I read about the siege in Waco, Texas in my other religions class. I knew that the Branch Davidians and the FBI were in a sort of face off, in that the Branch Davidians were preparing for the end time and Judgement Day and that the FBI thought that they were a menace of sorts. I also knew that the siege lasted 51 days until the FBI finally entered the compound and many people died. What I did not know, however, was that James Tabor and Phil Arnold had tried to help the FBI. Both Arnold and Tabor have experience with the Book of Revelation and apocalypticism. They tried to make sense of David Koresh’s monologues in order for the FBI to communicate with the Branch Davidians effectively. Tabor and Arnold discussed the interpretation of the Book of Revelation and the Seven Seals on a radio talk show that Koresh was known to listen to. They thought that Koresh saw himself and his followers as, essentially, bringers of Judgement Day. Koresh was trying to break the Seven Seals and believed he was in the Fifth Seal, which meant that he and his followers would have to die in order to bring about Judgement Day. However, Arnold and Tabor argued on the talk show that Koresh would have to write a manuscript on the Seven Seals before doing so. They were hoping in doing this, that Koresh and the Branch Davidians would not become martyrs. We can assume that this worked since Koresh was, in fact, working on a manuscript. Unfortunately, the ignorance and impatience of the FBI led to a fatal showdown. I knew that the FBI had failed to communicate with the Branch Davidians but I did not realize that they were so close to a peaceful surrender. Now, we can only speculate, but as Tabor explains, Koresh was working on a manuscript and likely would have surrendered once it was completed. Tragically, the FBI were ignorant of the scriptures which Koresh often quoted and were worried that Koresh was stalling and trying to manipulate them. It was a tragedy that I think could have ultimately been avoided.
It was interesting to see these five narratives laid out, in a way, against each other. I realize now that I have seen these narratives throughout the class; however, at the time, I did not realize that they each argued a different point of view. Four of these narratives are exemplified in Peggy Levitt’s God Needs No Passport. In speaking with different religious groups, as well as different members of these groups, Levitt explains and analyzes these narratives. Levitt, herself, almost argues for a more secularized view of religion. Throughout the book she emphasizes the need for society to become more pluralistic in its view of religion. The way I saw it, secularization would allow for religions and religious practices to be more accepted across the board. There were a few people that Levitt interviewed who subscribed to “The ‘Good Old Way'” narrative. These were people who Levitt referred to as the strict faithful. They have a “reverence for rules“ in the words of Spickard. These are those individuals who adhere to the rules of their faith and take enjoyment out of it. That is how they practice their religion. The “Religious Reorganization” narrative was demonstrated by many of the individuals in God Needs No Passport since all of them were immigrants. Many of them explained how religious groups/communities that they are apart of in America help them to become integrated here, as well as keeping ties with their home country, or, in the case of the “religious global citizens”, ties with other believers around the globe. Levitt also has a section devoted to the “Religious Individualization” narrative. One could argue that the entire book follows along that narrative. Levitt speaks with individuals who explain what religion means to them, what beliefs they hold, and how they practice these beliefs. Levitt asked one woman in particular what she thought of the different ways people practice the religion she participated in. Her response was that she did not mind it since religion was such a personal thing, which fits the “Religious Individualization” narrative.
The group who presented Ammerman’s Sacred Stories, Spiritual Tribes handed out a few of Ammerman’s survey questions. We had briefly discussed after their presentation that these questions were quite suggestive in the way that they assume that the person answering is religious. I definitely feel that way when reading these questions; that they are specifically written for individuals who identify with a religion. I also feel like these questions follow the stereotype that people turn to religion in times of trouble, tragedy, and great change. It seems to be universally understood that individuals are either raised in a religion or they turn to religion in times of crisis. You do not often hear from groups of people who are religious simply because they felt some sort of connection or believed in a higher power because they “just do” or that is what makes sense to them. There are always these intricate and emotional conversion stories which give Nicholas Sparks a run for his money. On the other hand there are people who have stories of going to church with grandma and grandpa and all of their cousins and it is a huge tradition. Religion is part of what makes them a family. Personally, I do not have either of these stories. I go to a baptist church in which conversion stories are spoken of and celebrated often. Sometimes I wonder if I do not have some huge saving grace story or epiphany that perhaps I have not truly found God or connected with my religion. However, I remind myself that one does not necessarily have to have a tragic backstory in order to identify with a religion or subscribe to a certain belief. If it helps me to make sense of my life then that is enough.
