At the First Things site this morning, I have an essay about young Evangelicals’ use of the phrase “Spiritual but Not Religious” to describe themselves, and what that suggests about tradition in America. Here’s an excerpt:
Paradox also characterizes our American religious tradition—a tradition in which Evangelical Christianity, broadly defined, is such an important element. On many cultural and political issues, tradition appeals to Evangelicals; they are the “traditional values” people. But Evangelicalism sits uneasily with the idea of tradition. Evangelicalism stresses personal faith, unimpeded by custom and “human” inventions. Wariness about tradition seems at the core of Evangelical spirituality, a characteristic that separates it from other forms of Christianity, like Catholicism and Orthodoxy, in which tradition has a much greater role.
The popularity of “Spiritual but Not Religious” among young Evangelicals today is a good example. Many young Evangelicals apparently wish to signal their distance from religious tradition, even their own. Tradition for them is not a benign thing; it is a snare to be avoided. True, one might distinguish religious traditions from other sorts. People might minimize tradition in their Christian life but honor it in politics, for example. But I have to think that wariness about tradition in religion influences how people see tradition in other areas of life, too.
I continue to think tradition may be ready for a revival. But I acknowledge the obstacles it faces. In America, it’s not only secular individualists who are suspicious of tradition, but many Christians as well. Tradition will have to overcome not only the objections of skeptics, but many believers, too.
You can find the full essay here.