We need some kind of name for the folks who live between a conservative orthodoxy and atheism. New York Times columnist David Brooks suggests that the space in the middle is the land of the "quasi-religious."
You can read his column here.
According to Brooks' definition, Yours Truly--Lutheran pastor, lover of Setting Two in the old green Lutheran Book of Worship--may be "quasi-religious." I don't &#$% think so. Okay, I really only meet one of the criteria for quasi-religiosity, but since the figureheads at the top of the two other categories are the Pope and Christopher Hitchens (author of one of the big anti-religion books on the bestseller list), I feel like a person without a country. I'm most certainly not an atheist like Hitchens, and the current Pope and I are not exactly philosophical soulmates.
Here's David Brooks' definition of the "quasi-religious:"
"Quasi-religious people attend services, but they’re
bored much of the time. They read the Bible, but
find large parts of it odd and irrelevant.
They find themselves inextricably
bound to their faith, but think some of the
people who define it are nuts."
Like I said, I can only check one of those boxes. I'm only bored in church some of the time. I only find small parts of the Bible odd, and "irrelevant" is a word I'd be hard-pressed to apply to scripture. I absolutely do, however, find some of the people who define Christianity to be totally bonkers. But that's more a comment on the media and the public imagination (not mutually exclusive categories, mind you), and whom they allow to "define Christianity." If the bishop of the ELCA, Mark Hanson, got to "define Christianity," life would be good.
Mr. Brooks speaks very highly of the "quasi-religious." He includes in that category Abraham Lincoln, "the Protestants...[who] built Victorian England" and the "Jews...[who] helped shape 20th century American culture."
Okay, so first of all, a lot of the folks who "built Victorian England" were probably Anglican. So they're not really Protestants at all--they live in another middle land that needs its own name. Queen Victoria herself may be excluded by David Brooks' description, which is pretty funny. Though she was German and known to attend Presbyterian services as well as Anglican, so maybe not. I digress, but the point is that a New York Times columnist ought to know that a whole lot of Anglicans don't consider themselves Protestants. At least if he's going to write with assumed authority about religion, that is.
Back to the matter at hand: we need a name for the folks who live in the liminal space between religious absolutism and atheism. I suggest "sortadox" with tongue firmly in cheek, but it's better than "quasi-religious." What we really need is a name that doesn't scream "relativism!"
That's the philosophy those of us in the middle get tarred with by those on the edges. We're just mired in relativism. We think we can pick and choose what stuff we like in the Bible. Or we don't have the guts to question the big propositions of the faith, like the atheists and agnostics do.
In most of our churches, the conservative movement calls itself "confessional," or something close to that. I guess "confessional" is the new "orthodox." They call themselves that not so much because they need a name for their movement. It's because they need a name for ours. "Confessional" is a feat of diction much like "Pro-life." Who in the world wants to oppose a group which calls itself "Pro-life?" Doesn't that make you "Anti-life?" Same principle with the "confessional" groups. If they call themselves "confessional Lutherans"--shall we say--then the rest of the Lutherans--the ones who don't believe that the church will turn into a pillar of salt if it blesses the marriage of two men--those folks are "unconfessional," or "non-confessional," or some other really insulting thing. As if those of us who want the church to err on the side of love have left the foundations of the church in the dust.
Actually, in the Lutheran church, I have to say, with all due humility, that the folks who aren't part of the so-called "confessional" movement, seem to know Lutheran theology a little bit better. At least when it comes to good old biblical hermeneutics (that's a fancy grad school phrase meaning, basically, the method we use to read and interpret the Bible). Lutheran theology teaches that we read scripture through the lens of Christ. Where scripture seems to show us something that opposes the gospel, we are taught that the particular text is not authoritative. What is most authoritative is the witness of Jesus Christ. And I'll argue to my death that he always erred on the side of love (sure, tough love sometimes, but always love, and always inclusion).
The "confessional" folks need to spend a little time with Jesus, I think. And a little less time with Leviticus. Or a little more time with Leviticus, which condemns a whole host of practices (yes, within the Holiness Code, right next to the "lie with a man" stuff). A whole host. Of practices. Which you all are practicing. Every day.
Like hypocrisy, for instance.
That's my quasi-religious take on that.