INTERFAITH COMMUNITY CROSSING BOUNDARIES

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I’ve been working to organize and interfaith event at my church, an event that would allow Jews, Christians, and Muslims to learn about each other’s faiths. We had presentations from each faith tradition represented, followed by a guided discussion. My plan was simply to find some common ground among these people of faith. But rather than honing in on and sharing personal experiences of faith and worship with each other, the group was much more focused on global issues. Some of them dealing with elements of religion such as religious extremism, terrorism, and violent land disputes. But many discussed misuse of power, greed, and ignorance in wide sweeping contexts.

As people of faith they look to heal the world, not just issues within their faith, or even within religion at large. The realms of ‘secular’ and ‘religious’ were not segregated. Participants identified their faith as a major source of strength when facing issues of today, including ‘secular’ issues. Moreover, participants brainstormed tools to promote among their members, to improve the world beyond their community. Both ‘religious’ and ‘secular’ issues were targeted by these tools. But faith organizations were utilized as a means to bring positive change in the wider world.

For me this further illustrates the arbitrary segregation of the ‘secular’ and the ‘religious’. Here, people of faith are blurring the lines, not to have religious law dominate the country, but to bring knowledge, peace, and joy to some of the most difficult and dim situations. While it did not go exactly as planned, it was a great event that shed new light on the ‘secular’ / ‘religious’ boundary. It gave participants grass roots actions to employ in their everyday life in order to bring the healing these faiths desire so dearly.

ONE YEAR OF MUNDANE & DIVINE

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This is the 52nd post on Mundane and Divine, which means that at one per week(ish), this post marks the end of Mundane and Divine’s first year! If you are looking to catch up, or just a recap, here are short summaries of the posts so far.

“PEACE BE WITH YOU”

Where secular humanists once fought off religious influence, religion is fighting to not become secularized. Based on my interactions in Australia, this post reflects on the expanding grasp of secularism and the resultant struggles of religious schools.

“RELIGION V. SPIRITUALITY: BIBLICAL INSIGHT”

Traditionally, spirituality was a component of religion. But in recent times these terms have become the antithesis of each other. As many identify as, ‘spiritual but not religious,’ we are must come to terms with new conceptions of these terms with concern to religious identity. This article examines the use and understanding of the labels ‘religion’ and ‘spirituality’ and looks to traditional texts such as the Bible to shed light on contemporary language.

“POLITICAL CORRECTNESS: MORE THAN JUST A FILTER”

Political correctness often keeps the issues that matter obscured. People keep silent on real and pertinent issues for fear of being seen as racist, sexist or (God forbid) politically incorrect. Rather than being tackled, problems are side-stepped in favor of less controversial causes. This is a commentary on the damaging effects of political correctness.

“CONVERSION V. ALTERNATION”

No longer are people of different religious backgrounds separated by geography or national boundaries. Very few homogeneous communities exist. Even those who live isolated in the physical world can often not escape the ever-widening grasp of media. Today almost everyone is exposed to religious and spiritual traditions different to their own. This piece looks at modern trends in belief transitions considering today’s global world.

“BEYOND TOLERANCE”

The only understanding tolerance provides is the understanding that we must put up with something to maintain society’s status quo. Tolerance breeds silence. In that silence, issues compound and hatred can run unchecked. Here I argue that something deeper than tolerance is necessary to create a world that is not only peaceful on the surface, but all the way to the core.

“THE CATEGORIZATION OF ACADEMIA”

Complex and multi-faceted issues should be at the center of academic work. If an issue or phenomena is studied, explored and analyzed from one disciplinary perspective, much could be lost through the narrow scope. This piece argues that the over-development of academic disciplines stifles research.

“A SECULAR ALTERNATIVE TO RELIGION: HUMANISM”

There are many religion-based organizations focused on providing charity, but religious and cultural differences can get in the way. The Secular Humanist perspective does well to avoid this problem. Its universal and unbiased nature is a great strength. However, I do not see Secular Humanism as the perfect solution. Like any other philosophy or ideal it has challenges to face.

