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Diana Butler Bass
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Diana Butler Bass is an author, speaker, and independent scholar specializing in American religion and culture. She holds a Ph.D. in religious studies from Duke University and is the author of nine books, including Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening A People’s History of Christianity: the Other Side of the Story (HarperOne, 2009). Publishers Weekly named her best-selling Christianity for the Rest of Us as one of the best religion books of 2006.

Diana speaks at college, churches, and conferences across North America. She regularly comments on religion, politics, and culture in the media including USA Today, Time, Newsweek, The Washington Post, CNN, FOX, PBS, and NPR. From 1995 to 2000, she wrote a weekly column on American religion for the New York Times Syndicate. She is a contributing editor for Sojourners Magazine.

She can be contacted through her website at

Entries by Diana Butler Bass

War of the Gods

(90) Comments | Posted November 17, 2015 | 10:18 AM

One of the most poignant moments in the wake of the Paris attacks was the street musician who played a moving rendition of John Lennon's Imagine. As the melody sounded, the familiar words rang in my mind:

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace...

The Paris attacks reignited an argument we have been having for a long time, but most especially since 9/11. Religion, particularly when twinned with nationalism, is to blame for division, terrorism, violence and war. Not just Islam. Religion. As Lennon lyrically opined, the planet would be better off without it. Religion is the problem.

And I agree. Religion is the problem.

By its nature, religion embodies particular understandings of God. For the last millennium or so, the world's most influential religions have envisioned a hierarchical God who ruled over a vertical universe. God lived above in heaven; we lived on a sinful or evil earth; and the terrors of death threatened us from below.

Thus, religion became consumed with an issue: getting people from here "up" to heavenly bliss with God in order to escape damnation. Although a crude image, religion basically functioned as a sort of holy elevator between heaven, earth, and hell. And an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-distant God in the clouds oversaw the whole business, ready to condemn or punish heretics and infidels at a moment's notice.

Vertical religion has made a mess of the earth. First, it diminished life here in favor of obsessive concern about eternal destiny. The planet served as little more than a temporary station on the way to the heavenly afterlife. Second, religions developed different plans about how to receive eternal reward. Each designated their path as the only one, making everyone else spiritual and ethical competitors in the process. And each valorized divine violence against outsiders as a mark of holiness.

Many people still believe in a hierarchical God and the vertical universe. Despite each religion's claim to uniqueness, this conception of God is not exclusive to any one. Adherents of the vertical God are Christians and Muslims and are counted in most other religions as well. And that is the problem: The followers of the sacred hierarch seem behind much of the world's most insidious evil at the moment. This is especially true when they view everything as a battle of "our" true God against "your" false one, hoping to force an apocalyptic confrontation that assures heavenly reward for the faithful in a global holy war.

With such a horrifying narrative, it is no wonder so many other people have come to believe that no religion is the best option for our time. But I think there is another way, one that is even hinted at in John Lennon's song:

Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today...

Although the old God is the source of much trouble, there is a spiritual possibility that does not banish God from the moral equation. What if the vertical universe with its heavenly rewards and hellish threats, and not the divine presence itself, is the real problem? What if the whole point of faith is life here, on earth, living for today? This does not exclude God from the human story. Instead, ridding ourselves of the vertical universe relocates God with us.

In my new book Grounded: Finding God in the World, I argue that there is a spiritual revolution that is doing just that. And this revolution has everything to do with what just happened in Paris.

Millions are rejecting "religion" in favor of "spirituality," a turn that can be empirically demonstrated in polling data, church membership statistics, and changes in faith practices. Recently, for example, a Pew Research Center study showed that Americans were less conventionally religious but more spiritual than ever.

The data, however, is odd. While people are less religious, belief in God remains high. People believe, but they believe differently than they once did -- it is increasingly clear that they have lost trust in distant institutions and the distant God of the old vertical universe. They find it increasingly difficult to sing hymns that celebrate a heavenly realm, recite creeds disconnected from life, pray liturgies that emphasize personal salvation, participate in sacraments that exclude others, and listen to sermons that claim there is only one way to God.

