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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

How Education Helps Or Hinders Religiosity

There is a tendency when talking about the relation between education and religion to suggest that the more educated you become, the less religious you become. The alternate tendencies would be to become more spiritual, perhaps, or to abandon much of both spirituality and religion, affirming science and philosophy as more effective and reasonable methods of attaining knowledge and wisdom respectively. The latter is the more common perspective, the former more contentious and vague. But a new study from University of Nebraska-Lincoln sociologist Philip Schwadel suggests that education may actually increase religiosity in a certain sense. The study is from a more sociological theory of religiosity, where attendance of religious services and identification with a social group are what makes a person religious. So there will understandably be conflicts from the start of theory of religion in this discussion.

One of the important distinctions Schwadel makes about education’s affect on religious beliefs is that one doesn’t necessarily say they don’t believe in God, but instead phrases their belief as that of a higher power. In that sense, there is a more general idea instead of specific creeds or the like. With this in mind, it sounds like with more education there may be some tendency to become spiritual and not religious. The justification might be that people become appreciative of the similarities between religions as they begin to see them in engaging with people of different beliefs. But the statistics seemed to find that there was some increase in of identifying with and attending mainline churches, as well as occasionally reading the bible, as you became more educated, though the highest percentage increase was only 15% per year. But with that in mind, I wonder what that particular part of the study specifically meant. If it was every year of education beyond high school, then that would skew the data, since that would mean every person with a bachelors would have at least 60% more chance. If they mean years of education after bachelors, then I haven’t yet gotten those extra 2-3 years, which would increase the percentage by a similar amount.  Some Christians agree with this idea in that the more educated a Christian becomes, the more sophisticated their faith is and thus the more they are able to engage with other religions without succumbing to apostasy or the like. There is a persistence of their own faith, but they are also able to understand that not everyone agrees and expresses their own beliefs in different ways. In this sense, the increase of religiosity leans towards Christianity in America. The study, of course, has that bent of sorts in the questions it asks, but it would be a bit too specific to say that the more educated you become, the more Christian you become. So instead, the formulation that you become more religious is more general. It’s purely incidental that most religious people happen to be Christian in America. It could be conceivably different in other countries.

An opposing voice from many atheists, including former American Atheist president Ed Buckner, claims that mere attendance in church does not make one a Christian in any sense beyond the nominal status gained from being baptized and put into the church directory, nor does it make you actually religious. The idea of religion as a purely socially oriented group creates problems of exact statistics, since even non-attendants can be included in numbers for churches. There is the option to be removed, from what I understand, but there’s always the complexity of sorts that may exist with multiple registries, since I was baptized as an infant in one church and got baptized as a teenager in another church. The point is I was never a Christian except in the sense of conformity to what I felt was a sophisticated and socially acceptable community. In that way, I wanted to conform and be part of something, which was understandable, since I was a socially awkward child, especially after having gone into junior high. Like the church I was raised in, people in school offered things that seemed to be a way to become accepted by a large and influential group of people. The notion of religiosity being based on your identification with a certain social group makes religion little more than a popularity contest of which group maintains influence and motivates people to join it. Not to mention it boils down to people associating with a religion for less than sincere or spiritual reasons. If you want to be associated with the elite, you join a church so as to keep your social connections diverse. As Buckner put it, some people just attend church to sell more insurance, they don’t actually believe any of the tenets. With that in mind, this aspect of the study creates a problematic standard of what it means to be religious, though admittedly, it’s only an indirect part of the study. I myself was one of the people Buckner speaks about as a skeptic as to whether everything being talked about was actually true. I was interested in religion even from a young age, but at the same time, my own personal beliefs made it so that I was in a conflict with the social group, since I didn’t share much of their values, especially when it came to things like politics. I wanted to be accepted, but after a time, my conversion for conformity’s sake seemed like a mistake and I slowly but surely drifted away.

