Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Simply Christian: Chapter Two

'The hidden spring' of spirituality is the second feature of human life which, I suggest, functions as the echo of a voice; as a signpost pointing away from the bleak landscape of modern secularism and toward the possibility we humans are made for more than this.

The first feature which Wright characterized as an echo was the internal craving for justice. The second is the thirst for spirituality. He sees this thirst as another signpost of God's stirrings inside of us. He says that today, many of us are travelers in the desert in search of an oasis of spiritual refreshment.

Instead of writing a long treatment of this topic, I thought I'd ask you all a few questions:

What does it mean to call this "hidden spring" an "echo of a voice"? If you haven't read the book, that's fine. Just share what the words "echo of a voice" feel like to you. Is that a powerful image? A weak one? If God speaks, is it sufficient that the voice we hear is an echo?

Why is secular humanism seen as a "bleak landscape"? I have to be honest here. I find it a tad "weighting the scales in his favor" to characterize modern secularism as a bleak landscape without sharing why he says so. For me, modern secularism is also responsible for the rise of Christian faith in our country. The fact that religion is not married to the state and can continue to be a prophetic voice in our system of politics and social mores is in direct relationship to the fact that secular culture and modernism saw fit to protect religion from the control of government, to keep it in its own sphere. In Europe where religion remained connected to the state, there is a much greater dropping away of faith. Some have suggested it is due to the fact that religion and government (when they both exert political power) can be seen as tools of oppression. Protest means resisting both. When religious faith is separate from government, it can be a refuge and a source of critique.

Do you see any other benefits to the rise of secularism or do you agree with Wright's characterization of it being a "bleak landscape"?

Is spiritual hunger a universal human characteristic? Do you agree or disagree with Wright's idea?


Dave said...

Hidden spring... echo of a voice... bleak landscape... kind of mixing his metaphors there, seems to me. But that's quibbling.

I suppose that the first two images work fine to put us in the mindset of being attentive to subtle or below-the-surface things. The notion has value in a media-saturated culture where we are often bombarded by loud, scripted voices with commercial rather than spiritual intentions and motivations. There's also an appeal to conscience in there, I'd say. Wright's language also has a biblical tone to it, without explicitly quoting the scriptures, so I think it's evocative for most if not all of the people in his likely reading audience.

But I do get your wondering about the distance and vagueness implicit in God's communication to us through the "echo of a voice."

"Bleak landscape of modern secularism" reads more like a sloppy cliche, maybe a bit of preaching to the choir... You do well to inquire as to what Wright might be getting at here. I don't think he's advocating church-state reunification, and I don't see how he could realistically expect a return to "Christendom" as the common frame of reference for civil discourse. And I don't think he's looking for some kind of homogenized "theism" that blends Christian, Jewish and Islamic theologies into an alternative to "secularism." Maybe he spells that out more in the book.

Does he not lay out his case for the bleakness of modernity then? Does he recognize at all the role that organized religion has played in creating much of the bleakness and pessimism that so many people are feeling these days? I guess it would help me to get a clearer idea of what he's trying to establish in the larger social order - I think I already have a good sense of what kind of change he's aiming to effect in his individual readers.

I'm not sure that I am ready to see secularism as an "ism" - I think that in many ways, it's just our best effort to avoid open conflicts that sometimes result from the application of explicitly religious and triumphalistic ideas into social discourse. Unfortunately, it's religion's more zealous advocates who have in many ways created the widespread aversion to incorporating spiritual language and inviting faith-based groups into the decision making process.

I don't think we can assume that everyone is "really" deep down spiritually hungry. A lot of people are, and a lot of people find various ways to get satisfied. But some people I think are pretty content without any serious involvement with religion or living according to established spiritual precepts. I'm not one of those people myself, but I believe they are out there and as genuinely satisfied as anyone else can be said to be.

jim said...

Knowing Wright from other readings, I don't imagine that he is meaning secularism in the sense of the political that separates the church from government. I suspect he holds to chrisendom as a failed experiment that ought not be repeated.

I think his line of thought is more in tune with secular humanism in the sense that leads people to believe that we can get along alright (thank you very much), and even improve the human condition, without the balance of faith to help each of us along the way.

All one has to do is to look at the newspaper every morning to get a sense that maybe we aren't doing any better in that regard; secular humanism is an optimism without much substance that in the end leaves us without much hope.

julieunplugged said...

Thanks for these terrific remarks that are making me rethink how Wright sees secularism. I want to comment more but am off to a saxophone lesson. HOpe others will respond though to keep the conversation going. I am thinking along with you.

OldMom said...

I think Wright meant secularism in the sense of believing that spiritual matters are just nonesense and the sooner we get about the real business of eating, drinking, and making money the better. He is no fan of a marriage between church and state and does not seem to me, overall, to be a critic at all of a secular society, only of the statement to people that they don't 'need' spiritual input. FWIW, I see him blaming the church for that also, as he links his springs metaphor to the idea of those springs having been channeled into a safe controlled water system that runs only on Sunday.
I'm very happy with the echo of a still small voice -- somehow I am not dismayed at all by the idea that God does not stand and thunder at us. We are beings created with some power and grace in our own makeup and not here to make predetermined moves at the command of a divine whim. A God who speaks quietly to me is just fine. Of course, that might just be the inner Buddhist creeping out. . .

Rebecc C

Rebecca C.

julieunplugged said...

Rebecca, thanks for adding your vast experience with Wright to the conversation.

I've been thinking a lot about the small voice and what it means. My aunt (a Catholic in Italy ::waves to her::) wrote the following about conscience that I found positively liberating (took me out of my old fundie thinking when I hear the idea of God speaking to me):

Here's one way that it works for me: When I feel I'm in a moral dilemma, stopping to pray about it, if I have time, helps me to decide what to do. The voice that I hear inside of me during and right after prayer is in all likelihood my conscience, aka the voice of God as I, with all my baggage and limits and gifts, am able to perceive it.

The strange thing for me is that I think I might have thought of God's voice in the past as something for me to discern (to get past my baggage to hear it) however, we spent so much time crediting God with speaking to us that the idea of God's voice was that it was much clearer than that, that we were hearing directly from God.

As my aunt describes it (conscience), I suddenly felt like I could see that as being a source of God's voice in me and that it would also be equally possible to get static due to all of my own limitations.

Also, I used to want to require God to be big and transcendent, but now am more able to imagine God from below, as the source material rather than a top down declaration...

All new to me, still figuring it out.


OldMom said...

>Rebecca, thanks for adding your >vast experience with Wright to >the conversation.

Oh man. . .I laughed right out loud at my desk (which I try never to do at the office), which made several people nearby wonder what was so funny about taxes. (The answer to THAT, of course, is either nothing or everything. . .)

Is trudging stubbornly through a couple mega-books all it takes for vast experience? ;-)

OldMom said...

I am taking up all your comment space, but came back because I realized that I had not addressed the question of universal spiritual hunger. Probably because of my background, yes, I am a passionate believer in the reality of a universal hunger among human beings for a reality beyond the mundane, a hunger for the touch of 'that which is.'
Not to say that every human being, everywhere, in every time, has exhibited that hunger to an overwhelming degree or that it cannot be misused, misunderstood or corrupted. But I firmly believe it is real.