But this is not a negative revolution. Instead, God is being relocated with the world and with all of us, in nature and with our neighbors. It is a revolution of divine nearness -- as if people are storming heaven and dragging the sacred into the here-and-now. True faith consists of one thing and one thing only: love. And love does not mean you get to kill your neighbor in the name of God or destroy the planet. It resists apocalyptic nightmares in favor of a dream for a world household of peace.

What if the real choice is not between a Christian God and a Muslim one? What if the choice is not about embracing the hierarchical God or rejecting him? There is a different choice -- to walk a way of compassion, justice and kindness wherein God is discovered in the earthy horizons. This is a grounded God whose primary concern is not eternal life but life abundant for the whole human race.

Fundamentalists get all the headlines with their brutal dedication to a deity whose day is nearly done. But this other God revolution is happening as well -- and it is that which can heal and save us.

You may say I'm a dreamer. But I assure you, I am not the only...

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The Remarkable Thing That Happened At the Old Quaker Meeting House

(16) Comments | Posted October 13, 2015 | 2:59 PM

One summer vacation, my husband and I were visiting historical sites on Maryland's eastern shore. Armed with a list from the Internet of historic houses, graveyards, and churches, we followed back roads and traveled by ferry to little-remembered locations of early American history. The Maryland counties between the Chesapeake Bay...

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Where is God?

(890) Comments | Posted October 6, 2015 | 9:47 AM

Where is God?

It seems like a child's question, a theological query during bedtime prayers or following a holy day at church or synagogue. Usually, the first answer we learned was simple, certain, and reliable: God is in heaven.

But "Where is God?" is not really a child's question....

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An Open Letter to Governor Jan Brewer

(52) Comments | Posted February 22, 2014 | 8:40 PM

Dear Governor Brewer,

I love Arizona. I grew up there, a proud honors graduate of Saguaro High School, where I was president of the Teen-Age Republicans. Indeed, I was such a good teen-age Republican that in 1976 Sen Goldwater named me Arizona State Teen-Age Republican of the Year. I still...

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Which Niebuhr, President Obama?

(51) Comments | Posted September 10, 2013 | 9:30 AM

In 2007, New York Times columnist David Brooks asked Barack Obama if he had ever read the Christian ethicist Reinhold Niebuhr. "I love him," the then-senator replied. "He's one of my favorite philosophers."

Reinhold Niebuhr, whose career spanned the mid-twentieth century, was an influential theologian when public theology...

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On World Environment Day, Time to Retire St. Boniface

(89) Comments | Posted June 5, 2013 | 10:11 AM

June 5 is World Environment Day. Similar to Earth Day, WED celebrates the global movement for environmental activism by commemorating the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, the first such international conference.

June 5 also marks the Feast Day of St. Boniface (672-754), the patron...

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The Radical History Of Mothers Day

(158) Comments | Posted May 11, 2013 | 11:23 AM

At first glance, Mother's Day appears a quaint and conservative holiday, a sort of greeting card moment, honoring 1950s values, a historical throw back to old-fashioned notions of hearth and home.

Let's correct that impression by saying: Happy Radical Mother's Day.

In May 1907, Anna Jarvis, a member of...

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A National Day of Prayer and Reason

(57) Comments | Posted May 3, 2013 | 10:21 AM

May 2 was the National Day of Prayer. Since 1952, Congress has set aside the first Thursday in May as an annual observance for Americans to pray for the nation.

May 2 was also the National Day of Reason, a competing celebration of philosophy, reason...

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RIP: The Death of Protestant Politics

(65) Comments | Posted May 1, 2013 | 2:01 PM

On April 25, the Washington Post ran side-by-side obituaries of Howard Phillips and Robert Edgar in its print edition. The two men, one 72 and the other 69, died within three days of each other.

