Throwback Thursday: Lillian Daniel’s “When Spiritual But Not Religious Is Not Enough”

Last week-ish or so, a Relevant Magazine article from a few years ago turned up in my news feed, posted by a friend whose work involves training for prospective ordained ministers. I read it, realized who had written it originally, and commented concerning my opinions of the piece and its author.  Because, not long after the Relevant piece was written, I had contributed a three-part series to the Lay Anglicana blog on Lillian Daniel’s When Spiritual But Not Religious Is Not Enough. You can read my responses to her book here.  And here.  And here.

I stand by my claims.  Ms. Daniel does not have the right to give permission for someone to call him or herself Christian, as the title of the Relevant piece suggests she believes she does.  Nor does she have the right to deny a person the right to nuance his or her belief or affiliation, or dissociation from belief or affiliation.  The Relevant piece is one more demonstration of Ms. Daniel’s arrogance.

I said as much in a comment on my friend’s Faccebook page.  My comment was removed.  Oh, well. I still find it odd when an institution in decline, such as the churches, ridicules and insults the very people it has alienated–both those who would never darken its doors, and those who, after helping to keep the doors open for decades, have given up and left. Smart organizations do not do this.  Smart organizations bust tail to figure out why people don’t “buy” their goods, services, ideas–and then follow up by busting tail to figure out how to overcome that resistance.  Smart organizations figure out why formerly-loyal customers or members have left–and then follow up by figuring out how to reclaim their loyalty.

For some odd reason, I don’t think condescension and ridicule and arrogance figure into the formula for smart organizations.  Why they should with the churches is a bit beyond my understanding.

Go ahead and read Ms. Daniel’s book.  But do not do so without a liberal coating of salt, and without making sure you get the view from the other side.  The best starting place I know to do so is Packard and Hope’s Church Refugees, on which I’ve done several posts on this blog.


5 thoughts on “Throwback Thursday: Lillian Daniel’s “When Spiritual But Not Religious Is Not Enough”

  1. Hmmm, I just read the Relevant article and your post. You have to be a special kind of self-absorbed and narrow-minded to miss the point as much as Ms. Daniel has. I am one of these “spiritual, but not religious types” and I guess I should thank Ms. Daniel for confirming in writing exactly what I feel the way I do because frankly, I often feel a bit guilty about it. To me, church should not be a one-way street “shut up, listen, and do what we say.” Shouldn’t it be teamwork (for lack of a better word)? Anyway, I can do this solo. I go about every day trying to do my best. I falter, of course I confess, try to forgive myself and then I go it again. Why do I need anyone to direct, approve, or monitor, which seems all congregations really do. Ms. Daniel would do better if she listened more than she talks (or writes). Only then might she make a difference.

    1. Stacy, what some of the people who actually believe this drivel fail to recognize is, the church needs us more than we need it. It is an institution in decline (at least among the mainline sensible groups–the nutters are where the growth is happening). The church needs our input, our efforts, and not insignificantly, our money.

      In times past, it was possible to say “do this or you’re going to hell”, and that was enough to scare people into toeing the line. I’m not sure how many people any more really believe there is a hell to go to. Or, if there is, why a “loving” God would send anyone there. As we saw in the first episode of Big Bang Theory where Amy makes an appearance, “I don’t object to the idea of a deity. I am confused by the concept of one who takes attendance.”

      The people in the camp who would even think what Ms. Daniel does–let alone be foolish enough to publish–believe “hell” still matters, and that fear of an eternal punishment which cannot be definitively proved is a marketing tool. Given ATS has said “pastoral formation” is one of the most important things which happens in seminary, and Packard and Hope’s research indicates the *pastor* is the main reason people leave church, we can only guess the kind of “pastoral formation” which produces these non-ideas is what’s happening in the churches. And leading to their decline.

      It’s part of why I think nobody should read Daniel’s book without reading Packard and Hope’s “Church Refugees”. The latter actually has (shock horror!) RESEARCH. It’s actually based on conversations–thoughtful, probing, respectful conversations–with people who have left church. Some of them even former pastors. As I’ve said, it’s the most important book most church leaders will never read. Because it will mean they’ve got to do almost everything differently. And that scares the living snot out of them.

  2. Hi Wendy, have you considered that the problem with the church might be that the wine is still new, but the flask is old. The Spirit has escaped from the container.
    I read the article you linked too, and was appalled by Lillian Daniels attack on Marcus Mumford. Without asking what baggage he was talking about, when he said that he was uncomfortable calling himself a Christian, she instantly jumped to the conclusion that he was rejecting the community. It is as likely that he was jumping before he was pushed.
    If he has received in his childhood, a message about Christianity, which I thankfully, being brought up an Anglican, didn’t actually receive until my teenage years, I would be uncomfortable identifying as Christian. My failure to believe that the kangaroos hopped off the ark, and bounced all the way back to Australia, mean that many people would regard me as a none Christian. The fact that I do not believe that any being that would torture people for eternity, could be described as good. The theology of blood substitution, which is very much part of Christian baggage disgusts me. The people who believe it don’t.
    When Marcus Mumford drew attention to the fact that Muslims also believe in Jesus, I understood him to be saying that he didn’t believe that God was going to burn them for all eternity. This I understood as an act of community, a man reaching out to people experiencing the reality of Islamophobia.
    Lillian Daniel’s paranoid response, that he was claiming that Muslim’s were better than Christian’s suggests to me that she has been infected with one of the small letter s, spirits of the age -paranoid Islamophobia.

    1. Linda, if you haven’t noodled around my blog in general, please do–I’ve got a lot to say about the many problems of the church, and a big one is the old-fashioned notion of “congregation” being the most important way of engaging with God. And do check the links to Lay Anglicana, where I give a more in-depth response to Daniel’s very impoverished book.

      1. Hi Wendy, sorry I have taken so long to reply. I don’t belong in the spiritual but not religious category. I want to belong in a Church, grounded in the love of God. The Love that accepts us as we are, and allows us to love in return, those who are in our communion and those who are not. A place where people are reborn in the Spirit of Love. When that is lost the church has nothing.
        Lillian Daniels is a symptom of something much wider in the church.
        Having lost the Spirit individual churches are seeking cohesion through factionalism. The spirit that gains cohesion through attacking the other. The spirit of paranoia, the one that says we must hang together, because we are being persecuted is dangerous. Anger and fear can drive out love.
        We have lost our way, and instead of admitting it have decided that the right thing to do is to march straight ahead, condemning those who won’t join us. And isolating those within who call us to question.
        And we end up passing on to those who follow a sort of chain letter Christianity, whose aim is not to save this world from the spirits that enslave, the will to power, fear, anger and hate, and to bring about God’s Kingdom of love. But to save its members from the wrath of a god, who loves us so much that he will urn us in hell if we haven’t said the right magic words. Or in the case of ‘progressive’ churches like Lillian Daniels’, to form cosy little social clubs where we can come to a consensus, about what it all means, and condemn those who have no interest in joining us.
        I don’t think it is too late for Anglicanism, but it doesn’t bode well for us, that we have allowed the anniversary of the start of the 1st World War to pass, without drawing attention to the theology of G.A. Studdert Kennedy (Woodbine Willy), a padre who didn’t disgrace his Church or his God by not being out on the battlefields of Flanders, instead giving help and support where he was needed. And who became a successful evangelist after the war preaching the gospel of the God who, knowing who we are, loves us.

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