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Seculosity: How Career, Parenting, Technology, Food, Politics, and Romance Became Our New Religion and What to Do about It

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At the heart of our current moment lies a universal yearning, writes David Zahl, not to be happy or respected so much as enough--what religions call "righteous." To fill the void left by religion, we look to all sorts of everyday activities--from eating and parenting to dating and voting--for the identity, purpose, and meaning once provided on Sunday morning.In our strivin At the heart of our current moment lies a universal yearning, writes David Zahl, not to be happy or respected so much as enough--what religions call "righteous." To fill the void left by religion, we look to all sorts of everyday activities--from eating and parenting to dating and voting--for the identity, purpose, and meaning once provided on Sunday morning.In our striving, we are chasing a sense of enoughness. But it remains ever out of reach, and the effort and anxiety are burning us out. Seculosity takes a thoughtful yet entertaining tour of American "performancism" and its cousins, highlighting both their ingenuity and mercilessness, all while challenging the conventional narrative of religious decline. Zahl unmasks the competing pieties around which so much of our lives revolve, and he does so in a way that's at points playful, personal, and incisive. Ultimately he brings us to a fresh appreciation for the grace of God in all its countercultural wonder.


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At the heart of our current moment lies a universal yearning, writes David Zahl, not to be happy or respected so much as enough--what religions call "righteous." To fill the void left by religion, we look to all sorts of everyday activities--from eating and parenting to dating and voting--for the identity, purpose, and meaning once provided on Sunday morning.In our strivin At the heart of our current moment lies a universal yearning, writes David Zahl, not to be happy or respected so much as enough--what religions call "righteous." To fill the void left by religion, we look to all sorts of everyday activities--from eating and parenting to dating and voting--for the identity, purpose, and meaning once provided on Sunday morning.In our striving, we are chasing a sense of enoughness. But it remains ever out of reach, and the effort and anxiety are burning us out. Seculosity takes a thoughtful yet entertaining tour of American "performancism" and its cousins, highlighting both their ingenuity and mercilessness, all while challenging the conventional narrative of religious decline. Zahl unmasks the competing pieties around which so much of our lives revolve, and he does so in a way that's at points playful, personal, and incisive. Ultimately he brings us to a fresh appreciation for the grace of God in all its countercultural wonder.

30 review for Seculosity: How Career, Parenting, Technology, Food, Politics, and Romance Became Our New Religion and What to Do about It

  1. 4 out of 5

    Chad

    The subtitle brilliantly captures the message of this book. With humor and wisdom, Zahl guides us through the rapidly expanding labyrinth of “religions” that wear the masks of everything from food to exercise. Kitchens become temples and gyms become churches. Rather than becoming less religious, we’ve become more religious, in all the wrong ways. A fantastic read.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Abby

    Compelling, humorous, and well written, Zahl gives a name and shape to the deeply religious nature of modern Americans — and how we’re prone to worshiping almost anything these days (work, the gym, parenting, healthy eating, etc.). Seculosity is a clear-headed reminder of how we energetically transform almost anything into a religion and yet still find ourselves empty and exhausted at the end of the day. Highly recommended!

  3. 5 out of 5

    Kris

    I had high expectations for this one and it rose to the occasion. Zahl shines light on our ability to take any left-hand kingdom "thing" and turn it into a religion all our own. You can really hear Zahl's voice in this, with the same calm tone and a few good-natured puns that you'd hear in his live talks. It's a simple, easy read (I read it in 2 days), while still giving you a lot to discuss and think about. I want a sequel! I see Zahl was also a contributor to Law and Gospel: A Theology for Sinn I had high expectations for this one and it rose to the occasion. Zahl shines light on our ability to take any left-hand kingdom "thing" and turn it into a religion all our own. You can really hear Zahl's voice in this, with the same calm tone and a few good-natured puns that you'd hear in his live talks. It's a simple, easy read (I read it in 2 days), while still giving you a lot to discuss and think about. I want a sequel! I see Zahl was also a contributor to Law and Gospel: A Theology for Sinners.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Heidi

