In reading Linda Mercadante’s Belief Without Borders I’ve come to the theological substance of her interviews with people who identify as spiritual but not religious (SBNR). She said she asked them about four basic topics: God, human nature, community, and life after death. She starts with a chapter on transcendence. It is a long chapter. I’ll take at least two posts to cover it. The word “God” is not always positive for the SBNR, but they believe in something beyond themselves. Sometimes they talked about a higher power. This probably comes from the twelve-step movements several of them had been involved in. In the twelve-step movements the higher power is not specific. It can be different from person to person. This fits with the free choice and individualism of most of the SBNR. One of the things they usually rejected was a masculine image of God. This was especially true of Baby Boomers and older. So the second wave of feminism was likely an influence. Such people tended to associate God with images they got from medieval paintings and bad parents. They associated maleness with anger, rigidity, and distance. The masculine God was a demanding God who did not invite inquiry or interaction. More serious (to my mind) is the rejection of a personal God who is involved in human affairs. This means that spirituality can include meditation, but not prayer. At least prayer doesn’t make sense without an involved God whom you can address as a person. But many found turning away from such an understanding of God liberating. For one thing, it meant you did not have to try to please God anymore. God was not the kind of being who knew or cared what you did. It also eliminates the problem of reconciling the goodness of God with hurtful things that happened if we are all just swept up in an impersonal force. Also it takes away the idea of sin and salvation. The idea that God sent Jesus to die for sins was particularly rejected by some. Yet some of the SBNR were inconsistent about this. For instance, some felt themselves called. Some felt themselves guided. Some felt mysterious interventions in life events. Some struggled with the notion that there might be some kind of a plan beyond themselves. Those who looked for self-help in spirituality often felt that, although there was no personal God, there was a kind of divine energy that you could plug into. Sometimes they just referred to the transcendent as the Universe. Many of us who are still religious and connected to churches struggle with the same issues. And yet we find it unnecessary to reject a personal God who cares about us. I think it is unnecessary to get hung up on masculine images of God. In Judaism and Christianity there are feminine images too. Why is it that negative traits like being distant and demanding get marked as masculine. Doesn’t anybody but me know distant, demanding women. There are plenty of angry women too. So that is not a masculine characteristic. Male god-figures in the movies, like George Burns and Morgan Freeman, do not seem overly menacing. Why take the images from medieval paintings so seriously? Moreover, the New Testament gospel metaphor of God as Father is well-known. The parable of the prodigal son is well-known. So there is a handy masculine image of God as the opposite of the usual stereotype. Do people literally think God is one sex or the other? Aside from Mark Driscoll and a few other extreme examples. I don’t really see Christians pushing a masculine God, Jesus, or religion these days. It is precisely the opposite in my church. So I do not get what people are rejecting when they reject a masculine (or feminine) image of God. The rejection of the notion that God cares about people seems by far the more serious and difficult-to-counter problem with post-Christian spirituality


About theoutwardquest

I have many interests, but will blog mostly about what I read in the fields of Bible and religion.
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