“SCHOLARS AND SUBJECTS: TWO PERSPECTIVES”

Themes deemed significant by subjects must be given ample attention by researchers. This is imperative to gain an emic perspective and develop an understanding of subjects’ belief and decision making systems. In the early days of social research, scholars imposed their reasoning for beliefs and actions over the reasoning of their subjects. In the field of New Age research especially, I fear this ineffective and damaging trend is alive and well. Balancing scholarly interests with areas of importance identified by subjects will yield more thorough and unbiased studies.

“SECULAR AND NEW AGE OVERLAP”

In the secular age, New Age has flourished. It seems to be the religion / spirituality of secularism. Here I explore why New Age fits so well in secular society

“A SECULAR NEW AGE OR A NEW AGE SECULARISM”

There is no doubt New Age has many characteristics that are often considered secular. But these similarities leave us to wonder, along with the growth of New Age in the secular age, what exactly is the nature of the relationship between New Age and secularism? This question is unfortunately much like the chicken or the egg dilemma. Did the similarities come about because New Age, as we know it today, grew up out of a largely secular mainstream society? Or does the holistic and seemingly boundary-free nature of New Age provide an opportunity for secularism to encroach upon and transform New Age to closer align with its ideals?

“ON CHARLIE HEBDO”

The attacks on Charlie Hebdo rocked the globe as another example of religious extremism. But it also left many questioning intercultural relations in France and in our global world. What could spark such an attack? If the attack was a symptom of a larger problem, then what was the cause? Offensive depictions of the prophet Mohammed published by Charlie Hebdo are the obvious cause and are no doubt the primary spark. This fact has lead to extensive debate on the freedom of speech. How far is too far with freedom of speech? Does such a limit exist?

“SECULARISM: SOCIETY AND THE INDIVIDUAL”

Another point scholars still debate on, and leaves religious leaders wondering, is the nature of secularism. What started the ideology and what continues to drive it to such prominence in the Western world? A natural starting point is colonial America, where ‘freedom of religion’ was implemented as a reaction to persecution experienced in the old world. Secularism as we know it is still a far cry from the initial concept of freedom of religion, but I believe the seeds were planted here. By removing religion from the official list of offences, people started to get acclimatized to such separation, as superficial as it may be.

“GOD STORIES: SEARCHING OUT THE DIVINE IN THE MUNDANE”

Today, with religion being cloistered behind closed doors it seems other instances of spiritual experience are being pushed out of everyday life as well. Secular society tells us there is not room for the divine in the mundane. One Episcopal parish is fighting this mutually exclusive arrangement through what they call, ‘God stories.’

“THE RELIGIOUS PLATFORM AND WOMEN”

In the days before secularism, religious institutions were often heavily involved in societal operations. Though leadership roles were often off limits to women, the church or temple was a public place for women to voice concerns and seek advice and recourse.

“DEATH THE EQUALIZER”

With all we have learned since the enlightenment, with as far as science has come, it is impressive that religion remains in the face of reason. Potential reasons for this resilience are plentiful but I will focus this article on one. A rather basic reason: the lack of knowledge concerning death and the afterlife. In this area, science has added little knowledge and given few absolute answers. This time science cannot provide the certainty that often threatens to push religion aside.

“NEW AGE: RELIGION, SPIRITUALITY OR SOCIAL MOVEMENT”

New Age is often viewed as an alternative to traditional or ‘world religions’. In the public arena the debate tends to center around the ‘spirituality’ – ‘religion’ dichotomy. But in academia it becomes more complex when trying to assign research on New Age to a field of study. This article will explore a variety of view-points on how New Age should be categorized.

“CHURCH SURVIVAL THROUGH INNOVATIVE MEANS”

As congregations dwindle and money gets tight, many Christian churches are looking for ways to survive. Many have accepted that things will never be as they once were. Religion no longer has a central place in society or in the lives of most individuals. No amount of fundraising or member recruitment efforts is going to change that. Instead, they are looking for creative, and non-traditional means of survival.

“THE STRUGGLES OF LATINO / LATIN ARTISTS & NEW AGERS: A COMPARISON”

I recently read an article by Arlene Davila about the struggles of Latino and Latin American artists. Among other things, Davila discusses how current cultural factors such as multiculturalism and the Euro-centric art world affect issues of identity and recognition or visibility. I was struck by the similarities to New Age’s situation. Both groups have a precarious position in relation to their wider framework that affects what identity is portrayed and what identity is perceived, as well as their visibility.

