Within the developed world we’re seeing the rise of the “nones”, an increasing number of people who don’t identify with the world’s established religions. This is “the problem of God” presented anew in a postmodernising world and the second key conversation at Urban Mystic.
Being spiritual but not religious doesn’t mean that people aren’t spiritual. It simply means may no longer subscribe to the traditional suppliers of religious goods and services, the classic and few religious movements. People continue to turn to God after the death of God and after religion fails to capture their imagination and turn them into an adherent. Instead, they’re simply not religious. The nones have simply disconnected their quest for God from the faith of the classical, new and contemporary faith institutions and businesses. More and more people now describe themselves as spiritual but not religious, understanding that God and responsible and meaningful living is no longer synonymous with the religions and the cultures, values and mores of premodern civilisations.
Here the problem of God is presented anew, not as the classical philosophical problem of God’s goodness, power and the problem of evil, but in keeping with the changing model of relationships and the experience of who and what God is. Esther Perel notes that the fundamental model of relationships is what has changed, noting this transition from premodern societies to contemporary society. Essentially we’ve gone from a model of relationships in premodern societies where all the big decisions are taken care of—when to marry, who to marry, what role and place you have in society, etc. including the question of God, to a model of choice in contemporary society where all the responsibility lies with the individual.
In a premodern society the question of God is taken care of for people. They’re simply responsible for their spirituality. It’s not surprising then that where religion is considered irrelevant that people retain their spirituality and no longer allow the religions to take care of the question of God.
Throughout the modernizing periods, every religion wrestles with its relationship to a modernizing world and modern people. The faiths have worked hard to adapt from their premodern worlds to the modern world, and continued trying to take care of the question of God for people under great pressure and threat of Modernity. Modern religions have, however, never been good at spirituality resulting in saints standing out as anomalies. Spirituality is often at odds with religion and society, and this relationship hasn’t changed since premodernity. Since the faith institutions leave the meaning and meaningfulness of God and the relationship with God to the individual, and focused on finding ways to endure and retain their identity in Modernity, little work has gone into developing expressions relevant to postmodernity. The result is that the faiths have gone from being the governing institution at the core of life, to a competing institution important to life, to a business service that’s optional.
Where modernizing people adopt Christianity as a modernized faith because they’re used to having the question of God taken care of for them, finding Christianity to be a relevant faith well adapted to Modernity, the result is that Christianity is growing in the developing world while shrinking in the developed and postmodernizing world. Where the world is postmodernizing, we find that people don’t want the question of God taken care of for them. Instead, the postmodernising people must choose where, when, how, what and who to look for when turning to the question of God. The problem of God as presented anew in the postmodernizing world is the second key conversation at Urban Mystic.