Response to "The End of Religion" by Bruxy Cavey
At some point in the not-too-distant past, rational people would have thought it odd to write a book that outlines and defends Christianity and title it, "The End of Religion." Not any more.
The first third of this book: I have a lot of problems with you people
The middle: the story of Jesus
The last third: the beliefs built on his story
The book fails because the first third sets up a question much larger than a good post-modern discussion of the gospel can close. The problems with religion aren't just misunderstandings of Jesus and they can't be solved with a thorough discussion of his life and its implications.
When you believe in Jesus, you are a Christian. You are religious and you are part of a religion that has a lot of baggage. Claiming that you are not part of any religion, but rather have a relationship with God is self-defeating: either you are espousing an entirely different faith than the historic Christian one, or you are saying that your forebears were not true Christians. Or worse yet: both.
A Christian's relationship with God today is the same religious claim Christians have made since the time of Christ. He said that he was the way to God, and Christians since then believed it. And some of those Christians have done awful things--some Christians have told others to do awful things in the very name of Christ. We can embrace the same faith--religion--and call those things evil, and Christian apologists have been doing this for centuries.
The new claim to an essentially irreligious faith is deeper than a response to the "Christians have done evil" objection, it's a rejection of religious authority and orthodoxy. And these rejections are fallacious.
Religious authority is anathema to post-modern people; orthodoxy offends everyone that dislikes being told they are wrong. Rejecting religion avoids the horrible affects of abused authority and the discomfort of submitting to proper authority. Rejection religion allows the construction of personal faith beyond argumentation and uncomfortable discussion.
Christians that reject religion are wrong, both because comfort is a foolish goal and because they illogically then try to communicate their faith. Personal comfort is an excuse for poor thinking. Our current idea of privacy, to which comfort is closely related, suggests that most aspects of people's lives are properly off-limits to everyone else. These assumptions severely restrict our ability to love our neighbors. If you can't tell someone they believe a lie, you can't love them. The autonomy we seek can only be found outside of all hierarchy--eliminating all helpful checks against abuse and illusion. This presupposition should not determine how we approach faith.
The second two thirds of "The End of Religion" set forth a set of stories and underlying principles in which we are told to put our faith. These beliefs are orthodox Christianity, and aside from a few vogue digs at political conservatives and American fundamentalists, these beliefs are what you'd find in any book outlining the core of the Christian faith. However if religion is over, Bruxy has no business writing a book of theology or inviting us to his church. More disturbingly, if he's not part of the Christian religion, what is he asking us to join?
"The End of Religion" states a set of beliefs as correct, although it lacks the trappings of a systematic theology. The set of beliefs are told as stories, not lists of the propositions. This is what makes the book's premise problematic: anyone with real objections to religions would object to the assertions of a Christian pastor, whether told in a story or argued in a theology. You can't claim to be part of a movement away from religion and make falsifiable theological claims.
To leave behind religion and be consistent, you have to find new suppositions. For example, those claiming to be post-modern could say that nothing is objectively knowable, and faith is a personal, individualized set of experiences. Or you could say that beliefs are known at a level that denies communicability and the deep agreement that give rise to religions. What you can't do is say that religion is done but there is a set of true beliefs about God that people can hold in common as part of a community.
That's called a religion. And it's ok.