    One of the best books on the ills of 21st century America that I’ve read - an eloquent, readable, convicting diagnosis of what’s getting us down these days. David Zahl posits that, contrary to the evidence from church attendance polls, we Americans are just as religious as ever. Human nature fundamentally seeks a source of hope, purpose, and most of all enoughness,, and even as “big R” Religion has seemingly begun to fade, other contenders have stepped in to meet our need for “small r” religion, One of the best books on the ills of 21st century America that I’ve read - an eloquent, readable, convicting diagnosis of what’s getting us down these days. David Zahl posits that, contrary to the evidence from church attendance polls, we Americans are just as religious as ever. Human nature fundamentally seeks a source of hope, purpose, and most of all enoughness,, and even as “big R” Religion has seemingly begun to fade, other contenders have stepped in to meet our need for “small r” religion, or “that which we rely on not just for meaning or hope but enoughness” (p. xiv). This "seculosity" - defined as "religiosity that's directed horizontally rather than vertically" (p. xxi) - is at work all over. Whether we turn to work, romance, politics, or parenting to validate our existence, we have all set before ourselves some sort of scorecard for life, hoping that if we can just check enough boxes, we'll have done enough to satisfy that existential longing. Zahl shines a light on a few of the ways seculosity pervades our culture - in busyness, romance, parenting, technology, work, leisure, food, politics, and "Jesusland" (since the church is far from immune from these impulses!). In each chapter, he highlights with good humor but pointed accuracy the ways in which these aspects of our lives - all good in themselves - have morphed into cults offering false promises of peace, perfection, and belonging. Possibly the true success of this book lies in the fact that it reads like a fresh, innovative take on society and why we’re miserable, but truly breaks no new ground. Behind the references to Harambe and Seinfeld, Zahl’s writing shimmers with echoes of Christian thinkers from Augustine to C.S. Lewis. He strips away conventional religious terminology and provides new vocabulary and a framework to help us see ourselves and the spiritual condition of our culture with fresh eyes. He lays bare the ways our 21st century obsessions are merely the newest iteration of the age-old human condition, and then points us back to the cross as the only way out of the hamster wheel of works righteousness. Highly recommend to anyone feeling burned out by life.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Ciara

    Maybe it was hard truths I wasn't ready to hear or maybe I would have liked it better as an essay. Either way, I have been procrastinating finishing it because I found it repetitive and boring. Finally finished to tonight, and I don't know that I am any better for it. Maybe it was hard truths I wasn't ready to hear or maybe I would have liked it better as an essay. Either way, I have been procrastinating finishing it because I found it repetitive and boring. Finally finished to tonight, and I don't know that I am any better for it.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Daniel van Voorhis

    I can’t say enough about this book- Zahl’s work at MBird.com has long been a favorite- in this book he has sharpened his thoughts, arranged the ideas, and put together THE book on modern secular religion. That he nails that, and provides a wonderful antidote in a Gospel that is good news for those of us at our wits end. I won’t tell you often to buy something- but get this on your shelf post haste- reflective, incisive, and with a wink that reminds us that there is one who has abolished religion I can’t say enough about this book- Zahl’s work at MBird.com has long been a favorite- in this book he has sharpened his thoughts, arranged the ideas, and put together THE book on modern secular religion. That he nails that, and provides a wonderful antidote in a Gospel that is good news for those of us at our wits end. I won’t tell you often to buy something- but get this on your shelf post haste- reflective, incisive, and with a wink that reminds us that there is one who has abolished religion for those who seek.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Justin Edgar

    I loved this book. Dave wrestles with his heart, my heart, our hearts & the need to be enough. We all search for enoughness, and in our secular age, this means we search for it in what we do, thinking what we do makes up who we are. Our search for enoughness wrangles it’s way through our work, our romance, our parenting, our technology use, our busyness and over-committedness, our leisure pursuits, our food, our politics and even our faith. In every pursuit, we are hoping to be enough. We leave I loved this book. Dave wrestles with his heart, my heart, our hearts & the need to be enough. We all search for enoughness, and in our secular age, this means we search for it in what we do, thinking what we do makes up who we are. Our search for enoughness wrangles it’s way through our work, our romance, our parenting, our technology use, our busyness and over-committedness, our leisure pursuits, our food, our politics and even our faith. In every pursuit, we are hoping to be enough. We leave our search anxious, depressed, numb or despairing, and yet here is where our Savior saves us, amidst the riptide of being swept away into being enough. Jesus by his life and death and resurrection swims on by and saves us from having to be enough. Dave intersects this narrative with great personal stories, articles, short stories, movies, tv shows and other sticky things that will give you eyes to see all the ways being enough makes everything religious, everything an attempt to find the transcendent in the immanent frame. Read this book!

  8. 5 out of 5

    George P.

