The Future of Faith

"Nothing is more repulsive," Carl Jung wrote, "than a furtively prurient spirituality; it is just as unsavory as gross sensuality." There are, in other words, some types of spirituality that themselves smother the spirit, that hold the heart in check, that substitute ritual, dogma, doctrine, and canonical hearsay for the real thing. All spirituality is not the same, the comment implies. Shop carefully.

In an age of massive spiritual eclecticism, scientific challenge to age-old truisms, permeable national boundaries, and major theological developments in every major religion unlike anything we have ever seen before, the warning sobers. Like ants let loose from an ant farm, the world has scattered in search of Truth: to the East, to New Age bookstores, to denominational fundamentalisms of the most rigid kind, to self-styled gurus, to the inner search.

Robert Wuthnow's After Heaven: Spirituality in America Since the 1950s looks the phenomenon in the eye and explains it in a way that more than makes sense—it makes for a whole new way of dealing with it. Wuthnow, a professor of social sciences and director of the Center for the Study of American Religion at Princeton University, not only tells us what has happened to religion in America and why, he tells us what has happened as a result. And it is not what we may have thought. According to Wuthnow's analysis, all of which touched my own experience of religious reality, things are far better than we may realize.

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Sojourners Magazine March-April 1999
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