So You Think You’re Not Religious – A Thinking Person’s Guide to the Church 2nd edition

If you are actively trying to make some sense out of existence, you may be more religious than you think you are. If you think you’re not religious because you don’t (or can’t) believe certain propositions put forward by religious groups, you may be surprised to learn that Christianity is not necessarily about believing stuff. According to James Rowe Adams, the primary focus of Christianity may not be about believing but about living in a community–a community in which you find companions in the search for meaning, a community where you can celebrate your triumphs and joys and can find support in failure and in sorrow, a community that provides rituals for the transitions of your life, a community that tells a story in which you can find a place for yourself. It is a story beginning with the recollections of the Hebrew-speaking people and of the early followers of Jesus, the teacher from Nazareth in Galilee.

You may think you’re not regilious because you see yourself as an agnostic or atheist, as a humanist or secularist, as a skeptic or doubter, or as a person who is spiritual but not religious. However you see yourself, you may find yourself feeling right at home among Christians who use the word “God” as Adams does in reference to certain kinds of experiences but who resist talking about “God” as a sort of being who occasionally intervenes in nature or in human history.

Review & Commentary

One thought on “So You Think You’re Not Religious – A Thinking Person’s Guide to the Church 2nd edition

  1. Review

    Book Review: So You Think You’re Not Religous

    Disclaimer– I have the pleasure of knowing James Adams as a Harvard Square neighbor, customer, and friend; he’s a gentleman and a scholar, and there damn few of us left.

    So You Think You’re Not Religious? A Thinking Persons Guide to the Church by James Rowe Adams (second edition, 2010; St. Johann Press)

    In So You Think You’re Not Religious, James Adams sets himself a formidable task: asserting the value of Christian faith and practice to skeptics, and overcoming their very reasonable objections. It’s perhaps in his favor that he’s an extremely reasonable man, and that many of these objections were his own, at other times in his life.

    It’s also to his advantage that he is not trying to turn skeptics into believers, as such. In fact, he holds that the ability and willingness to question certitude are assets on the spiritual path: what’s required of the skeptic, in place of blind doctrinal assent, is a tolerance for the paradox and ambiguity so often found in the Bible, and in human communities. (It will help if the skeptic can locate a progressive, questioning church, and avoid over-literal fundamentalist groups; the books appendix provides practical advice about this.)

    But if not a believer, can a skeptic be an honest churchgoer? The question is not whether we can believe six impossible things before breakfast, but whether we experience a longing for a truer way of understanding our place in the world. Adams says, “A thinking person with intellectual integrity is not likely to observe that life is largely nonsense and let the matter drop there. Such a person is apt to feel compelled to pursue the business of trying to make sense out of the nonsense.”

    That pursuit can be immeasurably aided by companionship a church can provide, and by the ritual and study opportunities found there. Adams is himself our companion in probing some of the most familiar stumbling blocks, those found in the Gospels and the creeds. The word creed itself points to quite a serious obstacle: the words I believe have come to be heard as if they expressed an opinion about a factual state of affairs. A truer reading of “credo” would suggest a sense of setting one’s heart on, whether longing for, or placing trust in, the promises of the Holy. After all, says Adams, “Any statement about God is bound to be both inaccurate and incomplete.” Our efforts to understand God with the head only, and not with the heart, are necessarily incomplete, and it’s not intellectually dishonest to acknowledge it.

    It’s liberating to read the Gospels through the lens of myth, rather than taxing them with literal, historical demands they cannot meet. The recorded words of Jesus display a remarkable fondness for paradox; instead of answering questions, he often reflects them back on themselves, as if to cause a small explosion in the questioner’s mind and ours. Adams muses on how the Jesus portrayed by Matthew is particularly close to those he calls, “you of little faith.” Skepticism and doubt seem to be marks of the minds Jesus was most interested in reaching, and this should be a comfort to us in the midst of our discomfort.

    Participation in a church community entails genuine risks; religious disciplines impose real costs. But much good may come of it: “Doubters and people of little faith may discover that Jesus would have supported them in their skepticism about organized religion. They may find that their questions have something important to contribute when they decide that their goal is not to abolish Christianity but to help fulfill its promise.”

    Amen, amen. Wherever you are on your spiritual journey, safe travels to you.

    Carolyn T. Roosevelt

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