Talking About God, To Ourselves

Charles Mathewes argues that “we are awash in religious speech even amidst a desert of religious conversation.” He puts much of the blame on how the modern West conceptualizes religion:

[T]he very categories we use to organize our social life and delineate the space we allow for religion—particularly the categories of “religious” versus “secular”—actually hamper our attempts to have such conversations. Scholars … have shown that these categories are the product of the past few centuries of European history and have been shaped by the peculiarities of European religion (especially Protestantism) and politics (especially liberalism). Misshaped, in fact, for our situation: They assume a particular picture of what religion essentially is—mostly, the private encounter of the individual soul with God that takes place in the sublime space of the individual’s most inward and inaccessible subjectivity. In contrast, the “secular” is the outward space, where we negotiate our way amid the material cosmos and our “properly” political concerns—which, by definition, cannot be “properly” religious.

Though he praises the book, he doesn’t exempt Christian Wiman’s My Bright Abyss from these tendencies:

Wiman seems … more focused on current questions about his wounds than on the route he took to get to those questions, or those wounds. … Augustine turns us to wonder at God and what God hath wrought; Wiman makes us wonder at himself, at the questions he asks and at the courage with which he asks them. But he asks little of the reader beyond that. I am not asking for an altar call, but perhaps some suggestion that a life lived with such intensity and self-awareness may have lessons for our own. Wiman’s prose stops before the foot of the imperative, however, unwilling to climb and address the crowds gathered on the plain.

Previous Dish on Wiman here, here, here, here, here, and here.