The Problem(s) with “Harmonial Religion”

What God Wants for Your Life | 9/17/2019 | Staff
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When you begin talking to people about their faith, if you are listening at all, you discover that almost all of us believe a lot of strange things about God and the Gospel. It’s not uncommon for people to put together a spirituality that is a bit like a patchwork quilt – a combination of things, stitched together but not necessarily matching: A bit of what the church teaches, a bit of what the culture coughs up, a bit of what we thought we heard or wanted to hear, a bit of what we were taught or caught from influential people in our lives. And often it is all set in concrete by the time we turn sixteen.

There is one school of thought that holds that there is nothing wrong with this. At one level Americans have always embraced what Sydney Ahlstrom describes as “harmonial religion”: “…forms of piety and belief in which spiritual composure, physical health, and even economic well-being are understood to flow from a person’s rapport with the cosmos.” That form of spirituality can traced back to Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, Mary Baker Eddy, and Norman Vincent Peale – among others, and it has countless modern advocates, like the wildly popular, Joel Osteen.

People - Kind - Religion - World - Spirituality

Some people find this kind of religion appealing because of how it makes them feel about the world around them. Spirituality is not about what God is doing, but about what makes them “feel” a particular way. So, having faith becomes a matter of attending to our feelings — about fine-tuning our relationship with life — about holding pain and misfortune at arms’ length, and prayer becomes a matter of controlling the world around us. Pray with faith, nothing bad should happen to you or disturb your feeling of rapport with the world and...
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