There has been a shift “from a world in which beliefs held believers to one in which believers hold beliefs"
This is a quote from one of the best books I have read on consumerism and religious belief, by Vincent Miller, 'Consuming Religion' (p90). It's a quote I often reference when teaching theology students about the nature, process and relationship of people to beliefs.
The force of it still hits me every-time I use it, and reflect on it. And I'm pondering it again today, as I have been doing some more reading about the nature, and process of belief, in our western consumer culture.
To be an individual used to be about the capacity to have beliefs, things external to you, truths and realities that lay claim to your life, and form you, and for you come alive to them and live them out, to embody them.
When we meet someone who literally has beliefs that hold them, our material secular liberal society cries ' fundamentalist'. We live in a world that seems to see believing deeply in something a priori (something independent of and prior) to ourselves as dangerous, and then fosters an alternative relationship to beliefs, where we are trained, encouraged, and nurtured to believe in nothing deeply.
Except ourselves, our self creation (autopoesis), that the only thing to believe in deeply is that it is wrong to believe in anything deeply, that all believes are a lifestyle choice, personal, and relative.
Our strongest belief, is that it is we, the believer that holds beliefs, not beliefs that hold us.
Apatheism If Christians are annoyed by people's apathy to beliefs, take heart that apatheism, annoys vigorous atheists just as much. Apatheism, is where the issue of God is met with a 'shrug of indifference', or as Charles Matthewes describes it, 'Apatheism is the theological stance of all those people who have grown up in our culture religiously tone-deaf'.
Apathy towards belief is not an exclusive response to Christian beliefs, it is a way of believing shared by most of western liberal secularism.
Flexidoxy And when religion becomes a lifestyle option, a matter of 'preference', where we chose what we want to believe, and ignore what we don't, the filter for what should believed is based on individual choice, and anything else is seen as abusive, and controlling.
So What? So apatheism, undermines real human identity, because it makes us unable to even be bothered with beliefs at all. Whilst flexidoxy enables us to be passionate and committed, to what ever we currently choose to belief in, with no solid identity. An identity built on shifting sand.
So whilst modernity held us captive to it's systems of 'knowing', so much so, that we were forced into beliefs and identity by institutions, the pendulum has swung the other way, where we are on a continual quest to find ourselves, and are unable to have any extra subjective-commitments, to find ourselves in others, and any organisation/community/tribe/network etc.
For all the benefits of unmasking the certitude and arrogance of modernity, there is a crises of believing in the post-modern world, and the separation of beliefs from practice, of knowing from being and doing.
There is nothing new in these two extremes of certitude and uncertainty about beliefs. We see it in the 4th and 5th century AD, with Augustine and the Donatists and Pelagians.
In the Donatists we might see as our modern fundamentalists, where beliefs were black and white and determinative of our standing with God and his people, and led to exclusion. Pelagianism on the other hand, is alive and well today, where it is us the believer, our will, where we are free to choose all we believe.
How Christian's navigate and reconnect knowing, being and doing, might be the greatest challenge the 'church' faces in our emerging culture. Within this problem of belief might be the reason we find it so hard to form any concrete missional churches, that have any real world traction at all.
How we do that, well that's something for another post.