Speaking of Faith is paperback book written by public radio host Krista Tippett.
If you are interested in brushing up on a postmodern, pluralistic, North American Religious Liberalism, then grab Tippett’s Speaking of Faith. You will walk away from this book feeling as though you read a lot, but have little to actually apply to real life and living. It’s an exercise in religious intellectualism, at best. If your desire is to dive deep into authentic Interfaith conversation, keep checking the shelves. This book will not do it for you.
Speaking of Faith: Why religion Matters and How to Talk About It is a quick paperback book composed of the intricately woven personal reflections and intellectual journeys of public radio personality and talk show host Krista Tippett. Krista hosts a public radio show about religion. Her show is intellectual, pluralistic, and postmodern in philosophical essence and methodological scope. Her show’s mantra is religion, meaning, ethics, and ideas. Her book is more of the same, of course.
Speaking of Faith reads like a spiritual memoir. It is narrative bathed in personal story, emotion, journey and expression. It is the story of one woman’s journey from the expressed Evangelicalism of her Southern Baptist preaching grandfather, to a form of global secular politicking, and back to a place existing somewhere between the two wherein expressed religion is important but extremely nuanced.
Tippett is a wonderful writer and religious communicator. She thinks on “big-picture” or “universal” plains. Such thinking, while absolutely necessary, can - and often does - result in an extreme or unbalanced focus upon quick proclamations of spiritual congruence and a diminished - if not totally discarded - focus on important religious, philosophical, and cultural differences. So, in typical postmodern fashion, everything “religious” is mercilessly mixed and haplessly blended together by the time the book is over. The reader is left feeling like he or she just spent a few hours squinting through some sort of homemade kaleidoscope. This characteristic defines her radio show (also called Speaking of Faith) too. It too is a place wherein the best of secular atheism and Christianity is celebrated and mashed together in a hodge-podge sort of way.
Tippett’s motivation for her seemingly weak pluralism is noble; she desires desperately to facilitate productive - rather than destructive - religious conversation. That’s honorable. The day in which we live would unarguably benefit from a rise in productive religious conversation and a sharp cessation of the destructively popular versions. That said, there is nothing noble in Tippett’s pluralism. It’s thin; it strips uniqueness and identity from all in order to falsely perpetuate a unified one; it’s a knee-jerk reaction to the admittedly unhealthy religious fundamentalism she detests. It smacks of North American liberal religion, which is transient at best. It will not work in the real world where identifiable personal identity is a prerequisite to all we do - including our religion(s).
If Tippett’s motivation for her pluralism is noble, then her substantiation of this motivation with “love” is sublime. This substantiation is, however, as limited as her motivation. Her articulation of love as the foundation of and catalyst for her pluralism is only limited by her skewed definition or expression of divine and human love. Yes, love can be the bridge that connects us to God and other, and may God bathe us all in more off this kind of love, but love also is accompanied by discipline and difference. God, for example, disciplines his children because he loves them. Tippet and other aficionados of North American Religious Liberalism do not articulate these aspects of love well, if at all. The love expressed is limited and as a result little less than an idealistic whim that has no traction in real-time. Tippett addresses this issue with a few sentences, near the end of the book:
“I forget that love is more important than knowledge all the time. I have forgotten it, willfully, for long stretches of life, and at my peril. Yet even as the loves in my life are in disarray I recover a sense of its centrality. And every time I let myself go deeper into the mess and mystery of human loving, I am hit over the head again by theology - an insistence that the love of God is so much fuller than we can imagine or take in, just like those glimpses I try to get people to describe for me. I keep pursuing faith, if for no other reason than because it is the place in our common life that keeps reminding us of the necessity of love - not the romantic love of poets, but the practical love of the sacred texts - however fraught and imperfect our practice of it may ever and always be” (223-24).
Tippett would have done well to dedicate much more book time to the above expression. Her radio show and book’s idealistic and pluralistic foundation are products of the incomplete thoughts represented therein. Love, for example, is not more important than knowledge, unless Tippett is attempting to juxtapose a certain and limited sort of love and a certain and limited sort of knowledge. If this is the case, she should be more specific and articulate and less presumptuous and generic. Knowledge, as it is, is very important, especially if one honestly wants to know and/or be aware of the fact that he or she loves or is in love. Then there is the question of “what is love?” The answer to this question requires a bit of knowledge, does it not? Tippett’s reference to theology is just as generic as her reference to love. Theology is much more than “an insistence that the love of God is so much fuller than we can imagine or take in.” Is her reduction an “essence” or “insistence” of theology? Yes, of course, but there is so much more to theology. Her reduction of theology to a specific insistence of love is not especially helpful, especially as concerns a life of discipleship that includes divine imperatives sourced from a broader expression of divine love. Yet, if the goal is a postmodern sort of pluralism, then the mere mention of love - regardless of generic severity - can bind together a plethora of expressions, and destroy them all too.
Tippett’s obvious desire to facilitate a constructive religious conversation in the public square is unarguably honorable. We need such conversation. This conversation, however, should be a celebration of unique distinctives, in spite of the perpetual separation these distinctives may cause as concerns religious, cultural, or social identities and identification. This conversation should not be the catalyst for further attempts to create a singular religious expression based upon the lowest common denominators of global faiths. Christianity, for example, is unique in it’s proclamation of salvation in Christ Jesus. We Christians proclaim the one way to the Father in Jesus Christ. There is no way around this proclamation as Christians. That said, interfaith conversation can happen, but to be authentically interfaith, all involved must hold tightly to their historic faith identities, even if that means saying the other faiths are not salvific. The goal in Interfaith conversation is not the reduction of faiths to the lowest common and/or generic denominator, but to get along and respect the other in spite of our unique identities and expressions. Tippett, though honorable in her motivation and desire, does not seem to be trekking in this direction. If her radio show and book are any indication, she is simply heading in the direction of North American Religious Liberalism, which is as universally applicable as is North America. Obviously, that’s not much.
Recommendation: Skip it, unless you are researching North American Liberal nonsense, or trying to expand your working knowledge of postmodern gibberish.