For this week’s blog reflection post I wanted to write about my friend Sarah’s experience in her Sociology course this past week. Last Wednesday, we were getting lunch and she was telling me about a conversation she had just had in class. Her professor had asked the class something along the lines of ‘do you think people/society could function without religion’. Having essentially the same viewpoints as one another, Sarah took the affirmative saying that yes, people and society could function without religion, that aspect wasn’t a surprise to me. Why she had brought up the class discussion to me in the first place was to share other people’s opposing beliefs in the class and how they were the clear majority. Sarah spoke to me of one girl in particular who voiced her opinion, saying that being brought up in a devoutly religious family made her who she is, saying religion gives her purpose in life and provides a ‘reason for the bad things’ that happen in the world. Many others followed in her footsteps in terms of having religion in their lives as a purpose or a reason as to why life/things are the way that they are. People would also express how they “don’t understand” atheists or how people can live with this mentality. Growing up, both Sarah and I did not live with any religious presence in our lives, and it’s quite frustrating at times when people who equate their belief in God as the reason they exist then undermine people (like Sarah and I) who feel differently than they. Though the correlation is a fuzzy one, I am somewhat reminded of the religious presence in America and American families versus that in Europe and European families. Being raised by immigrants and spending a large majority of my childhood growing up in France makes me question if there’s a link between these two separate realities and their devoutness towards religion.
For this week’s Religion in the News posting, I wanted to find an article on some religious literature. Looking through my New York Times app, I found an interesting article in the “Book Review” section titled ‘The Bible doesn’t offer a consistent view on much of anything’. The author, Benjamin Moser argues that The Bible was written by many authors, in varying countries, in many different languages, and over many centuries, which is grounds for there to be some significant inconsistencies within the text. Moser talks specifically of the people who use The Bible as a means to argue questions or moralities, noting that the people who invoke these conversations usually already know the ‘correct’ answer (according to their religion), making the questions anachronistic for others. This was largely discussed in terms people’s ‘sex lives’, focusing on gay marriage and females. I think this correlates with the diminishing ‘confidence’ in religious organizations, religion is often grouped with conservative right-wing values. This ‘alliance’ tends to push the younger generations away, since things such as gay marriage and female sexual freedom are becoming much more acceptable in society today.
It was very interesting reading McGuire’s chapter on the correlation between religion and the “vested interests of the dominant social classes” after hearing all the different case studies presented before Spring Break (McGuire 280). During this chapter, McGuire writes in detail about the connection between religion and social change. Some of the key factors that stood out to me in this discussion was differentiating between religion promoting or inhibiting social change (either way, they’re typically occurring simultaneously.) McGuire spoke in particular of African-American religious groups and their relationship with society and social change.
While reading this chapter, I was often reminded of the case study presentations given by my classmates the week prior, and in particular those who read Goldman and Marti’s books. I related them to the two kinds of distinction we typically find within religious groups and society. The Rajneeshpuram group discussed in Goldman’s book reminded me of the friction and segregation between the religious group and society whereas the Mosaics Church seemed to have an opposite effect, directly pulling in and incorporating aspects from the LA community that surrounded it in order to make it more appealing and relatable to the younger generations. After hearing both of these presentations, I felt quite differently about both groups. The Mosaics church drew me in and made me feel more connected to their message of embracing diversity of multi-ethnic communities coming together as one. And on the other hand, I felt detached and unsympathetic towards the Rajneeshpuram community. I can’t shake that there is probably a correlation between my liking of the group that tries to assimilate to society versus my reproachfulness of the group that isolates itself from society.
This week for my religion in the news article, I wanted to focus on an aspect of religion I have not been paying all that much attention to, spirituality. While looking through my New York Times phone app to find some articles that stood out to me, I discovered one by Rivka Galchen and Benjamin Moser called Which Canonical Work is Frequently and Frustratingly Misread? Though I didn’t did not expect to use this particular article for my religion in the news post since it had no clear religious connotation within the title, I soon realized I was wrong and changed my mind once I started reading.
The article is split into two sections, one written by each author, I’ll be focusing on the section by Galchen, which was about Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote. I remember reading this book in my high school Spanish class and having a whole unit on Don Quixote de la Mancha, analyzing Cervantes’s book and theorizing about its contents. The article really had no outward tie with religion, but it did with spirituality. Galchen received this book her freshman year in college two weeks before her dad unexpectedly passed away, and this book held such a significant meaning in her mind because of that reason, “[i]t wasn’t only because it was the last that I had heard from him that the gift felt coded and meaningful”. This really reminded me of the kind of thing Ammerman was looking for in her book Sacred Stories, Spiritual Tribes, she wanted to see where religion or spirituality took place in one’s everyday life, and to me, this seemed like a prime example.
While looking at my Facebook newsfeed last Wednesday, I stumbled across something that caught my eye in the ‘trending’ column. I believe it said something along the lines of “12th Dead Sea Scrolls cave found”. Quite interested in this area of subject, I clicked the link and it took me to this webpage: http://new.huji.ac.il/en/article/33424 where the homepage was titled “The Hebrew University of Jerusalem”. I started to read the article which proceeded to say that a 12th Dead Sea Scroll cave had been found by Dr. Oren Gutfeld and Ahiad Ovadia from the Hebrew University. Similar to the 8th Dead Sea Scroll cave, no actual scrolls were found within, instead, there were storage jars and lids dating to the Second Temple period, alluding to the fact that at one point, there were Dead Sea Scrolls within. The article continued to inform us that scholars believed the scrolls had been looted in the century prior and thus weren’t present in the cave.
Finding this discovery quite fascinating, I went to google and typed in “12th Dead Sea Scroll cave” to see what else was out there. Websites I weren’t familiar with (besides AOL) popped up and I tried avoiding them, not knowing if they’d be credible sources. Eventually, I stopped my 15-minute search and decided to call it quits, not being able to find a known reputable news source. This moment in time had me thinking a lot about all the fake news that’s constantly being spouted through media and more. It’s hard for most people, especially the uneducated and the youth, to be able to weed out what they should and should not trust. There’s also a whole other aspect to this problem, and it’s that everyone is going to have their own opinion on what ‘reliable’ news is. Conservatives could believe everything that comes out of Fox News while liberals do the same with NPR and the New York Times. This is a problem that I have no answer to, though I wish I did.
A reoccurring interest of mine throughout this class has been McGuire’s religious typology and how it fits into other aspects of the course. Every time I read a “religion in the news” article, or while I read my case study book (Ammerman) I’d think to myself “where would this fall in McGuire’s typology diagram? While working on my case study presentation, I noticed Ammerman made a distinction that stood out to me between Deer Valley Church and Center Street Church. Though both groups referred to themselves as evangelical, Deer Valley Church was described as “nondenominational”, and looking back on the PowerPoint from class, Evangelicals fell under the “denominational’ category. This made me realize that religious typology is quite an important thing to talk about. Diversity within a religion seems to lead to diversity of the people who partake, different ways of practice calls for different kinds of people, this seems somewhat intuitive. But when one looks at it the other way, does the lack of “diversity” of practice of belief correlate with the lack of diversity of members in the church? Personally, I think it does, though my knowledge of scholarly research on the subject is small, so it’s only an opinion at this point. Branching from that thought, more questions pop up having to do with cults specifically. My initial perception of the typology dynamic was that the “tension with society” category has a pretty strong tie with the “one way” of thinking/practicing category. My question is essentially, “why is it that cults fall under the ‘tension with society’ category if they provide ‘many ways’ of thinking? Why is there tension if there’s no definitive right and wrong way of doing things?”
The Unbelievable Tale of Jesus’s Wife, an article by Ariel Sabar published about 7 months ago in the July/August Issue of The Atlantic is a Da Vinci Code-like adventure following the trail of a ‘hotly contested, supposedly ancient manuscript’. Though I didn’t find this article recently, I went back and re-read it online since it’s probably my favorite written piece on the historical mysteries of early Christianity. The journey starts with “a 1,300 year old scrap of papyrus that bore the phrase ‘Jesus said to them, My wife’” (Sabar). This fragment was first presented at a conference in Rome during September of 2012 by Karen L. King, a Harvard historian for early Christianity. Critics and skeptics fell in line after the finding was made public, noting different reasons as to why this scrap was a forgery, the most notable of them being a bizarre typographical error within the Coptic grammar on the papyrus. The piece underwent countless lab tests (almost more than any other papyrus in history) and passed them all.
The story really starts when Sabar writes “[w]ith King and her critics at loggerheads, each insisting on the primacy of their evidence, I wondered why no one had conducted a different sort of test: a thorough vetting of the papyrus’s chain of ownership” (Sabar). Sabar takes this task on himself and leads us through a whirlwind journey through Florida, East Germany, and more, collecting data and insight on the people whose paths intersected this piece of papyrus. I see somewhat of a connection between the diligence of data collection of both King and the authors we’ve been reading this semester (McGuire, Chaves). The mentality King has throughout this story comes off as very systematic and fact-based, relying only on her findings and not what she wants to see within the search for legitimacy. Though it’s a bit of a longer read, I truly recommend giving it a try whether interested in the topic or not. It is a fascinating read with an ‘answer’ to one of the most remarkable scholarly mysteries in recent decades.
The religious conflict in Northern Ireland between Protestants and Roman Catholics is one regarded as much more political than I expected. McGuire writes that “between 1970 and 1998, the sectarian strife claimed between 3,000 and 4,000 lives (or about one in 500 citizens), more than half of whom were civilian noncombatants”, it is sad to see the repercussions this rivalry has on the innocent civilians of Northern Ireland (McGuire 220). Other than the obvious tragedies that result from this religious conflict, what stood out to me most was the similarities between the two groups. As McGuire describes, “the opposing sides in Northern Ireland appear to share the same racial stock, language, and social class”, this is quite unlike the conflicts seen in America which usually revolve around issues of race and segregation, which do revolve around both social and physical dissimilarities. After watching the documentary Born Again in class, I saw an “us versus them” mentality as described in the reading. Though there are no outward distinctions between the members of the fundamentalist Baptist church and most other Americans, once pastor John starts describing the practices and intensity of the church, it is clear as to why this particular organization is referred to as sectarian. Though I do not identify with any specific religion, I have somewhat assumed that other Christians and Baptists who have watched this documentary probably do not see eye to eye with the way this church and its members conduct themselves. There are many conflicts and differences within particular religions that I had never taken notice to before, both the reading and the documentary have helped highlight those.
On Tuesday, January 31st, Bishop Barres replaced Bishop William Murphy as the head of the Diocese of Rockville Centre in New York. Johnny Milano for The New York Times writes an article on the two figures of the church, giving readers an insight into who these men are and the ceremony that followed this change in leadership. Describing the two men in somewhat dissimilar ways, it is clear that a new way of thinking will come along with Bishop Barres’s installation as the head of the Diocese. Describing Bishop William Murphy as “a gregarious and outspoken man, is a doctrinal conservative who was not shy about wading into culture wars and politics. Before the 2016 presidential election, for example, he wrote a letter to be read aloud in all Sunday Masses that said support for abortion “should disqualify any and every such candidate from receiving our vote.” On the other hand, Bishop Barres has a rather differing personality than that of Bishop Murphy, Milano describes him as “…a different style. Naturally shy, he was described by his former flock in the Diocese of Allentown in Pennsylvania, where he had been bishop since 2009, as low-key, warm and personable. At the same time, he leans traditional in his Roman Catholic outlook. He is focused, he said in an interview, on what he calls the eternal truths of the church and has a deep personal practice of prayer.” While reading this portion of the article, I was greatly reminded of the shift we spoke of in class of the Catholic Church, starting as a “churchly orientation” and shifting overtime towards a “denominational orientation”. I see a sort of connection with the shift in the Catholic Church’s typology and the shift from Bishop Murphy to Barres.
The small-scale case study of two sectarian / cultic religions in modern society within chapter four of Religion, the Social Context was in my opinion the most interesting segment of the assigned reading. Going into this social anthropology class with a tabooed definition of both the words “cult” and “sect”, it is fascinating to see both me and my peer’s meanings of these words change while learning more about them. McGuire writes in particular of two modern-day sectarian or cultic groups, the Women of Truth and the Meditation Circle. Before getting into the logistics of each of these groups, McGuire gives us some stats to look at. She states that in the Women of Truth group there are solely women practicing, their age ranging from 35 – 55, “most had some college education, but only about a third had graduated and none had advanced education”, all women were either married or widowed, and lastly, “virtually all were homemakers whose husbands earned middle-class incomes in business or lower-professional generally white-collar occupations” (McGuire 188). On the other hand, the Meditation Circle was a mix of both women and men, ages ranging from 30 – 60, “nearly all had or were studying for college degrees, and about half had advanced degrees”, less than half of the members were married, and “all but two members were employed out of the home. The income range was also greater, with three members who worked in the fine and preforming arts earning near-poverty incomes and some in established professionals (architect, lawyer, psychotherapist) earning enough to be in the upper-fifth income bracket in the region” (McGuire 189). What interested me most was seeing how much freedom and diversity there was within the Meditation Circle and comparing it to the rigidness and structure of the Women of Truth. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a direct correlation between diversity of people with diversity of practice and vice versa (one “type” of person and one type of practice).