Some thoughts on my christianity


Why I believe

I don’t know when I decided to be Christian, to be a Christian. But I know I decided

Perhaps it was after I had completed my Master’s degree. Lost, doubting both my own integrity and my place in the world, working a job that paid the bills and left me sadder each day, I set off to Europe for the second time – more to get away than to see something new. The best version of me would take this time to adventure, to learn a new language. Perhaps I would indulge my curiosity by going to Tunisia, study Arabic and build on my newly developed interests in Islam and the Middle East. But in the wake of the Arab Spring, my courage and my logistical fortitude failed me. I had been in similar situations enough to anticipate the loneliness of arriving in an unfamiliar country, finding an apartment, and heading to a language school each day. And so I wound up, guided by Providence no doubt and my mother’s advice, at the Christian monastic community of Taize. For a week or two, I thought, and then I’ll travel and practice my French. But I remained for seven weeks, spending one in silence. For the first time in my adult life, I learned to pray. I began a conversation with God, and for the first time in several years, started to feel comfortable with the uncertainty in how my life would turn out.

Then again, perhaps it was earlier. Maybe I decided to be a Christian at the moment when I publicly declared it, just as one would expect, at my confirmation service in the suburban United Church my family attended. I think I was about fourteen, grade nine, and I remember wrestling with the question of what I could, in good conscience, say. I began by acknowledging my doubt, by distancing myself from a literal or rigid interpretation of Christianity. And then declared my belief and affirmation of Jesus Christ, to his concern for the poor and the oppressed, his universal love and his generosity of spirit. These are the principles, I said, that I embrace, and if that means being Christian, then I am one.

But I think most importantly, most profoundly, it was during the intellectual tumult of university. The most important and intense year of my intellectual life was first year university, reading and discussing the great ideas of the Western tradition. But I had arrived, by the end of the year, at something of a crisis. I was convinced that the great traditions of old did not hold much water. The ethical systems of Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas all, in their own ways, relied on beliefs that I could not affirm. Even worse, I came to suspect that the basic moral teachings underlying them – Love thy neighbour and so on – were themselves a kind of pleasing fiction.

I tried nihilism. I tried believing that there was no meaning or significance in human actions. That my life was composed of a series of random amoral episodes, for which I retrospectively invented meaning. I wrestled with the notion that judgements like “good” or “kind” were no more than selfish attempts to make myself feel better about an otherwise arbrirary existence. That it was a sign of my inauthenticity that I was unwilling to encounter the world as it actually was, but had to dress it up with these moralizing labels. That it signified a problem with my constitution, a pain in my gut, as Nietzsche might say.

It sounds extreme, perhaps. Self indulgent and implausible. And no doubt it was, but I have always been a pastor’s son. I learned from my father that the central drama of a human life is the struggle to bring one’s behaviour in line with one’s principles. To find some kind of harmony between the cosmic order of the world – good and evil on the grand scale – and the quotidian choices that give our lives texture and substance. To give up on such harmony now, simply because I no longer believed in a cosmic order with which to harmonize, struck me as the peak of cowardice. No that’s probably not right. I just didn’t know how to do it. I didn’t know what life was for, I couldn’t figure out how to use my days, if not by puzzling over the relationship between the great truths of the world and the small truths of my life. That intellectual curiosity was a compulsion, not a choice. A problem in my gut.

Eventually, I came to see my inability to live according to the Nietchean principles that I nominally espoused as a problem, not for my life, but for my principles. No matter what I said, my behaviour always revealed that I thought it mattered to be kind to others. In the quiet of my own mind, I could never quite give up on the belief that my mother loves me. I could say that her love was a convenient fiction of my own mind, a retrospective imagining that I used, in my weakness, to stave back the horror of life’s meaninglessness. But I could never quite believe it.

So much the worse, then, for nihilism.

But a lot changes in that reversal. No longer is the task, first, to figure out the right principles – what Good and Bad are, what God wants from us – and second, figure out how to live my life according to those principles. Instead, I had to start with the principles that are revealed to me in my own actual behaviour. I had to scrutinize myself, and on the basis of that scrutiny, figure out the world.

I am, as most of us are, a product of my childhood. In my case, that means I was raised in a liberal Christian home, in Southern Ontario, at the turn of the twenty-first century. My home life was structured, in ways I did not appreciate until much later, by the collision of a few broad social trends in the bodies of my Mom and my Dad. My mother was a professional, a lawyer. Unlike my grandmothers, who worked until they had children, or my great-grandmothers, who gave up their independent incomes on their wedding days, my mother worked – part time and then full time, through most of my childhood. Feminism joined hands with the intensification of late capitalism to ensure that the bourgeois life my grandparents had worked their way in to was only available to us as a two-income household.

