To get straight to the point: I think that, in a way, Mills and Co. commit the same errors that they accuse Lady Gaga and Co. of committing. The real ground of all religion in the modern world is cosmological agnosticism. The “spiritual not religious” crowd pretends to know nothing of God so that they can do whatever they want. The “orthodox religious” crowd pretends to know God so well that they can employ him for any agenda that is in their interest, all under the pretension that it is not their will, but God‘s. In either case, God is a puppet; he is a Caspar the Friendly Ghost-character who fulfils their true desires and makes them feel good about themselves.
Again, my study of “folk” Catholicism is very illuminating in terms of the issues involved here. Mills’ God is primarily a moral being: one who maintains societal order for the benefit of decency. In the more common, simple Catholic mind, God’s intervention in daily life was far less moralistic. People had needs and wants, and God could either grant or deny the satisfaction of these. If you ask God or a saint for something, you should pay them back or suffer the consequences. And of course, if you need something morally ambiguous, there were saints and prayers for those things as well.
In other words, a Catholic peasant a hundred years ago would never say that he was “spiritual but not religious”, but that did not make him a foot solider in a culture war either. He employed officially approved methods of interaction with the Divine as well as things that were off the beaten path. Within the context of societal propriety, he picked and chose what he believed just as much as any modern person. The institution does not completely govern the soul of any individual. People have always taken what they need from it, and left aside those things that they don’t need. The idea of a mass militant populace of “well-catechized” Catholics is a peculiarly American one, probably passed down to us from the Irish. For further reading, one should consult such books as The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth Century Miller by Carlo Ginzburg to really find out the crazy things “average” Catholics believed.
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