    American organized religion is declining. According to Gallup data, only one percent of U.S. adults claimed no religious affiliation in 1955. By 2017, that percentage had grown to 20. The younger the adult, the likelier the lack of religious affiliation. For adults ages 30–39, the percentage is 28. For those ages 21–29, it’s 33. If you’re looking for evidence of secularization in America, this rise of the Nones is Exhibit A. And yet, David Zahl claims inhis new book that “the marketplace in repla American organized religion is declining. According to Gallup data, only one percent of U.S. adults claimed no religious affiliation in 1955. By 2017, that percentage had grown to 20. The younger the adult, the likelier the lack of religious affiliation. For adults ages 30–39, the percentage is 28. For those ages 21–29, it’s 33. If you’re looking for evidence of secularization in America, this rise of the Nones is Exhibit A. And yet, David Zahl claims inhis new book that “the marketplace in replacement religion is booming.” Those replacements don’t look or feel religious, however — at least not in the capital-R sense of the term, which Zahl describes as “robes and kneeling and the Man Upstairs.” They don’t necessarily look like “folkloric beliefs” or “occult belief systems” either: things like charms, telepathy, or astrology. Instead, replacement religions center around everyday concerns such as — to list the topics of the book’s chapters — busyness, romance, parenting, technology, work, leisure, food, and politics. Zahl calls each of these replacements “seculosity,” a portmanteau of “secular” and “religiosity.” Seculosity is a religious impulse “directed horizontally rather than vertically, at earthly rather than heavenly objects.” Why does Zahl considers these secular concerns religious? And why should we do so too? Those are fair questions, good ones even, because they go straight to the heart of what our culture thinks religion is. We typically think of religion in of capital-R Religion terms, that is, organized religion with its concerns for doctrine, ritual, community, and institutions. Those are the outward manifestations of an inward impulse, which Zahl calls “the justifying story of our life.” According to him, religion is “what we lean on to tell us we’re okay, that our lives matter.” It is “our preferred guilt-management system.” In other words, religion is what “we rely on not just for meaning or hope but enoughness.” This search for enoughness characterizes religious Nones just as much as it does the traditionally religious. It is a universal longing. Take the everyday concern about busyness, for example. Ask people how they’re doing, and they’ll probably reply, “Busy.” I certainly would. Between work, marriage, parenting, and life in general, it feels like every moment of every day is accounted for…and then some. I tell myself to rest, but the moment I start to do so, the nagging suspicion takes hold that a book needs to be read, an article needs to be written, a chore needs to be accomplished, my kids need to be helicoptered over, my wife needs to be date-nighted, the latest blockbuster movie needs to be watched, etc. (Notice, by the way, that even our leisure activities such as dating and movie-watching become have become to-do items.) These nagging suspicions arise from what Zahl calls “performancism.” He writes: “Performancism turns life into a competition to be won (#winning) or a problem to be solved, as opposed to, say, a series of moments to be experienced or an adventure to relish. Performancism invests daily tasks with existential significance and turns even menial activities into measures of enoughness.” And woe betide those who fail at these tasks, because “if you are not doing enough, or doing enough well, you are not enough.” Zahl doesn’t quote Blaise Pascal at this point, but there’s a lot of wisdom in the latter’s statement, “All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” (Now that I’ve quoted Pascal, however, I’m feeling guilty that I’m not checking off that to-do item either.) Performancism is “one of the hallmarks of all forms of seculosity,” their underlying assumption, affecting how we approach everyday life. It cripples seculosity’s practitioners with anxiety (Am I enough?), shame (Do they think I’m enough?), and guilt (Have I done enough?). “The common denominator [in all forms of seculosity] is the human heart, yours and mine,” Zahl explains, referring to what motivates our behavior. “Which is to say, the problem is sin.” In theological terms, you see, seculosity is just the latest example of a “religion of law.” It is a form of self-justification or works-righteousness. And like all such schemes, it is doomed to failure because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We are not enough. We have not done enough. We cannot do enough. The antidote to seculosity is a “religion of grace,” Zahl concludes. “Sin is not something you can be talked out of (‘stop controlling everything!’) or coached through with the right wisdom. It is something from which you need to be saved.” And that salvation depends on the sacrificial love of the One doing the saving. He is enough, and only in Him can you be too. Book Reviewed David Zahl, Seculosity: How Career, Parenting, Technology, Food, Politics, and Romance Became Our New Religion and What To Do About It (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2019). P.S. If you liked my review, please click "Helpful" on my Amazon review page. P.P.S. This review is forthcoming in the July-August 2019 print issue of Influence magazine.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Natalie Herr

    Great book on how the various places we look for our “enoughness” in American culture. Zahl writes that we are very religious in America, but not just about “Capital R Religion”- about things like success, relationships, food, etc. I appreciated his thoughts in the end about how the American church can better reach our neighbors (and fellow-church goers/ourselves) with a message of grace and not performance.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Lucy Walters

