A one-sided interfaith dialogue

With a tip of the hat to Dr. Liccione, I give you “Is religion losing the millennial generation?” from the weekend’s USA Today. I won’t belabor any point Dr. Liccione hasn’t already made, except to take some of what he says a step further and to suggest that the way these students “invent” their religions indicates that for them, religion is best when it functions as a mild, feel-good, universally-affirming entertainment — not unlike, perhaps, a Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan comedy.

That said, there’s this point —

Study after study has shown that American college students are fleeing from organized religion to mix-and-match spirituality.

True; let’s also note, however, that this trend also exists within organized religion. My emergent church friends like to tell me that their idea is to take the best of all Christian traditions, put ’em all into the same pot, and then have everybody put something else intensely personal into the mix, so that the end result is (as they argue) something totally new. They may not be busting down the door of their parents’ or grandparents’ churches, but they want to build a modern church using the best of what those congregations had to offer. No, they say, we don’t want to be Orthodox and limit ourselves to a particular tradition, but icons, incense, and chant seem like they’d be cool to use as building blocks for something else. Their argument is that, sure, maybe that’s reinventing the wheel, but wouldn’t it be limiting the creative movement of the Holy Spirit to have it any other way?

Then there’s this point:

…I can’t help but think that priests, rabbis, imams and ministers would do well to engage in interfaith dialogue not only with one another but also with this “spiritual but not religious” generation.

It is certainly true that we need to do a better job of engaging the “spiritual but not religious,” but I think it would be a mistake to suggest that it’s “interfaith dialogue.” “Nothing” is not a different kind of “something”; it is nothing. The job we need to do is, while having compassion and charity for how they’ve arrived where they are at, showing them why having something is better than having nothing.

It will be a tough job, no question about it. Part of the problem — and I think this is demonstrated by the article — is that if they don’t think it’s real in the first place, then why does it matter which made-up version to which one ascribes? Then it really is a question of which one is more entertaining, which one gives you a fuzzier feeling in your stomach. So how do you engage so that they see that there is in fact something real there with which to connect?

It’s going to take some work.


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