I think I first noticed it six years ago. One of my daughters returned home from a school trip to Iowa and remarked that she would never again be embarrassed by our family's custom of giving thanks before meals.

She had been hosted by an academic family whose mother was also the minister of a novel spiritual community. Their family's time of meditation focused on the spiritual value of life-mediating crystals placed upon the mantelpiece over the fireplace.

"And I thought we were weird!" remarked my daughter, then 11 years old.

Attitudes toward the spiritual have changed considerably in the past few decades, away from a "scientific" dismissal of the nonmaterial toward an easy acceptance of all things mysterious. Rudolph Bultmann's long-accepted dictum is no longer self-evident in the climate of today's changing attitudes: "We cannot use electric lights and radios and, in the event of illness, avail ourselves of modern medicine and clinical means and at the same time believe in the spirit and wonder world of the New Testament."

Bultmann assumed that in the "modern" period, Christians would be making a sacrifice of the intelligence were they to accept the miracles, signs, and wonders in the pages of their founding document: he pleaded that the value of the New Testament message lay elsewhere, and so tried to reformulate Christianity from a specially crafted existentialist perspective.

Bultmann's initial assumption lives on in some quarters, as some polemical writers and thinkers refuse to leave the "modern" paradigm for a more relaxed "postmodernism." An example might be the renowned (or, in some eyes, notorious) John Shelby Spong, erstwhile Episcopal bishop of Newark, who refuses to "sacrifice scholarship and truth to protect the ...

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