How God becomes real

How God becomes real.

People don’t worship because they believe in God.  They believe in God because they worship.  So claims Tanya Luhrmann, author of When God Talks Back, the subject of my previous post.  In the current post I discuss her anthropology of religion—all religion, not just Christianity.*  Ideally, these two posts should be read together. 

One reason practice precedes belief is that because on the face of it belief in God is preposterous.  

The idea that there is an invisible other who takes an active, loving interest in your life is in many ways preposterous and takes effort to maintain, even in a community that has never been secular. (2020, p 17)

For humans to sustain their belief in invisible entities who care about us requires that God must be made real again and again in the face of a stubborn world that rarely cooperates.  It takes groups of people to do that.

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A God who talks back?

In When God Talks Back, Tanya Luhrmann writes about the Vineyard movement, a relatively small denomination of evangelicals, sometimes called neo-charismatic, which means that it shares a number of beliefs and practices with Pentecostalism.  Pentecostal-lite is my impression, but individual churches vary.

The problem, for Luhrmann, is how to make sense of a church which is not so much Bible-based as it is based on personal experiences of God.  She concludes that it survives in the modern world because it caters to the needs of individuals for a personal relationship with God, one in which God cares about what I wear and who I date. 

Vineyard churches seem remarkably unconcerned with religious issues that have troubled other denominations, such as the justice of God: why do the good suffer and the bad prosper?  Neither is it concerned with charity for others.  It is almost wholly concerned with supporting its members in their search for a personal relationship with God, one in which God responds in words and signs.  

How in this rationalized day and age can Christians know that God is there?  Because he speaks to them about everyday things. 

These churches that treat God like a cozy confidant and call a near-tangible Holy Spirit into their presence on Sunday morning exist in great numbers in the United States. (p 15)

I find this almost impossible to comprehend.  There’s nothing cozy about God.  It trivializes God; it removes the awe and mystery when God becomes a buddy.  But like most groups, not every member buys into all its beliefs.  One told Luhrmann how to fake glossolalia (speaking in tongues).  Just repeat “She bought a Honda” over and over again, faster and faster (p 25).  He was joking, while making a serious point.  The group exerts subtle pressure on its members to have exotic experiences of God.

An American God

The goal seems to be to make God a big brother, a best friend.  He is

a deeply human, even vulnerable God who loves us unconditionally and wants nothing more than to be our friend, our best friend, as loving and personal and responsive as a best friend in America should be. (p 35)

Continue reading A God who talks back?

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