    Really well observed, excellent observations about the way that we behave in the 21st century, and some fascinating perspectives on faith.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Barry

    Zahl contends that if we define “religion” as the “controlling story” that determines “how we dispose our energies, how we see fit to organize our own lives and, in many cases, the lives of others,” then we Americans are a very religious people indeed. It’s just that we try to find ultimate meaning and the feeling that we are “enough” through our performance in multiple everyday activities — such as being the perfect parent, finding the the ideal romantic soulmate, doing important fulfilling wor Zahl contends that if we define “religion” as the “controlling story” that determines “how we dispose our energies, how we see fit to organize our own lives and, in many cases, the lives of others,” then we Americans are a very religious people indeed. It’s just that we try to find ultimate meaning and the feeling that we are “enough” through our performance in multiple everyday activities — such as being the perfect parent, finding the the ideal romantic soulmate, doing important fulfilling work, espousing the proper politics, or even just expressing our importance though sheer busyness. It’s this exhausting constant striving to be better that makes Christianity such good news, because it’s a religion of grace, instead of yet another program to push us to just try harder. “Genuine transformation is the fruit of grace, not its precondition. Put in nonreligious terms, people only truly change when they no longer feel they have to in order to be loved. What makes Christianity a religion of grace, ultimately, is its essential revelation: of a God who meets us in both our individual and collective sin with a love that knows no bounds, the kind of love that lays down its life for its enemies.” I think Zahl is right, although I wish he’d go just a little deeper. As per usual, once I type out a review, I find one that is better and think, “that’s what I should have said.” Like this one: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... And here’s another great one: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

  12. 4 out of 5

    Michael Schuermann

    Zahl writes against what he labels “seculosities.” That is, various everyday activities that we develop a religious fervor around. It’s an interesting idea, and certainly true, to a point. But I detect behind all of this a creeping antinomianism that would argue that trying to be good or right in these activities is actually wrong, and that we should instead be gracious and free in them. Again, true, to a point. We want to have “enough,” do well “enough,” and Zahl argues against this mindset. Can Zahl writes against what he labels “seculosities.” That is, various everyday activities that we develop a religious fervor around. It’s an interesting idea, and certainly true, to a point. But I detect behind all of this a creeping antinomianism that would argue that trying to be good or right in these activities is actually wrong, and that we should instead be gracious and free in them. Again, true, to a point. We want to have “enough,” do well “enough,” and Zahl argues against this mindset. Can it become an idol? Yes. Is it good, right, and salutary to want to excel? Yes. There is a tension here, and I miss Zahl addressing how we ought to deal with that tension. Christianity is about grace and forgiveness, yes, but then we love the law and want to keep it: we ought to desire to be an excellent parent because God calls us to do so, etc. Also, this book reminds me that pop-culture references as illustrations are lame. Maybe that’s a cheap shot, but it’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Pass this one up.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Patrick Poteet

    "Seculosity takes a thoughtful yet entertaining tour of American "performancism" and its cousins, highlighting both their ingenuity and mercilessness, all while challenging the conventional narrative of religious decline. Zahl unmasks the competing pieties around which so much of our lives revolve, and he does so in a way that's at points playful, personal, and incisive. Ultimately he brings us to a fresh appreciation for the grace of God in all its countercultural wonder." When I first began thi "Seculosity takes a thoughtful yet entertaining tour of American "performancism" and its cousins, highlighting both their ingenuity and mercilessness, all while challenging the conventional narrative of religious decline. Zahl unmasks the competing pieties around which so much of our lives revolve, and he does so in a way that's at points playful, personal, and incisive. Ultimately he brings us to a fresh appreciation for the grace of God in all its countercultural wonder." When I first began this book I thought I was wasting my time in that I was not really gaining anything new. However, as I got to the middle of the book there was thoughtful interaction with areas of life and culture that were insightful. In the end, I found this read delightful, insightful and helpful.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Doug Dale

