Somewhere between modernity and religious tradition lies a middle road known as “reflexive spirituality” that pulls from pluralism, reflexivity, and modern society. Those who practice reflexive spirituality draw equally on religious traditions and traditions of reason in the pursuit of transcendent meaning. In You Can’t Put God in a Box (Oxford University Press, 2014), Kelly Besecke provides a window into the theological thinking of these educated spiritual seekers and religious liberals, and shows how they have come up with a unique way of addressing the problem of modern meaninglessness. The following excerpt, from Chapter 1, explains the background and attitudes of those who practice reflexive spirituality.
Reflexive Spirituality: Finding Meaning in Modern Society
How can I find a spirituality that makes sense to me intellectually? How can I have an intellectual life that speaks to my soul? How can I find meaning in my life and in my religion?
These questions are central to the lives of educated spiritual seekers who find little meaning in either ordinary secularism or traditional religion. On one hand, secular life can seem spiritually empty, focused on the material, the practical, and the expedient, to the exclusion of deeper meanings. On the other hand, religious life can seem intellectually untenable, focused on lists of required beliefs, and dogmatic in a way that leaves no room for critical inquiry. Educated spiritual seekers are looking for something more than these two alternatives offer. They’re looking for a spirituality they can sink their intellectual teeth into and a worldview that puts the mundane into meaningful perspective. Educated seekers are looking for the intersection between “what’s inspiring” and “what makes sense.”
Young people and their smartphones overthrow dictatorships in this rousing study of the Arab Spring. University of Michigan historian Cole (Engaging the Muslim World) follows the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya from their roots in dissident organizing though the mass protests of 2011, the collapse of repressive regimes, and ensuing political turmoil. He focuses on the leadership of the “millennial” generation of young, urban, secular activists, their horizons broadened by the Internet and satellite TV, their “interactive networks and horizontal organizations” empowered by blogs and YouTube videos that spread ideas and rallied demonstrators. Cole’s exhilarating journalistic narrative of their exploits is enlivened by interviews with participants and his own colorful firsthand accounts of upheavals. His emphasis on youth and technology is sometimes overdone; revolution was for young firebrands as much in 1848 as in 2011, and old-fashioned factors—allegiances of soldiers, the humble paper pamphlet—play as important a role as youthful élan and social media. However, Cole’s deep, nuanced exploration of political and social currents underneath the uprisings shines; he shows Westerners who think the Arab world is divided between corrupt despots and Islamist zealots just how strong and pervasive the tendencies towards liberalism and democracy are.
No, your local Baha’i website probably doesn’t wear flannel or have a ridiculous mustache. But it could be unintentionally alienating some of the very people it is supposed to serve: people from outside the Baha’i Community who feel their hearts being attracted to Baha’u'llah.
What do seekers think when they show up at a local Baha’i website, and all they see is a picture of a temple in the Middle East and a list of principles?
Hipsters are a fascinating subculture of young people centered in a few neighborhoods in New York City, but their influence is widespread among the younger generation of North Americans and Europeans, and spreading. Popularity, of course, never comes without controversy. Hipsters are best known for their aversion to anything considered “mainstream”. Crudely put, the definition from Urban Dictionary is “Someone who listens to bands you’ve never heard of, wears ironic tee-shirts, and believes they are better than you.” Some people even think I’m a hipster. Not that there’s anything wrong with indie bands or funny t-shirts, but hipster culture is not exactly known for being warm and inviting to people outside their circle. Whatever you think about hipsters, the culture reflected on our local Baha’i websites needs to be warm, accepting, and relevant to the people in our cities.
In audio tapes of these talks [David Hofman] called democracy “baloney” and boasted that he had never voted in a non-Bahai election...
Editorial, April 6
Two recent news reports, in the Columbian Missourian and the Columbia Tribune have drawn attention to Tyree Byndom’s unusual way of ‘campaigning’ for a seat on the Columbia City Council. Because he is a Bahai, he is not campaigning, although his name is on the ballot. His voice has even dropped from the airwaves: he has taken a break from his day job as a talk show host.
I would certainly not suggest that he should be elected just because he is a Bahai, or that Bahai voters in Columbia should give him any greater credibility because of his faith. So why mention him on a blog dedicated to world Bahai news? He is not the first Bahai to run for public office, even in the US, but his faith and the reasons why he has refrained from self-praise or any critique of other candidates have been more widely publicised than any previous case I know of, and this is helping to correct a misconception about Bahais’ participation in politics. The Columbia Tribune article states, “the Baha’i faith encourages its members to be politically active and vote in elections if they are allowed to do so by secret ballot.” It does not give a source, but seems to be reflecting these words of Abdu’l-Baha: