Here, Tara Isabella Burton and Tim Shriver call for a new spiritual realism to overcome the paralysing loneliness of the age. Tracing the landscape of liberalism’s decline, the authors describe the ‘long arc of Enlightenment thinking’ that has left us starved of meaning, purpose and belonging. Further, they envisage ‘a culture of us’ and advocate the creation of new institutions of shared flourishing supported by relational and contemplative practices. This is a postliberal manifesto, in which the authors, one Catholic and one Episcopalian, call those in power to prioritise the common good and common life over private interest, and reknit the fabric of social institutions so that all may live well in justice, truth, and peace. T4CG is pleased to have permission to share the opening paragraphs of this article while it is new – you can click through to The Plough website to read the full 7500 words. In a few weeks we will publish the whole piece here too.

Spiritual Realism in a Divided Country

The past few years have made evident a deeply discomfiting truth about contemporary American life: we may be a country, but we are struggling to be a people.

We are deeply, even catastrophically, polarized: fractured along lines of racial and religious identity, along lines geographic, economic, and ideological. We seem to have little in common except our shared sense of alienation.

The events of the past several years – the toll of the coronavirus pandemic; the protests for racial justice following the murder of George Floyd, some of which were marred by violence; the January 6 riots at the Capitol, and the political and cultural chaos since – have all revealed the intensity of the fractures and fault lines within our society.

What Covid did physically, this alienation has done politically: we have isolated from each other, withdrawn. What seems safe to us is to be out only for ourselves, or our own faction or tribe at the most…

To continue reading, click here for the rest of the essay at The Plough website. T4CG has permission to share the opening paragraphs while the article is new. However, we will be able to publish the whole article in a few weeks’ time.


Tim Shriver is the longtime chair of Special Olympics, the cofounder of the social and emotional learning movement, and recently the founder of UNITE. He is a longtime student of the mystics and seeks to unlock the power of spirit to heal and create new ways of bringing justice and joy to life.

Tara Isabella Burton is a columnist for the Religion News Service and a contributing editor at the American Purpose. She is author of Social Creature (2018), Strange Rites: New Religions for a Godless World (2020) and The World Cannot Give (2022). Her fourth book, a history of self-creation, Self-Made: Curating Our Image from Da Vinci to the Kardashians, will be published in June 2023. Tara received a doctorate in theology from Trinity College, Oxford, in 2017.

This article was first published on The Plough website on 3 February 2023, and was featured in T4CG’s Lent 2023 Newsletter. You can subscribe to our newsletter here