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Christianity is in the midst of a major transformation. And last week at a Progressive Book Club event in New York City co-hosted by the Center for American Progress, Harvard professor Harvey Cox and Washington Post op-ed columnist E.J. Dionne discussed Cox’s new book The Future of Faith, which documents Christianity’s changes.
In his book Cox argues that Christianity is entering a third phase called the “Age of the Spirit,” in which a growing number of adherents to the faith abandon institutional, dogmatic churches and instead join religious communities less focused on creeds. Christians, according to Cox, used to emphasize institutional belonging during the “Age of Belief” that dated between the 4th and 20th centuries, but now they are returning to the original, more fundamental essence of their faith in a renewed sense of “followership” of Jesus. Cox finds that this new evolution is in many ways a return to the early church, or the “Age of Faith” as he describes it.
Although the media still tends to focus on Religious Right figureheads, both Cox and Dionne agreed that extreme religious conservatives’ politically powerful grip is loosening. Cox called the past few decades of Religious Right domination “aberrational” and in fact claimed that fundamentalism in most faiths is losing influence.
A resurgence of the progressive social justice tradition is coinciding with the Religious Right’s decline. Professor Cox spoke about helping organize people of faith in Pennsylvania for the Obama campaign last year. He—along with many religious scholars—believes that many American Christians are applying their religious ethics to a broader range of issues such as ending the war in Iraq and fighting poverty. Some groups, such as evangelicals, still deeply care about abortion, but now many of them consider this issue as one among many to which their faith must bear witness.
Cox’s predictions about the future of faith renew a sense of hope among progressives that religion—and specifically Christianity—can be a force for social justice and community strength instead of division and prejudice.
This discussion with Professor Cox was this month’s event for Moving Forward: Foundations of a New Progressive Era, the ongoing Progressive Authors Series hosted by CAP’s Progressive Studies Program along with the Progressive Book Club.