On Wednesday the class attended a talk given by Jim Spickard in which his central question was: How do we sustain this life? The talk presented spiritual narratives of social justice Catholics. I found the topic to be fascinating since I had been raised Catholic but then strayed away from in high school. However, my upbringing in Catholicism is a major reason why I became passionate about social justice issues. It was inspiring to hear the stories of these Catholics and how they have used activism as a way to practice their beliefs. It was also interesting to see how some of them didn’t stick to traditional Catholic ways, but instead adopted modern ways of believing and worship. I have thought about trying to get in touch with my Catholic past, however I didn’t know how to without having to believe in some of the fundamentalist views. However, this group shows how religion works through them through activism. There was a quote that stuck out to me that someone who Jim interviewed said, “If I stop working for justice, I stop being human.” That was powerful for me because I resonated with those words. This talk allowed me to see how I can connect my Catholic past to my passions about social justice today.
The Rock Church identifies as a non-denominational, sectarian, Pentecostal Protestant congregation. Located in San Bernardino, the members of this congregation make up a diverse community which reflects the demographics of the area. This church isn’t your usual, traditional sectarian church. On the contrary, it is a sectarian church that has adopted modern methods of worship and service. The church’s venue is actually in a theater with a stage and gigantic television screens. They use live, church rock music to open up the service. They have embraced the use of advanced technologies to better engage and attract its members. Although very modern, it still held characteristics of traditional sectarian beliefs. These included looking to the Bible to solve life’s problems, believing in the Bible in a very literal sense, and believing in heaven or hell after death. Additionally, because this congregation identifies as Pentecostal Protestant, it means that they have a special connection to God through being saved by the Holy Spirit. They believe being “born again” is the only way to salvation. In my paper about this congregation I outlined 5 concepts that I observed and studied in my readings for class. These included the use of advanced technology, the diversity, the group’s meaning system, theodicies, and the belief in salvation through being “born again”.
With all that’s been going on this last year like the presidential election and Trump’s travel ban, a new survey shows that Americans are actually feeling warmer towards people in every religious group – including Muslims – than they did 3 years ago. The survey was conducted by the Pew Research Center who polled 4,248 adults. Muslims and atheists – who have long been targets of prejudice in the US – received substantially warmer ratings on the scale than they did in a survey in 2014: Muslims rose to 48% from 40%, and atheists to 50% from 41%. Buddhism, Hinduism, and Mormons also increased in percentage. The only group that did not improve their standing from 3 years ago were Evangelical Christians. This is interesting since Evangelical Christians back up hundreds of senators in Congress. Another interesting point, is that after the presidential campaign, Muslims reported a wave of harassment on the streets and on their mosques. Jewish institutions reported the same. It seems as though the US is becoming a more pluralist society, however as we can see in many ways it is not. The fact that the survey showed that more Americans are feeling more ‘warmly’ to other religious groups is a positive thing, however, I hope their actions reflect that as well.
Before taking this class, I believed America was a pretty religious country but perhaps was becoming more secular because of modernization and education. However the articles I read this week articulated that the traditional model of secularization theory does not match up with the real data collected. The traditional model states that industrialization, urbanization, and rationalization came to dominate society, while religious loses it’s importance. However through Finke’s research, he ultimately argues that this model is false when looking at the US because the US is exceptional when it comes to its relationship with religion. His research and evidence show that religious organizations and commitment of individuals remain vital. The most rapidly growing denominations hold a firm belief in the literal interpretation of the Bible. The lack of religious regulation in the US have kept the country religious since the beginning. Because there is a separation of religion and state, sectarian movements formed quickly because there was no fear from the State. In fact religious leaders believed that sectarian groups benefited those with less privilege and the working class or “uneducated”. As a result, it has created a testing ground for religious innovation, have appealed to a large segments of the population, and held a special appeal to the working classes. So for those who believe the US is becoming less religious, guess again because the country remains religious for the most part, however beliefs and personal faiths have just shifted. Many people are not saying they are “spiritual” rather than religious.
In class we discussed that religion changes society when religious people act out of faith and moral sense of what it means to be human, paired with the social setting of the point in history. Many people want to resist Trump’s presidency and that can be manifested in several ways. Resisting can be seen as activism, anger, violent, or nonviolent. Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh is considered to be on of the world’s leading spiritual leaders, and is known for creating the idea of Engaged Buddhism, a method of linking mindfulness with social action. His central message on activism is that mindfulness gives people the ability to find peace in themselves, so that their actions come from a place of compassion. The Buddhist teaching of interdependence is a tool to look at the presidency of Trump in a different light: that people we perceive as our enemies can be our greatest teachers, because they show aspects of ourselves that we might often hide. Some Buddhists are saying that Trump is a product of a certain way of being in this world, but we could have elements of Trump and it is helpful to reflect on that.
