Last Thursday, we spent our class time presenting our second congregation visits. While most information in the presentations had been covered during the first round of congregation visits, this time around I was able to focus less on the details of each organization and instead appreciate Redlands’ religious diversity as a whole. I realized that this diversity is what allows people to not only be picky and shop around for a goldilocks church (perpetuating the religious market narrative), but it also encourages more participation in organized religion as a whole. Because they have so many options, people are more likely to find a church that matches not only their belief system but the kind of community and level of commitment they are looking for. If there are fewer churches to choose from, families and individuals might feel too much like they are conforming to something they don’t fully believe in and end up not joining a church at all.
Sticking with the vernacular of the religious market narrative, I think that to an extent it is the responsibility of the congregation responsibility to convince potential members that the “goods” they provide can meet their needs. Extra efforts to recruit could be the difference in whether they decide to return or not, but it is nearly impossible to know exactly what people are looking for. I think it would be very cool if there was an application that helped match people with religious organizations. After entering their basic preferences(religion/belief system, size of congregation, length of service, anonymity or community, etc), the app could find which nearby organization(s) best fit the individual’s needs. Users could see which of their friends go to which churches, and view detailed profiles of each organization. The app could also give organizations access to data that reflects what most people are looking for, so they can adjust based on demand. Perhaps this is oversimplifying, or it has been done before, but I think this app could make the process of joining a church easier, and has the potential to increase membership in religious organizations wherever it is implemented.
In his article Ritual, Symbol, and Experience: Understanding Catholic Worker House Masses, James Spickard breaks down the weekly house masses at the Los Angeles Catholic Worker commune. I found it compelling that in this article, Spickard took the time to point out the differences between how male priests and female celebrants led the mass. While priests followed the standard liturgy (with a slight Worker twist), female celebrants were more likely to cite readings outside of Scripture and incorporate the congregants in priestly duties, effectively eliminating the traditional Catholic hierarchy during the mass.
This concept of gender affecting religious leadership caught my attention because it was reminiscent of the religious leaders I have encountered during my two congregation visits. For the first assignment, I visited Redlands United Church of Christ (RUCC), at which Rev. Dr. Jill A. Kirchner-Rose served as senior minister. While she held perhaps the foremost title at the congregation, Rev. Jill only led two small parts of the service– she didn’t even lead the sermon, though this was due to a guest preacher (another female). It is also worth noting that neither of these women referred to biblical stories as the basis for their overarching message.
The second congregation I visited was The Door Fellowship Church, where the service was led by Pastor Rich Cox. Pastor Rich led the majority of the service, only stepping aside at the beginning when a young man sang the opening songs, and when a couple other young men recited short prayers throughout. In fact, it appeared as though all leadership positions were occupied by men. Pastor Rich directly referenced and even quoted the Bible in his sermon, constantly including Jesus and the Lord by name.
Because the two congregations appeared to have vastly different worldviews, I failed to consider the role of gender in religious leadership before reading Spickard’s article. I don’t think it is possible to easily extract the role of gender when posed across denominations, but I find it interesting that it could play such a large role in the structure of religious services.
In her 1996 presidential address Organized Religion in a Voluntaristic Society, Nancy Ammerman mentions how Conservative Judaism emphasizes commitment as a spiritual journey rather than as an either/or facet of modern life. My experience with Conservative Judaism confirms this notion, and this characteristic of the religion is a huge part of what has drawn me to it.
Because nobody forced the religion upon me or insisted that I must have certain beliefs to call myself Jewish, I have always felt at home at synagogue, which set a solid foundation to build off of as a young adult. Since then, I have developed genuine interest in studying the mitzvot and adhere to as many as I can in my daily life. This contrasts with others in our class who described their religiosity as declining, but they came from different backgrounds– it is easier to feel welcomed in a religious community when you don’t feel judged or looked down upon for failing to achieve total piety. It’s not that the standard for piety is lower, it just takes intention and the implications of modern society into account. If I came from a religious background in which they required you to totally buy in right away, there is a good chance that I would be on a completely different spiritual journey than I am today.
Before reading Ammerman’s work, I didn’t realize that this emphasis on the journey was particularly a feature of Judaism. It makes me wonder when this ideology began, and whether it was a response to a decline in Jewish followers or an existing facet that helps explain the rise in Conservative Judaism today.
*********So sorry this is late, I forgot to post and I’m just hoping to avoid a zero!
This week our jigsaw readings and presentations were centered around different secularization theories, and Thursday’s class made me start thinking about whether secularization or religiosity is better for society as a whole. My first thought was that religion is probably beneficial to society, since so much volunteering and charity work is done through religious organizations. A religious society would theoretically be very happy, too, since religion is meant to provide a sense of purpose. It also crossed my mind that a large religious presence could result in lower crime rates, not only because good morals often come with piety, but because programing outside of weekend services can help keep idle hands busy. However, a quick Google search revealed that Vatican City had the highest crime rate in the world in 2017.
