Apparently emergent church writer Brian McLaren is celebrating Ramadan:
“This year, I, along with a few Christian friends (and perhaps others currently unknown to us will want to join in) will be joining Muslim friends in the fast which begins August 21. We are not doing so in order to become Muslims: we are deeply committed Christians. But as Christians, we want to come close to our Muslim neighbors and to share this important part of life with them…[s]ince the Bible teaches us the importance of fasting and being generous to the poor, we can participate as Christians in fidelity to the Bible as our Muslim friends do so in fidelity to the Quran.”
On the surface, this is so bizarre that explaining why it is bizarre is really like explaining the very concept of religion, from scratch. But perhaps that is precisely the point.
McLaren believes that he can participate in the rituals of other religions, because his “nonreligious spirituality” (to borrow fellow emerger Donald Miller’s term) denies the significance of religion as such. Consequently, rituals do not have the same meaning for him they do for serious observers of most religions.
For McLaren, spirituality is about a kind of postmodern self-expression that brings him closer to his god. “I define the gospel as Jesus,” he writes elsewhere, “and his announcement that the kingdom of God is at hand.” With such an ambiguous foundation, which in practice seems to mean whatever he wants it to mean, spirituality becomes more a matter of seeking whatever spiritual experience makes him feel close to Jesus (that nice hippie with long hair and sandals who liked children).
McLaren contrasts his view with the views of Christians who define the gospel as “a theory of atonement.” Their view is a religious view, in which God is a holy being to whom humans owe reverence and obedience (the word religion comes from Latin roots meaning “to bind”). For them, Jesus provided the bridge that allowed them to grow close to God, not through an ethereal spirituality, but through the reconciliation of a broken allegiance (Jesus claimed, “No one comes to the Father but through me”).
For such people, fasting has a purpose, and a focus. To participate in another god’s fast divorces the action from the meaning, and the allegiance – much as if they took communion from an imam who had blessed the bread and wine in the name of Allah (or perhaps in the name of “Tashlan,” as C. S. Lewis put it in The Last Battle). But for McLaren, it was never about obedience, or about religion – it was about an expression of “peace, fellowship, and neighborliness.” McLaren’s observation of a Muslim holiday does not invalidate the internal consistency of his beliefs, because they never comprised a religion to begin with.
Brian Brown loves building the environments, habits, and networks that make people thrive. He is the founder of Humane Pursuits, where he writes a featured column and edits the Give channel. He started his consulting company, Narrator, to help great mission-driven organizations modernize and grow. He lives with his wife Christina and son Edmund in Colorado Springs, where they mix cocktails, hunt for historic architecture, and see how many people they can squeeze into their house for happy hour.