liv: In English: My fandom is text obsessed / In Hebrew: These are the words (words)
[personal profile] liv
I'm going to do something that's rare for me and talk about actual religion, rather than just community stuff. If you hate reading about that kind of thing you're very welcome to skip.

I got buttonholed by some Mormons when I was in town yesterday. I decided to be polite to them, because I wasn't in a big hurry, and because Mormon missionaries these days look like bar mitzvah boys to me, so young in their big grown-up suits and shiny shoes, I kind of took pity on them. Though in retrospect they would probably have rather talked to someone who doesn't get a kick out of driving salesmen off-script. The conversation didn't actually go very well, because every time I said anything interesting they got all flustered and returned to their scripts anyway. And perhaps I shouldn't have been polite to them after all, perhaps I should have been righteously angry about their church's homophobia, racism and execrable habit of posthumously converting Holocaust victims and other distinctly non-Mormon people. But I think those things are basically not the fault of a couple of young missionaries, and I like to set a good example to proselytizers by taking a polite, respectful interest in their religious traditions and not trying to convince them they're wrong.

Anyway one of their stock questions on discovering that I'm a theist but not a Mormon was "what do you search for from God?" I tried to answer this concisely, thinking on my feet, and without using religious jargon that wouldn't mean anything to people from a different tradition. I don't think I really succeeded, but setting myself the challenge was thought-provoking. What I actually came out with was something like: I seek to discover how God wants us to act in the world and how to treat fellow human beings who I believe are created in the divine image. This got an almost comic reaction: sage nod, platitudes about yes, I quite underst... no wait, I have no idea what you just said!

And then a friend posted (locked) about her difficulties in choosing a church, and I was primed by the conversation with the missionaries to be thinking about what religion is for. So I came up with a theory, which I'll copy over from my comment to this other discussion, because I hope it's of interest to at least the religion geeks in my circle, and I'd like to pull it apart and come up with something better:
(Using "church" here to mean a religious community that meets regularly in a fixed location, so I don't have to keep typing "church or synagogue or mosque or temple etc".) I think a successful church needs three things, and how relatively important they are will vary between individuals and over time. I'm going to call them intellectual, spiritual and pastoral domains.

Intellectual: the church should teach things that are in line with current, evidence-based understanding of the world. It should be open to scholarship, both religious and historical-critical approaches to religious texts and beliefs, and secular scholarship and scientific advances. It should have room for doubt and be open to reinterpret stuff to fit into its social context. It can't afford to ask its congregants to check their critical faculties at the door.

Spiritual: the church needs to provide a moving, uplifting emotional experience of religion. This could beautiful music or architecture, it could be a charismatic, inspiring minister / leader / preacher what have you. It could also be simply time-honoured traditions which connect to a sense of shared culture and humanity. In most cases, for a church to be successful in the spiritual domain it needs to be somewhat conservative, because the things that press people's emotional buttons are atavistic and don't work well with lots of change and innovation and not knowing what to expect every week.

Pastoral: the church needs to function as a community. Members need to feel a connection to eachother, need to be able to turn to the community in times of crisis. This has to happen without becoming an exclusive, inward-facing clique, because the church also needs a constant stream of new members with fresh ideas. There needs to be space for kindness and outreach to people who aren't part of the inner circle, either because they're new to the community or because they aren't able to commit fully or because they're going through a theological crisis.

Ideally, a community which is successful in all three domains will also have some kind of shared external goal, making the world a better place, if you will, or social action, or actually mediating a relationship between worshippers and the divine. Otherwise it's just there to be a self-perpetuating meme machine, and that can be effective in the short term but eventually people will see through it.... (Yes, all of these needs can be fulfilled outside religion, I'm well aware, but the genius of religion is that at its best, it combines all three in one institution.)
I also clarified in the comments that it's a three-legged stool metaphor, no church can concentrate purely in one domain, you do need all three to an extent, though some communities do min-max things a bit. And of course they're not completely separate, all three domains will influence eachother to a great extent. Eg a person may not be able to have a spiritual experience unless they are at least somewhat intellectually satisfied by their church's teaching, while moving, meaningful services may well be a big factor in creating a sense of community, and so on.

