Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Book Review - Australian Soul - Gary Bouma

Australian Soul (Religion and Spirituality in the 21st Century) – Gary Bouma (2006)

As Bouma unpacks cultural particularities of varying Christian expressions (:86-95), his bias clearly shows towards following orthodox traditional churches (e.g. Catholic, Anglican, etc). While he refrains from overtly expressing his opinion, he has an element of sarcasm and distain to Pentecostalism and ‘mega-churches’ to which he frequently refers. While at one point he mentions the growth of churches such as Hillsong, and those of a charismatic/Pentecostal nature, he then mentions later (: 206), that Religion and spirituality, ‘will take forms that are quieter, less charismatic and more towards to the low-temperature end of the scale of religious intensity than elsewhere’. The quote and his mentioned statistics do not correlate. Maybe his bias against emotionally laden churches vs. rational based churches is being shown; the latter being his preferred religious context. When mentioning having a memorial service, possibly outside of an Anglican Cathedral and rather in a mega-church, Bouma sarcastically writes, ‘Of course their facilities hold more people than most cathedrals, they have better sound systems and, what is more, they are more likely to have parking’ (:117-118).
 The author expresses opinions that are controversial within Christian circles. He seemingly alludes to the idea that, issues like same-sex marriages and homosexuality only fail to be acceptable because of the fundamentalism of the Christian church, and that we should let diversity reign. Bouma’s thesis appears to be, ‘If Christians were just more open-minded, there would be more room for freedom of expression of spirituality’.  He believes in diversity and that spirituality should bring hope. He mentions, ‘Some see the spread of Pentecostal Christianity and the renewed energy of Islam as signs of hope’ (: 204). It is difficult to gauge whether the author is supportive of this statement or passionately opposed to it. Does a pendulum swing towards freedom of expression, diversity, and an encouragement towards a spiritual smorgasboard of whatever suits YOU, the right way to go?  
From a literary stance, Bouma presents sound statistics and a well studied exposition on spirituality in Australia, though at times he makes assumptions, for example, ‘Few protestant Clergy are respected for their ability to make real a sense of the presence of God’ (: 100).  
He describes the downward spiral of Christianity in Australia in relation to attendance, moral values, etc. Bouma’s thesis is seemingly one of embracing this decline for the sake of religious diversity and people’s freedom of expression. So at times you are left agreeing with Bouma and interested by statistical data and other times disappointed and frustrated by liberal approaches to religious diversity and spirituality. All that being said Gary Bouma's Australian Soul (Religion and Spirituality in the 21st Century), is worth a read and will get you engaged and thinking.

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