There is a lot of conversation right now about the rise of the “Nones.” This is the group that doesn’t want to identify with any formal religious label. But, maybe surprisingly, many of the “Nones” value spirituality. This makes sense to me. Religion seems to carry negative baggage with it (violence done in the name of religion, rigidness in belief, etc…). Spirituality seems to be more positive–or at least more personal.
In Chapter 1 I try to make a more positive distinction between spirituality and religion: the spiritual is a set of internal beliefs and practices that bring personal meaning and significance. Two people can consider themselves spiritual, but not share any of those beliefs or practices. Religion differs in this way: two people who call themselves a member of a particular religion (Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, etc.) will share some common beliefs and practices. This sharing puts a community of people in relationship with one another and in relationship to those that do not share those same commitments.
As a publice phenomenon, then, religion becomes a part of the conversation of social organization.
This is what the book is about. What kind of role should religion play in the conversations around social organization? And because Christianity is my particular religious tradition I limit the conversation to Christianity. We have a history between Christianity and Democracy in the West (and something very unique in America with the disestablishment clause in the First Amendment to the Constitution).
My argument is that Democracy will be stronger (Ch. 3) and Christianity will be more faithful (Ch. 4) if we keep the First Amendment, but allow religious persons to bring religious reasons and religious motivation into the public conversation. Why privilege the community of secular people in defining the conversation in the public square?