Sheilaism


Robert Bellah, with a group of coworkers, wrote a 1985 blockbuster book called Habits of the Heart. This great book is arguably one of the best critiques of modern American society – a quest for a democratic community.

William Placher wrote in Narratives of a Vulnerable God, “The interviews that Robert Bellah and his coworkers conducted for Habits of the Heart indicate how pervasive individualism has become in religion and every other aspect of American culture. Page 138.

The well known Sheila Larson, became the central exhibit for Bellah’s observations about the passive individualism of American Culture. Young nurse, Sheila, described her religious belief as “Sheilaism.”

In words that have become iconic of our national point of view, Sheila Larson said, “My faith has carried me a long way. It’s Sheilaism. Just my own little voice…It’s just try to love yourself and be gentle with yourself.” Bellah and his co-writers described Sheilaism as ” a perfectly natural expression of current American religious life.”

Of course, Jesus counters the Sheilaism of our time by saying, “take up your cross.” No place in his economy for the self-absorbed and nor indifferent. Bellah is still current. So is Jesus.

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