Schwadel’s conclusion wasn’t about any direct correlation between education and religiosity or lack thereof. His conclusion was that religion is still important to educated people, but in a different way. He openly admits, however, that academics are moderately less religious than the general populace. But there is, according to him, a mistake in exaggerating this tendency and applying it to all educated people. When you get a college education, it doesn’t automatically make you an academic; it just means your perspective is broader. I think many people who have gone through college or are in college would agree with Schwadel’s theory that the reason why people can maintain religiosity in the aftermath of higher education is that they have exposure to people with other varying beliefs and thus are more tolerant and understanding. Not to mention humans have an amazing capacity to compartmentalize and interpret things selectively, but I’ll confront that soon with a series I hope to work on. Also with college education, people are motivated to investigate their own religious beliefs more seriously and thus have more sincere beliefs. In this sense, being educated and being more religious is not a contradiction in terms if you consider each person individually as they relate to their beliefs. A person who is more skeptical by nature with their beliefs may turn out to become less religious through higher education, but a person who is inquisitive and yet  still seeks that sense of spiritual fulfillment and certainty in their beliefs may instead refine them and change affiliations to socially popular Christian denominations. Buckner notes that as people become more educated, they move into upper classes, which have a higher population of Christians and in this sense, they feel a need to identify and associate themselves with the upper class and thus join these churches.  This aspect of class dynamics is pertinent to Schwadel’s overall theory, even though he denies its primacy, saying that the study isn’t about whether religion is purely a social class 
matter, but that there is a relation between religion, education and social class.

This study does bring up the fact you can see in engaging with religious people with higher education: they can, indeed, be both intelligent and articulate in their beliefs. This isn’t to say they’re necessarily right, but that, at the very least, they can defend their beliefs without resorting to a primarily faith based argument. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Conservatives Clamoring For Christianity

Since the Iowa straw poll recently finished, the popularity of Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul in the eyes of many Republicans cannot be denied. Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman and newcomer Rick Perry all placed relatively low in comparison, though Gov. Perry was less enthusiastic than Paul or Bachmann in campaigning prior to this Republican popularity contest of sorts. I’m not surprised at the standings, such as 3rd place’s Tim Pawlenty, from the same state as Bachmann (Missouri) and apparently nearly as insistent with his religious fervor. The most important theme for the various conservatives clamoring for a nomination, excluding the more reserved Mormon candidates Romney and Huntsman, was the strong Christian convictions of the candidates. Everyone from Ron Paul, generally not speaking much about his personal beliefs, to Michelle Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty, in the vein of Rick Perry, who all spoke strongly about changing the country back to its Christian roots (imaginary as they might be). The importance of the religious beliefs of these various Republican candidates can’t be stressed enough, but is it possible they’re trying too hard?

Rick Perry is the most obvious candidate that missed the forest for the trees. Trying to look like a devout believer in Jesus and God by organizing a “private” prayer rally for Christians (mostly evangelicals) to try to solve the nation’s woes doesn’t get around what more politically minded people observe about his poor track record in Texas. His reelections may have been due merely to appealing to evangelicals in his state more than trying to solve real issues. He apparently doesn’t have much of a solution to droughts or economic issues in this country; he just thinks praying to God or bringing together a group of Christians in a stadium will make things better; like putting a band-aid on a gaping wound. It’s no wonder he got in the bottom percentile of the 
Ames Straw Poll, since he had to write himself in.

Michele Bachmann, on the other hand, is a sort of balance between Rick Perry and Ron Paul (hey, same initials, too, lol). She does speak openly in part about her Christian beliefs, but she also tries to focus on policy issues and advocate change towards her own political goals, ideology and agenda. What that agenda is I’m not certain of, but I am not comfortable in the slightest with having her as a Republican nominee, since she seems to base these political ideas on her Christianity almost primarily. Unfortunately, at this rate, she’s neck and neck with Ron Paul, who’s commonly a black sheep amongst the Republican Party. Bachmann may yet get the nomination, which means Ron Paul, assuming he gets a nomination from the Libertarian Party, which I believe he did last election cycle, would be a third party to balance what appears to be a future conflict of Obama and Bachmann. Though if the race for Democratic nomination before 2008 was any indication of America’s trust in female candidates, Bachmann may only barely have enough popularity to get nominated by the GOP, but then lose to America’s inevitable sexism and resilient intelligence in the face of the bigotry Bachmann has espoused before, particularly towards gay people. Of course, she’s hardly a step away from Sarah Palin, so that won’t help either, since she might’ve been partly why McCain lost.

