The Bishop’s E-pistle: Secular Religions

I’ve been reading the book Seculosity by David Zahl. He’s a friend of a friend, and his subtitle drew me in: How Career, Parenting, Technology, Food, Politics, and Romance Became Our New Religion and What to Do About It.

When I think of my non-churchgoing friends, it’s tempting to think that because they are not engaged in active faith communities that they are not religious. Zahl’s premise is that all people have a religion–a set of rules and organizing principles guiding our priorities, and giving ultimate weight and value to a core discipline.

It’s not hard to see this type of religiosity in our culture today–and even for many people within our congregations, who would state confidently that they were Christians.

I once had a conversation with a parent who was not part of my congregation whose son was having some really significant behavioral issues on our little league team. I told the parent that I knew of a really good children’s therapist if he’d like a referral. “Oh God, no,” he said, “That would be like saying I’d failed.” A perfect example of the “religion of parenting”–the needs of the status of the parent ahead of the needs of the child; the equating of help with failure.

As Zahl writes, there is no grace in any of our secular religions.

But there is grace in following the religion of Jesus–or at least, there ought to be, given Jesus’ teachings, life, death, resurrection and promise of redemption. We start out in the religion of Jesus knowing that we have all failed–we are all sinners, we are all in need of help. And then we begin to build our faith, not in a straight line forward, but back and forth, meandering through the wilderness and the mountaintop, upheld by communal prayer and teaching. Grace teaches us that with Jesus as the center, we can bask in his redemptive love, breath in the spirit, and let go of our sins and failures. With Jesus at the center, we can reflect that love to our neighbors, and forgive their sins and failures. Grace.