There’s a segment of Humanists that has tried (with varying degrees of success) to create local communities around the country — promoting “Sunday schools” for atheists and whatnot. The idea behind it is that “organized atheism” might not be an oxymoron and could actually be useful in helping advance our ideas.
Robert Jensen couldn’t find a community like that around him, so he had to find it elsewhere:
His convictions revolved around anti-war, feminist, anti-capitalist movements, but to him, the left seemed dead without a community that could lend deeper meaning to those convictions. And he found himself in a pew on Sunday mornings.
His account of being a non-religious man who attended a (admittedly liberal) church and who (confusingly) calls himself a “Christian” can be found in the new book All My Bones Shake: Seeking a Progressive Path to the Prophetic Voice (Soft Skull Press. June, 2009).
As you may have guessed, there are problems with that approach:
Political and religious conservatives likely will dismiss Jensen outright. Moderates might write him off because they don’t identify with his radical politics. Secularists might roll their eyes at his church talk.
While his motives are good, I find myself in the “rolling their eyes” camp, just as I did when I first read the article that put Jensen on my radar a few years ago.
He gives the church too much credit for what they do. We don’t need churches as much as we just need strong communities. From what I can gather, Jensen has little or nothing to say about the supernatural teachings of the church — which is where the real problems lie.
When he does say something about it, it’s virtually meaningless. In one case, he explains God as simply “mystery.” He defines it so broadly that it lacks any sort of real meaning:
The command to love God can be understood as simply another way of saying that we must strive to love the mystery around us and in us rather than to be afraid of all that we cannot understand.
To love God with all our heart, I believe, means to recognize the collective nature of emotions, the way in which so much of what we feel — even though we experience it personally — is in fact shared.
While that definition may be pleasant, it’s not what Christians are referring to when they talk about an all-knowing, all-powerful, prayer-listening god.
By trying to appeal to both sides of the theological spectrum, it doesn’t sound like Jensen’s getting much reception from either.
A review like this one definitely doesn’t make me want to run out and buy the book, that’s for sure — and that’s unfortunate because Jensen’s goal is very admirable.
(Thanks to Yohan for the link!)