These lines stuck out to me while reading this watershed book for a recent Philosophy of Religion seminar. Now 25 years old, it seems to me that George Lindbeck's The Nature of Doctrine is still hitting some nails on the head. (I use that expression too much, don't I?) He makes some grand claims here, but for the most part I'm on board with what he's suggested. I'm pretty busy writing papers these days, but I wanted to pause and share these excerpts; foods for thought:
"Sociologists have been telling us for a hundred years or more that the rationalization, pluralism, and mobility of modern life dissolves the bonds of tradition and community. This produces multitudes of men and women who are impelled, if they have religious yearnings, to embark on their own individual quests for symbols of transcendence. The churches have become purveyors of this commodity [along with artists and the media, I might add] rather than communities that socialize their members into coherent and comprehensive religious outlooks and forms of life.
Society paradoxically conditions human beings to experience selfhood as somehow prior to social influences, and Eastern religions and philosophies are utilized to support what, from a cultural-linguistic perspective, is the myth of the transcendental ego. Selfhood is experienced as a given rather than as either a gift or an achievement, and fulfillment comes from exfoliating or penetrating into the inner depths rather than from communally responsible action in the public world. . . .
Religious communities are likely to be practically relevant in the long run to the degree that they do not first ask what is either practical or relevant, but instead concentrate on their own intratextual outlooks and forms of life. The much-debated problem of the relation of theory and praxis is thus dissolved by the communal analogue of justification by faith. As is true for individuals, so also a religious community's salvation is not by works, nor is it faith for the sake of practical efficacy, and yet good works of unforseeable kinds flow from faithfulness" (George Lindbeck, The Nature of Doctrine (2d. edition), 112, 114).
This particular excerpt might sound like it recommends holing ourselves up in navel-gazing ghettoes, but that is not the main concern of the book. The concern is to promote inter-religious and ecumenical dialogue by having people own their community life rather than dabble in it, and then to see themselves as contributing to the world around as self-aware groups rather than shopping or competing with the world around as individual consumers or solicitors. The idea is to seek communion from the postures of listening and speaking that can come from this healthier place. In my view, a whole lot of reason to do so is needed, but Christian communities of all people ought to have plenty of reason for this at their disposal, shouldn't they?