Sunday, May 14, 2023

#134 / Living In A Post-Secular World


Natalie Wigg-Stevenson is pictured above. She is an Associate Professor of Contextual Education and Theology at Emmanuel College at the University of Toronto, and she is also the author of Transgressive Devotion: Theology as Performance Art
I haven't read Wigg-Stevenson's book, but I did happen to run across an article she wrote, which was published in the May 2023, edition of Sojourners Magazine. The article was a short meditation on several different bible passages, and I have included the entire article below. What attracted my attention wasn't really the article, though; it was the title to the article: "A Post-Secular World." 

I think most of us normally think of ourselves as living in a "Post-Religious World." Almost everyone used to be religious. Now, not so much. Now, it seems to me, we are largely focused on "secular," not "religious," issues and ideas. If that is true, and if we are mainly preoccupied with the "secular," what does that assertion that we live in a "Post-Secular World" intend to claim?
Thinking about what that claim could be, it seems to me (presuming that there is some merit in the idea that we we are living in a "Post-Secular World") that we are beginning to realize that what constitutes the world as presently organized (and it is organized on the basis of secular ideas, not religious ones) won't be sufficient to sustain us. Economic, political, and social welfare approaches to organizing our life together are falling short. We are going to need something different. 
In fact, we are going to have to "change our way of thinking," as I sometimes phrase it - and "religion" isn't going to solve our problem. "Religion," for instance, has tended to amplify differences and separations. The Jews, the Muslims, the Hindus and the Christians are all different religious groups, as just one example, and they are pretty much ready and willing to kill each other, all around the globe. But "politics," of course, is divisive and destructive, too. What we need is some new and profound "world view" that recognizes that we are "all in this together," and that this "world view" becomes so powerfully "real" to us that we can start living in a world that incorporates human unity in a way that can lead to common action.
That kind of understanding of "where we are," and "who we are," if more of us could come to it, is not what we commonly think of as "secular," but it certainly isn't typically "religious," either. Simply "returning to religion" isn't likely going to work. 
Wigg-Stevenson is suggesting a SBNR (Spiritual But Not Religious) approach. I am not sure I like the acronym very much, or find the full phrase very congenial, but we do need to escape divisive "religion," while we move beyond a world that we have defined, most recently, in "secular" terms. Surely, we need to admit that we are in desperate need of something more than politics and power.
I have been writing about things like "Empathy," and I keep repeating that we are "all in this together." John Lennon's "Imagine" is haunting my own imagination, and I think I am searching (and I didn't even know I was) for that "Post-Secular World" in Wigg-Stevenson's title!

May 14
A Post-Secular World

Acts 17:22-31; Psalm 66:8-20; 1 Peter 3:13-22; John 14:15-21

WHENEVER I READ about Paul’s tour of Athens in Acts 17, I picture him walking in my own city of Toronto to discern the “objects of [our] worship” (verse 23). I see him “deeply distressed to see that the city [is] full of idols” (verse 16). And I wonder which altar he’d think we have dedicated “to an unknown god” (verse 23). It’s possible that the Athenians maintained their altar to an unknown god simply to cover all their bases. Hera, Athena, Ares: We can check family, wisdom, and war off our list of concerns. But what about any of life’s needs that we’ve missed? That’s when the Athenians could expect their unknown god to step into the cleanup spot.

Toronto is known not only as a post-religious city, but a post-secular one too. “Spiritual-but-not-religious” (SBNR) is probably our dominant identification. While I often hear SBNR folks mocked for having a New Agey, overly subjective approach to faith, I’ve actually learned a lot from my friends who identify this way. There’s a humility to their search that I want to emulate — that together we’re not searching for an unknown god but for one who is unknowable.

Too often I try to get everything figured out about faith. But the kind of knowing that comes from humility is the kind of knowing God wants from us. My SBNR friends have taught me not to be too quick to fill their unknowable space with the content of Christ but, rather, to dwell there with them for a time — to seek the unknowable God who wants to find me. To be patient for God’s self-revelation. 
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