Last week, we attended the Wellness Symposium in the Orton Center. During the time we were there, we were able to see 3 different presentations: one about a new wellness festival, one about Catholics fighting for social justice, and lastly, social justice and the difference between just and unjust . I specifically found Dr. Spickard’s presentation most interesting because I feel that it related a lot to the topics in the course that we have covered and also some of the articles I have read on my own. The topic coincides with the idea of modern religion. Personally, I have older family members who are very devoted to their Catholic beliefs. They would never think to stray from the Bible and its teachings, but I think that as generations have progressed, we are taking the Bible less literally and fitting it to our own lives. While my grandparents are still devout Catholics, my mother considers herself Catholic but does not attend church, and my brothers do not consider themselves to be religious. This is not the case for all families, but it shows that religion with an individualized interpretation is growing. The Catholics that were represented in the presentation represented people in the faith who are willing to go further than most I know. They stepped out of their comfort zones to do something that they truly believed and thought was right and godly. While they do not practice traditionally, they fulfill the duties that they believe belong to them. An individual’s level of religiosity cannot be measured by an outsider because the way everyone follows a tradition is different.
Last Wednesday night, I attended my second congregation visit at the Redlands Christian Center. Because I am not a Christian and have never attended a secular church service before, I was a little anxious and curious to see what it would be like. I had certain expectations set because of the movie we watched in class, “Born Again”, but I wanted to walk in with an open and to fully embrace the people and the atmosphere of the church. When we walked in we were immediately greeted and hugged by two women at the front of the small church. Everyone in the church introduced themselves and immediately told us that we were welcomed anytime. The service started with three songs performed by the pastor, his son, and the two women that greeted us in the beginning. The rest of the service was a sermon given by the pastor that followed teachings directly from the bible. He compared the Bible to an instruction manual for a machine and that we were to follow it as literally and as directly as possible. He compared their congregation and other followers of God, to the rest of the people of the world and described them as sinners who had been led astray by Satan. These two aspects of the teachings were very different from the other more progressive congregation we went to, The United Church of Christ and actually resembled some of the ideas shown in the, “Born Again” movie. Ideas from McGuire’s book, such as a woman’s more subservient role in a church were also apparent in this congregation as we saw the differences between the jobs of the women and the men in the church. Overall, it was a good learning opportunity, but it was definitely different from other services and congregations I have been to.
After reading Marti’s, “Affinity, Identity, and Transcendence: The Experience of Religious Racial Integration in Diverse Congregations”, I began to question the diversity of my own childhood congregation back home and the other congregations I have attended in the past. Marti describes “Affinity with the Congregation”, “Identity Reorientation”, and “Ethnic Transcendence” as three moments that involve the acceptance and acknowledgement of mixing backgrounds within a congregation. I grew up in a traditional Roman Catholic church which was predominately white with a few Hispanics and African-Americans. I did not notice the lack of diversity in my church until I attended my friends Hare Krishna (ISKCON) temple in Laguna Beach. In elementary school, I spent many weekend there and I began to realize the diversity there than at my own church. Their temple was made up of an almost equal mix of whites, Indians, Asians, and a few African-Americans. Although not all races were equally represented, it was more mixed than what I had experienced before. For this course, my first congregational visit was at a “progressive” Christian church. The demographic of the church was nearly all white, but they expressed the importance of standing with our multiracial “brothers and sisters” through times of trouble and success. I think that as time and beliefs progress, some churches will grow more mixed and others will become more strictly defined by the attendance of one race.
Zimbauer’s, “Religion and Spirituality”, shows and discusses the methods and results of a study to find correlations between religiousness and spirituality. Questioning primarily white respondents from a multitude of ages and beliefs, they asked how people identified, whether they felt if there was an overlap between the two, and looked to find whether there was a positive or negative connotation tied with either or both of the categories. The study found that spirituality was more closely linked to individual experience, while religiousness was tied to structured beliefs, groups, and organizations. The article showed a graph of each of the groups (religiously affiliated and not) questioned and showed their responses to whether they were religious, spiritual, or both. It was more common for New Age groups to identify with spirituality that religion and although spirituality had overall higher responses, Roman Catholics identified as both almost equally. Through the progression of this course there has been more and more evidence to show that identification with religion has been decreasing and spirituality has been increasing. After reading this article and Nancy Ammerman’s, “Sacred Stories, Sacred Tribes”, I have learned that it is possible to identify as both religious and spiritual, religious and not spiritual, and spiritual and not religious. I have begun to question which way our society will move with the shift from religiousness to spirituality. Will the ways our religious communities practice change to adapt to what people are believing? Will western religions grow more similar to eastern religions by focusing on one’s self and meditating? It will be interesting to see how these categories shift over time and if they stay separate categories all together.
One of the “Six Stories About Religion” is the idea that religion is becoming increasingly and militantly conservative. One of the cultural trends of this is the reaction to modernity. In the article, “Would Jesus be a gentrifier? How Christianity is embracing urban renewal”, published in The Guardian, Joel Duddell, describes an emerging urban community called, Stokes Croft. Stokes Croft began as a group of abandoned Victorian buildings and over the course of a two decades, has eventually developed into an urban community with artisan coffee shops, craft ale pubs ,and is adorned with local art. Although the building is not obvious to tourists or visitors, Stokes Croft, like most communities, also has it’s own church. At the LoveBristol church, members, “pursue idiosyncratic beliefs within a loose structure – a belief in prophecy, speaking in tongues, and the power of the Holy Spirit in instigating modern-day miracles.” (Duddell). Although studies have shown that religious attendance and beliefs have been decreasing since the 1930s, evangelical, charismatic, Pentecostal and other “new churches” have almost doubled in size while Anglican, Catholic, and Presbyterian churches continue to shrink. While it is not very common now, churches like LoveBristol could gradually become more appealing to newer communities as they begin growing.