This was particularly true given the precipitous decline in the social prestige – and the inflation-adjusted income – of the professional clergy. Both of my grandfathers had given themselves to the United Church of Canada during its golden age of post-war expansion. Their personal sense of a sacred calling brought them into a world of small towns and growing suburbs thirsty for the leadership and fellowship they had to offer.

By the early 80s, when my father received from his mother a life-altering letter, it was clear that the Church had come to occupy quite a different place. My grandmother shared with David what she had thought for some time, but had been reluctant to say. That he would make an excellent minister. But when my father answered his Call, he knew it was a call to minister to a secular and secularizing world, one in which psychologists, scientists, lawyers and doctors had definitively replaced the clergy as figures of broad social trust.

What this meant, for him, was that he could not do the job the way that my grandfathers and great-grandfather had. His role was not to bring the wisdom of Christianity and the fellowship of the Church to a community that sought it. The bit-by-bit fashioning of Canada into a Christian nation was neither plausible nor desirable.

His role, rather, was to live a Christian life in a nation transformed. And this meant that he always had an intensely personal, even private, relationship to his faith. Never an evangelist, Christianity for my Dad has at its core his duties as a father and a husband. He made peace with, or embraced, the feminism of the nineties by exploring dimensions of masculinity that had gone broadly untapped by previous generations. He compromised on scriptural literalism by remaining consistently open to gay and lesbian equality, understanding this to be the Spirit rather than the Letter of God’s Law. The fragmenting of the institutional church over this issue should perhaps be read as a prelude to his efforts, several decades later, to form a new kind of spiritual community through the staging of several plays which explore transgender and queer experiences of life and faith.

My dad has spent his entire career as the public face of a dying institution. He is not nostalgic about this; the Church is an institution like any other, flawed and all-too-human. But it is perhaps not a coincidence that the faith in which I was raised was always a questioning faith. The issue was always integrity, never righteousness. As a child I had an allergy to evangelical expressions of God’s love, to Christian rock and speaking in tongues. Too loud. Too hypocritical. It was hard for me to see, in the cacophony of the Holy Spirit, the quiet, patient love that I understood to be the essence of God’s Revelation.

Children cannot recognize the tradeoffs and compromises of their own parents lives. Neither do they have they experience to see the social forces that have presented these choices to them. But as I found myself casting about, around my twentieth birthday, for a way out of the ethical dead-end I had reasoned my way in to, I came to think that maybe my moral intuitions and inherited beliefs, unexamined and unphilosophic though they may be, contained within them a rich enough wisdom to be worthy of my allegiance.




What I believe

I begin from the conviction that the world exceeds our grasp. That there is more than we can know; that mystery is a permanent feature of the human experience.

This is obvious. Christianity, Islam, and Judaism tell us this. Physics tells us. The Sun Dance tells us. Yoga tells us. The Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Ocean waves tell us. The World is Thin, as Indigenous Bishop Mark MacDonald once told me. Or as the late great Leonard Cohen put it, “There is a crack in everything/ that’s how the light gets in”. Only ideologues deny it.

Ideologues want to take my faith away from me by shrinking it. What about the Virgin Birth, they say. If you are a Christian, do you believe that?

To me the Virgin Birth means this: that the divine is with us. The God came down, like light through the cracks.

It has been my experience that there are two basic ways we can relate to things in this world. Sometimes I look on someone I love and I know them, the experience of immanence. Sometimes I do not know them at all, I am transfixed by their otherness. The experience of transcendence. These two forms of loving are critical forms of these experiences, but they are not the only ones.

Immanence. The world presents itself to me in a way that I feel I can understand. This is a miracle, if only we would pay attention to it. That light travels a certain speed, that we can calculate the probability of rolling a six, and understand what someone means when they speak to us.

Transcendence. The world reminds us how far it is beyond our grasp. The light of a star, the infinitesimally unlikely event, the incomprehension of those we know best.

Christianity names the first experience “God the Son”. The divine in human form; Truth, here among us, Word made Flesh. Christianity names the second experience “God the Father”. Up there, out there, the Truth that is never here, and yet is always present. Transcendence and immanence; mystery and intimacy. The point of the Virgin birth is that these are two experiences of the same God. That Christ the man and God the Father are cosmically joined. In the basic doctrine of the trinity, the central doctrine of the Christian faith, there is also the Holy Spirit, that which connects the two. That which gives us each, as individuals, our own little piece of the divine.

