Burton outlines three new religious movements vying for dominance, none of which would call itself a religion but at least two of which are widely described in religious terms.
The book takes us on a journalistic tour of some examples of “pick & mix” religion before describing three movements that Burton describes as religions. I’ll briefly outline them below, but the book deserves a wide reading. She doesn’t draw conclusions but helps you get inside the head of the way people in our cities—and to some extent our churches—are thinking and feeling.
She writes about Millennials in the US, and we’ll return to the applicability of her work, but the overarching story is that just like the printing press was not just a contributing factor to the rise of Protestantism but deeply affected its character (it’s a religion of books), the internet is doing the same thing.
It remains to be seen if we get another major stream of Christianity developing. What we have got are endless moulding and changing sets of beliefs that can be bolted together to form ways of life. To give us: meaning, community, ritual and purpose. That’s the definition of religion she’s working with, a semi-unified set of beliefs and practices that hit those four buttons. It’s not that different from what I mean when I talk about story though that is more explicitly the meaning and purpose sections of her definition.
Burton calls this bolt-on approach “intuitional” religion as opposed to “institutional.” Strange Rites shows us that it’s an American invention that predates the internet but has been turbo-charged by it. I would contend the internet has also spread it around the world and beyond Millennials to the first supra-national generation: Gen Z.
Burton outlines three new religious movements vying for dominance, none of which would call itself a religion but at least two of which are widely described in religious terms in cultural comment:
Social Justice Movement
Or, if you’ll forgive the terrible pun, the “Great Awokening.” The intersecting movements and concerns that want to see racial, economic, sexual, and political justice. The precise definitions of justice morph and meld with time, but it tells a story that we need to make a better world. There is a desire to create a paradise where everyone enjoys the fruits of an equal society (who wouldn’t want that?) and narratives of punishment and repentance for wrongdoers. Redemption is found through the transformation of culture.
Notably for Christian observers there is no language of forgiveness, and it is materialist in every way.
Blending with “Transhumanism” or other similar movements. Harder to notice and with less adherents, the followers of this movements are particularly powerful as they are associated with Silicon Valley and “Big Tech.” Think Elon Musk and Peter Thiel. The story here is to transcend our bodies’ limitations through ever-increasing uses of technology. Redemption is found in new “bodies.”
Again, this is entirely materialist in outlook. While the Social Justice Movement is loudest in the discourse, the Techno-Utopians probably have the biggest effect on our daily lives. Look for example at how your phone is changing you.