    The best book I've read in quite a while. I'm buying copies for friends. David Zahl captures something I've been trying to process, describe, and communicate for a while but does it with a clarity that I could never quite get to. The idea that we're all in 'church' all the time, whether or not you set foot in a church building. That is, we're in church if you define church as a place where you are given a description of an ideal and instructed on the many ways you must improve yourself to get the The best book I've read in quite a while. I'm buying copies for friends. David Zahl captures something I've been trying to process, describe, and communicate for a while but does it with a clarity that I could never quite get to. The idea that we're all in 'church' all the time, whether or not you set foot in a church building. That is, we're in church if you define church as a place where you are given a description of an ideal and instructed on the many ways you must improve yourself to get there. He goes into how each of these areas in the title (and more) all promise a salvation, a way to be 'enough', but then lays out a never ending list of things to do to get there. And yes, the Christian Church does this as well. I parts of this book will hit home with anyone who reads it. I would ask my non-Christian friends to read and consider it, but I'd almost more strongly ask my Christian friends to do so. We Christians may use the words that we are "saved by grace" but upon closer examination may find that we are trying to be "good enough" on our own strength both in and outside the Church.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Trevor Atwood

    A great concept. Simple but engaging writing. It’s a good book for a beginner’s understanding of things we replace religion with. In the end, it’s more observation than prescription- and the message tends toward a “Let Go and Let God” (though not quite that simple). Along with some good quotes, there are good ideas for exposing idolatry. The author also keeps a balance of exposing both conservative and liberal politics/theology. I took more than a page of notes- so it’s worth the read for me.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Rob Schoonover

    Zahl’s suggestion that America is more religious than it has ever been may shock some, but after finishing this book and immediately looking on twitter I’m realizing just how right he is. If you’re looking for words to describe America’s obsession with performance and achievement, this book is a great place to start.

  17. 5 out of 5

    John

    Incredible Book- Must read- Just do it. Period. From ME

  18. 5 out of 5

    Victoria Bylin

    I picked up this book because I wanted to round out my 2019 reading challenge with some nonfiction. Mission accomplished--and so much more. This is the best description of our modern culture I've ever read or heard. It's poignant, funny, deeply touching, personal, intellectually satisfying and highly entertaining. Recommended for everyone struggling to be "enough." I picked up this book because I wanted to round out my 2019 reading challenge with some nonfiction. Mission accomplished--and so much more. This is the best description of our modern culture I've ever read or heard. It's poignant, funny, deeply touching, personal, intellectually satisfying and highly entertaining. Recommended for everyone struggling to be "enough."

  19. 5 out of 5

    Philip Worrall

    I had to start and stop this book, but pick it up. Zahl wrote a great piece of contemplative, engaging, and theologically accurate book on the modern world and how Jesus responds to this pervasive and ubiquitous narrative of secluosity. I’m sad to say that Zahl has spoken a timely word for me in midst of my preaching and teaching the Gospel to reconsider and come to grips again with the kind of good news I am preaching. Very appreciative.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Kyle Dupic

    Tremendous. Unbelievably readable for anyone out there. And as usual with the Zahls, leaves you feeling lighter and freer then when you first entered.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Maddie

    I love how this book really shows our heart was made and crafted to worship. It truly takes a look at human nature where we chase something/a vision for the “good life” never actually feeling we’ve arrived. We all love to put an us versus them. Whether it’s Democrat’s versus Republicans, vegans versus food chain, those who exercise and run marathons versus those who watch Netflix marathons, and even in the church traditional hymns worshipers versus spontaneous emotional presence worshipers. When I love how this book really shows our heart was made and crafted to worship. It truly takes a look at human nature where we chase something/a vision for the “good life” never actually feeling we’ve arrived. We all love to put an us versus them. Whether it’s Democrat’s versus Republicans, vegans versus food chain, those who exercise and run marathons versus those who watch Netflix marathons, and even in the church traditional hymns worshipers versus spontaneous emotional presence worshipers. When the Gospel, the person of Jesus sets us free from this. It sets of free from what we do- career, do ministry 24.7, eating healthy/dieting, parenting the right way, and reminds us that it is about what He did. When we rest in that we do these things to glorify Him and delight in Him ultimately without making it an idol. But also we will never find this rest if we are making God a means to an end- of ultimate self actualization- rather than enjoying the presence & person of God for simply Himself.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Eric Chappell

    Best book of 2019.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Ethan Smith

    Man, I didn’t want this book to end. Zahl says he could have touched on more subjects related to our seculosity, like sports and science, and I wish he had. Maybe we will be fortunate enough to have a sequel.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Joelle

    This was a well-written and spot on commentary about our world today. And, yet, I am not devastated—surprising, I know! There is hope and encouragement for different and better and more.... I highly recommend!