Although sociologists do not agree on the cause of declining religion, I do think it is interesting to think about how big of an impact religion can have on a person’s everyday life. The idea of institutional differentiation, “the fragmentation of social life, as specialized roles and institutions are created to handle specific tasks are functions” (McGuire 286) is one of the debatable reasons for why beliefs in a religion or attendance at a church is declining. Because programs such as Welfare are replacing the Poor Box, a collection of money and/or gifts for the needy by the church, less involvement within the church is required. The implementation of law and the court system eliminated the necessary prosecution’s defined by the church in the Middle Ages. As time passes, our society will continue to advance. Societies strive to eliminate the needs of people and more and more projects and technologies will be created to do that. If our government takes care of problems once solved by participating churches, such as not being able to provide necessities for themselves, fewer church volunteers will feel that it is their job to do so. If we give people a physical and more obtainable way to find answers like therapy or law, fewer people will need to look to their church when they encountered problems. Because many people consider their religion to be sacred and essential to their way of life, I do not think that religion will fade out altogether, but I do think it will always change and conform to what society needs at that point in time.
I have always viewed religion, in general, as a way to find comfort, love, and meaning in all things. Regardless of name or following, religion, in my eyes, has been something positive and powerful enough to change bad things to good. Religion has the power to legitimize even things that are not related to it and that amount of power could become dangerous. Religious legitimation of the status quo, as written in McGuire’s, “Religion: The Social Context”, is sometimes, “the result of direct collusion between the dominant classes and the dominant religious organizations” (McGuire 241). Whether a ruler enforces a national religion or a separation between church and state, religion can set certain standards as to how a nation is governed. By choosing to govern a nation under a religion, the unity within that community will grow. It is easier to legitimize wars and new rulers when everyone lives their lives by the same set of moral codes and standards. The idea of Divine Right allowed monarchs to maintain their power, regardless of the decisions they made, while simultaneously preventing others from reaching the same level of power. Religion has legitimized, “slavery and racial segregation, industrialization and anti unionism, warfare and international policy” (242). Although we have the separation of church and state, recent debates about Planned Parenthood have made the separation feel smaller and smaller. It is daunting to see how much influence religion has had in history and it is even more intimidating to think of how our future in America could be affected by the same thing.
Last Sunday, I attended a service at the Redlands United Church of Christ. This congregation considers themselves to be a group of “progressive Christians” who on their website “welcome people of all races, genders, and sexual orientations”. Because I have only attended a Catholic church prior to this, the openness of this church really surprised me. Published in the New York Times, Ross Douthat discusses the political leanings of the Pope in his article, “Springtime for Liberal Christianity”. This article discusses how different this Pope has been compared to those in the decades before. Although in interviews he claims to not be left leaning politically, his actions and claims towards sexuality, marriage, and abortion say otherwise. According to the article, many claim that Christianity cannot be liberal. The more liberal they, the further the teachings are from scripture. Although I’m not sure if I personally agree with this because I do not have a background knowledge or further evidence to prove it, the sermon I saw on Sunday demonstrated this claim. The sermon was focused on Black History Month and while God’s equal love for everyone was mentioned, there was a lack of scripture to support it. Because I have only attended one service, I can say that the claim the article made is common or true, but it was interesting to see it played out in a real “progressive” church service.
After listening to the Reinventing American Protestantism presentation, I began thinking about what people really look for within religion. People turn to religion for many reasons. Religions of all kinds provide a sense of structure, community, and security. Growing up in a Catholic church, I always understood that I was to remain quiet and attentive while the Father gave his sermon. I learned from the presentation that some Protestant churches are reforming the way they worship into something that is more energizing and interactive. In these new churches, such as my best friend’s church, Sandals, in Riverside, CA, church services are said to resemble concerts with intricate stage set ups and loud live music. The pastors of the church consider themselves equal rather than higher than the church goers they are preaching to. Because these churches have only recently been appearing, it makes me wonder whether new generations are finding it harder to sit through traditional, less interactive services. With the rise of technology and media, our society is being groomed to need constant stimulation from the world around us. These new churches are doing just that. Instead of listening to an individual speak in a white-walled chapel with fifty people from around town, church attendees can enter a massive warehouse, surrounded by hundreds, dancing and singing to God as colorful lights flash, and massive screens project a concert. By keeping services casual and interactive, it is harder to lose focus or interest in what is being taught because of everything that is happening around them. While some may need the structure of a traditional church sermon, I think it is interesting to see churches develop to fit new needs of society.
On Monday, my group presented the key points and ideas of Nancy Tatom Ammerman’s, “Sacred Stories, Spiritual Tribes”. Throughout the book, Ammerman uses real experiences and stories to describe spirituality from different religious perspectives. In, “A Spirituality For Hot-Mess Times #LoveTakesAction”, published in The Huffington Post, Rev. Jacqueline J. Lewis, Ph.D. writes how she finds God in her own daily life. Like Ammerman’s book, she writes about meditation and it’s spiritual ability. However, also similar to some of Ammerman’s interviewees, Lewis finds God and her spirituality through the world around her. Whether she is walking on the street, or enjoying the waves of the ocean she feels, “God there; She is marching, dancing, singing, chanting with [her]”. In “Sacred Stories, Spiritual Tribes”, it was common for people to feel the presence of God through other daily routines such as: gathering for dinner around the table, listening to specific songs, and gardening. Regardless of religious beliefs, I think that finding spirituality within one’s self and world around them is important. Practicing any form of spirituality is a great way to focus on goals and to find positivity in life.