“Remixed Spirituality:” A Challenge For The Church

Oct 24th, 2020 | By | Category: Culture & Wordview, Featured Issues

Meaningful spirituality focuses on four components: meaning, purpose, community, and ritual.  Centered in Jesus Christ, genuine, biblical Christianity offers eternally significant content to these four components.  However, within American culture today an amalgamation of cultural forces constitute what Tara Isabella Burton calls “Remixed Spirituality.”  [Her book, Strange Rites: New Religions for a Godless World, traces the current waves of American religiosity, in both its conventional and secular expressions.]  Burton’s label “Remixed Spirituality” describes a subset of Americans who reject organized religion while finding spiritual “nourishment” among online fan clubs, social justice activists, “wellness” fanatics, dabblers in witchcraft, “techno-utopians,” and other “oddball communities.”  She illuminates the immense challenges the church faces in proclaiming the Gospel to this Postmodern, Post-Christian culture.

As David Zahl, the founder and director of Mockingbird Ministries observes,On one level, Strange Rites is a book-length refutation of the conventional narrative of religious decline invoked with increasing carelessness to explain the rising numbers of ‘nones.’ Americans, it would appear, have become not less religious but differently religious. But the form these new faiths are taking represents a deep and troubling departure from historic Christianity . . . The Remixed may check ‘none’ (or ‘spiritual but not religious’) when the census asks about religion, but that’s only because no other label really fits (and they abhor labels to begin with).  In reality, the Remixed approach spirituality in the same way they manage their social media presence: They curate. This used to be called ‘cafeteria religion,’ but it’s hardly a cafeteria anymore when the buffet line goes on for miles.”


The “Remixed” phenomenon owes much to the internet, which has provided the dynamic, the variety and the power of “spiritual” choice.  “Yet like the technology that fuels their evangelism, the Remixed are hardly monolithic. Lacking a common object of worship, they share a mode of meaning-making, relying fully on intuition and eschewing institutions at all costs. Burton takes great care in the opening chapter to illustrate how American religious experience has swung between these two poles, defining intuitional religion as any spiritual expression in which ‘the locus of authority [rests] on people’s experiential emotions’ rather than ‘outside structures or rules,’ which are regarded as ‘oppressive, and even evil.’”


What are the representative elements of this amorphous “Remised Spirituality?”

  • The Wellness Culture, “with its ubiquitous hashtag #selfcare. What began as a statement of personal dignity on behalf of minority women has, in the hands of Instagram influencers, become both a moral imperative and a license to self-indulgence. As Burton observes, ‘Self-care has become a marketing slogan, one designed to lend legitimacy to behavior that might, in other moral systems, be considered merely selfish.’ Needless to say, Gwyneth Paltrow and her Goop product line do not come off well.”
  • Next is what Burton calls the “Magic Resistance: a mixture of feminist politics, New Age curiosity, and self-divinization. (There are more witches in the United States, it turns out, than Jehovah’s Witnesses.)”  In fact, the Remixed make very little allowance for healthy self-suspicion. “On the contrary, they are convinced of their fundamental goodness—and certain that only external forces can frustrate their path to perfection. As Burton explains, the Remixed live to ‘express [their] authentic selves, and to pursue that self through freedom.’”
  • One of the most important aspects of Burton’s argument is her focus on “social justice culture, Silicon Valley techno-utopianism, and a reactionary alt-right . . . Each contender offers a totalizing—and in some cases intoxicating—narrative of the world, our place in it, and the wicked forces that need to be rooted out.”
  1. Burton argues that “The social justice movement is so successful because it replicates the cornerstones of traditional religion—meaning, purpose, community, and ritual—in an internally cohesive way. It takes the varied tenets of intuitionalism—its prioritization of the self, emotions, and identity, its suspicion of authority, its utopian vision of a better world born phoenix-like from the ashes of the old—and threads them together into a visionary narrative of political resistance and moral renewal.”
  2. The alt-right stands opposed to the social justice movement and condemns the political correctness and feminism of social justice “spirituality.” The alt-right movement usually champions white supremacy as a core religious tenet that enhances the craving for meaning, purpose and community in life.  For some, resurrecting Hitler’s Nazi ideology is redemptive.
  3. The “techno-utopians” champion various forms of transhumanism, which advocates the transformation of the human race through the technologies of genetics, robotics, nanotechnology, etc.  It actually envisions an intellectual and physiological remaking of humanity—a heaven on earth!

Years ago, I studied homiletics at Dallas Theological Seminary under (the then young) Dr. Tony Evans.  Dr. Evans used to challenge us, “after you have exegeted the biblical text, exegete your audience.”  I have never forgotten that wise counsel.  The church needs to “exegete” Burton’s “Remixed Spirituality;” its elements are often pervasive in the church and it  is not a passing phenomenon.  The internet will not go away and neither with the form of “spirituality” it fosters.  Thus, the church must view the internet as a “legitimate mission field—a place where people actually live most of their lives and make most of their meaning.”  The “spiritual hunger” of the 2020s manifested on the internet needs the spiritual food of Jesus.  In the words of David Zahl, “If Burton is right, then the old story of the gospel has not lost a shred of potency. To a culture inclined to locate sin and evil out there, we can speak the unifying word of Eden: that ‘the line separating good and evil,’ as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn famously phrased it, runs ‘right through every human heart.’  We can present a faith born of love rather than rage, of sacrifice rather than conflict—one that glories in human frailty instead of denying or despising it. We can speak of a God who liberates us from the shackles of self and the never-ending mandate of perfection. We can speak of the Holy Spirit, active and alive in the world, bringing goodness, light, and healing far beyond our capacity or imagination.  Most of all, we can offer the one thing that all these new religions conspicuously lack: an ethic of forgiveness and reconciliation, which is to say, the miracle of God’s grace. In Jesus of Nazareth, we have a way forward for victims and victimizers alike. The Prince of Peace does not turn away the guilty, hypocritical, or addicted. Instead, he brings hope and new life to those whose self-made religions can only leave them defeated.  This Good News might not be a growth industry right now, but just you wait: To those burnt out on saving the world and themselves, all it takes is a mustard seed.”

See David Zahl, “Secular Faiths Are Remaking the American Religious Landscape” in www.christianitytoday.com (17 August 2020) and Matt Reynolds of CT Books (1 September 2020).

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