  25. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    “Seculosity” is a Christian-inspired criticism of secular ideas of self-improvement. The author, an Episcopal minister named David Zahl, conceived of the term “seculosity” to describe a dynamic in which people engage with secular, material things such as food, romance, or politics with the expectation that these pursuits will provide a kind of redemption or what Zahl calls “enoughness.” This book articulates a really interesting theory that, even in a secular world, religious impulses infuse the “Seculosity” is a Christian-inspired criticism of secular ideas of self-improvement. The author, an Episcopal minister named David Zahl, conceived of the term “seculosity” to describe a dynamic in which people engage with secular, material things such as food, romance, or politics with the expectation that these pursuits will provide a kind of redemption or what Zahl calls “enoughness.” This book articulates a really interesting theory that, even in a secular world, religious impulses infuse the way in which we go about pursing material goals. The book ends with a thought-provoking vision of how a reformed contemporary Christianity could counteract these materialistic impulses that falsely promise spiritual redemption or transcendence. There are basically two parts to this book. The first, and most substantial part, explains how “seculosity” is the combining of secular activities with religious goals. For Zahl, seculosity arises in the domains of careerism, parenting, romance, technology, politics, food, among others. The idea that materialism has taken the place of traditional religion isn’t a new one, but Zahl puts a new spin on it by explaining that even when we aren’t pursuing material goods for ourselves, we may still be using material pursuits to justify ourselves as good, productive people. The idea that you are what you do (what Zahl calls “performance-ism”) allows people to convince themselves that they can become enough by doing enough. Thus, even if you are a strict vegan who dotes on his children, who does yoga, and speaks out loudly about inequality, you are still falling into the trap of seculosity because you are trying to purify yourself with things like dietary choices, careful parenting, and declaring your values. Zahl’s theory of seculosity struck me as getting at something really interesting. Materialism isn’t just the money and stuff we amass. It’s also the ways we justify or sanctify ourselves with material pursuits. Perhaps some of us in our drive to pursue meaningful careers, keep busy schedules, and trying to find the perfect partner, are trying to prove to ourselves and others that we are worthy. Zahl has an interesting chapter on how this same dynamic affects Christianity when the faith promises transformation as a return for following rules. Zahl wisely don’t end his book that criticizes sanctimoniousness with a sanctimonious plea to abjure things like career goals, politics, romance, or good food. Rather, his last chapter is a thoughtful and beautiful idea about how Christianity can help people cope with seculosity. He makes a fascinating comparison between Christianity and AA, which has some roots in Christianity. In AA, people have to admit their failures and come to the meetings acknowledging their weakness and working together to cope with them. This comes close to the “religion of grace” that Zahl believes Christianity can be, rather than “the religion of law” that provides standards and rules that mostly cause people to fall short. To Zahl, the opposite of seculosity is the Christian notion of God's unconditional love for his children because it is unconditional love that makes it unnecessary to prove oneself to others in this world. It involves forgiveness for the imperfections and weaknesses that haunt us all. I greatly appreciated Zahl's idea of how Christianity can help us cope with more recent iterations of materialist pressure and anxiety. A challenge for his proposal for Christianity though is that it is closer to a defiance or a resistance of materialist pressure than I think he admits. The notion that we are “enough” regardless of our careers, productivity, or other choices has implications for what we think of wealth inequality and that makes it hard to keep the kind of space between faith and politics that drag religion right back into material pursuits. It’s also not clear to me that any religion, Christianity included, can exist an as institution without offering adherents some kind of transcendence. Zahl didn’t really explain how his idea of a Christian church is different from a secular support group. Christian thinking doesn't seem vital to recognizing the anxiety-inducing effects of "performance-ism." Those are minor criticisms. “Seculosity” has a lot of interesting things to say about how materialism can arise in deceptive forms and how Christianity can remain relevant to saving our hearts and souls from anxiety and greed.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Mrs. Angie Vogt