I was also trying to connect my shiny new theory to the ongoing discussion about how one ought to respond to members of religious traditions whose teachings are homophobic. In some ways homophobia can be seen as a serious failure in the Pastoral domain, since (obviously) it excludes people who are in any way not straight or have friends who are. But there's probably a reason for it to do with strengthening the Spiritual domain, because a church than control its members' sexuality has a very major emotional hold on them. (I should add that I think this kind of approach is emotional manipulation and therefore false religion, but that's not a very useful statement because everybody thinks that their brand of spirituality is genuine and meaningful and other approaches are false and manipulative, and atheists may well think that all religion is manipulative or laying a claim to aesthetic experiences when there's no such thing as "spirituality".)

Obviously this doesn't make it ok for a religious org to behave like this. But it's possibly the beginning of an explanation for how come some otherwise perfectly lovely people may remain loyal to homophobic religious denominations: perhaps what they're looking for from religion is more about the Spiritual than the Pastoral domain? Or perhaps I'm talking complete nonsense, that usually happens when I make up classifications on a whim!

(no subject)

Date: 2012-04-16 06:25 pm (UTC)
wychwood: Augustinian logo against starscape labelled "cor unum in deum" (gen - cor unum)
From: [personal profile] wychwood
Also it may be possible for some people (particularly if they're straight themselves) not to be particularly aware of the homophobia. Like - as I'm sure you know, I disagree pretty strongly with the RC church on that issue, but on a day-to-day level, in my life and my parish experience, it's not that relevant. I'm not homophobic, most of the people I am close to in the community aren't homophobic, there are some gay parishioners that I know (though not many), and even when I hear anti-homosexual talk it's not actively violent or hateful; it's what I think of as "misguided" rather than "wrong", if that makes sense? They mean well, they're just wrong about it. In my opinion! They might want to say the same of me!

Anyway, I like your three-legged stool idea. I can definitely see things relevant to me in all three aspects. I'm not sure how widely applicable the "intellectual" strand is, though - there always seem to be a lot of people who value conformity and blind obedience over questioning. Even allowing for min-maxing, I feel like evolution-deniers in the evangelical Protestant end of things (or the ones who claim that Catholics aren't Christians) and some of the traditionalist Catholics I encounter are really almost rejecting that - although there are absolutely strong intellectual traditions in both denominations more broadly.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-04-16 06:58 pm (UTC)
elf: Smiling South Park-style witch with big blue floppy hat and inverted pentacle (Witchy)
From: [personal profile] elf
everybody thinks that their brand of spirituality is genuine and meaningful and other approaches are false and manipulative

I think my own brand is plenty manipulative, and I'm not sure I believe any of them are "false." (Okay, the flat-earthers and the breatharians have some serious "false" going on. But aside from scientifically provable falsehoods, I don't think a religion's tenets are "true" or "false" in any meaningful way.)

(Scripture says: All affirmations are true in some sense, false in some sense, meaningless in some sense, true and false in some sense, true and meaningless in some sense, false and meaningless in some sense, and true and false and meaningless in some sense.)

Timothy Leary said that the purpose of religion was to deal with seven basic spiritual questions, and provide "ecstatic, incontrovertibly certain, subjective discovery of answers" to those questions. I'm still mulling over his definitions.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-04-16 09:17 pm (UTC)
green_knight: (Lightbringer)
From: [personal profile] green_knight
For me, there's something else really important: that the practitioners are confident and open-minded.

Confident in that they know they're on the right path. They've made up their minds about the existence and nature of their deity(s), they don't feel attacked by people who don't believe or believe something else, or who question everything. I think the 'modern science' is part of that. I can live perfectly happily in both worlds, the shared rationality and a world where I get a parking space nine out of ten times I remember to ask for one. (The tenth time tends to be either too big a hurdle- like an event that draws dozens of extra people to the area - or a Hint.)

I loathe people who try to push their religion on me. (It doesn't help that it's usually religions I don't want.) Not attacking or belittling people who are not interested, who search, or doubt probably falls under 'pastoral'. 'Knock and the door will be opened' is a good policy, IMHO - because it's up to the person themselves to do the knocking, and to enter if they want to. The missionaries I encounter often strike me as trying to grab me and shove or scare me through the door, whether I want to or not.

