“God is dead. And we have killed him,” wrote Friedrich Nietzsche in his most famous work, Thus Spake Zarathustra. That statement coincided with the beginning of a century of religious upheaval unprecedented in human history. Only three generations after those words were published, the religious make-up of Western culture is almost unrecognizable from the way it looked when Nietzsche penned his declaration. In Europe, traditional forms of Christianity have plummeted in popularity, and many churches and synagogues are becoming monuments to a bygone age. And in the United States, a rapid decrease in adherence to Catholicism and traditional Protestant denominations combined with a rapid rise in nontraditional forms of Christianity, particularly Evangelicalism and Pentecostalism, has left social scientists struggling to keep up with the changes. Moreover, there has been an explosion in nontraditional forms of spirituality. New religious movements, New Age philosophies, and transplanted Eastern religions have all attracted millions and millions of the so-called spiritual but not religious contingent of the Western population.
So after a century of change, hindsight has proven Nietzsche's words both prescient and premature. Religion has not died, it would seem, so much as utterly transformed itself. Even highly respected secular intellectuals like biologist E.O. Wilson have come to the conclusion that religion is, as Wilson puts it, “an ineradicable part of human nature.” And despite recent polemical books by Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, it nevertheless seems that the mainstream opinion is more reflected in science writer Connie Barlow's statement that “smug disregard of the religious impulse has recently fallen out of fashion.”
But even if God is still alive and kicking, He or She has certainly undergone a rather extreme personality makeover in the last century. And the sixty-four-thousand-dollar question is: Why? What are the cultural dynamics responsible for such a dramatic transformation? And even more importantly, where are these cultural changes leading us? In his book The Death of the Mythic God: The Rise of Evolutionary Spirituality, author Jim Marion examines these questions, beginning with his own interpretation of Nietzsche's classic declaration. God is indeed dying, Marion suggests, but only a specific version of God, and another version is taking its place. Our culture is not leaving behind religion, he maintains, but a particular phase in our understanding of religion.
A former Catholic monk with a passion for the mystical, Marion is one of a small group of spiritual thinkers who are tracking the rise of a new vision of religious and spiritual life broadly called “evolutionary spirituality.” And he feels that this emergence is significant enough to delineate it as an entirely new stage of spiritual development, fundamentally distinct from the last several millennia of religious thought. Now working as a public policy attorney in Washington, DC, but still deeply engaged in his own mystical life, Marion is both studying the rise of this cultural emergence and wholeheartedly participating in it. In collaboration with integral philosopher Ken Wilber and his Integral Institute, Marion is helping to develop a philosophical framework for a post-traditional age, one that incorporates the insights of evolutionary spirituality into the theological framework of Christian life. He recently shared with WIE his thoughtful analysis of the changing face of American Christianity and his personal enthusiasm for the promise and potential of the higher levels of development that he feels are available to us all.