Civil religion, “Sheilaism,” and Robert Bellah (R.I.P.)

Those of us who follow religion and culture lost a founding father last month. Robert Bellah, the Berkeley scholar, helped open the academy doors for the sociological study of religion.


He gave us the term “civil religion,” but was best known for his (and his co-authors’) 1985 book, Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life, which explored the ways that the American individualism that had been largely praised by de Tocqueville had, in more recent times, “grown cancerous.”

American cultural traditions define personality, achievement, and the purpose of human life in ways that leave the individual suspended in glorious, but terrifying, isolation.

Other Bellahisms:

For many, “freedom means being left alone,” or “freedom from the demands of others.”

“Sheilaism” is what we get when American-style individualism meets religion, as explained by Sheila Larson, one of the many Americans interviewed in habits:

My faith has carried me along way. It’s Sheilaism. Just my own little voice.

When the kind of “expressive individualism” pioneered by Walt Whitman collided with the cultural revolution of the 1960s, the result was a new kind of mysticism that tends to “radicalize and absolutize” religious individualism.

Bellah’s prescription for recovery includes a return to tradition and community:

Perhaps common worship, in which we express our gratitude and wonder in the face of the mystery of being itself, is the most important thing of all.

Thank you, Robert Bellah.

See the New York Times obit here.

Posted in Blog, Past Is Present, Quotable

Mindy Kaling: Kindness Rules

Funny but not mean. Honest but not vicious. That’s Mindy Kaling’s goal in her popular TV show, “The Kaling Project,” according to a recent profile in Entertainment Weekly.

“Mindy’s Rules for Writing,” a sidebar to the Aug. 9 cover story on Kaling and “The New Hollywood,” describes the ethos encoded in the “voice checklist” the show’s writers follow. Among the six rules:

1) Characters are helpful and kind.

2) No one is a moron.

4) Conflict should never come from a desire to be cruel or mean.


Posted in Blog, Quotable, Writing Life

Art as Argument: Leon Ferrari (R.I.P.)

La civilización occidental y cristiana (Western Civilization and Christianity)
by Leon Ferrari, 1965

Leon Ferrari, a controversial Latin American conceptual artist and activist, died July 25, 2013. His most famous work, which features Christ crucified on an American fighter plane, expressed his opposition to the Vietnam War, and more.

Like his other works, La civilización occidental y cristiana explored themes of religion, power and illegitimate authority, especially the oversized global influence of both the United States and the Roman Catholic Church. When the work was exhibited in Ferrari’s native Argentina in 1965, the Catholic Church had the exhibit closed down. He faced a similar fate in 2004, when the Archbishop of Buenos Aires helped close down a show featuring more Christian imagery. (That Archbishop is today’s Pope Francis.)

See Ferrari’s obituary from The New York Times.

Posted in Blog, Picture=1000

Are We Searching or Being Searched?

“By the time you search, something’s already failed.”
– Phil Libin, CEO of Evernote, quoted in New York Times story about a new generation of “Predictive Search” apps that anticipate what you need to know before you search for it and that are raising questions about privacy and other concerns.

Posted in Blog, Man&Machine, Quotable

E-book explores insights of the dying

Today, Lois and I are celebrating the release of our first e-book: Lessons for the Living from the Dying. We talked to a number of hospice workers to see what they learned about life from the dying people they serve. Here’s the official info:

Someday. That’s when many of us plan to finally start those long-delayed travel, reading, fitness and personal projects. But for those whose days are truly numbered, “someday” may never come.

Those who are dying have a hard-won clarity about life’s limits. Fortunately for us, they often share their wisdom, advice and regrets about life with hospice workers, those skilled companions who devote countless hours to serving people who are in their final days. In this inspiring and gripping book, we are invited to embrace end-of-life lessons so that we can start living better lives–not just someday, but today.

If you participate in a death cafe, or simply interested in living well and ending well, you should find something helpful. Available from Bondfire Books through Amazon.

Posted in Blog, BSP (Blatant Self-Promotion)

Know Your “Nones”

Why No Affiliation Is Fastest Growing Religious Affiliation

You knew Colorado Springs is home to dozens of big evangelical organizations, but did you know it is also home to big-league atheists Becky Hale (president of the American Humanist Association) and Gary Betchan (who runs the secular emporium,, out of a storefront located next door to a church)?

The two say they never would have met if it weren’t for conservative “religious crazies” seeking to impose their values on the city.

You can read the Gazette story about their journeys and their work here:

Know Your “Nones”

I also wrote a stat-filled sidebar, connecting Becky & Gary’s story with national polling data from Pew and Gallup.

This data suggests that nones outnumber true believers in Colorado Springs. The sidebar was not published with the article, but you can read it.

Know Your Nones stats (.docx)


Posted in Blog

Love for Sale?

Have you noticed? Advertisers are using longing, love and Al Green to sell us more stuff.

Advertisers are using love to wrap us and their products in one big All-Consuming Embrace. Take another look at these 7 commercials:

1) Subaru makes some good cars, but this commercial seem to suggest we should love our automobiles like we do our partners, kids, and dogs.

2) Did you know pizza functions as sacrament at family love feasts? “When you get together around a Papa Murphy’s pizza,” says the spot, you can experience “Love at 425 degrees.”

3) Johnson & Johnson’s new branding campaign, “For All You Love,” features evocative images of parents and kids. Cute, but the New York Times suggests J&J may be trying to powder over the $68 billion corporation’s recent problems with massive product recalls and consumer lawsuits.

