This week, we discussed one of my favorite things: organizations! While the types and system for categorizing religions is complicated, it is comforting to understand that these exist, so people do not get confused. The “Separate Realities” documentary we watched really hit the nail on the head about the differences of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and First Baptist Church. The discussion we had regarding the churches respective congregation members raised an important aspect of belief and belonging. Each person felt that their church filled a hole in their life that would have otherwise been left empty. Key insights that I found particularly interesting was how each of the church-goers seem to view their religious experience as a method of coping with past deeds, and it helps them re-evaluate their lives on a major scale. While the Episcopalian found her relationship with God to be a more personal nature, the Baptist made it his sworn duty to tell others about Jesus—because that is what he is called to do, it is his purpose in life.
Furthermore, chapter five of McGuire’s text reinforced the evidence of people’s social environment having an affect on their religious life. The sorting system of either a churchly, denominational, sectarian, or cultic orientation certainly helps, poll-wise, to separate how these organizations are operating. I know figuring out whether an organization is hierarchical, congregational, or individualized is a critical sociological element that will come in handy later in life. Overall, the church has become not only a place of worship to some, but a place of social interaction where people can learn from one another—religiously and personally.
In class this week, we discussed several forms of organized religion, one of these ways being “charismatic” organization. As we know, in the United States, there has been a decline in the number of people who attend organized religions services over the past few years. Speaking from personal experience, I would have to say that this phenomenon could be attributed to the lack of entertainment that church provides for younger generations, and sometimes even older ones.
Growing up, I remember going to church and my parents always walking up to the pastor and thanking him for his beautiful sermon. Eventually that pastor left our church (for reasons unknown) and we got a new one, who my parents weren’t so fond of, he was older, slower and not as entertaining; he had no charisma. My family, along with many others, actually stopped going to mass because he was that boring. When presented with the idea of a charismatic polity on class, I realized that, for my family, church isn’t about the story that is being told, but rather, HOW it is being told and the emotions that the speaker evokes from their audience.
It is interesting to see this pattern repeated over and over again throughout the US. In Lakewood Church, Texas, Lakewood Church, one of the flagships of the megachurch phenomenon in America, more than 40,000 member each week attend service, and yet when asked what denomination it belongs to, the typical answer would be “none”. There is a uniquely American quality to the new post-religion spirituality that is emerging in the US. The Big Round Church that is replacing America’s Little White Churches incorporates Christian themes into a consumer-oriented experience and the authority of religious denominations is being replaced by the magnetism of a charismatic pastor.
While baffled trying to come up with a topic idea, I like most people, found myself scrolling through social media trying to stumble upon an interesting discovery. Unsurprisingly, I found Religious groups or “Denominations” posting on these sites to recruit or bring in new members. Admittedly I was doing this to procrastinate on another assigned reading for another class. I was supposed to be reading William LaFleur’s Buddhism: a cultural perspective, in which LaFleur introduces the idea of Buddhism spreading via the Silk Road. One could imagine how this was an effective way to sell goods and even ideologies, cultures, and religion. From this the West developed “Hip Zen” a misguided and stereotyped form of Ch’an better known as Zen Buddhism. All this to show that even before the internet and social media religious groups were able to spread their culture and beliefs in a similar effectiveness. Wanting to understand the groups ideals and community I dug deeper into their social media page. Just like most of us they were trying to force an image of who they were. They also talked about what collective representations they took part of and talked about multiple individuals experiences. While trying to sell what they believe to be good, I couldn’t help but to see the egotism and closed mindedness that many religions enable in their followers. This also reminded me of the ISIS recruiting tactics and made clear that small ambitious “Denominations” walk a very fine line between an ambitious church and radical group. This is another example of The Neo-Nazi group McGuire talks about in chapter 2 section Two Opposing Principles: Good and Evil. The line between what we consider to be good and evil is skewed and many religions get stuck in a cycle of assuming they’re morally right, when they aren’t actually doing any good.