The truth of this truth does not rest, for me, on the question of whether or not Mary and Joseph had intercourse. I reject the petty literalism that would deny my faith by shrinking it. I do not mean what you mean when you say miracles. But yes, I believe in miracles.

Let me say a bit more, come at it another way.

If this cocktail of a feminist, progressive, private, and heterodox Christianity, aligned with but critical of the dominant trends of Canadian life, is my inherited default, then the challenge for me is how to live in to that tradition. I’ve been deeply influenced, in recent years, by my brother-in-law’s paraphrase of Ghandi. Ghandi explains that conversion represents a misunderstanding of the relationship between the individual and the tradition; traditions are not the sort of thing that we get to choose, opting in to and out of. Rather, traditions make us. We are formed by our inheritance, and if we find ourselves unhappy with it, it is our responsibility to refashion it into something better.

Liturgically, I’m a traditionalist. I’ve read my Aquinas and Augustine; I like ritual, repetition, and theological seriousness. My allergy to Christian rock continues in a general suspicion of ‘modern’ or trendy modes of worship. When I seek the divine, I seek quiet.

Doctrinally, I embrace change. This is not because I reject authority or hierarchy. It is not because I think we know more about how to live today than we did before. I reject the notion that the last few hundred years have been constant enlightenment, from homophobia to gay marriage, from racism to multiculturalism, from Christianity to secular modernity. I know that racism is modern, and that pluralism is ancient. I know that the heteropatriarchy was a part of the European colonialist project, with deep but complex historical roots.

I embrace change because God changes. The world is thin; the divine presence is always showing through. What I seek, in worship and in ethical life, is simply to be attuned to the presence. Whether it be in the words of anti-racist crusaders, loving mothers, or a songbird. For that reason I reject a narrow Christianity, a Christianity that has as its core the drawing of sharp lines between people. Such a Christianity serves primarily to blind us to the depth and breadth of God’s mystery. It is no true Church.

And yet for it to be a Christianity at all, it cannot be infinitely broad. Just as one does not get to ‘choose’ one’s traditions, one also does not get to invent one’s own Christianity. That’s not Christianity, that’s Daniel-ism.

But neither does one have to accept the dominant, trendy, or stereotypical version of one’s faith. The Good News that my education has brought me is that Christianity is not a set of static dogma. It is a long tradition of diverse and brilliant communities of people, taking a shared set of texts, ideas, and practices as their starting point for this great journey of living. Those communities have gone a lot of different ways; they’ve been Orthodox and Coptic and feminism and queer. They’ve all erred, they’ve all struggled. But they’ve also, in their way, participated in God’s revelation.

My Church, the United Church, was founded on the principle of Ecumenism. It’s always been light on Doctrine, but if it has one, that’s it. To me, Ecumenism means inclusivity of both Christian and non-Christian experiences of the divine. It means being open to God where God finds me; where I find God.

And where God has found me, it turns out, is in 2018, as a PhD student with a tenuous connection but a strong lineage in the dying United Church of Canada. For me, that means that I don’t get to just walk away from the paradox of the Virgin Birth. I don’t get to deny the Resurrection in an effort to seem reasonable. Christianity never claimed to be reasonable, or easy, or popular. The least that I owe to it is not to abandon it on that account.

Maybe there is a way to make a meaningful life in this world other than trying to be the best version of what you already are. Maybe some can do more than take what they are given and make it grow. But if there is a way, I don’t know it. I am what I am; that’s what God gave me; that’s what I’ve got.


Is Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Pessimism “Neoliberal”?

On Tuesday, December 19, Ta-Nehisi Coates quit twitter. A couple days earlier, Harvard Divinity Professor Cornell West published a sharp take-down of Coates in the Guardian, “Ta-Nehisi Coates is the neoliberal face of the black freedom struggle”. In typical trolling fashion, the piece was endorsed by Richard Spencer.

