I have for a long, long time, been reflecting on the idea of 'religionless christianity' as floated by Dietrich Bonhoeffer in one of his letters from prison. There is undoubtedly a little bit of an 'industry' and lots of speculation around the phrase, especially as bonhoeffer never got to flesh out what he meant as his life was cut short. The are a couple of things he does raise in his conversation,
"What do a church, a community, a sermon, a liturgy, a Christian life mean in a religionless world? How do we speak of God – without religion, i.e. without the temporally conditioned presuppositions of metaphysics, inwardness, and so on? How do we speak (or perhaps we cannot now even ‘speak’ as we used to) in a ‘secular’ way about ‘God’? In what way are we ‘religionless-secular’ Christians, in what way are we the ecclesia, those who are called forth, not regarding ourselves from a religious point of view as specially favoured, but rather as belonging wholly to the world? In that case Christ is no longer an object of religion, but something quite different, really the Lord of the world. But what does that mean? What is the place of worship and prayer in a religionless situation? Does the secret discipline, or alternatively the difference (which I have suggested to you before) between
penultimate and ultimate, take on a new importance here? …"
I have been thinking essentially about this sentence for a couple of years--insane, I know, because I havent come to any conclusions yet, but the RSA talk at the top of the post does hint at what I am being drawn towards. This shift from introspection to outrospection in terms of emphasis would seem to be a dynamic of life in the 21st century in many arenas and I think it may be one that religion is slowly coming around to.
One of the challenges I find with institutional or 'organized' religion in general (and I say this principally though my own direct experience with christianity so my views are subjective, intensely speculative and deeply personal and anecdotal) is its fascination with history. It would seem to be in awe of a god who seems to be more interested in the past than the present in virtually every arena from liturgy (whether high or low church expression) to doctrine--there is no future there is only a regirgitation of the past. I don't mean to dismiss history or undercut the importance of tradition, just to highlight the challenge the future presents to communities who must appeal to and honour the past--it's just that honouring the past often means invading the present with ideas and concepts whose sell-by-date is long gone.
This shift from inside to out, from introspection to outrospection would be an example. When we exist in religious environments we often find ourselves governed by the inside--we speak of spirit/soul, of spiritual disciplines which are essentially internal--prayer, contemplation, reading etc. not bad in and of themselves, but...
What if the spiritual discipliines needed for today are not those that are principally internal in nature, what if life is turned inside-out and now what is necessary is outrospection? Of course, Roman Krznaric offers a way to understand what this might look like and it has a certain connection to theology--empathy. Now some might say there is no need to shift anything, internal, spiritual disciplines are designed to help us be different in the world, to be compassionate (as our father in heaven is compassionate), I would argue differently, and I say this as someone who has embedded himslef wuite firmly at times in various kinds of inwardness--you act your way into new ways of thinking and being, not vice-versa. What Kzrznaric and others put forth is more radical than we realize, they are pointing to a necessary shift in consciousness towards the world and perhaps highlighting how dependent we are upon ways of being that were developed in different eras of human history and consciousness. This is something Jeremy Rifkin picks up in his work on The Empathic Civilization,
Bonhoeffer identified religion by at least a couple of things--temporally conditioned presuppositions of metaphysics and inwardness (you wish he had said more than "and so on" :)), and wondered what a connection to god would look like apart from those things. Personally I find that in church environments these two elements are significant challenge as they are the heart of the industrial-religious complex, and given the reliance upon past-conditioned assumptions, they are quite difficult to challenge--unless you appeal to life, then lots of people get it and realize that there is a disconnect between the way we live and think most of the week and what happens when we step into a church building.
This comes back to the issue of whether postmodern ideas can live in the church which was raised at Subvert the Norm II, the answer of course is a resounding 'yes' you just have to start talking from life not history and link history and tradition to life not the other way round.
Anyway, no fully-formed ideas, just processing intersections on my way to possible new permutations.