Kirkus Review

January 1, 2022

Religious publishing, TV, and now the Internet have radically altered theological discourse in this country over the last 50 years, argues Tickle, who sees the developments as a vindication of all that the Reformation and American individualism stand for.

By “God-talk” Tickle means theology taken in a very broad sense, viz., what people are actually saying about their religious, spiritual, or moral concerns. A contributing editor in religion to Publishers Weekly, she views her subject very much as a phenomenon of the media and market forces. Joseph Campbell, Stephen Hawking, and Bill Moyers (with his Genesis series) are some of her heroes, people who have brought questions formerly reserved for theologians into everyone’s living room. Tickle gives us details of the phenomenal growth in numbers of Internet users and of hits at a vast range of religious sites. She believes that universal access to information has created a new, democratic kind of theology, influenced by the many who are not formally religious and have no desire to be. Tickle writes about information overload, and in many ways her book is an example of this. The pages are crammed with detail and ever-changing references, giving the impression of an extended visit to an online chat room. More disconcerting is the author’s uncritical optimism about the trends she so vividly describes.

She celebrates the emancipation of theology from the churches and hails an age of unmediated spirituality, as if such developments have not always been commonplaces of Quakers and Puritans, not to mention the 19th-century Transcendentalists. Above all, she omits any reference to the warnings found in most of the great traditions that religious knowledge, unlike data, can be acquired only by experience and practice.

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