In chapter 3, Chaves discusses three major changes in religious belief: decline in a confident belief in God, decline in a literal interpretation of the Bible, and an increase in spiritual expression.
In discussing these changes, Chaves explains that there is a correlation between higher education and a decline in the belief of a literal Bible. This statistic is not at all new nor surprising to me. When I was first looking at colleges to attend, my very religious father was quite critical about the schools that I was considering. He wanted me to attend CBU due to its close affiliation with a Christian church. The purpose of college itself: learning, obtaining a degree for a future desired career, meant nothing to him. He believed that if I attended a school that was not openly and rigorously Christian that I would become an evolution subscribing atheist. He argued this point using the same statistics that Chaves points out in this chapter. No matter how often I reminded my father that my attending college was going to have no effect on my religious beliefs, he continued to be skeptical and upset. Still today when I discuss what I am learning with him, he expresses his sort of disdain for my educational pursuit. He often argues with me about scientific studies such as GMOs and climate change. He also constantly worries that in my classes professors push their religious agendas upon me like in the film God’s Not Dead.
To my father’s surprise professors do not participate in any sort of religious judgement or recruitment of their students. However, much to his chagrin, I am not an advocate for a literal word-for-word interpretation of the Bible. My thoughts about interpreting the Bible are also not influenced in the slightest by the classes that I attend. I think that this correlation between higher education and a more “loose” interpretation of the Bible is not so much the education itself as opposed to students’ ability to question the world around them as well as reading “below the surface.” That does not necessarily mean that they no longer believe, although that could be the case sometimes. Like Susan in “Separate Realities” doubt and questioning can further your faith and relationship with God, in this case the Christian God.
In chapter 2, Chaves discusses American religious diversity trends. One trend that I found almost unbelievable was the increased acceptance and appreciation of religions. This comes as a shock, especially in today’s political climate where blatant racism and religious intolerance are seemingly everywhere. This is a good shock though. It shows us that although intolerance is publicized it is not the norm; and, as the trends show, it will increasingly not be the norm. I think that is what America should be all about. This country boasts about its diversity (and freedom, liberty etc.) but we do not always get to see that. In fact, we see more examples of the opposite. For example, the attacks on mosques and synagogues, as well as videos of people being overtly anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim. However, there is immense backlash to these discriminatory acts, and I think that is beautiful. No one deserves to be discriminated against nor targeted for their religious beliefs (nor any other reason for that matter).
In my own personal experience, I have family members and friends who identify with religions other than my own. And, as Chaves discusses, it has allowed me to not only accept their religions but to appreciate them as well, because they allow people who I love to be more or less “happy”.
I have increasing hope for future generations to become more accepting and appreciative of diversity. The way in which people stick up for each other (even total strangers) is remarkable and wonderful. Even if that begins with having a family member or friend of a different religious background than yourself. It will only grow and extend toward acquaintances and colleagues etc. until eventually there is universal tolerance. Now, I know that is ideal and borderline utopian, but I am hopeful.
In chapter 2, McGuire talks about religious legitimations: any form of established explanation given to justify a course of action.
What is interesting is that when I think of religious legitimations there is always a negative connotation. For example, certain conservative churches legitimizing the Pulse Nightclub shooting as a work of their God to punish the LGBTQ+ community. However, this is not how McGuire approaches legitimations in chapter 2, and rightfully so. It was interesting for myself to read about legitimations and think, “yeah, alright that makes sense” etc. etc. From an objective standpoint legitimations aren’t inherently evil as my brain likes to think they are. It is enlightening to see that legitimations are really just ways for religions/churches/social groups to explain their past behavior and shape future actions. For example, at my own church they encourage tithing (which is always optional by the way) not only as a way to obey God but also to provide resources for other members such as youth programs and other church locations. To explain this future course of action there is an appeal to the tradition of Christian tithing and compassion. I realize when I’m sitting in church I don’t necessarily think of this as evil. Perhaps that is because I am brainwashed (worst case scenario). Or it just isn’t evil? I suppose that is for others to decide as I am too embedded in the group.
I suppose that my takeaway from this is that not every legitimation from every religion is bad or has some underlying scheme. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t ones that can and are hurtful to some groups of people, but that isn’t necessarily the norm. As a result, I will work on (and try my best to) being more objective when it comes to these legitimations.