    Very good read. Zahl challenges the commonly accepted idea that Americans are less religious today than ever (a fact reported by the media based on church attendance being at its lowest in modern history). He offers a theory that Americans have simply transferred their religiosity (piety) onto more superficial cultural trends, more specifically career, parenting, technology, food, politics, and romance. It's hard to argue with Zahl's observations about how American/Western culture has shaped us Very good read. Zahl challenges the commonly accepted idea that Americans are less religious today than ever (a fact reported by the media based on church attendance being at its lowest in modern history). He offers a theory that Americans have simply transferred their religiosity (piety) onto more superficial cultural trends, more specifically career, parenting, technology, food, politics, and romance. It's hard to argue with Zahl's observations about how American/Western culture has shaped us and demanded pious observances of certain norms around each of these (career, parenting, tech, food, politics, and romance). For example, who has not experienced disapproval or judgement from a family member or acquaintance regarding some parenting practice we've accepted? Are your kids not stimulated enough, not fit enough, not disciplined enough, not encouraged enough, not spiritual enough, etc? Perhaps you breastfed or didn't breastfeed, spanked or didn't spank, chose private or public or homeschool--each of which has their own devotees, practitioners, and zealous advocates. What about food--were you a part of the low fat, high carb fad of the 80s, the high protein NO carb of the 90s, Paleo of the 2000s, Keto of 2010s, organic, Non-GMO, low sugar, Whole30, gluten free, dairy free, vegan, etc., etc.....? Each of these are referred to as dietary "lifestyles" because the word "diet" is a new heresy. Each of these secular pursuits has a language of its own, a certain ecclesiology (accepted practices to be considered a member), certain sacrifices that must be made and sins that must be atoned for. Some even have their own trained "ministry" staff which consists of lifestyle coaches, advisors, supporters, sales reps, pyramid bosses, etc. What makes Zahl's work especially convincing is how he elaborates on the anthropologcial roots of this "seculosity;" namely, the human ontological need to "measure up" and feel worthy of some transcendent reality. In short, the human need for God expresses itself one way or another, so when Americans stop going to church because they feel "too smart" for all that dogma, they simply refashion the dogma to satisfy their own insecurities. Zahl refers to this principle throughout the book as "enoughness." Every human being needs to feel worthy and valued because at their deepest level, every person suffers from a sense of "not enoughness." In my own ministry practice, I refer to this as presence of original sin in our souls; that gnawing feeling that we are incomplete, often referred to as the "God-shaped hole." There is only one short passage where Zahl offers a religious prescription. It is mild and not at all dogmatic. In a touching and reflective tone, Zahl wonders aloud why we are so eager to put our faith and confidence in things that never really satisfy us or love us back, when we have a savior whose love asks for nothing but love in return. No deeds, no weight loss, no career accomplishments or perfect children will ever be asked for should we actually surrender all these feelings of unworthiness and invest ourselves in the only perfect, transcendent love available--the love of Jesus. I would add that, until a person encounters the personal and sacrificial love that comes from Jesus and until each person understands that love is a free and unmerited gift, he or she will engage in an endless struggle of feeling inadequate and unlovable. It is the original lie that we all fall for.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jenny

    One of the best non-fiction books I've read in a long time! I first heard of this book from an interview that Theocast did with the author, David Zahl, and I knew then that I wanted to read the book ASAP. From that interview, I started listening to the Mockingbird podcast and became a fan. I'm not on board with all of Mockingbird's theology (at least not the theology and practice of the three hosts of the podcast) but they examine things through a biblical worldview in a very winsome and often hi One of the best non-fiction books I've read in a long time! I first heard of this book from an interview that Theocast did with the author, David Zahl, and I knew then that I wanted to read the book ASAP. From that interview, I started listening to the Mockingbird podcast and became a fan. I'm not on board with all of Mockingbird's theology (at least not the theology and practice of the three hosts of the podcast) but they examine things through a biblical worldview in a very winsome and often hilarious way. I've read other books that deal with replacement religions that our modern day culture has erected (specifically politics and technology related) but never as comprehensive as this book. Zahl takes a deep dive into our obsession with self-justification / righteousness which he opts to call "enoughness" throughout the book. Zahl is perspicacious and his writing often had me in deep, contemplative thought. He doesn't come off as preachy or judgey though, he diagnoses a problem that he admittedly struggles with as well. He explains each of the 9 sectors of culture that he's chosen for the book in terms of the way we have turned them into replacement religions and his observations are smart and incredibly helpful. Throughout the book, he rightly distinguishes between the law and the gospel, exposing how these secular areas of life are very law based. I almost skipped the Seculosity of Parenting chapter (as I'm not a mom) but I'm so glad I didn't. I found myself resonating with so much in that chapter and if I had skipped it I would have missed this line that made me laugh out loud so hard: "As parents, perhaps the best we can do is to pray that the rebellion happens early and with as few felonies as possible." I got a lot out of the Politics chapter. The Busyness and Jesusland chapters were also two of my favorites. It's hard to pick a favorite though as each chapter hit me and had me thinking of how much I'd fallen into the trap of seculosity as well. This is one I'll probably read again. I highlighted a lot and I already want to go back and review what I highlighted. Highly recommend!

