The first chapter opens in Dietrich Bonhoeffer's prison cell during WWII, where he wrote a short letter titled "Religionless Christianity", a letter "which does not seem to be abandoning the Christian faith as reimagining it." This is the Heretic's goal. To revision faith, not abandon it.
Burke keeps jumping from the term "traditional religion" to "religion" synonymously. As someone whose academic work has largely been in religious studies, it seems to me that Burke is setting up a straw man and given it the title "religion". Anything that smacks of patriarchy or traditionalism can be given the title religion. We'll ascribe all historical fubars (such as any of the Crusades, Colonialism, patriarchy, anti-semitism) to religion. The alternative Burke offers to religion is "spirituality", a "religionless" way to "celebrate the sacred". Everyone digs spirituality, as he demonstrates by citing Bono and the preponderance of magazine articles on the subject. Those historical cock up's were the fault of religion, not "spirituality".
When Burke says that "cracks are appearing in the foundation of traditional religion" he isn't telling us anything new. Judaism was the cracks in Caananite polytheism. Christianity became the cracks in Judaism. Then that cracked into Orthodoxy and Catholicism. And then Protestantism came along and we've been cracking ever since. I'm simplifying of course, but when Burke says "religion is no longer regarded as a place to find peace for the soul" it sounds like students in religious studies courses wanting badly to not be defined as "religious" in the way that people like Durkheim and Eliade implied all men might be.
If we can just distance ourselves from those bad religious people, those modern day Pharisees, then we'll be in the clear. The problem is that Burke never defined what he meant by religion. He implies it heavily, with words like "external and dogmatic belief systems" and "power-based interpretations of foundational texts". He suggests we need to "move past religion".
He states that "Faithfulness to the message of Jesus does not mean that we must simply imitate our forbears in the Christian tradition. To do so might help preserve their formulas, but it will freeze us in history." I couldn't agree more. But it does not follow, to use his language, that faithfulness to the message of Jesus means that we must simply ignore those forebears, or abandon those traditions. I realize I'm only in the first chapter and there's lots more to unfold here, but if this first chapter were an article, I'd be assuming (and I hate doing that, but this is the limitation of the step by step dialogue) that Burke wants to leave "the Church" behind.
I think the ideas Burke has are good, but his dichotomy is false. Most of the academic staff in the program of religious studies at University of Alberta would still label a "celebration of the sacred" as a religious actitivity, therefore a form of religion. Burke wants to define religion as patriarchal Christendom, or perhaps fundamentalism, or both and all the other shit that gets swept under the header of "religion". A better polemic might be traditional religion vs. transforamational religion, which Burke calls spirituality. I know I'm playing a semantic game, but words are powerful, and I dislike that "religion" is equated with some dry, lifeless concept while "spirituality" retains an effervescence and vitality. I also find it suspicious that we will revision, not abandon "faith" but that "faith" is not "religion". And I dig Bono's sentiment that "religion is the temple after God has left it", but that won't change that popularly, we still think of religion as being associated with God. Again, maybe what's needed isn't abandonment of religion but revision. Redemptive revision of the word religion.
Better yet, let's get historical. What is it exactly we're all rebelling against in the West? Is it really the Church of Jesus Christ, or is it the Church of Reverend Jimmy Bakker, and via him to fundamentalism, and via that to Colonial missionary movements, etc., which could be boiled down into the term "Christendom" could it not? The earthly kingdom of the church. As defined over at wikipedia, Christendom "in the widest sense, refers to Christianity as a territorial phenomenon: those countries where most people are Christians, or nominal Christians, are part of Christendom." It's a political entity.
I am not so eager to divest myself of Christianity. There have been many times I've wanted to ditch the phrase, to call myself something funky like "follower of the Way" but I always end up in my explanations telling people I'm a Christian. A Christ follower. You can dress it all up, and the people you're talking to will likely still think "Christian". Christianity, and the church ought to be, to use one of Bonhoeffer's other works, a spiritual reality created by God which we may choose to participate in.
And why not? I'm not proud of everything in the history of Christianity, and I find most church life stifling, but then again, not everything in the Perschon family tree is squeaky clean and I'm not changing my last name to Bush (God, that was inflammatory, wasn't it?).
Maybe I've misunderstood Spencer Burke. If I have, my apologies...hopefully by the end of this road, I'll know more definitively. But in a nutshell, my back's up a bit. Trying hard to keep an open mind, but...well. I digress. Until next week.