Ron Paul is a nice conservative in every sense of the term. He’s for small government, fiscal responsibility, pro life (I didn’t say I agreed with everything he espouses, did I?) and he’s clearly more moderated in his expression of religious beliefs. He’s been very consistent in not speaking about his Christianity, but he has felt compelled in rare incidents to speak about his Christianity. I can respect the man for being truthful and up front about his religion when he sees it as a prudent decision. He also sees that, for the most part, there’s little reason to use your Christian beliefs to pull in votes, since those votes might be less than sincere in terms of policy agreement and the like. Just voting for someone because they share your beliefs or worldview in one sense is indicates that you don’t take politics seriously in any form. It’d be no different than me looking for an atheist presidential candidate and putting all my money into their campaign. It’d be a lost cause from the beginning because of America’s persistent discrimination and stigma against atheism in general. Not to mention the candidate could be a more centrist and populist sort of politician, so I’d be wasting my money all the more on a candidate that wouldn’t be as effective, in my opinion. So I’d rather go with a Christian man who I disagree with in terms of spiritual convictions, but I can agree with in principle about political convictions.

All in all, these candidates all seem to be relatively certain in their Christian beliefs, though there is an obvious age gap between Perry and Bachmann on the one hand and Paul on the other of about 20 odd years, but John McCain ran for president and got the GOP nomination and he was in his early 70s, so age is rarely a factor, though people allegedly would still trust a Mormon over a septuagenarian. This doesn’t necessarily boost any chances Romney or Huntsman have of being nominated, since policy wise they’re either flip flopping in the case of Romney or more controversial than even Ron Paul in Huntsman’s case, since it’s usually Democrats who support civil unions. My prediction is still Bachmann just for sheer popularity she’s had, plus the precedent Ron Paul has set of not gaining enough prestige in the GOP to warrant their nomination. But at least he’s consistent, so I’d rather vote for him and swing things towards a Democrat who has a bit more sense or willingness to negotiate (Obama) than ever vote for a Republican who I cannot agree with in any conceivable sense on basic policies and would be so stubborn she’d choose to destroy any hopes of bipartisanship before even compromising slightly. It’s choosing the lesser of two evils; voting for a minority candidate and hoping to change percentiles slightly or voting for someone you think is preferable to what you think is a better political practice of sorts. People will vote however they will, though, so it’s a matter of motivation to enter the fray as opposed to willingness to tow the party line your parents have. So until next time Namaste and aloha.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Military Missionary Messages

The U.S. military has gotten itself into some trouble recently concerning favoring Christianity over other religions; though this has come up more times over the last few years anyway with other events as well, from what I remember. Both a video educating soldiers about the ethics of using nuclear weapons and a ROTC training video explaining military virtues have overtly Christian tones to them. It’s not that the military shouldn’t teach soldiers about why they should use restraint in relation to nuclear weapons. Just war theory in any form, Christian or otherwise, is a good start, though it seems like there is more favoring of the use of nuclear weapons, which doesn’t bode well if people take that advice to heart. The more explicitly Christian nature of the ROTC training as described by an anonymous instructor, who was troubled by them, is a larger concern to me in terms of church and state separation. The government’s explicit endorsement of Christianity in this and the context of nuclear weapon usage as relates to just war theory are both problems of government secularism that apparently persisted for as long as 20 years.