There is lots to say about the substance of the disagreement between Coates and West. In the view of New Yorker writer Jelani Cobbs, the accusation that Coates is neoliberal is both outrageous and malicious, part of a broad range of attacks on Coates by Black intellectuals who resent the attention and accolades accruing to a HBC dropout. But West builds his argument with facts that are well known, and not easily dismissed. West draws on Coates’ own words to point out that Coates has become the most prominent black voice among the White elite of American society. This is not simply a guilt-by-association, but a natural consequence of Coates’ neglecting Capitalist profiteering in favour of White Supremacy as the primary driver of American life (and thus the primary source of injustice). This Duboisian emphasis on the colour line crowds out, for Coates, the intersectional nature of oppression in America, and so he fails to build hetero-patriarchy systematically into his analysis, and does not explore the ways race, gender, and sexuality work together to create a regime of control, a social structure which reinforces existing power by unevenly distributing violence. But worst of all, for West, Coates falls into a kind of knowing pessimism; by rendering White Supremacy both decisive and immovable, Coates paints a portrait of America which is doomed by its history.

West does not present these arguments carefully or sympathetically, and as such their persuasiveness is uneven. On the failure to centre capitalism, we have one the central pivots around which the modern left has struggled. Is racism a tool of capitalist exploitation, or does it have a life all its own? But we also have echoes of the 2016 Democratic Primary, when Coates voiced criticism of Bernie Sanders for his failure to address race issues early in his campaign. West was and remains a prominent supporter of Bernie.

As is demonstrated in his sharp critiques of George Packer’s coverage of the Trump campaign, Coates is carefully attuned to the ways that a focus on economic injustice elides issues of race, in ways that reinforce racial injustice. West is right to think that his attention to this problem leads Coates to be suspicious of the broad coalition-of-the-exploited politics that has been the lifeblood of social democratic left. As he explains in We Were Eight Years in Power, this rhetoric misses the possibility that working-class whites will (correctly) identify their interests not with their fellow-worker but their fellow-whites. It misses the fact that White Supremacy created the first mass-Aristocracy, building a society in which even the most destitute White man could rest assured of his rare and unearned social privilege. This, Coates suggests, is the true meaning of “Whites Only,” and he takes Trumps victory as proof that it is this set of interests which motivates the majority of white Americans – as it ever was.

The fact of the Trump presidency, with its intense culture warfare and its nostalgic “Make America Great Again” makes it difficult to disagree with Coates on this. And yet is it equally difficult to disagree with the proposition that things are more complicated, that everything cannot be explained by a single variable. (This is the substance of Packer’s rebuttal to Coates). In this sense the strongest charge against Coates is his failure to centre the most vulnerable – to build intersectionality into his analysis in a systematic way.

But it seems to me that what really motivates these prominent straight men to critique Coates is not the failure of his intersectional analysis but the central question of hope. West’s core charge against Coates is that he paints a world in which White Supremacy cannot be overcome, and that this has a de-mobilizing rather than an empowering effect. He ignores “black fightback”. He does not rally to the cause; instead he wants to be a writer, a truth teller.

The exploration of what it means to be a writer, a black writer – and eventually, a famous black writer – has always been a central thread of Coates thought, one which he has courageously put on display. There are two structuring threads of We Were Eight Year in Power. One is his gradual disillusionment with Hope and Change and his growing awareness of White Supremacy, traceable from his celebration of Michelle Obama in “American Girl” through his fascination with the Civil War to “Fear of a Black President”.

The other is a story of a Coates, a writer making it big. In his notes from each year, Coates documents his financial situation. What began with a heart-warming agreement for his father to subsidize an independent blog becomes, by Obama’s second term, real financial stability. By 2015, Coates was talking to Neil Drummond about how his wealth had transformed their friendship for This American Life.

These two threads are related. They are connected by the central question which Coates has posed for the last few years: why do white people like my writing? The shift in Coates analysis is pegged, in part, to his growing sense of his own responsibility. In WWEYIP, he tries to explain his rise to prominence, by exploring the proposition that the Obama presidency “created a market” for a certain kind of voice. With the election of a Black President, White America suddenly felt compelled to pay attention, in a way it never had before, to Black art and writing and scholarship.

But he is also grappling with the ethical implications of this meteoric rise. Implicit in Coates self-examination and in West’s excoriation is the charge that, if White people like what you are writing, then you are doing something wrong. West makes it explicit; if they like you, it is because you are not challenging them.

This charge hinges on the claim that Coates provides no way out; that he describes White Supremacy in such a totalizing way that White wring their hands and share Atlantic articles on Facebook over four-dollar lattes in gentrifying neighbourhoods: “what can you do?”.

Such a claim is bizarre in at least one sense: Coates’ most important essay is a direct answer to this question. It gave us a way out. Reparations.

We might respond, with Bernie, that Reparations are never going to happen. That such a demand is politically unreasonable. Perhaps so. But should the most influential Black writer in America therefore pretend that justice requires anything less? Should Coates tell the Atlantic audience that a social democratic coalition is the answer to the Colour Line?

