Sheilaism

New-old habits of the postmodern heart: 'When people choose not to believe in God, they do not ... '

New-old habits of the postmodern heart: 'When people choose not to believe in God, they do not ... '

It is without a doubt the most famous quotation that journalist and Christian apologist G.K. Chesterton either (a) said, (b) never said, (c) might have said or (d) said in pieces that were latter assembled by someone else into one memorable thought.

I am referring to this statement: “When men choose not to believe in God, they do not thereafter believe in nothing, they then become capable of believing in anything.”

You can click here for a fascinating investigation into the origins of this statement. The bottom line: There are all kinds of Chesterton statements that may have evolved into this quote. I liked this part:

... Robin Rader of Zambia argued that the epigram can be found divided between two adjacent Father Brown stories:
It’s the first effect of not believing in God that you lose your common sense. [“The Oracle of the Dog” (1923)]
You hard-shelled materialists were all balanced on the very edge of belief -- of belief in almost anything. [“The Miracle of Moon Crescent” (1924)]

I bring this up because this famous Chesterton semi-quote offers a perfect summary of what I felt recently while walking the streets of Prague, thinking about some recent Pew Research Center survey work about religion in Central and Eastern Europe, and the Czech Republic in particular. That turned into my "On Religion" column this past week, which then served as the hook for this week's Crossroads podcast. Click here to tune that in.

But before we get to that, please do this for me. Read the Chesterton statements again and then read this headline from a recent "Gray Matter" essay in The New York Times: "Don’t Believe in God? Maybe You’ll Try U.F.O.s."

Interesting? Here is a key chunk of this fascinating piece:

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Bracing for the next news story: Was Bernie Sanders actually pushing 'secular humanism'?

Bracing for the next news story: Was Bernie Sanders actually pushing 'secular humanism'?

Does anyone remember the days, a decade or two ago, when the official boogeyman of religious conservatism was a cultural tsunami called "secular humanism"?

I sure do. That nasty label was being pinned on people all over the place.

The only problem was, when I went out to do my religion-beat reporting work, I never seemed to run into many people whose personal beliefs actually fit under the dictionary definition of "secular," which looks something like this:

secular (adjective)
1. of or relating to worldly things or to things that are not regarded as religious, spiritual, or sacred; temporal: secular interests.
2. not pertaining to or connected with religion (opposed to sacred ): secular music.

I hardly ever met culture warriors who didn't have religious beliefs of some kind. Oh, there were some atheists and agnostics in these dramas. But what what I kept running into were packs of evolving, progressive, liberal religious believers who rejected the beliefs of traditional religious believers, almost always on issues linked to sexuality and salvation.

Yes, there were also some "spiritual but not religious" folks, but when you talked to them you discovered that they would be perfectly happy in a Unitarian folding chair or an Episcopal pew -- if they wanted to get out of bed on Sunday mornings. And if you probe those Pew Research Center "Nones" numbers, you'll discover that most religiously unaffiliated people are rather spiritual, on their own "Sheilaism" terms. You can toss the Moralistic Therapeutic Deism trend in there, too.

Variations on all of these themes popped up this week when Todd Wilken and recorded the new "Crossroads"podcast (click here to tune that in). We discussed my new "On Religion" column about the recent U.S. Senate hearing showdown between Sen. Bernie Sanders and Russell Vought, the White House nominee to serve as deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget.

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