Spiritual Formation

In her article “Why don’t all these disaffected Brits convert to Christianity instead?“, Melanie McDonagh reports on recent studies which reveal a surprising number of Brits converting to Islam.

Where the Faith Matters report is convincing is in its interviews with real converts, of whom Lauren Booth seems typical, though rather older than the average, which is aged 27, female, white and fed up with the mores of contemporary Brits. The interviewees identified alcohol and drunkenness, a “lack of morality and sexual permissiveness” and “unrestrained consumerism” as aspects of British society for which Islam was a remedy. Or as Ms Booth put it, after conversion to Islam, “I have glimpsed the great lie that is the facade of our modern lives; that materialism, consumerism, sex and drugs will give us lasting happiness….

So why is it that the young folk revolted by contemporary excess don’t simply make for the local CofE, or Catholic church, and rediscover the religion of their grandmothers, rather than getting their spirituality via Islam? It is, I think, something to do with the real malaise of contemporary Britain which I wrote about in a little essay in The Spectator concerning the film Eat, Pray, Love. It is the notion that what exists abroad, or what is foreign to your own background, is somehow superior to what you’ve grown up with, what’s under your nose. In the case of EPL, the heroine finds her spiritual identity in Buddhism. It would have been a good deal more interesting if she could have discovered it in her local Episcopalian church. 

It may be that the British young don’t embrace Christianity because they simply don’t encounter it, at least not through the kind of religious education-as-anthropology they get in state school, which is about as opposite as it is possible to be from the Sunday School teaching which their grandmothers would have got. Actually, the death of the Sunday School pretty well marked the end of any practical instruction in Christianity for most children. No wonder they’re susceptible to the certainties of Islam, when they encounter it.”

I’ve been reading Rebecca DeYoung’s book on the the Seven Deadly Sins entitled Glittering Vices. What is apparent to me as I read the book is the lack of soul work and spiritual formation which marks much of contemporary Christianity. Rather than growing souls, we focus on an achievement, performance, and experience driven faith which looks a lot like the American dream–full of consumerist virtues and baseless optimism.

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