I have been doing a lot of thinking this past year. I have been restless for a long time, frustrated, angry, despairing, sometimes hopeful, but mostly not. Much of that emotional stuff is internal, even though I have tended to externalize and project it onto many things--particularly my working environments, which I have found increasingly frustrating in the past couple of years for lots of reasons, not the least of which is that I often feel like a square peg in a round hole, but again, not their fault, mine, I have chosen to be there and must deal with the implications of that. I find most experiences of religion, whether it is in my pastoral role or my academic one, to be depressingly predictable and uninteresting to me. A large part of me feels that I should just simply walk away, that it is not worth the frustration and internal turmoil I feel, but then what? I suppose until I resolve that equation, "the then what?" I shall remain in a state of inner conflict. I am torn between taking a wild leap into the dark, and trying to work out what moves are available to me--I can't find my way to either place at the moment, so I shall live with my frustrations and try to make them work for me.
Plus I remain interested in religion, but I have realized in the past few years that I am interested in religion, mostly as Mark Taylor observes, in the places where it is least obvious, and of course, given that most of my occupational interactions are with religion where it is most obvious, you can probably work out why I'm in the state I'm in. That is not to say that I have no interest in obvious religion, it's just that I sometimes feel that it is in a cycle of self-understanding from which it will never free itself and I will always be at odds with it, and I don't particularly want to be. This is not to say that it is all bad, in fact, some of it is great, I just need to work out how to work within it in a way that is healtheir and more life-giving to me personally.
Religion is difficult to wrestle with, something the etymology of the very word demonstrates. The dictionary is actually a little vague on the origins of the word religion. It is often, and usually by religious people, declared to be derived from the Latin word religare, to bind-which fits nicely with the idea of god and religion inextricably interwoven. But others say it evolved from relegere, which means to re-read. You can see that these two stems could lead to quite different understandings of what exactly is going on when we talk about and engage in religion.
Perhaps religion is best understood as having a couple of different trajectories, and I think those trajectories need to be held in tension or you wind up with a form of religion that has no bite, and one that resists change, resists new. "The last experience of God is often the obstacle to the next experience of God," says Richard Rohr and I think he is right, and a one-sided understanding of it contributes to that resistance. Maybe Zizek would invite some kind of dialectical understanding of it-it both stabilizes and destabilizes life.
I think that my tension lies in the belief that we are in a time of upheaval and dislocation, a destabilizing period if you will, and I seem to be in environments where the response to that sense, that feeling, that implication, is an entrenchment rather than a rising to meet it. During my PhD work I utilized the theory of Ptirim Sorokin's of cultural development which classified societies according to, what he termed their, cultural mentality. Societies can be "ideational" (reality is spiritual), "sensate" (reality is material), or "idealistic" (a synthesis of the two). He suggested that major civilizations evolve from an ideational, to an idealistic, and eventually to a sensate mentality. Each of these phases of cultural development not only seeks to describe the nature of reality, but also stipulates the nature of human needs and goals to be satisfied, the extent to which they should be satisfied, and the methods of satisfaction. He was a bit controversial to say the least (he founded sociology at Harvard and had some intense views on human sexuality and marriage that have been claimed by anti-homosexual groups-he argued that the regulation of sexuality was one of the first markers of a civilization and its deregulation was one of the pointers to collapse) and his theory has, like most theories, some major flaws, but I was taken by the fact that much of his theoretical assumptions and prognoses were borne out of a study of literature and the arts as much as by economics and other indicators.
It seems to me that if we were to take Sorokin's theory we might say that we are in a transitional phase, moving out of an ideational period into a sensate one, although it is a materialist view infused with the spiritual because we have shifted our understandings of things and don't operate with such distinct binary oppositions these days, or I don't anyway. That shift to me, represents a destabilizing moment to religion, and this is what interests me--but lots of religious talk seeks to offer stabilization and security, which will a) inevtiably fail and b) turns religion into a talisman, little more than a rabbit's foot.
I was supposed to be in Connecticut this past few days, gathering with a bunch of friends to talk through some of these things, unfortunately, I have been sick all week and was unable to go--would've been really helpful to me to be around a bit more of that conversation.