Pastor Pat Bailey in front his church


Editor’s note: Pat Bailey is Reverend of Telluride’s Christ Presbyterian Church. This series reflects his ongoing research for his PhD thesis.

I have been talking about the “spiritual revolution” as described by religious scholars Paul Heelas and Linda Woodhead in “The Spiritual Revolution: Why Religion is Giving Way to Spirituality” and philosopher Charles Taylor in “A Secular Age.”  Yet another recent book describing the shift from religion to spirituality is David Tacey’s “The Spiritual Revolution; The Emergence of Contemporary Spirituality.”

Tacey’s work is not based on a statistical study, but on his experience as an educator while serving as an associate professor in psychoanalytic studies at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia.  So, Tacey sees the spiritual revolution as a shift predominantly in youth spirituality. He identifies some of the same aspects of disaffection and attraction among his students that I found in my interviews with Telluridians, and he points to the main thrust of the spirituality revolution to be a preference for spiritual experience over religious dogma or for “the inner experience of conscience and spirit” over the external authority of church and doctrine.

Both Tacey and Heelas-Woodhead insist that the turn toward inner experience or subjectivity is not individualistic in the modern sense. Tacey speaks of a universality that the spiritual journey leads toward, a journey “through and beyond our subjective lives,” that encounters the “same spirit that is found in everything else,” and that leads us to a longing for involvement with others. To him any proposal of a private spirituality “is somehow fraudulent and deceptive,” and throughout his book he speaks of the importance of our religious forms to provide shared meaning, wisdom, depth, and sacramental community. He is, therefore, an advocate of reforming the Christian tradition rather than jettisoning it.  Tacey endorses a “postmodern spirituality” that is deeply responsive to “the other” and that disarms the certitudes that obstruct relational thinking.

What do you think of Tacey’s characterization of the spiritual revolution as a preference for the inner experience of conscience and spirit? Is a purely private spirituality valid or is some experience of community and tradition necessary to the spiritual life? Can Christianity and other religious traditions nurture a postmodern spirituality?

I will continue the conversation next Sunday.

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