“ORGANIZED RELIGION & SECULARISM: THE NEW AGE RESULT”

There is an idea of New Agers as rebels against organized religion. That their ‘alternative’ structures and practices are a direct response to undesirable characteristics of organized religion. This article reflects on my personal experience with ‘New Agers’ and concludes that this is often not the case. Instead secularism is criticized.

“CULTURAL APPROPRIATION”

The New Age phenomenon utilizes materials from a variety of cultures and traditions. This amalgamation, and the idea structure they are situated in, is central to New Age as a distinct phenomenon. But there has been some question concerning how these materials are used and what the implications are for the relationships between New Agers and other religious / spiritual / cultural groups. This article discusses the dynamics of cultural appropriation in New Age circles.

“EQUATING VALUE TO MONEY: EFFECTS ON RELIGIOUS AND SPIRITUAL INVOLVEMENT”

There is a reason people say, “The best things in life are free.” There is a lot of truth in that statement and most people recognize and are willing to admit that. Here we can see that value and money are two separate things. The principle works both ways as well, the best things in life are free and some of the best things we can do, earn us nothing in the way of money. It is not a new or novel idea, but it is one quickly forgotten in the daily grind. I argue that forgetting this is having an adverse effect on people’s involvement in religious and spiritual activities.

“THEORY OVERUSE”

There are few if any theories in the social sciences considered perfect. All have exceptions. However, this field thrives on shades of gray. It should be expected that its theories will not be in black and white. This article explores the prospect of relying on theories too much in academia, and middle of the road alternatives.

“ASKING QUESTIONS YOU DON’T WANT THE ANSWERS TO: WHAT IS CHURCH FOR?”

When was the last time the Church asked people what they were looking for in a church or what they hope to get out of church? It seems like an obvious answer: fellowship, become closer to God… But when was the last time the Church asked? The answers may be surprising… perhaps that is why no one has asked because they are afraid of what they would hear.

“THE SPIRITUALITY OF EATING”

Rather than focus on the spiritual and practical reasons for such dietary rules, I want to focus on the act of eating as a spiritual act. This includes ritual eating and supposedly mundane, everyday eating. Religion provides information on how we fit into the world and instruction as to how we should behave in the world. Eating helps facilitate our relationship with the world.

“HYBRID SPIRITUALITIES: CURRENT TREND OF INEVITABLE RESULT?”

New Age traditions are often criticized for being heterogeneous. Some call it the pick-and-mix religion, taking elements from various religions out of their original context, and creating new meaning with them. Under these circumstances many fear that the essence of these religions will be lost if not retained in their ‘pure’ form. Is this a relevant fear? Is there anything that can be done about it?

“CROSSING OCEANS AND BOUNDARIES: POPE FRANCIS IN AMERICA”

Pope Francis’ recent visit to the U.S. showed that his popularity spans many boundaries. Catholics and non-Catholics alike, were intrigued by his visit and had great interest in what Francis had to say. Taking a wider scope, Pope Francis’ ability to span religious boundaries, illustrates how elements can be adapted and appreciated from a faith tradition one may not ‘belong’ to.

“WHY YOGA IS FOR EVERYONE”

Yoga has increased in popularity in the Western world. Many see it solely as exercise. There is no doubt yoga is good for the physical body, but it can do much more. I think it is the mental and spiritual benefits of yoga that has given rise to its popularity. There are plenty of exercise crazes but none have endured like yoga, because yoga’s benefits go far beyond the physical.

“THE MELTING POT V. THE SALAD BOWL”

America’s history and diversity are often described with the melting pot symbol. The many different cultural and religious flavors mingle and combine to create one delicious dish… in theory. But perhaps there is a better alternative.

“A RETREAT INTO SILENCE”

In silence we can come back to our roots, recognize all the unnecessary extras that clutter up our lives, understand what is truly important, reprioritize, and decide how we want to participate in the fast paced society we live in. Here is a reflection of a solitary retreat I went on.

