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Sean Oliver-Dee - God's Unwelcome Recovery / Sam Harris - Waking Up: Searching for Spirituality Without Religion

Sean Oliver-Dee – God’s Unwelcome Recovery
(Monarch £8.99 185 pages ISBN 978 0 85721 630 1)

Sam Harris – Waking Up: Searching for Spirituality Without Religion
(Black Swan £9.99 245 pages ISBN 9781784160029)

This might at first seem an odd combination of books to deal with in one review; yet both confirm that spirituality is far from dead in the western world. 

Harris promotes the view that it is possible to be spiritual without being religious. He writes:

“20% of Americans describe themselves as ‘spiritual but not religious’. Although the claim seems to annoy believers and atheists equally, separating spirituality from religion is a perfectly reasonable thing to do…” yet he does eventually admit that “Spirituality remains the great hole in secularism …”

To my mind this presents the Church with an opportunity and a challenge. The opportunity is to reclaim an area that has traditionally been our turf. The challenge is that when we use the language of spirituality, we are clear about what we are affirming. 

Harris has some interesting observations about how similar some some Christian mystics are to Buddhists! His ideas have been shaped by a number of Eastern thinkers; it is worth asking what he finds so odious about Christianity, and what we could do about it?

Harris himself is not entirely clear in his mind about what represents spirituality, particularly how meditation works in a world disconnected from God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is all rather like those arguments about keeping the code fo Christianity without its creed; it does not work. It is rather like trying to drive a car from which the engine has been removed.

Which brings us to Sean Oliver-Dee’s book which claims that the rumours of the decline of Christianity in Britain have been greatly exaggarated. If his statistics stack up (and we all know what they say about statistics), the Church in Britain had a net gain of over 300,000 in the decade between the census taken in 2001 and 2011. Interestingly he claims that this cannot entirely be attributed to the massive growth of Black Majoriy churches or Polish Catholic immigration.   

His book contains some fascinating details, a few interesting proposals and a challenge to think more carefully about the state we are in. The danger is that it teeters between despair and complacency. If we find that we have £100 more in our current account than we thought we had, we must be careful not to go on a wild spending spree as a result. 

If the state of the Church in Britain is slightly better than we imagined, there is a cause for some encouragement, but before we pat ourselves on the back, it might be worth analysing why we don’t feel very optimistic about the future of many of our churches.

John Woods is pastor of Lancing Tabernacle

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