While religion is declining in the West, Jonathan Sacks believes it will eventually return. In the meantime, we’ve got a gap to fill.
Jonathan Sacks is the former Chief Rabbi of the UK and a member of the House of Lords. He says we’re crossing a threshold. While noting the dramatic rise of religious “nones” and the decline of religion in general, Sacks believes religion will return to the West. But until then, “we’ve got a gap to fill.”
The gap is the interlude as secularization winds down and religion returns. Now there’s a thick word—secularization. It refers to the process where religion loses cultural significance. In secularized societies, faith lacks cultural authority, making religious organizations outsiders. Faith is attractive only to religious believers.
Sacks believes the West has gone through four stages of secularization, each one an outworking of Enlightenment thinking. The four stages are science (17th century), technology (18th century), the market (19th century), and the state (20th century). Each has further marginalized religion. None, however, can answer the three questions that every reflective individual will ask some time in life: who am I, why am I here, how then shall I live? That’s why Sacks says religion will return.
But not right away. And it won’t look like contemporary Christianity according to Richard Rohr. The Catholic priest and Franciscan Friar says it will take 100 years for the Enlightenment experiment to completely wind down. Replacing it will be pre-Enlightenment Christianity, an ancient faith tradition based on the univocity of all things.
There’s another word you don’t hear every day. John Duns Scotus (1266-1308) wrote about “the univocity of all being.” It is speaking of all beings with “one consistent voice” (uni-voice). Dualisms, such as spiritual/secular, common in the West today, are unknown in this tradition. As Bonaventure (1482–1568) later wrote, univocity is seeing all things as likenesses of God. The entirety of creation is sacramental.
Countless saints and mystics have described this, including the Desert Fathers, the Celtic and monastic traditions, and what was generally referred to as the wisdom stream of Christianity. Rohr says univocity reveals “the divine DNA underlying all living links in creation.”
One hundred years from now, Rohr says Western Christians will have returned to Pre-Enlightenment Christianity. Believers will see reality as a “sacrament,” that is, a revelation of the presence of God. Seashores, sex, and sandwiches will be seen as enchanted because they are awash in God. Believers will emphasize the presence of God in the world. Enlightenment Christianity, which often emphasized the absence of God (hence, the two voices—spiritual/secular), will mostly be a thing of the past.
But that’s 100 years from now. How do we fill the gap between now and then? For my part, I’m writing two books that I hope, 100 years out, will be the norm for Western Christianity. The first is titled “Our Behavioral DNA: The Infrastructure for Innovation.” C. S. Lewis said that in a post-Christian world we don’t want “more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects—with their Christianity latent.” “Our Behavioral DNA” is based on Christianity that’s latent.
A second book parallels the first, but it describes Pre-Enlightenment Christianity. I’m writing it collaboratively with a modern day “Inklings,” millennials spread around the country, mostly church leaders who recognize the Enlightenment experiment is winding down. This book will introduce Christians to the “univocity of all being.”
I’m the gray hair in the group. Scary to think they might look to me for wisdom. That’s why we’d appreciate your prayers. We’re doing what we can to fill the gap.