The sociology of religion asks: Under what conditions does religion have the greatest impact on society, and under what conditions is religion’s influence likely to inhibit or promote change change? The inequalities throughout history to modern time and institutions of oppression have stemmed from religious beliefs. Religion began with giving status to some while inadvertently creating levels of hierarchy, gender roles, and racial power dynamics. Ch. 7 of Mcguire’s “Social Context” conveys that religious organizations have frequently vested interests in protecting their own alliance with dominant groups in political and economic spheres. Through religious belief the idea of the white supremacy has legitimized racism that is now imbedded in our institutions. Religious people supported colonization and imperialism which in the United States turned into legitimizing slavery. This has kept one power and privilege to a certain group, while marginalizing others.
Yet, religion can serve has a platform to create social change with their beliefs. In class we discussed that religion changes society when religious people act out of faith and moral sense of what it means to be human, paired with the social setting of the point in history. Out of all the pain the slaves endured during the slavery times in the US, the one thing they had was religion. As a result the civil rights stemmed from Black preachers in Black churches. MLK’s voice of a preacher made his speeches all that more powerful. Religions have the ability to organize hundreds if not thousands of people to have similar beliefs, and could influence change in society.
My experience with religion has been one that rather than promote social change and modernity, it centered around traditional, I would call “outdated” values. I’m a person that has always wanted to create social change to better people’s lives, specifically those who have been marginalized. In our current day, we need people from all sides to unite under common ground to resist a fascist president. Ch. 7 of the “Social Context” delves into the impact of religion on social change and how while it has been used to maintain the status quo, it could also be an enormous vehicle to promote change.
Earlier in the book we learned the historical construct of religion and the power it gave some, while purposely denying power to others. McGuire speaks of one way that religion has been used to simply maintain traditional values is by reactionary movements that typically fight “modernity” and urge the cultural return to values and norms of an earlier, more “pure” era. This goal translates into crusades against equal rights for women, abortion, sex education in schools, gay rights, and other nontraditional family lifestyles (240). Simultaneously though, religion is a promoter of social change through its vision of how things might or ought to be (245). This is due to religion’s history in uniting people’s beliefs with their actions and their ideas with their social lives.
If more religions now a days could unite its people to fight against a common enemy, then social change could be a real possibility. People can have different political ideologies, but have the same faith and with that, we can find similarities amongst a multitude of differences.
For my denominational congregation visit, I attended a service at the Second Baptist Church, located in Redlands. As someone who has only attended Catholic masses, it was an extremely different experience which I enjoyed very much. I was almost overwhelmed at how kind and welcoming everyone was towards me. Many gave me hugs or a hand shake when I said that I was a new visitor. They asked me why I was there and when I told them I was there as part of my Sociology and Religion curriculum they were thrilled. Their way of worshipping was fascinating to observe from a sociological stand point. Live music, dancing, jumping, shouting, and out loud praising were all ways in which they worshipped and worked specifically towards this group because of their cultural similarity. These are aspects that I found appealing because it kept me consistently engaged throughout the 2 hour service, something that I had difficulty with at the Catholic churches that I had attended. I was also able to make several connections between what I observed and what I had been reading in “The Social Context” and “American Religion”. It gave several explanations as to why this congregation functioned in the way that it did. When the service was over, I found myself wanting to come back again and I don’t even consider myself a religious person. Yet the people and sense of community that I felt was powerful. I would encourage any one to attend a service at Second Baptist.
The article I chose for this week does not relate to a topic discussed in class, but serves as a reminder that climate change is the most pressing issue that humans of faith and no faith need to acknowledge and address.
This article speaks about religious involvement within the environmental movement. I for one did not know that certain religious leaders speak out about this issue because I had never seen it. The article stated that climate change wasn’t just an economic, science, and political issue, but an issue of our morals and our spiritual commitment. Pope Francis actually called on all people to take care of creation because it has been entrusted to them by God. He went on to make several other points such as an economy of excess has created an economy of exclusion because it is the poor who suffer most from lack of water, food and economic opportunity. So climate change isn’t just about the weather changing, but it is about how we see ourselves as active participants in nature and if that relationship is a positive one. It is also an issue about how we care for other people. I hope more religious leaders encourage people to engage in living more sustainable.
It is quite interesting reading about how religion can hold people together, but just as well tear them apart while we are living in this time in history. Durkheim stated that social cohesion occurred through people who were similar with each other and religion being central to this similarity. Now when we bring civil religion and nationalism into the same topic, we see a pattern especially in the United States. Civil religion tells us that God has a relationship with the U.S. if we lead the country in the “right” way. Now since the beginning of this country’s history this idea led to “Manifest Destiny” which has become cause and justification for genocide against Native Americans, racism against slaves, xenophobia, etc. It’s this idea that religion and nationalism go together because God loves this country IF we run it a certain way, and I’d go far as to say, exclude some people out. This priestly civil religion states that “our kind of people” are the best and therefore, what we say goes. It’s quite interesting that Trump is running this country under this very same rhetoric. “America 1st” is not a new concept and involves putting us before anyone else because God has a special relationship with us. It’s truly disheartening because this kind of belief is not inclusive of all people. Obama heavily stressed a more prophetic civil religion view in that we have a higher calling and certain ideals to meet if we are to call ourselves great. This focused on more caring about your neighbor, and reminding us that what makes this country great is our diversity.