, community, ecology, and spirituality, we can notice that each is, in important ways, something we take to be ours to create or construct, in diverse and plural ways, rather than something that is “given” to us or “discoverable” by us. 

Some examples: in our current cultural environment, identity (of any sort) is increasingly seen as fluid (not fixed), corresponding with a community that is experienced as networked (not localizable). In this sense, both identity and community require acts of creation and cultivation to become real and authentic. And this alters what it might mean to practice Christian faith and belong to a Christian community. It means, for example, that assuming there is a clearly distinguished people, in contrast to and over-against other peoples (or nations, or communities, or host cultures, and so on), ready to confirm a status of “member” or “insider”—well, this assumption is increasingly difficult to sustain.

Alongside these changes are growing considerations that the other-than-human world can be imagined as something—or even someone—that is more than inert stuff for extraction. The wider, non-human creation has a “life of its own,” to be respected and engaged. At the same time, there is an increasingly presumed awareness that there are a range of religions or spiritualities, and that each of these can at least accompany–pehaps even contribut to–a good life and citizenship. Such changes as these challenge or undermine what form and content Christian conviction might have. It suggests, for example, that accounts of the living God and deadly idolatry might be more diverse and diffuse, not simply identifiable by an established, self-contained believing community.

And it should be added that, according to folks who study religious trends, these latter concerns—identity and community, spirituality and ecology—have been the very reasons many in the West have moved or are moving away from Christianity. A version of Christianity that seems to presuppose (at best) or advocate (at worst) a kind of opposition and exclusivity toward what is not Christian—whether it’s other religions and spiritualities; or more fluid accounts of gender and sexuality; or different patterns of communal organization and practice; or different patterns of environmental engagement and care—versions of Christianity that seem inhospitable toward these cultural developments have, recalling Chesterton’s quip, indeed been tried and found wanting. That is to say, the very alternatives Christianity opposes have been perceived, for many, as more life-giving, as more promising for that abundant life the Christian faith has claimed for itself. And so, the exodus continues, out of our Christian neighbourhood and into better homes.

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