Those obituary notices, however, are the only time the two were on the same...

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The Future of Faith

(729) Comments | Posted April 24, 2013 | 1:15 PM

Not long after I earned my doctorate in the history of Christianity, someone asked me, "What do you think will be the future of faith?"

I replied, echoing Dr. McCoy from the original Star Trek, "I don't know. I'm a historian, not a soothsayer."

Strangely enough, people think that historians...

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Being With God, A Different Holy Week

(54) Comments | Posted March 27, 2013 | 11:28 AM

Around Good Friday 1373, an English woman laid a-bed, stricken by the plague, and facing what she thought would be her own death. Much of her life is a mystery. We know not if she was single or married, but if she had been married before that fateful season, the...

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Where Was God in Newtown?

(1131) Comments | Posted December 18, 2012 | 2:53 PM

Since the Newtown killings, much public conversation -- between friends, in sermons, through social networks and blogs, and even in the mainstream media -- has centered on God.

Although the murders prompted many questions regarding the existence of God, why God allows such things and the problem of evil,...

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Fox News' War on Advent

(1007) Comments | Posted December 11, 2012 | 4:11 PM

Happy Holidays! Merry Christmas! Joyful Whatever!

With FOX News seeking to expose those who refuse to say "Merry Christmas" as secular collaborators to the War on Christmas, I confess that I am confused. FOX holds itself up as the network that stands by traditional values defending America and faith from...

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Progressives, Advent, and the End of the World

(83) Comments | Posted December 2, 2012 | 7:38 AM

"There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations caused by the roaring of the sea and the waves," proclaims Jesus in the Gospel of Luke.

People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the...

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Can Christianity Be Saved? A Response to Ross Douthat

(1596) Comments | Posted July 15, 2012 | 4:55 PM

In recent days, conservatives have attacked the Episcopal Church. The reason? The church has just concluded its once every three-year national meeting, and in this gathering the denomination affirmed a liturgy to bless same-sex unions. Conservatives assert that the Episcopal Church's ever-increasing social and political progressivism has led to a...

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A Resurrected Christianity?

(98) Comments | Posted April 7, 2012 | 4:47 PM

In his Newsweek cover story, "Forget the Church, Follow Jesus," Andrew Sullivan dissects the crisis of American Christianity--it has become hypocritical and irrelevant to millions. Organized religion is collapsing; atheism is rising. The wounded, lapsed, and doubting seek shelter in spirituality, away from the buildings and traditions that...

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The End of Church

(1649) Comments | Posted February 18, 2012 | 6:50 AM

Something startling is happening in American religion: We are witnessing the end of church or, at the very least, the end of conventional church. The United States is fast-becoming a society where Christianity is being reorganized after religion.

In recent decades, untold numbers of people have left the Roman...

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God in Wisconsin: Scott Walker's "Obedience"

(112) Comments | Posted February 25, 2011 | 2:43 PM

As the stand off between workers and Governor Scott Walker continues in Wisconsin, religious leaders have weighed in on the dispute. Roman Catholic bishops came out on the side of the unions, urging the governor to protect worker's rights. Many mainline pastors, including Lutherans, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists, Congregationalists,...

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Gabby Opened Her Eyes and We Should Too

(22) Comments | Posted January 14, 2011 | 6:11 PM

"Gabby opened her eyes."

When President Obama uttered these simple words, the crowd at the Tucson memorial service cheered wildly. "Gabby opened her eyes."

Four simple words. Four very spiritual words.

Congresswoman Giffords was shot at the beginning of the Christian season called Epiphany. This year, Epiphany lasts until March...

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The Real Housewives of Proverbs 31

(47) Comments | Posted August 5, 2010 | 7:02 AM

As a working mother who lives in the Washington-metro area, I admit that I'm dreading Bravo's new program The Real Housewives of D.C. (begins August 5). I took some comfort in the Washington Post's scathing advance review of it:

Every word of the title is wrong,...
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