The point is not only that we should aim high – although we should. The point is that no version of justice worthy of the name requires anything less. When Ezra Klein asked him directly what he thought justice would involve, Coates replied, wealth equality. When the average household wealth of black families is equal to that of white families, we can begin the conversation about whether the legacy of Slavery has been overcome.

For a Black activist to evaluate themselves by this bar might well be demoralizing. Certainly, it would motivate a retreat from the shadow-boxing of partisan politics. And that’s probably for the worse. Getting a pro-BLM mayor elected is not going to solve the wealth gap. But it is nevertheless vitally important.

So it is essential that there be writers and intellectuals who speak to these activists. Who conjure coalitions. Who exhort us to live the change that we want to see, to build anti-racist, feminist, queer communities. To bring heaven to earth by living now in the society we want for the future.

And these conjured worlds must be supported by an analysis that is grounded in the reality of that struggle. In its pragmatics, on the one hand, and its intersectional utopianism, on the other. All of us, or none of us.

It is essential, in other words, that there be a Cornell West.

But shouldn’t there also be Ta-Nehisi Coates?

Is there a place for holding White folks to the fire? For articulating clearly and persistently the depth and horror of White Supremacy. For interpreting current events in light of this structuring insight. For holding every measure of progress to the standard of Justice, and finding it wanting.

I take this to be Coates’ own answer to the question that his fame has posed. This accounts for strident, at times polemical tone of “The First White President,” which caused so many on the left to turn on him. This is how a man of Coates’ convictions remains honest when he finds himself White America’s racial conscience.

The question that the West-Coates dispute poses, it seems to me, is whether we can accept, in this age of integrated and social media, such a division of labour? Can there be one argument for White Liberals, and another for activists?

But of course, the answer to this question will crucially hinge on the answer to another. What are White People going to do about it? When Coates presents his accounting of the deep and persisting horror of our own society, do we cry, what about the working class? Do we breathe a sigh of relief when we see that Cornell West agrees that the real problem is Goldman Sachs, and say, no way Congress will approve reparations anyway? Or do we allow ourselves to be honestly confronted by the depth of the challenge that White Supremacy poses to all of our consciences? And let that be our starting point.

ISIS’s Marketing Campaign

In response to yesterday’s post on violence, a friend sent me this excellent, challenging piece on the marketing savvy of ISIS. It does a great job of bringing out the perverse way that ISIS has been able to enter the West’s popular imagination. Marshall Sella cites one fact that I found especially remarkable: polls show that Americans were more aware of the beheading of James Foley than of any news event in the last five years – including, for example, Assad’s use of chemical weapons. No wonder we are going to war – the tail wags the dog.

The whole thing is worth reading, but here’s an especially resonant passage.

“ISIS, though, has reached marketing maturity. The militants’ media portfolio — its slickly designed magazine Dabiq, the grim John Cantlie Show, all of it — represents their message in full. On one side of it, there’s the recruiting effort, beseeching life’s losers in the East and the West to come and be welcomed, to be a part of something. On the other side, the message to those who will not join the cause is: We are going to destroy you, but first, utterly defile you. ISIS has now threatened not only to “See you in New York,” but also to fly its square banner over the White House.

Their icons, unlike the one-off images of Al Qaeda, have the ability to continue and expand, with an eye to distribution worldwide and one hundred percent of the back end. The creation of corrupt icons, the 2014 sort of icons, and the mass production of them — that’s fairly near the modern definition of branding. That’s the horror of it. (Well, the real horror is in, you know, all the killing.) Terrorists have co-opted methods of the comparatively innocent world of consumerism in order to pitch barbarism.”

Great Article about the Tea Party, and some thoughts

This article by J.M. Bernstein on the Tea Party in the New York Times is really excellent.

I think he is exactly right to identify a nihilistic reaction against dependency, in particular on government, as a driving force behind the Tea Party. And I think Hegel is an excellent foil for explaining what is wrong with that vision of politics: in short, Hegel makes the point the independence is a myth, that we are always already interdependent.

Bernstein explains more clearly and in more detail the kind of existential anger that I was also trying to capture in this post. But I think it’s worth emphasizing two points which Bernstein doesn’t dwell on.

First, I think that the nihilistic, anti-political, anti-dependency sentiment is not limited to the Tea Party, or the Right generally. I think Occupy shows elements of it, as do most ‘radical’ leftist programs. I mean, that’s a pretty good definition of the word “radical” – if you believe in incremental change to the existing order, you aren’t radical. Tear-it-all-downism certainly finds expression in some feminist, post-colonial, and anti-capitalist circles.

