Monday, September 24, 2007

Paradigm Shifts

I recently picked up a copy of Spencer Burke's book, A Heretic's Guide to Eternity. The book's premise is that the time of organized religion is passing and that Christianity (and religion in general) is evolving into something more directly spiritual and less structured.

I'm not quite sure what I think of that yet, but given that I've only finished the first chapter I'm going to hear him out before reaching any definitive conclusions. Certainly church as we know it is changing, and the old paradigms that have governed Christian thought since the Renaissance are gradually losing sway. But to advocate doing away with the church as an institution altogether is a very radical proposal.

Still, Burke does know how to get my attention. In the first chapter alone he refers to Fowler's Stages of Faith and the shattering of the Medieval church's Earth-centric view of the universe, and he makes the following statement:

For years, preachers have appealed to people to join the church and experience Christian salvation using this phrase, "It's about relationship, not religion." The only problem is that it's seldom true. In actuality, the relationship promised by religion is usually predicated on commitment to the institution as much as it is to God. You don't have to be in a church for long to figure out what the expectations are - whether it's tithing, teaching Sunday school, praying, or going to confession - and what they expect you to believe becomes even more apparent.

Rather than facilitating a dialogue between followers and God, the church has a tendency to interpret individuals' relationships with God for them. Rather than responding to the call of God on their life directly, individuals often find themselves responding to the call of the church. What seems like obedience to the teachings of Christ is often adherence to external and dogmatic belief systems. This "false advertising" of sorts has no doubt also contributed to the interest in new spiritual paths.

Having written similar things more than once about rules-based Christianity since I started this blog, how can I not give him the benefit of the doubt until I've heard him out? I'm a bit cynical about the idea that basic human nature has evolved substantially within the last century, or even since the beginning of recorded history, but maybe a new paradigm of how we relate to God wouldn't require that.

We'll see what the rest of the book has to say.

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