|Religion in America, and a catharsis
||[Dec. 13th, 2009|12:28 pm]
A friend of mine linked to this article from the NYT - "Paranormal Flexibility."
1. I find it weird and annoying that he lumps together "Eastern" * and "New Age" beliefs. There is a fuckload of difference (respectability) between Buddhism and Wicca, thank you very much. Or...is there? Is there something about "a religion being around for thousands of years" that automatically lends it credibility? Or the fact that the tradition has been passed down unbroken (major world religions), rather than reconstructed from the scattered writings of Roman conquerors (Wicca/neopaganism)?
I am pretty certain that the reason Mormonism (pro tip: if you want people to refer to your church by its proper name, make its proper name short - preferably one word - or people will just revert to the name you dislike!) tends to get less respect than other denominations of Christianity is because it is NEW. 150 years? That's piffle compared to the Big Five.
However, most of these "new" religions don't actually believe anything weirder than what the "old" religions believe -- they just lack the multiple centuries/millennia of cemented faith and tradition that (somehow) lends respectability to the old religions.
*: This reminds me of a critique some Catholic (? - somebody I read in HS, anyway) wrote about the Beatles -- "They dabbled in drugs and Eastern religions." Wow. Way to compare things which have nothing in common, asshole.
2. "Twenty percent of Protestants and 28 percent of Catholics said they believe in reincarnation." --> I personally find this to be highly unlikely. I don't think I know any Christians who believe in reincarnation. Although I suppose they could have just not told me, hmm.
2b. "Furthermore, about the same percentages said they believe in astrology, yoga as a spiritual practice and the idea that there is “spiritual energy” pulsing from things like “mountains, trees or crystals.”" --> Um, okay?
2c. "Furthermore, 16 percent of Protestants and 17 percent of Catholics said that they believe that some people can use the “evil eye” to “cast curses or spells that cause bad things to happen.”" --> Who the hell is the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life interviewing???
3. Final paragraph (wow, this is a short op-ed): "The report is further evidence that Americans continue to cobble together Mr. Potato Head-like spiritual identities from a hodgepodge of beliefs — bending dogmas to suit them instead of bending themselves to fit a dogma. And this appears to be leading to more spirituality, not less. Cue the harps, and the sitars, and the tablas, and the whale music."
I'm not sure where he's going with this. I thought the point of writing an Op-Ed column was to state an opinion, not just sling together random factoids from a Pew study. (Incidentally, the latter is what blogs like this one are for.) :-D
Considering that he compares American syncretism to "Mr. Potato Head," though, I'm guessing that means he doesn't like it. Which is his prerogative.
However, I am very contemptuous of the opinion that it is NOT okay to "bend dogma to suit yourself" but it is TOTALLY okay to "bend yourself to fit a dogma." Frankly, that's retarded. Religions have stated doctrines which define what they are. Individuals have opinions which may or may not line up with these doctrines. To use my personal experience as an example: I do not believe in redemptive salvation (the idea that humanity needed to be saved, and was saved by Jesus). However, I do believe in the Catholic Church's mission of social justice (helping the poor, etc). I was baptized, raised, and confirmed Catholic. I even served as a Confirmation sponsor for a friend. But when I finally realized that I rejected the central tenet of Christianity (Jesus's redemptive sacrifice for our salvation), I also realized that I could not in good conscience call myself a Catholic. Should I have bent the Church's teachings to fit myself, just so I could keep a label I was attached to? Absolutely not. Should I have bent my own opinions - or PRETENDED my opinions were different than they were - just so I could keep a label I was attached to? Absolutely not.
My whole life, I grew up hearing from our priests "Don't be a cafeteria Catholic - don't pick and choose the doctrines that you like while ignoring others." I'm pretty sure they meant stuff like this one bumper sticker I've seen, "You can't be pro-choice and still be a Catholic." Or the ordination of women, or respect for the reality of homosexuality, or what have you. But I took them at their word, and here I am today - separated from the Church, because I respect its right to decide "what defines a Catholic."
I do miss the community I used to have at my old churches. There were a lot of good people there. But I've felt profoundly uncomfortable participating in Mass ever since that realization, because the bedrock of a community of faith is a shared faith. It would be profoundly disrespectful of me to waltz up to a Catholic church and say "Hey guys, I love your music, and you do good social work, but I think the very foundation of your faith is bunk - God would never punish people in any way for merely existing-without-believing-in-Jesus. Also I don't think Jesus's divinity is relevant to anything - he was a great moral teacher, and that's all that matters." (For the record, I utterly reject Lewis's trilemma. I'll try to post about that sometime too, if there's interest.)
Likewise, though, I don't think I would fit in very well at a Unitarian church, because there *is* no shared doctrine on which to build a community there. (If that's wrong, UUs, please explain!) There's just "Everybody comes to God in their own way." Which is good, but...I'm just not sure it's strong enough to build my own foundation on. It seems more of a "simple truth" than a "religious doctrine."
So, spiritually, I just keep on keepin' on. I know what I believe (e.g. the Golden Rule), I know what I don't believe (e.g. Original Sin), and I know what I am not sure about (e.g. actual existence of God). For the last category, I am content to find this out (or not!) after I die.
And to that effect, I'll end this post on a musical note: Let the Mystery Be.