Right after AAR, another conference will begin in Unity Village, Missouri, on Nov. 3-6. The conference is Lyceum 2008, an “annual educational symposium open to teachers, writers, and students of spiritual and theological studies.” This is the first year of the conference. I’m not mentioning this conference in order to recommend that people attend it. On the contrary, it might just be the biggest waste of your time. That’s because the theme of this year’s conference is “Culturally Christian, Spiritually Unlimited.”
This kind of nonsense just makes my stomach turn. Lyceum 2008 epitomizes the entire I’m-spiritual-but-not-religious bullshit. What’s fascinating is what this theme actually says, so let’s look at each phrase. First, Christianity has become cultural. This could mean a variety of things. On the more religious side, it could mean that one still attends a church, but only because this is what people have always done and it constitutes a major part of one’s history and identity. On the non-religious or less religious side, it could simply mean that Christianity forms a kind of cultural backdrop within countries like Great Britain, France, Germany, and the USA, among others. To be “culturally Christian” might be something as banal as observing, consuming, and enjoying the cultural artifacts of Christianity—precisely as things to be observed, consumed, and enjoyed. However you take this phrase, the clear implication is that Christianity has nothing to do with one’s true existence. Christianity is part of the landscape—maybe even part of one’s history—but it has no relevance, no existential significance, for the present. It is just one cultural artifact or attribute among others. Maybe more important than most, but cultural nonetheless.
Second, as a cultural Christian, Lyceum 2008 encourages us to be “spiritually unlimited.” Here the conference makes it clear that it has capitulated entirely to the Western capitalistic voluntarist conception of the religious person as a consumer of “spiritual goods.” It’s only appropriate that one of the three keynote speakers is Bishop Spong, who is giving two lectures, the second of which is entitled, “Beyond Christian Limits, but Not Beyond Christianity.” That basically summarizes everything that is wrong with Spong and this conference. In an interview with Thomas Shepherd of the Unity Institute, which is hosting the event, Shepherd discusses the conference. While talking about Bart Ehrman, who is also giving two keynote lectures, he says, “We’re learning that early Christianity had lots of options, from the prosaic to the phantasmagoric. Did you know one sect of early Christianity believed in thirty gods?” The implication, of course, is that there are “lots of options” outside of orthodoxy—that old dry and stiff religious straitjacket. With these unlimited spiritual options, I only have to discover the kind of spirituality that suits me. I can have my pie and eat it, too: I can call myself “Christian” but believe whatever the hell I want to.
This stuff makes me sick. I’m hoping Lyceum dies off after this first year. Maybe the $299 registration cost will ensure that it does.