“(EXTRA)ORDINARY CHRISTMAS”

Jesus’ debut, and his ability to straddle divinity and humanity throughout his life, illustrates how the mundane and the divine meet.

“THE NEED FOR A PLURALISTIC WORLDVIEW”

In the global village, people are encountering more and more diversity in their daily lives. I am confident that slowly and gradually, people are replacing fear and ignorance with curiosity and understanding, with regards to different cultures and religions. We see evidence of this happening at a shallow level in the growing importance of political correctness and in the ‘tolerance’ battle cry. But a pluralistic worldview would provide a deeper change.

“CHRISTIAN PREDISPOSITIONS: PLURALISM AND HOLISM”

Drawing on the trinity, I argue Christians are predisposed to recognize the various expressions of the divine in other faith traditions and are more than able to take on a pluralist perspective while staying rooted in their own faith.

“RESISTANCE TO SECULARISM: NEW AGE AND FUNDAMENTALISM”

While their beliefs and practices strongly oppose one another, New Age and Fundamentalism both promote themselves as better alternatives to Western, secular society. They are two sides of the same coin.

“CATEGORIZATION: THE ‘RELIGIOUS’ AND THE ‘SECULAR’”

In our categorized society, there are activities regarded often as one or the other. They are placed in neat little boxes of meaning, though people do not hesitate to help themselves to the contents of multiple boxes. I will juxtapose the activities of these two categories, religious and secular, to illustrate similarities and points of differentiation that may affect people’s decisions when navigating these categories.

“RELIGION’S OWN WORST ENEMY”

Here I argue, that in recent decades there has been a far more prominent factor in the deteriorating reputation of religion: religion itself.

“FAITH COMMUNITIES”

It is the up to people of faith to invite and bring people to church. To be gracious and welcoming, to share all the benefits of being part of a faith community. Whether it be church, temple or study group, people are missing out on what these faith communities have to offer: acceptance, forgiveness, divine presence in one another and love. Who couldn’t use a bit more of that?

“COMING TO A SPIRITUAL LIFE THROUGH CRISIS”

What is it about crisis that propels people into a more spiritually mindful life? When people have been shook down to their foundations, they look for the divine in their ramshackle lives to build themselves back up again. It seems natural that when things in one’s ‘mundane’ life are faltering, to look deeper to the divine for purpose, strength or hope.

“NEW AGE: SCATTERED SEEDS TO A LIFE OF ITS OWN”

The continuing and increasingly prevalent factors discussed here have given New Age ideas a foothold in society. These ideas no longer exist solely in individual followers but have a life of their own.

“ACADEMIC WRITING: ON SCHOLARSHIP”

I argue that factors in academia have made academic writing cumbersome and perhaps take away from its primary purpose.

“FAITH & CONTROL”

A reflection, “The opposite of faith is not doubt; the opposite of faith is control.” – Richard Rohr

“WORLD SABBATH”

I attended the World Sabbath at Fort Street Presbyterian Church in Detroit with high hopes and it delivered. I thoroughly enjoyed myself. The music and dancing enlivened my spirit, and the prayers offered in song and in so many different languages lifted me up. It was also an opportunity to hear about interfaith efforts, which was both encouraging and sobering with how much work is yet to be done.

“RELIGION & POLITICS: ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL”

I’ve explored how this separation is created and maintained through both direct and implicit implementation of secularism; and commented on how rigid this separation can be. However, I feel we are currently witnessing one of the greatest exceptions to American secularism: election season.

“EMPTY PEWS: THE ROLE OF CHOICE AND ABILITY”

Twice this past Sunday I was confronted with the question, “Why don’t people go to church?” It wasn’t always this way. What has changed? These questions have endless answers from academia, religious leaders and the curious public. This myriad of answers paints a complex picture that reflects the nature of religion in secular society. But the two answers I heard on Sunday were simple and practical. The answers I heard focus on the role of choice and ability in declining levels of religious involvement.

