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Dialogue, the Internet, the Decline of Religion, and the Bony Fish

Very few articles linger in my memory for longer than a few days. Valerie Tarico’s article on religion and the Internet is one of them. I’ve rarely read anything about which I feel more ambivalent.

For an article of lesser caliber, it would be easy to dismiss her glib tone and half-correct understanding of religion today. But her observations are far too important to take lightly. She may well have put her finger on the essential—and overlooked—reasons why many faith traditions are losing adherents.

An old friend of mine used a great metaphor for articles like this: it’s a bony fish. You have to dig through, and discard, a certain number of bones to get to the meat. But the meat is rich and absolutely worth the effort.

Bony fish challenge us. They challenge us to approach them in the spirit of dialogue, not reacting instinctively to buzzwords and sweeping statements but rather exploring piece by piece in a search for what might be true. They also challenge us to the practice of dialogue, as by talking with one another we can bring more perspectives to the effort and thus gain a better picture of what is there.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the article and whether it sparks your interest in dialogue to engage with it. Please share your thoughts here.

6 Responses to “Dialogue, the Internet, the Decline of Religion, and the Bony Fish”

  • Randy Siever says:

    It sounds to me as if Valerie has been hurt badly by some version of the Christian fundamentalist clan. While I think many of her points are valid and accurate, I did not get the impression it was written to engage others in dialogue. Rather, it seemed to me to be a personal diatribe whose primary purpose was to flip anyone off who has anything to do with religion. Not very inviting.

    And although she did give equal time to various brands (including Mark Driscoll, who was not named but who was very clearly identified in the first couple of paragraphs), she seemed to have her guns aimed at one kind of CHRISTIAN expression in particular.

    Not to say that they don’t deserve this critique/spanking/indictment, but then she spread the vitriol around like jelly on toast to make it seem less pointed. That part of her intention did not work very well. At least not with me.

    • admin says:

      I can’t speak to her personal history, but I agree with you on the article’s shortcomings. And I didn’t mean to give the impression that I thought the ARTICLE was a good example of dialogue; rather, I see it as a good platform from which to launch a dialogue–lots of solid meat to discuss, even though her thinking is sloppy at times and her “flip off” tone hard to swallow.

  • Your daughter! says:

    This is my favorite part so far:

    “A traditional religion, one built on “right belief,” requires a closed information system. That is why the Catholic Church put an official seal of approval on some ancient texts and banned or burned others. It is why some Bible-believing Christians are forbidden to marry nonbelievers.”

    Which means according to religion we should all be living in the first century??

    And what was that thing about how without doubt (aka outside influences) you can’t truly have faith?

    Right I’m going to go finish reading the rest of the article now:):)

    • admin says:

      That business about the closed information system set off the red flags the nanosecond I read it. Maybe her inclusion of the qualifying phrase–”one built on ‘right belief’–nudges the sentence a little closer to accuracy. But not much, really. I’m thinking of Thomas Merton, who like so many other Catholic thinkers was faithful to Church doctrine and yet engaged in deep explorations of Buddhism and Hinduism. Again, her thinking is very imprecise; she takes certain groups of believers and certain instances of practice and generalizes them to the whole of faith. It’s really too bad, because I truly believe she’s got some very important points to make.

  • Your daughter! says:

    Plus, faith and spirituality aren’t going anywhere. People will always need something to believe in. Maybe organized religion ought to take a hard look at itself and instead ask, WHY is religion on the decline? WHY don’t people want to belong? Certainly many many more people have faith/spirituality than are seeking out institutions like the catholic and evangelical church. Maybe it’s exactly this “closed information system” and its subsequent beliefs that is turning people away. True for me, certainly;)

    • admin says:

      Oh, I think you’ve nailed it, my friend. Many writers think we’re on the cusp of a sea change in the way faith is lived and practiced, and I tend to agree with them. There’s a gigantic disconnect between the traditional institutions of faith and the spirituality that now seems to draw many people. I don’t think the “closed information system” is the whole cause–actually, the factors in this disconnect are many and hugely complex–but the questions need to be explored.

      If you want to read someone who’s writing about this, check out Tom Ehrich ( Tom is an Episcopal priest, church consultant, and (my opinion) something of a prophet for our times who bangs this drum repeatedly. Very good thinker.

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