Tapestry

Finding god in HGTV: a spiritual revolution

Despite being a lifelong devoted Christian, Diana Butler Bass walked out of church one day in the middle of a service because she didn't like what she was hearing. Her husband texted her asking, "Are you coming back?" She replied, "I don't know."
(Getty)
Listen25:58

Despite being a lifelong devoted Christian, Diana Butler Bass walked out of church one day in the middle of a service because she didn't like what she was hearing. She stumbled upon an art fair happening just outside her church and was surprised to realize she felt more connected and inspired there than she did at the service. Her husband texted her asking, "Are you coming back?" She replied, "I don't know."

Diana Butler Bass
Butler Bass is a scholar and writer with a specialty in religion and culture. She holds a Ph.D. in Religious Studies from Duke University. She says despite the fact that many people are turning their backs on religious institutions, there are still surprisingly high levels of belief in God.

"That indicates to me that there's a problem with institutions, not a problem with people's inner lives, or the fact that they're trying to find new ways of connecting with the sacred or divine."

Butler Bass points to home improvement shows as one place where people turn for spiritual inspiration and comfort. She believes the popularity of shows on HGTV has to do with more than just consumerism and keeping up with the Joneses; she says it speaks to a deeper spiritual longing.

"What if it really is an expression of something that's all through the great scriptures of world religions, and that is to find a place, a dwelling with and in God."

She argues that in order to become relevant, traditional religious institutions need to address the questions and longings that people in North America now have. They need to reflect 21st century knowledge, particularly the dramatic advancements we've made in science and our understanding of the environment.

Butler Bass also believes that the language used in many western religions today, especially Christianity, Judaism and Islam, is outdated and alienates many people.

"People just don't believe. They just don't believe in a God that's a being who's sitting on a throne somewhere in a planet in outer space. That whole sense of a hierarchical universe with God who's a super-human entity sitting out there judging us or waiting to welcome us to some heavenly place in the clouds ... that is gone."

To become more relevant, Butler Bass says traditional religious institutions need to examine the way they speak about God. She argues that refreshing the language of religious prayer, services, and hymns, could help to draw people back.

Many of the people who have turned away from traditional religion but who still believe in God identify as 'spiritual but not religious'. That movement has sometimes been criticized as being too easy, a cafeteria-style approach to faith where you choose only those aspects of religion you like.

But Butler Bass sees nothing wrong with that. She says it's time to put religion together in a new way and there is historical precedent for doing so.

"That's exactly what Christianity did 2000 years ago when it was a brand new religion. The first Christians picked up bits of Judaism, they picked up bits of Roman culture and religion, they picked up Greek philosophy, the picked up things from some of the mystery cults that were all around the Mediterranean world, and they interwove those things with the stories and their experience of Jesus. And that was Christianity."

Butler Bass says as Christianity spread to Western and Northern Europe, and to Russia and the Baltic states, the same thing occurred.

"Everywhere that Christianity has gone, it has ultimately been a cafeteria religion. It takes bits and pieces of culture, stitches them into an experience and the stories of Jesus, and then... offers it as a theological and communal vision for people who want to be Christians."

Diana Butler Bass is the author of nine books, including Grounded: Finding God in the World—A Spiritual Revolution