“A PAGAN EASTER”

Social media is the ultimate place for clashing opinions. Over Easter weekend I saw a battle on Facebook over a post about the pagan roots of Easter. The post pointed out that Easter coincides with pagan fertility celebrations and that symbols like eggs and rabbits are closer to these fertility roots more than Jesus’ resurrection. This upset a Christian Facebooker and back-and-forth comments ensued. This negativity does not belong in any celebration, be it Christian or Pagan. This should be an opportunity for making connections and learning about the history of one’s respective religion.

“THE PURE & THE ECLECTIC”

New Age is often described as a hybrid or eclectic spirituality… a pick-and-mix religion. These terms do well at conveying the varied utilization of text, ideologies and practices of many faith traditions. However, these terms are often employed to separate and make negative connotations about New Age compared to the preferred ‘pure’ (and institutional) religions.

“THE SECULAR CIRCLE OF LIFE”

Perhaps the reason religion is so heavily segregated and devalued in America is that people’s lives would begin to revolve around things that can’t be bought. Secularism is in the best interests of capitalists, whose success and riches largely depends on people trying to fulfill themselves with goods and consumption. This is a critique of society today, and more specifically a super-bowl ad.

“FEMALE-FRIENDLY RELIGION”

Some Christian denominations are working to counteract this by showing these texts in a different light as well as opening leadership roles to women, including ordination. But some feminists argue that these attempts are futile, the patriarchal core of these religions cannot be remedied. And instead argue for the creation of female friendly religions.

“CHRISTIAN CRITICISM GIVES NEW AGE STATUS”

With the ‘religion’ label as the golden ticket, Groothuis brings New Age into the sphere of religion.

“NEW AGE HYPOCRISY”

For Groothuis it is okay to put Christianity above other religions as his ideology claims exclusivity, but for New Agers to do so it is hypocrisy.

“FREEDOM OF RELGION AND PUBLIC EDUCATION”

Groothuis spends the majority of his book squaring off with New Age from a conservative Christian perspective. But in his discussion on education in America, he raises some good and critical points relevant to Americans of all faiths. And even those without faith, the American tax payers who fund public education.

“EXCEPTIONS: AN INTERESTING AUSSIE FAMILY”

I’ve had many Aussies tell me that Americans are more ‘religious’ than themselves. Which makes this family quite the rare exception to secularism in Australia, and in my opinion an especially refreshing exception.

What a year it has been! Stay tuned for more!

 

 

EXCEPTIONS: AN INTERESTING AUSSIE FAMILY

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On my most recent trip to Australia, my fiancée and I went camping in the Flinders Ranges. The family at the campsite next to ours was great company. It was a husband, wife (for the sake of this discussion I will call them Tyler and Carol) and their four children. They were in the first week of a five-month road trip that would take them across the country. This was possible through long-service leave from Tyler’s job (something largely unheard of in America). He worked as a Presbyterian priest for a large parish on the east coast. The flexibility of the children’s school schedule thanks to Carol homeschooling them, also made the trip possible. During their time in Flinders Ranges, the family spent the cool mornings hiking. In the afternoons, Carol and the children did lessons. In addition to the core subjects, Carol teaches the children music and German, which she is fluent in. On this trip they would live on the road and expand their horizons with new places, new people, and new experiences.

This family is very much the exception in secular society. In America, I find it easier to find both the extreme secular (humanist) end of the spectrum along with the those on the ‘hyper-religious’ end of the spectrum. From my experience abroad, I would argue that secularism is more heavily toted as the norm in Australia compared to the United States. I think on a whole, Australians would agree with me. I’ve had many Aussies tell me that Americans are more ‘religious’ than themselves. Which makes this family quite the rare exception to secularism in Australia, and in my opinion an especially refreshing exception. I think their lifestyle has many potential benefits over the more conventional options. However, despite any benefits, being the vast minority could make the children feel isolated as they grow older, simply due to the fact that their upbringing is so different from that of other Aussies.

This is the challenge and the gift of secularism. Secularism provides an environment for everyone to live freely as they choose. But it does not dictate the environment. Instead, people’s choices create the ever changing fabric of the society in which they live. Making it ideal for some and confronting or isolating for others. Secularism gives people the freedom to live according to their own beliefs, but secularism does not necessarily pave the way or make it easy to live out one’s beliefs. It provides freedom but not ease. I believe there is a knack to taking advantage of secularism rather than being driven down by it. I see no better example that this Aussie family. Quite an exception to the rule.

FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND PUBLIC EDUCATION

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Chairs and desks in a classroom

Groothuis spends the majority of his book squaring off with New Age from a conservative Christian perspective. But in his discussion on education in America, he raises some good and critical points relevant to Americans of all faiths. And even those without faith, the American tax payers who fund public education. Groothuis spends a good deal of time targeting New Age elements in education, which in my opinion can be classed as flavors or at best themes rather than coordinated indoctrination. I don’t find it biased or unfair as Christian flavors and themes undoubtedly make it into classrooms too.

Where Groothuis gets interesting is his question as to making a public education system fair to those of varying belief systems. Solution one: leave all religion, including New Age and secular humanism, out. Then, supposedly, children can have a clean slate to learn free from any religious inclinations or influence. Then it’s not what message the material sends, but what the lack of material says. The problem with an education system that says ‘nothing’ on religion is the same as secularism. It doesn’t say ‘nothing’, it says religion is to be shut out, forgotten and silenced. Here, Groothuis and I agree that this is not a favourable solution. Solution two: present all religions as equal in an unbiased light. Yet this is no solution for those like Groothuis who claim their religion to be exclusively right and good. And the view can go both ways. For example, New Age parents may not appreciate Christianity being presented as a viable option.

Given the no-win situation put forth by these solutions, Groothuis questions a mandatory public education system that cannot possibly stay in accordance with the beliefs and religious inclinations of taxpayers. Is the system that exists fair? And is there any realistic remedy (143)? The alternative here being privatization. Yes, this would be more ‘fair’ but would it not estrange diverse Americans and breed further ignorance and animosity? While Groothuis looks to solve the problem of preserving tradition and ideology, his solution may exacerbate other issues in American society.

 

Groothuis, Douglas. Confronting the New Age: How to resist a growing spiritual movement. 1988. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press.

 

NEW AGE HYPOCRISY

 

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Groothuis’ criticism and condemnation of New Age comes from a natural place in his ideology. To Groothuis religions cannot be considered equal because only Christ is Lord (144). He goes beyond equality to speak on validity, that all other faith traditions are wrong. Given his belief system, this is a natural and necessary conclusion. But Groothuis is quick to find fault with New Agers doing the same, as their ideology lends itself to tolerance and pluralism. For Groothuis it is okay to put Christianity above other religions as his ideology claims exclusivity, but for New Agers to do so is hypocrisy.

If New Agers practiced what they preached and were as open minded and embracing of pluralism as they claimed, there would be no judging or ranking of other faith traditions. And yet such judgements are found in New Age circles. Groothuis testifies,

“… I often hear New Agers claim that ‘we all have our own truth,’ thus appearing tolerant. Yet in the same discussion they say that Christians are ‘less that fully enlightened’ or ‘less evolved’ (especially true for creationists!) and need a few more incarnations to get their metaphysics unmuddled and their self-image adjusted. But by saying this, New Agers are assuming the New Age position is true and right, and the Christian position is wrong and bad!” (116).

I have to agree with Groothuis here. I have heard similar conversations in New Age circles. It is important to acknowledge that no all New Agers have this mentality. But it is an issue that needs to be confronted. New Age leaders need to encourage New Agers to either practice what they preach or change what they preach and remove the hypocrisy. If New Agers are going to criticize Christians for putting down other faith traditions, they need to ensure they are not doing it themselves.

Interestingly enough, Groothuis is not condemning New Agers for their pluralistic ideology, which most certainly does not fall in line with his own ideology, but for saying one thing and doing another. Despite my very different perspective I can say this for Groothuis, he practices what he preaches. He sticks to his convictions, perhaps to a fault. I think this gets at the core difference between Groothuis’ Christianity and New Age. Where Groothuis ideology is set, there is more flexibility in New Age ideology. Things develop and change, exceptions are accommodated and the world is expressed in shades of grey rather than the black and white of Groothuis’ world.

 

Groothuis, Douglas. Confronting the New Age: How to resist a growing religious movement. 1988. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press.