One of the fascinating things about Jonathan Franzen’s novel Crossroads is how each of his characters demonstrates a different way of losing religion.
The saddest, most barren way is to substitute religion with rationality. Trying to reduce life to a series of formulas leads one to the life of an addict who is forever succumbing to every drug-addled method of feeding his narcissistic fixation on the self.
Then there is a less tragic and more pathetic way which relies on embracing the ancestral wisdom of the indigenous cultures because it’s vastly superior to the boring Christianity of the eternally culpable white people. Of course, there is no ancestral indigenous wisdom, and the character who tries to befriend Navajos and “serve” them eventually catches a glimpse of what an enormous dick he is.
There’s also the woke way of displacing religious belief onto political action. A bunch of snowflake wokesters in the novel spends years installing wheelchair ramps on a remote Navajo reservation where nobody has ever seen a wheelchair.
Of course, there’s also the Moralistic Therapeutic Deism of the kind popularized by Oprah. People convince themselves that talking endlessly about their feelings is “spiritual” and use these fee-fee conversations to hide how utterly boring and shallow they are.
Other characters try to substitute religion with “therapy,” sex, food, even smoking. The result is a moral, physical, and relational collapse of enormous magnitude.
In the novel, it’s 1971. The characters don’t know what we do: there’s still a long way down from where they find themselves.