(Personally, I would like to learn more about Judaism without wishing to practice it - I'm intellectually and spiritually curious but I have no idea about the etiquette involved.)

(no subject)

Date: 2012-04-17 02:58 am (UTC)
mathcathy: number ball (Default)
From: [personal profile] mathcathy
What do you mean by homophobic?

I think there's a big difference between a community acknowledging that the teachings of their religion instruct that same-sex sex is taboo (and the teachings of various religions is exactly that) and rejecting people who are naturally attracted to the same sex because they fear or don't understand it.

The word "homophobic" seems very emotive, particularly if you're using it to describe the former of these two things.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-04-17 04:19 am (UTC)
siderea: (Default)
From: [personal profile] siderea
But it's possibly the beginning of an explanation for how come some otherwise perfectly lovely people may remain loyal to homophobic religious denominations: perhaps what they're looking for from religion is more about the Spiritual than the Pastoral domain?

I am sad to have to report that one of the other things people look for in the Pastoral domain is, er, I don't quite know how to put this. They want of the group (be it a religious congregation or any other similar scaled voluntary or state group) that it recognize the fact that their lived experience attests to that There Are Bad People Out There. You know, if we're using the term "Pastoral": wolves. And one of the things they look to in a group, is that it is engaged in actively trying to protect the flock, in attempting to identify the wolves-in-sheep's-clothing and expel them. They see doctrines which are efforts to identify the worthy and the unworthy, the virtuous and the vicious, as intrinsically a good thing, as doing what a good congregation should be doing for the protection of its members.

To someone who sees things that way -- and it's not even a bad way of seeing things -- the fact that any giving teaching or behavior is exclusionary is in no way a bad thing. To the contrary, excluding is something they want their congregation to do.

For such a person, if they don't have a strong moral sense that homophobia is wrong, they may well greet moral authority figures who claim homosexuality is per se wrong and a sign of criminality with the deference anyone might reasonably give a trusted expert whom one has decided to delegate such discriminations to. And even to the extent they see their religion's/congregation's homophobia as bad and wrong, they may see it as merely unfortunate -- as collateral damage that, alas, can't be avoided.

(Of course, there are also people who are looking for, in a congregation, a gang to join to beat up on identified victims, to improve their self-regard by looking down on someone else. Presumably none of them are your so described perfectly lovely people. But that would be another "Pastoral" domain phenomenon.)

(no subject)

Date: 2012-04-17 08:22 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] pw201.livejournal.com
But there's probably a reason for it to do with strengthening the Spiritual domain, because a church than control its members' sexuality has a very major emotional hold on them.

Religions which have a cost to following them (not necessarily monetary) do better than those which don't make demands on their followers, ISTR (I'd like to be able to quote the research here but I can't think of good search terms). This is a bit like what someone said in the locked discussion that a liberal religion didn't seem worth getting out of bed for, I suppose.

I'm not sure what the psychology of that is. Maybe it's a bit like when you never buy the cheapest brand, or maybe people want challenges and want to be part of a narrative where they struggle and perhaps overcome them. Back when I was an evangelical Christian, a common piece of jargon was to say "I was challenged" (by that sermon, say) to mean that "I've realised I'm falling short there".

Why specifically homophobia? Well, it's the patriarchy, innit? Also, if you're going to pick an out-group to strengthen your in-group by having an identified enemy, it's good to pick a sin to which few of them are tempted.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-04-17 01:43 pm (UTC)
ptc24: (Default)
From: [personal profile] ptc24
"what do you search for from God?"

Ooooh, that's one that even some people who aren't theists (or deists) can answer. Looking back on some of my own searching...

My first thought is, "meaning, purpose, completeness" - that's not quite right though; you can have those without (propositional) beliefs - doesn't searching for purpose already imply some sort of purpose or at any rate purposefulness or purposiveness that's motivating the search? However, it would be nice to have some beliefs, some rituals, some community, to flesh things out a bit. So from my point of view, your "Ideally" is the whole point.

The other thought is fear; I think in my case, this was fear of having made the greatest possible mistake. Not really a fear of mortality in my case, certainly not an explicit, concious one, but I understand it's important to some people.

Soundbite

Miscellaneous. Eclectic. Random. Perhaps markedly literate, or at least suffering from the compulsion to read any text that presents itself, including cereal boxes.

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