The idea isn’t new: a new civil religion that encompasses all spirituality, leaving out only that which stands in contradiction to contemporary ideology. It might be called a new spirituality for America but it isn’t; it is simply religion (or spirituality) minus Jesus’ lordship and his cross. Hans Cornelder of CHURCHandWORLD.com linked to an article by Diana Butler Bass, “In Obama’s inauguration speech, a new American religion.”
Bass in her recent book, Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening, insists that a new spirituality is unfolding out of the death of an older religion. But in the book she does not so carelessly connect her predictions to the leader of the United States. With this essay, Bass has laid the American flag across her progressive thoughts.
Bass writes, “It was not only a politically progressive speech, however, it was a masterwork of progressive theology: a public sermon on the meaning of America, a creedal statement and a call to practice that faith in the world.” Bass has turned Obama’s thoughts into her thoughts, from her book, and equated the new spirituality she waits for with civil religion. The cost of that equation, if true, would be more than civil religion, it would be state sponsored religion because it entails political measures.
Speaking of the pluralism of America, Bass writes that the President has had to, “find new ways of expressing the transcendent meanings of community?” And there lies the problem. Christianity does not find its meaning in community but rather in Christ and always in Christ. A strong orthodox Christian faith does not acknowledge itself as that which defines itself—rather the community of Christ is defined by Christ. He alone, has that right and that authority. And that authority is found in his word.
Bass happily writes that Obama “linked his progressive political agenda with transcendent values, with a spiritual appeal to the new American pluralism.” And she eventually explains the content of a spiritual, political, pluralistic and inclusive creed which she states the president articulated:
1) We believe in community; 2) We believe in shared prosperity; 3) We believe in mutual care of one another; 4) We believe in stewardship of the Earth; 5) We believe in peacemaking; and 6) We believe in equality and human rights.
Because the list begins with “we believe in community” all the other beliefs in that list must be questioned. The orthodox Christian who does not believe in community but believes in Christ and his word must filter each of the other five beliefs through Lord’s commands.
Bonhoeffer in his book Life Together: A discussion of Christian Fellowship, after explaining that Christian community is founded solely upon Jesus Christ, writes:
The basis of all spiritual reality is the clear, manifest Word of God in Jesus Christ. The basis of all human reality is the dark, turbid urges and desires of the human mind. The basis of the community of the Spirit is truth; the basis of human community of spirit is desire. The essence of the community of the Spirit is light, for “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5) and if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another (1:7). The essence of human community of spirit is darkness, “for from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts” (Mark 7:21). It is the deep night that hovers over the sources of all human action, even over all noble and devout impulses. The community of the Spirit is fellowship of those who are called by Christ; human community of spirit is the fellowship of devout souls.
The human communities that believe in community for its own sake and believe in “shared prosperity” rarely wait for gifts and too often individuals become thieves and leaders become tyrants. (Jonestown was such a community) This inward turning affects each of the beliefs. They become busybodies and maligners. Their call for “stewardship of the earth” can turn toward fascism. That is, only some humans and nature are worthy of survival. It is not well known but many of the fascist of the 1930s, who believed in community for community’s sake, (the volk) were environmentalists. In such a community “peacemaking” too often ignores the cries of the oppressed. And as for equality and human rights—orthodox Christians are already finding that with their resolute stand on the definition of marriage and human life they are being pushed out of the public square.
This is not to suggest that orthodox and biblical Christians don’t build communities that are based on purely human ideals. It happens much too often. But Bass is writing about what she sees as a new progressive spirituality for America, and her basis for that new spirituality rests in progressive communities that believe in community for its own sake. Without Christ there is the possibility of the essence of darkness.
Still, “The essence of the community of the Spirit is light, for “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5) and if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another (1:7).” Let us walk in his light.