4) “Love” fills the final screen of a recent spot for heart-healthy Cheerios. But apparently, not everyone was feeling the love. The commercial’s multiracial family (the cute kid has a white mother and black father) has generated online racist comments.

5) Love your dog? “Keep love strong” with Iams dogfood. Installments in the “Keep love strong” campaign tug at your heart by featuring a woman returning to her beloved pet following a military deployment or a girl putting lipstick on her dog.


6) Starbucks claims its rewards program is OUR WAY OF LOVING YOU BACK in print ads that invite readers to “see how rewarding a friendship can be.”

7) “I’m so in love with you” croons Al Green, in his 1971 #1 hit, “Let’s Stay Together,” which was used in this commercial featuring  Meanwhile, an alluring woman enjoys an intimate moment with some Lay’s potato chips. “One taste and you’re in love,” says the voice-over.

Vance Packard’s 1957 book, The Hidden Persuaders, explained why “professional persuaders” (guys like “Mad Men’s” Don Draper) used insights from psychiatry and social science to create commercial imagery that bypassed our brains and went straight for our gooey core:

…they see us as bundles of daydreams, misty hidden yearnings, guilt complexes, irrational emotional blockages. We are image lovers given to impulsive and compulsive acts.

More than half a century later, some still create commercial come-ons that exploit the deepest affections of the human heart. But in the last line of his song, told us how to handle people who mess with our emotions:

  And if you do me wrong, I just might leave you alone.


Posted in Blog, Mixed Media

Welcome to My Brand New Blog

Greetings, and welcome to my new blog!

With some 200 million blogs readily available, you may not feel the need for more content, but I hope to offer a different take on the fascinating ways that people’s experiences of religion, spirituality and culture intersect (or collide). These intersections have been the prism for much of my writing, reading and observing this world of wonders.

It’s an “occasional” blog because there are word-drenched days when my cranking out a post wouldn’t be in your interests, or mine. I’m also setting aside times for obeying a much-needed 11th Commandment: “Thou shall not touch any digital devices today!”

I (along with guests, including my wife Lois) plan to post things Only When Moved, which we hope will happen twice a week!

Here’s what’s moving us today: concern for the thousands of people (including friends) here in Colorado and the West who have lost their homes in devastating wildfires over the last two long, hot summers (and the 19 firefighters who lost their lives in Arizona).

C-Fire-2013If you want to help those impacted by this year’s Black Forest Fire and last year’s Waldo Canyon Fire, consider:

Giving to The Pikes Peak Community Foundation’s emergency relief fund;

Or purchasing a Wild Fire Tee (proceeds help The Pikes Peak Community Foundation’s emergency relief fund).

Tagged with: ,
Posted in Blog
A to Z

Steve's articles have appeared in these publications and outlets:

Akron Beacon Journal
Albany (NY) Times Union
The American Spectator
Ann Arbor News
Arizona Republic
Atlanta Journal/Constitution
Associated Press
Birmingham (AL) News
Bookstore Journal
Boulder Camera
Catholic Digest
CCM Update
Charlotte Observer
Christian Examiner
Christian Herald
Christian History
Christian Management Report
Christian Post
Christian Reader
Christian Research Journal
Christian Retailing
Christian Single (Southern Baptist Convention)
Christianity Today (since 1982, EPA Award)
Church Bookstore
Columbus Citizen-Journal (Sunday magazine features)
Columbus Dispatch
Compassion Update (Compassion International, editor)
Cincinnati Enquirer (Sunday magazine features)
Cleveland Plain Dealer
Current Thoughts & Trends
Daily Guardian, Wright State University, Dayton, OH (editor)
Dallas Morning News
Dayton (Ohio city magazine)
Dayton Business Journal (editor)
Dayton Daily News and Journal-Herald (news, features, stringer)
Devo'Zine (United Methodist)
The Disciple (Disciples of Christ)
Discipleship Journal
East Asia’s Millions (Overseas Missionary Fellowship)
English Journal (National Council of Teachers of English)
Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Freedom Wire
The Gazette (Colorado Springs, CO: Religion Editor, news, features)
Grand Rapids (MI) Press
Herald of Holiness (Nazarene)
HIS (InterVarsity)
Home Life (Southern Baptist Convention)
Houston Chronicle
Huntsville (AL) Times
Indianapolis Star
Kansas City Star
Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service
Leadership Journal
Lexington (KY) Herald-Leader
Life@Work (EPA Award)
The Living Church (Anglican)
Los Angeles Times
The Lutheran (ELCA)
The Lutheran Witness (Missouri Synod)
The Magazine for Christian Youth! (United Methodist)
Media Update
Minneapolis Star Tribune
Missions Today
Mobile (AL) Register
National and International Religion Report
New Age
New Orleans Times-Picayune
New Sound
New York Times (Religion Journal, news, stringer)
New York Times Syndication Sales Corp.
Newark Star-Ledger
Omaha World-Herald
Orange County Register
Parents of Teenagers
Pastor's Family
Policy Review (Heritage Foundation)
Publishers Weekly
Pueblo Chieftain
Pulpit Helps
PW Religion Bookline
Re:generation Quarterly
Religion News Service (news and features)
Religious Broadcasting
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Saint Paul Pioneer Press
San Diego Union-Tribune
Shepherdess International (Seventh-day Adventist)
Syracuse (NY) Post-Standard
Tallahassee Democrat
Today’s Pentecostal Evangel (Assemblies of God)
Twin Circle Catholic Weekly
Vue (Wesleyan)
Washington Post
The Wittenburg Door
World Pulse
Worship Leader
Young Salvationist (Salvation Army)
Youthworker Journal (writer, columnist, editor)
Youthworker Update


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