Saturday, January 19, 2013

Spiritual but Not Religious? Not So Fast: Disney, I-Clouds and New Religion


About a year ago I attended an excellent conference on the great American author, Flannery O'Connor, at Loyola University's Water Tower Campus. O'Connor is a colossal figure in American letters -- not only because of her superior literary craftwork, but because she resides in the Holy of Holies in the hierarchy of writers of Catholic fiction. Moreover, O'Connor always inspires deeper thought about what it means means to be "religious" and "spiritual" in the late modern age, a dichotomy that piques the interest of reflective people everywhere.
During one of the breaks at the O'Connor conference, a friend and I took advantage of the fine weather and strolled down Michigan Avenue to take in the sights. News of Steve Jobs's death had hit the wire and we suddenly found ourselves in front of the Apple Store in the midst of nothing less than a religious event. Scores of people gathered in mournful assembly to bear witness to Jobs' passing; hundreds of Post-It notes were bannered on the store windows with messages of farewell, gratitude and other forms of spontaneous prayer. If this was not the death of a god, at least it was one of a prophet of the age. I thought about it again, the insights from the O'Connor scholars effervescing and coalescing with my own ideas about new forms of religion and being religious in an increasingly secular age. Looking at the makeshift shrine on Michigan Avenue, I concluded again: people really are more religious than they give themselves credit for. But who are these new gods, what is this new spirituality, and what is the object of our new belief?
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