We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
Mark Lilla of the University of Chicago discusses, in the NYT, the collapse of liberal theology and his fear of the consequences in our culture, if not in our politics:
Over the past 30 years we have seen the steady decline of mainline faiths and the upsurge of evangelical, Pentecostal, charismatic and ''neo-orthodox'' movements -- not only among Protestants but among Catholics and Jews as well.
I agree that there has been a decline of the mainline practices, but true believers never disappeared. The RC Church, Conservative Jews, Protestants both black and white in the south and west and in uban areas have all kept the flames of faith burning. As far as I can tell, the meaningful change has been that intelligent folks have begun speaking out about their faith without regard to fashion; there are unembarassed true believers in the halls of power; and true belief has come to add vitality to the white-bread middle-class suburbia that the elite have always scorned.
Lilla terms this the "dumbing down of American religion":
The leading thinkers of the British and American Enlightenments hoped that life in a modern democratic order would shift the focus of Christianity from a faith-based reality to a reality-based faith. American religion is moving in the opposite direction today, back toward the ecstatic, literalist and credulous spirit of the Great Awakenings.
I do not know what Lilla means by "reality-based faith," but I suspect he refers not to faith but to the vague, tradition-based, civics and morality-focused Main Line Protestant church-going habits of the 1950s and 60s. That kind of thing could never survive long, if it ever really existed, because while it provides community and a nice coffee hour, it provides little spiritual food. As he points out occurred in Germany with the disenchantment with their diluted Protestantism:
They sought an authentic experience with the divine, genuine spiritual solace and a clear understanding of the one path to salvation. And what did liberal Protestantism teach? In the words of H. Richard Niebuhr, that ''a God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.'' And if that was the case, why be a Christian at all?
Excellent point. He seems to see the natural human desire for transcendent experience, for an experience of reality containing higher truths than those of pleasure-seeking, comfort, self-worship, humanitarian ethics, and civic-mindedness - in other words, the desire for a "faith-based reality."
That doesn't frighten me at all, but it seems to frighten Lilla, who views liberal (in the Locke sense) government and liberal theology as partners, and he makes the historical case for that view. As I see it, "ya gotta serve somebody," and I find nothing in the Gospels or in Paul's letters to fear. I see everything in them to welcome as a still-revolutionary message of hope of redemption for a sinful world.
But I suspect there is something else going on between the lines. If the recent "Great Awakening" were about liberation theology, or other leftist political causes, I doubt there would be all of this "concern" from Lilla and others - not that Lilla is a leftist. Martin Luther King Jr., a humanly flawed and Godly man, was never criticized for his deep faith which drove his political activism from civil rights to attempting to unionize the South to anti-war activity. Is there a racist condescension in the idea that passionate Christianity is OK for blacks, but not for middle-class white folks? Or is it all mere politics?
However, spiritual awakening is not about politics and it's not about economics - it's about an individual's relationship with the divine.