For one of my grad courses this fall, I am being introduced to the work of David Martin, a sociologist associated with the London School of Economics, and an Anglican priest, who has made a long and distinguished career thinking about topics such as secularization.
This paragraph, from Martin's On Secularization: Towards A Revised General Theory (Ashgate 2006) jumped off the page at me today as a remarkably succinct description of what can happen to Protestantism when it divests itself of its traditional ritual expressions of the holy and reserves holiness to what Martin calls "heartwork". I also like it because of the metaphor of the road roundabout, of which Kitchener-Waterloo traffic planners appear quite enamoured.
"In spite of this necessary retention of institutional and conceptual boundaries, evangelicalism incurs a cost on account of the ease with which the heartwork can be taken to imply that there is no need for efficacious ritual and institutional mediation. Ritual and mediation are all too easily dismissed as mere mumbo jumbo and priestcraft: that is the sentiment or sediment deposited by a receding Protestantism. Christianity comes to be popularly received as no more than neighbourliness or decent personal attitudes and well-meaning sentiment. Decency is the eminently natural virtue and in political terms it has to provide the agreed point of reference for moral consensus. It offers the working version of faith in the political sphere. The reason is that a public institution, like a road roundabout, requires a decent law-abiding citizenry, not Christianity."
I'm thinking I might make Friday theology a regular feature of this rather irregular blog.