By Mark Van Steenwyk, executive director of the Center for Prophetic Imagination
Any spirituality that nurtures abstracted love, generic unity, and vague justice is worse than useless.
A Jesus-shaped spirituality moves us to love specific people, to struggle for tangible solidarity, and challenges us to work for particular justice.
If your spirituality provides positive feels and comfort because it helps you cope with the pain of the world, without ever addressing that pain, then it is, ultimately, a spirituality of empire.
It is possible (and increasingly common) to engage in deep-seeming spiritual practices that are, ultimately, nurture a spirituality of disconnection. A spirituality of justification. A spirituality of neo-liberal style “wellness” that lacks deep roots or communal interdependency. A white, middle-class spirituality of apathy.
Listen to these challenges, from two amazing spiritual teachers who are, unfortunately, no longer with us:
“…Preachers and teachers know very well that they do not make enemies when they lament the suffering in the world and demand greater justice in general. People want to be seen as favoring justice. It is only when preachers and teachers name the plague that people get angry. In North America and Europe, academic theology tended to shy away from such outright political judgments because they transcend the discipline. Instead, it advocated love, justice, and peace in general terms, sometimes so general that they could be used by speech writers for the government intent on defending its policies. Calls for justice and peace cannot be used in this ideological way when they name the social evil. If Archbishop Oscar Romero had not named the plague, if he had only demanded greater peace and justice in general, he would not have been shot…” – Gregory Baum
“Apathy is a form of the inability to suffer. It is understood as a social condition in which people are so dominated by the goal of avoiding suffering that it becomes a goal to avoid human relationships and contacts altogether. In so far as the experiences of suffering, the pathai (Greek for the things that happen to a person, misfortunes) of life are repressed, there is a corresponding disappearance of passion for life and of the strength and intensity of its joys. Without question this ideal bears the imprint of middle-class consciousness.” – Dorothee Sölle