  28. 5 out of 5

    Frank

    “It sounds like a Portlandia sketch, but is empirically true: the religious impulse is easier to rebrand than existing using,” David Zahl asserts in the introduction and then makes the case well in looking at how busyness, romance, parenting, and even food and leisure become the justifying story of our lives. The idea is this: we feel (know) that we are not enough and so we use these things that are necessary and even good in right proportion and seek “not just meaning or hope but enoughness” an “It sounds like a Portlandia sketch, but is empirically true: the religious impulse is easier to rebrand than existing using,” David Zahl asserts in the introduction and then makes the case well in looking at how busyness, romance, parenting, and even food and leisure become the justifying story of our lives. The idea is this: we feel (know) that we are not enough and so we use these things that are necessary and even good in right proportion and seek “not just meaning or hope but enoughness” and then we find we can still fall short as we can never be enough. Along the way, he shows how we can take something good, like eating well and exercising but then build ladders and create scorecards and find ourselves not measuring up. Zahl’s argument is compelling and I hate to cut to the chase, but he does manage to point to a healthier way once he shows how the church becomes yet another obstacle in both its conservative (all about my salvation and personal holiness) and liberal (all about systemic issues and societal ills) emphases or guises. Spoiler: The answer comes in the grace-centered approach of recovery programs that start with failure and the certainty that “Everyone you meet is in some kind of pain, a swimmer in a riptide, sometimes of their own making.” Zahl is a good writer working through an important insight from a variety of perspectives and you will want to read the book rather than relying on this review. Better yet, read it with others and I bet the conversations about the ways we try to be enough will be funny as well as healing and helpful.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Angela

    This wasn't a bad book, but nothing that's really new. The title is more interesting than simply calling it "Modern Idolatry." While I agree with much of the book, there were some things that rubbed me the wrong way (I could be reading too much in to things). The fact is, human beings have been trying to fill themselves up with anything but God from the beginning. This book points that out but, I think the solutions offered at the end of the book were too simplistic and won't necessarily draw peo This wasn't a bad book, but nothing that's really new. The title is more interesting than simply calling it "Modern Idolatry." While I agree with much of the book, there were some things that rubbed me the wrong way (I could be reading too much in to things). The fact is, human beings have been trying to fill themselves up with anything but God from the beginning. This book points that out but, I think the solutions offered at the end of the book were too simplistic and won't necessarily draw people back to God or the church. It's the typical (protestant) focus-on-Jesus message that is already preached ad nauseam (and the church isn't important). While focusing on Christ is the heart of the gospel, we are called to be followers of Christ--not just sit around crying about how we are sinners (which we are) while wallowing in that sin. Those who truly accept the gospel are transformed, but what's lost is the fact that the transformation is a process, not a one time act of faith. Maybe this was part of Zahl's point in his chapter on "Jesusland" but for some reason I wasn't getting that. The section on politics also seemed to overly simplified. The writer points out how our political views have shaped our religious views (among other things) in recent years. While this is troubling, the writer failed to point out that the parties weren't actually that different morally just a few decades ago. God, country, and family were the mantras of all the political parties. What changed in politics is polarization of morality itself (and yes, morality matters too--just like the church). Yes, focus on Jesus. Also preach the truth with love. That's what will really change things.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Todd Luallen

    A quick and easy read highlighting the woes of trying to achieve success through "enoughness" in all aspects of life. The first 6 or 7 chapters outline the various topics in the subtitle individually. With each chapter Zahl presents a society that is overwhelmed with trying to keep up with the Jones's in a variety of ways. At the end of the book he outlines how Christianity has gone wrong by becoming a religion of works (do this, don't do that, serve here, don't associate there, etc.). His solut A quick and easy read highlighting the woes of trying to achieve success through "enoughness" in all aspects of life. The first 6 or 7 chapters outline the various topics in the subtitle individually. With each chapter Zahl presents a society that is overwhelmed with trying to keep up with the Jones's in a variety of ways. At the end of the book he outlines how Christianity has gone wrong by becoming a religion of works (do this, don't do that, serve here, don't associate there, etc.). His solution in the end is for Christianity to once again be a religion of Grace, spending less time talking about God, and more time talking to God. He highlights AA as a good example to follow. A flat organization where everyone that comes in is acknowledging that they are a failure in one way, they are an alcoholic. He says the church would be a much better place if all members were required to walk in on Sunday by acknowledging first that they are sinners. More to the book, for those interested. But I can't say there is much more. This book felt like it could have been an online article instead of a full book. Having said that, I do think Zahl accurately portrays the state of society today. His commentary about the church and works is one that is common among Christian authors going back at least a few decades. I know I've read a few times about the balance between legalism and antinomianism. It's always good to be reminded that we are not saved by our works (Eph. 2:8-9), and yet at the same time we are called to produce good works as a fruit of the Spirit that is in us (James 2:17).

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