Christianity After Religion

Diana Butler Bass, Harper Collins, 2012, reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff

        Religious affiliation is dropping, and yet interest in spirituality is on the rose. Bass offers a fresh interpretation of the ‘spiritual but not religious’ trend. Some commentators say we are undergoing yet another revival; others say Christian belief and practice are being replaced by new ethical and religious choices.

        But Bass claims we are in a new spiritual awakening, a new kind of post-religious faith. She references the episodic American religious ‘awakenings’ (the first in 1740; the second, 1800-1830; the third, 1890-1920). The first marked the end of European styles of church organization; the second ended
        Calvinistic dominance and introduced new perspectives on free will; the third was marked by the social gospel movement and by Pentecostalism. She believes the fourth is marked by the end of Christian dominance in the United States, as emerging forms of pluralistic religions emerge and new institutions embody the new spirit.

        Citing pollsters’ analyses, she sees American faith as having undergone profound extensive reorientation away from internalized religion toward internalized spiritual experience; the Unites states is caught up with the throes of a spiritual awakening, a period of ‘religious and political transformation’ (p 5).

        Her book is a sustained reflection how religion has changed. Where Christianity is now vital, it is not really a religion but a spiritual thing (p 7). (Intriguing is her utilization of Bonhoeffer for chapter introductions, Bonhoeffer who in another culture and value system shares her analysis.)

        Her listing of 15 descriptions of spiritual with their religious counterpart reinforces her analysis (p 69). She claims that the spiritual dimension of faith is belonging (community), behaving (ethics), belief (trust) (p 124). This is in contrast to the priority usually given in the religious spectrum to belief (doctrine) as the first step in revitalization. ‘Every spiritual awakening seeks to make visible G-d’s dream for G-d’s creation (p 269).

        A wonderful treatment of a Faith Awakening!

Vern Ratzlaff is a pastor and professor of historical theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.