Last week I met up with a friend (and fellow Millennial) who said to me, “I can’t believe that someone as smart and curious as you writes about religion.” I was startled, but we kept talking, and here’s what I heard and felt from her in a nutshell: Religion is intolerant, and smart, sensitive people don’t get involved.

I feel like that statement captures the most dominant attitude of my generation toward religion, and I appreciated my friend’s willingness to challenge me to explain why on earth I would go to any trouble on religion’s behalf. She meant well, and of course I share her fears around religion. I myself have struggled over the years to know what I think about it and whether or not I want to be identified with a particular religion. (I even thought when I became a parent that at last a choice would be forced, but no, instead my kids and I are stumbling through our spiritual journeys together.)

a magical book changes us without forcing the issue

It seems to me that some of us have stepped outside organized religion in search of meaning, while others feel they are having to carry religion outside nasty discourse about it instead, in order to redefine and revive it. The problem, at heart, is one and the same: religion = intolerance to an entire generation, and we’re treading dangerously on this ground.

Earlier this year I took on new responsibilities at Polebridge Press, the most significant of which is that I now developmentally edit books for publication. The opportunity to work with authors from early concept to finished book is both a challenge and a delight to me. Yet the work of reading and editing raw manuscripts makes me more curious than ever: What is the spirit of conversations about religion right now? If there was one magical book we could publish about religion, what ought it to be?

a magical book is a book that participates in a larger conversation

It might be a plea for charity, especially in a climate of extremism.

It might admit that religion isn’t politically neutral.

It might not lecture us on why we “ought” to understand religion better.

It might stop accusing us of religious illiteracy and wonder instead what we are learning about the spiritual and moral life, and why and how.

It might present the history of Christianity as a fascinating tale in its own right rather than as a pedantic exercise.

It might not have the ulterior motive of saving the church.

It might speak compassionately of our suffering earth.

It might acknowledge that no matter how technologically savvy we are, we are still afraid of the future.

It might admit that we aren’t sure all people’s beliefs can be tolerated anymore, that the boundaries of tolerance are edged by violence.

It might not pretend it has the power to change people’s beliefs.

It might invite us to change anyway.

Cassandra FarrinCassandra Farrin joined Westar in 2010. A US-UK Fulbright Scholar, she has an M.A. in Religious Studies from Lancaster University (England) and a B.A. in Religious Studies from Willamette University. She is passionate about books and projects that in some way address the intersection of ethics and early Christian history.

3 replies
  1. Russ says:

    In a sense, your friend was correct. All religions are distinguished from science by the fact that they enshrine a fixed revelation that cannot be altered or changed. Only science has evolved a belief system that embraces deliberate modification of core ideas. Ergo religion equals intolerance. You cannot be a “good” member of any one religion without rejecting the others…unless you are a Unitarian, progressive Quaker, or sophisticated non-literalist scholar in the mold of Borg, Spong, Pagels, et al. And in that case you will be rejected as non-Christian by the vast majority of self-proclaimed Christians.

  2. P.M.Babu says:

    There are so many mysteries in the world which cannot be explained by science.Science can never hope to solve all the problems of mankind.Religion and science should co-exist so that man can have material as well as spiritual wealth.

  3. Cassandra says:

    Russ and P.M., I see this religion-science question touching ground here on two fronts. First, has science has finally succeeded in breaking the human tendency to grasp whatever we feel is secure by building in a “safe space” for doubts to be tested? (I think of Kuhn’s paradigm, if you are familiar with that.) Second, does this mean science has replaced religion, which enshrines particular beliefs and behaviors as sacred (that is, important, even life-or-death important) and then resists the temptation to change them because of their importance?

    In this I want to embrace at least the spirit of Richard Kearney’s suggestion that room for doubt is possible in religion if atheism ceases to be perceived as an end of faith and begins to be viewed as a natural experience in the life of faith. This is always going to be a push-and-pull: Can Christianity change over time? Yes, of course. It already has. Can it be changed according to some progressive laundry list of values? No, not necessarily, because organizations and traditions change through small, unpredictable interactions of human beings with one another and the world over time. They aren’t (and shouldn’t be) engineered. I think that’s sometimes a mistake we make in conversations at Westar, is to think too instrumentally about change. I don’t see that as realistic. You can’t hand a tradition a new story about Jesus and expect it to just embrace that wholesale, and you can’t blame them for it either because they didn’t ask you to come in and totally revise things on them. If somebody came into my living room or bedroom and changed things without my permission, I’d be pretty pissed off, and that’s not even as intimate my religion! I would rather see us approach the conversation in more giving and also receptive manner.

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