Believers Beyond the Church: How the 'Spiritual Not Religious' Gospel Has Spread
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Second, spiritual consumerism has fostered a robust cosmopolitanism. Books allow readers entry into previously unimaginable religious worlds. Since trade presses entered the religion game with vigor, the lines of denomination and tradition have mattered less and less. The political and moral imperatives of World War II provided the greatest stimulus to such interfaith reading, and before long even the Protestant-Catholic-Jew formulation of the era could not contain American readers. What matters to the unaffiliated is not imprimatur but inspiration.
The Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith has observed, “Liberal Protestantism’s organizational decline has been accompanied by and is in part arguably the consequence of the fact that liberal Protestantism has won a decisive, larger cultural victory.” The “cultural victory” Smith and others write about happened not because more Americans joined liberal churches, in other words, but because liberal religious values and sensibilities became more and more culturally normative. And no single cultural force has been more significant to this profound religious shift than the unabashed consumerism of the religious book business in the twentieth century.
Even as religious affiliations decline, religious books sales continue to rise, as they have steadily for more than a half century. In this ultimate spiritual marketplace, American religion displays its full shape-shifting vitality.