What, if anything, should religion be focused on passing along to future generations?

This evening I had the chance to join DePaul University's Center for Religious Engagement (http://las.depaul.edu/cie/) at a wonderful event aimed toward determining exactly what religion attempts to pass on to future generations with representatives from Catholicism, Buddhism, and Islam moderated by a DePaul professor. It was great food for thought so I decided to use it as inspiration for a blog post. Disclosure: I work for DePaul but not for any department associated with this event.

-James Halstead, O.S.A., PH.D. DePaul University
-Marcia J. Hermansen, PhD, Loyola University
-Robert Karpinski, PhD, DePaul University
-John Lawlor, Lakeside Sangha

For many religions, when it comes to the question of passing on to posterity, the exact proportions of theological content vs. community practice is variable. It seems that the proper way to address the issue is not as an "either or" but an "and;" theology and tradition. Certainly, the ideal is to have both. I'm not sure that is the reality, and that is the point of this discussion - to parse out the current state of things. Not so much a "should be" but a "could be." Regardless, there is a sense that spiritual literacy may be becoming extinct and that may be reason enough to impart it to our children, if only in a "homeschool" fashion to acquaint them with the major stories from each religion even if devoid of spiritual significance.

But what might be a reason to include the spiritual significance?

What is the status of the Spiritual Seeker as individual? Becoming extinct?

There are so many "non-believers" today, some of whom are genuinely interested in ascertaining the most positive elements of what religion has to offer - the so called "Atheism 2.0" or the religion of atheism, that certainly their needs must be considered, otherwise religion and the community it serves will be strangers. How must religion address the rising need of these folks? One theory is that within 75 to 100 years if spirituality within religion isn't able to find a logical home it may be extinct altogether.

Of the three religions represented here (Islam Buddhism Catholicism) each has indicated that the larger super-structure abstraction that is their global "ism" moniker is insufficient in describing the vast diversity held within the traditions.  There are African Muslims and Indonesian Muslims, Irish Catholics and Polish Catholics, Monastic Buddhists and simply Secular Seekers of Contemplative Practice - so much variety the words hardly contain it. Some would argue it fails.

The question is - what happens when a religion encounters divergent views of practice within themselves? Do they part peaceably or war or integrate?

Even more broadly, what is the function of interfaith cooperation?


These days, I'm inclined to use the paradigms of my professional life to envision the modern role of a spiritual leader as a community manager rather than a marketer using social tools...

A community manager is less interested in being a brand ambassador than with creating vital, healthy, active community if only because in doing so he or she is therefore also doing well representing the brand in a more authentic manner.

In listening to each of the speakers for the evenings event, I noticed at least one common theme. There is always this dance between the spiritual and the pragmatic. There is even a sense that within one is always a pathway to the other. I'm afraid that this notion is lost on most modern people.

Modern individuals see only the pragmatic as the pathway to the pragmatic and discount the need for any sense of the spiritual or need for belief in spirituality at all. There is the sense for many that religion has outlived its usefulness. That there is nothing worth attaining that cannot be attained through non-spiritual means. Spiritual memes. Ha!

We have passed the era of asking which religion is most right and have skipped right on to an age post religion with a planet full of practitioners accolytes and devotees who simply have not recognized they are of a dying breed - a long, slow, painful death, yes. But death nonetheless.

Only in movies have we retained elements of the mythical, the spiritually emotional, the faith as manifest in the suspension of disbelief and devotion. But even that has begun to cease to be anything but a virtually communal act.

What is the point of what we pass on when we pass on religion? Information transmittal? Salvation? The faith of our fathers passed on to posterity but why? To win the game of most global religion?

In the short term we pass on faith to children because more adherents are required to survive. More customers means a healthy business. A more long term reason is that we pass something along because we find it has inherent value. We have faith, in a certain sense, in it having useful properties. But those useful properties are more easily substituted with secular equivalents these days.

What people are facing is not a crisis of faith or conscience. The crisis people face is pragmatic. What religion offers the hungry poor and disenfranchised is cold comfort and lacking. The here and now is relieved more by drug abuse, materialistic indulgence, or camouflaged aggression when compared to the offerings of spiritualism's call to think of the eternal soul.

So, in my view, religion must recognize its own crisis of existence and quickly cling to the life raft of pragmatism or risk pure extinction.

What part of religion would you feel the need to pass on?



Filed under: Church, interfaith, religion

Tags: interfaith, Religion


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  • I think what excites me about this question is that there is a real chance for dialogue that doesn't spiral into divisiveness. If we can take a good hard look at our religious traditions and really pull apart the essence of the value that can offer, the future can benefit, in my view.

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