For some two centuries the trend in spirituality has been towards an immanent view of God. Schleiermacher linked God with the human sense of absolute dependence; the Romantics sought God in nature; psychological approaches (e.g. James) used the analysis of human emotions to give meaning to the concept of God; postmodernism has led some to reject claims of absolute truth and to seek God in the pluriformity of insights suppressed by master discourses; even some recent Catholic spirituality has proceeded from human experience to divine mystery. Much of the initial impetus in this trend came from the Kantian critique of ideas of transcendence, but history played its part too. Jürgen Moltmann draws attention to how trust in human power to plan and achieve has shifted people away from living according to tradition, or in terms of the laws of the cosmos revealed in natural law (Moltmann 1988:3-4). Today, the immanentist trend of spirituality is often linked with a sense of empowerment, fuelled in part by a desire for justice.
This trend poses awkward questions for both institutional Christianity and for those who believe that God is found within and nowhere else. It questions the Churches, because spirituality today proceeds increasingly from a situation in which people learn from their own experience. They trust themselves, and believe that they can speak from their own lives.
The evidence of this is seen in the declericalization of spiritual direction, in the emphasis on faith as world-transforming, in the shift of authority from institution to individual. Can the Churches find ways of incorporating this, of learning 'from below'? If not, then the renewal of spiritual life will flow more and more in non-institutional channels, outside formal Christianity.
There are questions, too, for those who endorse a strongly immanentist spirituality. Voices such as Alasdair Maclntyre (1985), Robert Bellah (1986) and Charles Taylor (1989) have drawn attention to a problematical self-orientation. They highlight such issues as the separation of right conduct from shared values, and the drive for self-expressive fulfilment which seems to override any communal or social interests. Some contemporary spirituality does indeed suggest that people can seek salvation, or healing, or growth, in isolation from the needs of others. In this trend there is little by which spirituality can be assessed—my way is my way, your way is your way. Is there any way of being open to God as transcendent, a living standard of love and holiness by which human searching can both assess itself and be inspired at the same time? If not, the danger is that spirituality becomes simply another consumer option. Ecological concerns also suggest that reports of the death of natural law may be premature. Empowerment needs to respect the mystery of God revealed through the cosmos in all its diversity, intricacy and interdependence. Enlightenment brought human self-mastery of a kind, but also a new vulnerability. Today, spirituality can learn from both.
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