And if the reaction against dependency is wider than Bernstein suggests, that’s because the phenomenon that is being rejected is also broader. The Tea Party, and therefore Bernstein, limit their definition of dependency to dependency on government. But the creep of governmental bureaucracy into basic aspects of our lives is only one part of a broad shift. We live today in mass societies, and no one more so than Americans. This means that we rely upon large, distant institutions for the material and cultural goods that form the fabric of our day-to-day life. Hollywood dominates our cultural horizon. A handful of huge companies like Procter and Gamble define how we now conceptualize a ‘household’. Food is engineered and delivered to the local supermarket in forms that stretch the meaning of the term. In one of the most shocking and recent developments, self-identity itself is increasingly mediated through large institutions; aesthetic changes to Facebook Walls have important implications for the personhood of people who (like me) experience and maintain a significant portion of their intimate social relationships online.

In a certain sense, no human being has ever lived outside of a “structure” – a set of institutions which, even if only implicitly, determine the possible courses their lives can pursue. But the sheer scale of modern communication infrastucture and the scope of neo-liberal capitalism have made this fact more obvious and more acute. Under the conditions of “advanced western capitalism” or whatever you want to call it, it is difficult to avoid the realization that who I am is intensely shaped by my relationships – not only to other people, as Hegel describes in his famous master-slave dialectic – but to large institutions. The shows I watch, the music I listen to, the city I live in, the stores I shop at and the political parties I support – these are signifier that we grab on to to help us “get to know a person”. But there’s no escaping the fact that what we are talking about is really how I relate to a massive cultural edifice over which I have very little control.

I agree with Bernstein that what is both fascinating and difficult to explain about the Tea Party is its anger “or, the flip-side of that anger, the ease with which it succumbs to the most egregious of fear-mongering falsehoods”. And I agree with him that a knee-jerk rejection of dependency is at the core of this anger. But I think that reframing the issue as I have, as a broader response to some of the fundamental conditions of modernity, both helps one understand the emotional attractiveness of the movement, and provides the basis for a critique of that movement. So long as you identify dependence as dependence on government, and independence as freedom from it, the myth of freedom remains deeply plausible. But if you open your eyes to the way that we depend on alienating, massive institutions not only for our welfare cheques but also for our potato chips, it becomes much less clear that the solution is to undermine and retreat from the institutions of democratic government, while leaving the rest of our mass society intact.

On the popular piety of modernity

Lately, I have been fascinated by the idea of a popular piety. My engagements with religion tend to be extremely intellectual, and I privilege that kind of religiousity. But it occurs to me that complex theology is neither the most common nor the most important thing that religion does. The extraordinary accomplishment of the world’s great religions is that they give all sorts of people from various intellectual, social, and economic backgrounds a set of tools that help them live well. This is ultimately the test of any given religious practice; do its adherents find that the doctrines, rituals, and traditions meaningfully improve their lives.

Contemporary liberal Christianity – my own religious background – seems to be having a hard time meeting this test. It has become hard for lots of people to see the “value-added” of going to church. Hockey practice, yoga, and dining with friends crowd church out.

Obviously there is a temporal element to this – there are only so many hours in a day, so things have to get dropped. But I think church is also getting crowded out in a spiritual or ethical sense. These other activities – like team sports or yoga – are providing a lot of the meaning-making, community-building, transcendence-inducing functions that religion typically provide. Because of its religious history, Yoga is a clear example of this, but I think many “scenes” and political and social movements play this role as well. Everything from the rave scene to feminism to being a liberal arts student provide people with sets of practices, beliefs, and rituals that help them navigate the world.

So something that I am interested in doing – and that I hope to do on this blog – is examine some of these practices as popular pieties. In the back of my mind will always be the question – is there something missing here? These practices mimic the functions of religion, but are there some things that only a religion can do?



I have been meaning to start a blog for a while now, and I’ve decided its time to just do it. I’ll be publishing a combination of things I have already written, and things that I will write for the blog. The main purpose of the blog is to help me practice my writing and story-telling, and to keep me engaged and thinking about things now that I am no longer enrolled in an academic program.

I don’t know if the blog will have a theme; I’m not going to force one, but something may emerge. I do intend to use this space in a broadly academic way – I will be offering analysis and commentary, not reporting or sharing. I will aim to be somewhat provokative in my claims, in an effort to generate some disagreement and debate.