Experiencing God – ngram

Last week I looked at some of the upward trends in what we tend to talk about. One of those was “experiences.” It would seem we are increasingly interested in experiencing life. I suspect that means such things as fine dining and travel, but probably also a lot more.

What I found interesting is how that concept also showed up, fairly recently and very strongly, in the Church.

As always, here’s a link to the first article in this series if you don’t know about Google’s ngram viewer.

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been told that one of the key features of the Christian Faith is that we experience God. Interestingly, that’s apparently only been a key feature of the Faith for about 40 – 50 years.

experiencing_god

As our interest in “experience” slowly grew over the past couple of centuries, eventually our interest in “experiencing God” also took off. We are told to “experience God” and consider ourselves blessed if we “experienced God.” All these variations took off around…

Huh…

1960.

Again.

[For the record, the famous book Experiencing God was first published in 1976 so it was clearly not the cause of this shift in our language, but written in the context of that shift.]

There seem to have been a lot of cultural transformations that took place at almost the exact same time in history – the 1960’s – and our desire to “experience God” was one of those changes. That should raise questions. To what extent was this language used by the Church independently of society, or to what extent did society at large start seeing religion from that perspective and the Church just followed along? I don’t know for sure, and the ngram viewer doesn’t directly answer that.

I would suggest there is a hint in the fact that “experience” underwent an extended rise in popularity, and that the concept of “experience” only really showed up in religious language much later. To me that strongly implies that society led and the Church followed.

Though we cannot say for certain, next week I will look at a few other phrases and words that strongly suggest it was society at large that took the lead, and we’ve been dancing to their tune ever since.

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