Book Review: Seculosity by David Zahl

By Rejoice Anthony

Upon seeing the title of David Zahl’s book “Seculosity: How Career, Parenting, Technology, Food, Politics, and Romance Became Our New Religion and What To Do About It” I scoffed at it as one those books that bemoans the lack of faithfulness, piety and church attendance in society today; that theme of “the sanctimonious Christian” and how faithless we are as a society. Without knowing who the author was, I assumed this book was a prescription for becoming and leading a more pious life.

Zahl is the founder of Mockingbird Ministries; founded in 2007 as an alternative to church, for refugees from the “church.” Mockingbird’s website states, “Mockingbird is a ministry that seeks to connect the Christian faith with the realities of everyday life in fresh and down-to-earth ways.” What is Seculosity, you ask? I wondered that too. Seculosity is literation on Religiosity therefore, seculosity is the zeal we now apply to our secular lives instead of our church lives.

I must confess, I summarily ate some crow: I found it to be an engaging and amusing approach to the examination of our innate human yearning for deeper meaning. To that end, we seek activities that will declare and pronounce us “enough,” and therefore acceptable in whatever strata of the societal ladder we’re reaching for. I resonated with a great deal of what Zahl claimed, talked and wrote about.

Seculosity is written in an easygoing pop-culture style which makes it an easy read while delivering substance. Zahl’s writing may seem approachable because of the pop-culture references; however, for someone like me who may not be current on all the pop-culture influences and references (like Aziz Ansari and The Good Place), it was not.

Zahl writes in Seculosity of our desire or yearning to be counted or recognized as “enough” by society. To be “enough” one must be successful in career achievements that come with important accolades, financial remuneration and recognition. Our success as parents starts with which child-raising models we follow and which pre-school we got our child into before s/he was even born. To be enough we must adopt the latest technological gizmos designed to make our lives shine above all others. To be enough we must consume the right foods/beverages and exercise regimen that produces the “correct” physical body. Being enough also requires one to subscribe to the right political movement or thought. And of course, one needs the right romantic partner or spouse to cap off one’s “enoughness.”

Zahl’s dominant message in Seculosity is that, though we by and large no longer flock to church en masse, we are inevitably drawn to and yearn for grace and letting go. This shows up in the ways we dedicate ourselves to the various activities that we think will give us acceptance and enoughness. Zahl does not absolve the church of responsibility in sending many fleeing and seeking refuge in seculosity. Switching Capital-R Religions for seculosity with religious fervour and zeal has not brought us the enoughness and grace we are seeking.

This would not be a review by me if I do not push back somewhat on Zahl’s assertion that “the refugees” from the homeland/motherland aka the church, should return because it is acceptable to be “not enough” in the “church.” He claims the church is the place where there are salvation and acceptance for all so there is no need to work to earn “enoughness.” I assert that not everyone must or will return to the fold. It is the Church’s lack of grace and understanding that drove people to seek grace, understanding and welcome in seculosity. The church must work for healing and reconciliation to welcome back those who left; attract new people, to engage and reenergize those who stayed. We must ensure that capital “R” religiosity is not merely a form of seculosity where one is not “Christian” enough. Zahl also viewed dwindling participation in Christian life through a nostalgic and romantic lens that most of us Christians do: reminiscing about “the good old days” when the pews were always full. Zahl does not take into consideration the fact that we live in a pluralistic society where there are many other forms of expressions of faith and spirituality.

In sum, I think Zahl is inviting us to recognize that the grace, transformation or salvation we are seeking is not going to be found in the activities we devote all our energies to with a religious zeal. There is one place left where one can find that grace and salvation and it is in Jesus Christ. He does acknowledge that the church must live into its distinctiveness as the place for people to experience the grace, understanding and welcome that we are all seeking even in our brokenness.

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

By David Zahl
Fortress Press (April 2, 2019)
ISBN-13: 978-1506449432
Images courtesy of David Zhal

Rejoice Anthony is a former Career/Vocational Counsellor. She is working towards MAPPL-Spiritual Care at VST. Rejoice is actively engaged in Pastoral Care Support and Healing Prayer ministries at her church. She believes in the importance of accompanying and ministering to one another as people of faith, so we are strengthened to serve the wider community as the hands and feet of Christ in the world.