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White Horse Inn: Conversational Theology

Virtue Signaling & The Culture of Busyness

According to David Zahl, “Our religious crisis today is not that religion is on the wane, but that we are more religious than ever, and about too many things. We may be sleeping in on Sunday mornings in greater numbers, but we’ve never been more pious.” On this edition of the program the hosts continue their conversation with David as they focus on the contemporary quest for self-justification in work, technology, politics and the overall spirit of “performance-ism.”


Performance-ism sets you up for a life of ladder climbing and we know not only from the bible, but from the testimony of countless people that the higher you climb on the ladder, the longer it gets and the further apart the rungs get. The people at the top of the ladder are the ones that are so unhappy. If that is the sum of your identity—is your resume or your transcript—that is slavery. If there’s a God in that equation, God is purely a slave driver who is only interested in your output.

David Zahl


“Therapeutic Spirituality”

Today’s spirituality is novel in the sense that it is based upon a person’s felt needs, as opposed to an authoritative person or text. Self-expression has become the new form of worship in both traditional and innovative religious practices, rather than a practice of self-denial. This spirituality adopts preference as a means of self-actualization (i.e. a way of becoming the fullest expression of yourself as a human being). The commitments to these preferences are deeply personal and subjective, which results in the expression, “Your own personal Jesus” who neither confronts with his transcendent ‘Otherness’ nor deals in categories of sin, hell, or judgment. Therapy as a model of spirituality has replaced traditional norms due to the secularization of culture (i.e., the cultural shift that has resulted in religious beliefs becoming wholly individualized and disassociated from the social sphere). Divine Providence over mankind has been replaced by the invisible hand of economic forces. Whereas the Almighty beneficent being was previously seen as integral to daily life and well-being, today, he is seen as a cosmic bellhop who comes at our beck and call.

With the loss of life’s ‘center’ by these competing visions of reality, faith has been left only with an interior and subjective expression which allows ‘believers’ to cope with the ‘real world’ science and technology have given them. In the face of this modern nihilism (i.e., the belief that there is no true reality beyond that which is apprehended through the senses), religion has often attempted to fill the vacuum through such therapeutic modes of expression. Even in traditional, conservative contexts orthodox worship and practice may succumb to this mode of spirituality, ultimately leaving little effect upon the practice of the worshipper or in the public square at large. Concrete, external liturgical practices (such as the reading of the law, corporate confession, a declaration of pardon, and corporate supplication) are often displaced by personalized small groups that help believers in their life journey. This is deemed as more ‘relevant’ to the therapeutic man, and an improvement upon the ‘dead rituals’ that don’t speak to the hearts of worshippers. Worship thus becomes a therapy ‘session’ something akin to Alcoholics Anonymous, a place where kindred spirits can hear one another’s stories and help one another cope with their weaknesses and failures, rather than a place of divine judgment and salvation where sinful people meet with a holy God, and through faith in their Savior, by the power of the Holy Spirit, are forgiven for their rebellion, and comforted by the assurance of their salvation.

(Timothy W. Massaro, “Therapeutic Spirituality,” WHI [blog], August 10, 2014)

More from this Series: Seculosity

  1. The Secularization of Virtue, Shame & Identity Listen Now ›
  2. Virtue Signaling & The Culture of Busyness Listen Now ›