While religion is beneficial to society, and America remains a relatively religious player on the worldstage, it is my experience that my generation as a whole is moving further from organized religion. Most people I know hardly go to church if at all, and a lot of those people are atheists. I think this might have to do with how socially and intellectually progressive my generation is. Most people my age believe in gender equality and accept the LGBT community, which both go against the beliefs of some mainstream religions, and these fallacies bring into question the logic of other religious stories, such as those surrounding the creation of the universe.
In Chapter 8 of Religion: The Social Context, McGuire describes the narrative of religious individualization, which refers to “the degree to which individuals choose among various religious options, crafting a custom-made religious life, rather than choosing a package formulated by religious institutions.”
While some may have a hard time grasping this concept of patchwork-religion, my father immediately came to mind as a perfect example. He grew up in Protestant household, and was taught to believe wholeheartedly in G-d and Jesus Christ. He went to church on Easter and Christmas with his family, but aside from that his life was very secular. With fatherhood, my dad became more interested in religion and spirituality. When I was young, he read the Bible all the time and taught me and my brothers about Protestant tradition, even though we were raised Jewish. Over time, my father started gravitating away from traditional Protestantism and seeking more spiritual fulfillment. Soon, he began meditating and worshiping Paramahansa Yogananda, an Indian yogi and guru, insisting regular meditation made his everyday life easier.
While the changes I observed pointed towards conversion, my father continued reading the Bible throughout this process, and even worshipped pictures of Jesus beside pictures of Yogananda. Eventually, I asked about his religious identity, and he explained that he identified as a “Christian yogi”. He found a way to quench his spiritual thirst without giving up his belief in Jesus, and didn’t mind the stark lack of like-minded individuals around him. This made-up title and blending of two separate belief systems into one satisfying way of life is pretty much the definition of religious individualization, and I had the opportunity to observe it first hand growing up.
Also, it would make sense that when children are exposed to religious individualization, they are more likely to explore unconventional modes of religious expression later and life, which certainly fits the religious individualization narrative.
The week before spring break, I found out that a friend of mine from home overdosed and passed away. He was my age and amazing person, and has been all that’s on my mind since then, so I figured I might as well right about him here. Until this past week, I never realized how religious the mourning process is, regardless of the mourners’ affiliation or lack thereof.
While mourning, I couldn’t help but let my thoughts spiral into all that is unknown about the afterlife. There are so many different explanations for what happens when you die, both religious and nonreligious, yet nobody knows for sure. The most common religious belief about the afterlife in the United States is probably that of some kind of reward or punishment for life, but other religions have very different beliefs. Jews, for example, are famously vague on the matter because it is mentioned so little in the Old Testament. As a Jewish person, this didn’t help me much. However, the Old Testament does mention the immortality of the soul, and this did give me something to grasp to.
My friend’s wake, on the other hand, was completely nonreligious, and all about love and remembrance. The jargon used at the wake and by most of my friends did not reference utopia or damnation or even G-d. They spoke of him “moving on to a better place”, “watching over us”, and how he’d “always be with us”. While these phrases sort of align with religious beliefs, they are certainly more focused around my friend being remembered than of him facing judgement.
I find it interesting that these people in mourning tended to use secular verbiage despite the religious experience they were going through. There was unspoken agreement that remembering the short life of a fine young man was more important than potentially competing religious worldviews.
In Chapter 5 of American Religion: Contemporary Trends, Chaves discusses the trend of increased informality not only in worship, but in broader American culture as well.
Growing up, the expectations for what I wore and how I acted at synagogue were made very clear to me not only by my parents, but by the example of my peers. I dressed up for Saturday services and high holidays, always sure to choose something loose-fitting, that covered my shoulders. I was taught to respect the adults of my synagogue, and make eye contact and listen intently when they were speaking, whether it be directly to me or to the group. Before I could even read Hebrew, I would follow along in the prayer book with my finger, and once I could read Hebrew, I followed along just as intently. I have retained these habits, and didn’t fully realize there was a religious reality outside of my own cultural norms until fairly recently. Doing my congregation visit reminded me of how much these norms very from one community to another. I find it interesting that while American culture is increasingly informal, I am still much more comfortable in formal religious settings than in more informal ones.
