Posts

Enough with “Enough”: A Review of Seculosity by David Zahl

“Do you remember the days when the Sunday school was full and everyone went to church on Sunday?”

“It’s such a shame that stores are open and there’s soccer practice on Sunday mornings…”

You don’t have to be around a 21st-century church very long before you start to hear questions and comments like these. They reflect an ongoing narrative that recalls mid-20th century glory days of the church in which Christians enjoyed power and esteem ( glorious as long as you were straight and white and male, and as long as you did everything the right way…).

The specter of this bygone era of the church has the ability to consume modern faith communities, to push them into a mentality of scarcity over all-we-once-had-and-why-can’t-we-just-have-those-things-again.

Anxieties rise. New programs launch to make the church exciting and relevant once more. Maybe this time we’ll turn the tide.

Why don’t people seem to want religion anymore?

In a new book out this month, David Zahl, founder and director of Mockingbird Ministries takes this question head-on, with a perspective that offers the possibility of a way forward.  The book is called Seculosity: How Career, Parenting, Technology, Food, Politics, and Romance Became Our New Religion and What to Do about It.  In it, Zahl explores the possibility that our culture is not becoming less religious at all, but rather we are becoming religious about more and more things.

He uses the neologism ‘seculosity’ to describe the many activities and identities to which modern Americans devote a zeal that can be described as nothing so accurately as religious. From leisure activities (SoulCyle or CrossFit?) to parenting style (attachment or Babywise?) to political identity and work, from Zahl’s perspective, these are more than activities, they become part of people’s identities. These seculosities offer not just community, but a justifying story of their lives, a frame through which to see the world, a mechanism by which they can establish a sense of “enoughness.” They offer identity, community, meaning, purpose in ways that religion once did in wider society.

The problem arises, he argues, when we realize that no matter how much we devote ourselves to these pursuits, there is always more we could be doing or accomplishing or achieving. We could find our soulmate and get started on happily ever after. Our kids could win more awards. We could work harder, advance faster, earn more. But the focus on all of this makes the fact that the achievement of the goals we create for ourselves is an ever-vanishing horizon. Read more

Godless Politicians Can Save Their Thoughts and Prayers

If that title sounds cranky, it’s because it is. I am. I’m fed up.

I’m fed up with mass shootings, and I’m fed up with the political inaction that inevitably follows them. I’m fed up with the idolatry of guns in my country, the United States of America. I’m fed up with the false equivalence between any reasonable discussion of gun regulation and banning all guns. To quote my beloved deceased dad, “There is too much stupidity in this world.”

But what I’m really cranky about is how my religion has been ambushed, stolen, and pillaged, then twisted and used for political gain.

As an Episcopal priest, it’s my job think deeply, prayerfully, and biblically about how we live our faith, and teach and preach this on a regular basis. On the Sunday after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, which was the first Sunday in Lent – a season of penitence – many churches across the country read the conclusion of the story of Noah and the flood: the part where God beholds the mass destruction God has caused, has utter regret, and vows to never again bring this kind of massacre upon humankind. God seals the deal with a new law, or covenant, and symbolizes this new policy with the rainbow, the sign of God’s promise to never again allow this sort of death and destruction rain down on creation.

Prayer for America

Too many politicians who claim to be Christian – who claim the faith I have committed my life to – react to massacres in the complete opposite way from the way that God does. The godly response when one beholds mass destruction is to cry out in anguish, regret that it ever was allowed to happen, and vow, by way of a new law, to never let it happen again.

On February 14, Ash Wednesday, the day the church remembers our mortality as a way to begin the penitential season of Lent, parents with ashes smeared on their foreheads mourned the deaths of their slaughtered children in the (then) latest, but most certainly not the last, mass shooting in our country. I waited as the inevitable response followed: the heated social media posts about gun control versus the Second Amendment, the impassioned cries from parents and loved ones of the massacred victims begging to our politicians to finally do something, and, worst of all, the “thoughts and prayers” that politicians hand out like candy when tragedies like this occur.

Thoughts and prayers? Save it. It’s just insulting. Read more