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Christianity After Religion
By Diana Butler Bass (HarperOne, 2012)

Older Catholics frequently wonder where all the young people have gone and how to get them back in church. Religion scholar Diana Butler Bass provides an answer in Christianity After Religion, and though her research and suggestions are geared toward mainstream Protestant churches, concerned Catholics can also learn from her analysis of Christianity’s future.

Butler Bass first explores the increasing number of Americans who do not identify with any religious tradition. A recent study by the Pew Forum shows that 20 percent of Americans and more than 30 percent of millennials are religiously unaffiliated. Another study found that 10 percent of Americans are former Catholics. But Butler Bass is optimistic and emphasizes how belief in God has not necessarily waned, but churches have failed to respond to young people’s spiritual needs.

Butler Bass then proposes that churches respond to people’s needs by appealing to experience rather than doctrine. Some of her ideas, like rewriting the creed, won’t fly in Catholic circles, but much of her vision is grounded in Christian tradition. She emphasizes finding religious practices in order to experience belief and learning them from teachers, admonishing modern churches for replacing practices with programs.  

Butler Bass places her interpretation of today’s religious trends into a grander idea of a fourth American Great Awakening—only this one is global. The “new phase of Christian history” might not be great for the Catholic Church, but Butler Bass ends by returning to the personal level—and Catholic individuals and communities can tap into the awakening.

Unfortunately, the book may come too late for those who have left religion behind. But for Christians on the edge, Butler Bass’ vision of church will provide hope.              

This article appeared in the January 2013 issue of  U.S. Catholic (Vol. 78, No. 1, pages 51).