Chaves also mentions the upward trend of children addressing adults by their first names. As a child, my parents did not emphasize using titles rather than first names for adults. Instead, I would call elders and peers alike by whatever name they were introduced to me as. At the same time, I recognized the implied respect that went along with using titles. Discrepancies between how I referred to my elders and how today’s children refer to their elders is most obvious to me in the area of family members. When I was young, I found it socially appropriate to call my aunts “Aunt Lori” and “Aunt Lisa”, and use similar titles for my uncles and grandparents, as a way of letting them and others know I respect them every time I refer to them. I think I realized at a young age that when you respect others they are more likely to listen to what you have to say, but that is beside the point. My biggest pet peeve is when children (specifically in my family) call their aunts, uncles, and even grandparents by their first names. Hearing my younger brother refer to our grandfather as “Jerry” is infuriating. From what I can tell about this younger generation (from my very limited realm of knowledge), the lack of verbal respect for elders points towards less automatic respect overall, which I think has something to do with increased access to technology, but that is just my speculation.
Yesterday I did my congregation visit at Redlands United Church of Christ, and brought along my friend Zayda for moral support. She and I have very different religious backgrounds, and I didn’t realize how much that would affect our individual takeaways from the service.
I am used to attending a conservative synagogue, where services mainly consisted of traditional prayers in Hebrew and interpreting part of the Torah. From my point of view, the service was very laid back and fairly secular: Those attending the service dressed casually– there were no ties or dresses in sight. A couple of hymns were chanted, but the majority of songs were about love rather than about Jesus, and even written by popular artists like The Beatles and John Lennon– I would never hear their voices at my temple. The church’s ideology seemed to be focused around acceptance of everyone, like Jesus, but again, G-d and Jesus were hardly mentioned directly. The sermon wasn’t even about an explicit bible story, which baffled me.
Zayda’s religious experience was very different from mine– her family attends a nondenominational church, where services are very lively, often beginning with a near-concert, and singing along to songs about Jesus is crucial. In contrast to my experience, she described the service as very formal and “churchy”. The first difference she noticed was that they sat in pews– while comfortable to me, she was used to worshipping in chairs and felt very exposed. She found the fact that aside from two hymns the congregation didn’t sing along very traditional, and even expressed that the chanting of any hymns was unheard of in her place of worship.
If Zayda hadn’t accompanied me, I would not have realized that anyone might consider the RUCC service “traditional”. Before this experience I was unaware of how different modern, progressive churches could be in such a small geographic area.
I find it very interesting that “extrascientific explanations” can be so interwoven ad/or coexistent with official religion. As a practicing Jewish person, I am very familiar with numerology and its prevalence in Judaism. I learned when I was very young that the number 18 somehow spelled out the Hebrew word for “life”, and haven’t questioned the correlation or logic since. Although I was aware of the concept of numerology, I never thought of it as a stand alone belief system. I just assumed it was an exclusively Jewish concept, and one that did not fall anywhere near in the same category as UFOs or witchcraft.
Another practice I never considered comparable to religion is astrology. I have been around astrology my entire life, but I have never really delved in too deeply. However, I have always known that I am a Scorpio, and the related basic traits. I have observed that this is a commonality among most people in modern society– astrology is acknowledged as existent, but not necessarily believed in. I found it fascinating that McGuire felt the need to say that astrology can exist alongside official religion, because I never thought of the two as conflicting. I have several people in my life who subscribe wholeheartedly to astrology, and also express belief in G-d. Now that I think about it further, it does offer explanations for goings on in everyday life and personal tendencies that might otherwise be justified by religion.
In chapter 3 of American Religion: Contemporary Trends, Chaves discusses the phenomenon of more and more people claiming to be ‘spiritual, but not religious’. Given other statistics relayed in the reading, such as the declining confident belief in G-d and declining religious socialization, this makes a lot of sense.
Although there seems to be trouble in the scientific community differentiating between religion and spirituality, my experience with both has helped me define the difference. To me, being spiritual means seeking familiarity with your soul and your place and purpose in the universe. It means searching for the meaning of life, and for inner peace. Many religions provide answers to these inquiries, often relating directly to belief in a higher power, but religion is also much more than that. Religion is also tradition, ritual, and community. My experience growing up in a Reform synagogue was largely centered around these latter components. While G-d and belief were discussed, my Jewish identity began with celebrating Chanukah and Passover every year. Simply participating in these traditions made me feel distinctly Jewish. In addition, every year of elementary school my mother would come into school and teach the history of Chanukah to my class. This fueled me with pride in my community and our history, and had nothing to do with belief or spirituality.
While spirituality is an essential part of religion, spirituality can (and does) exist outside of religion. When people say they are ‘spiritual, but not religious’, I think this means they don’t participate in the traditions or rituals of a certain religious community, but they might believe in a higher power or seek the meaning of life.