Nuclear weapons are the most dangerous weapon any military possesses, since with improper use, they cause more harm than good, and in the worst case scenario, would raze the world to the ground on the oft referenced principle of mutually assured destruction. What that means is that if China (for example) launches a nuclear missile at the U.S., we have nuclear capacity to launch responses that would guarantee that both sides of the conflict would suffer losses of a nuclear scale. This is part of general military ethics in terms of the use of weapons of mass destruction, but a slide show recently pulled by the military due to objections from members of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation seemed to focus solely on Christian just war theory instead of considering the original Roman context it arose from and no doubt influenced theologians such as Augustine of Hippo. This shows a problematic endorsement of religion by a government entity that is explicitly forbidden from proselytizing. The existence of military chaplains might be argued to counter this claim, but they are merely there to counsel members of their religion on various psychological or ethical issues, not to spread their religions as they might feel they are called to do. In terms of teaching so called “nuclear ethics” the military is responsible not only to present a variety of views on justifications of nuclear force, but also contrasting views that either advocate disarmament on some level or a stronger level of restraint than is usually put forward by many just war theorists. One of the first things done is to determine whether the cause of the war itself is just and determining that can be somewhat vague even with the standards still being adjusted to this day. Many might say a war is just when it advances the cause of justice and this can defend the practices of interventionism in foreign policy and associated threats of nuclear force to pacify one’s enemies. This particular form of pacifism is a majority position, since it doesn’t pacify by anything more than a mutual truce or threat of attack. Pacifism as restraint or forms of non resistance have always been a minority in history, mostly because, as many would observe, those who try to pacify without the use of military force are commonly the first to lose their lives and thus do not remain in history for very long. But even if people commonly disagree with just war pacifism or nonresistance/nonviolence ethics in terms of military engagements, these positions should be presented alongside the more popular and oft defended practices in politics of the use of military force where there may be no need.

In ROTC training, short for Reserve Officer’s Training Corps, aspiring students can take classes through the military for college credit and other future benefits. It’s commonly a way for students who want to enlist in the military in the future, but also want to get a college education so as to bolster their background after they leave their tour of duty. But even in a context with young, impressionable minds still learning about the world, the military apparently was trying to inject Christian overtones into their courses. This lies primarily with the Air Force, though it may be possible that other branches of the military are using similar slide shows as the one found that references 7 of the 10 Commandments and Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  The intent was to showcase the virtues of the Air Force, but I wonder why there is insistence here as with the briefings for officers launching nuclear missiles to preach exclusively Christian messages about why you can launch nuclear missiles or be a good ethical soldier. The preceding standards in Roman philosophy for just war theory and equivalent virtues found in the 10 Commandments that exist in systems that far predate Christianity make favoring Christianity not only unfair, but unnecessary. Presenting a variety of perspectives can be done and not grant undue merit to one system over another. Christianity’s defense of use of nuclear missiles could be balanced by other Christian perspectives on why use of nuclear weapons is un-Christian and other religions and philosophies that support or decry nuclear force. In this way, the adolescents and young adults aspiring to aid their country would not only get a presentation of virtues they should aspire to in their military practice and everyday lives, but also begin to understand that there are shared beliefs and ideals across the world. When you start to not separate and bisect everything into static categories, you begin to appreciate things all the more. In a military context, this could be a stronger motivator to use military force not as an end in itself, but a means to the end of peace, as it has been commonly advocated through history many times, though certainly 
not always so explicitly.

Apparently with both the slide show advising officers authorized to launch nuclear missiles and the ROTC training, the air force either purposefully ignored the other perspectives that would’ve supported their ideas or just weren’t aware of them to begin with. Either way, it’s troubling to me and many others, since the military is an aspect of our country we should be proud of in some sense, and yet there is such blatant ignorance of the diversity of positions and shared ideas across the world. It doesn’t make me want to “support our troops” or the wars they fight in if they are educated in this myopic fashion that not only favors Christianity, but endorses it through a government entity, which poses serious First Amendment establishment clause violations. I’m not surprised, but I think we should still press on to broaden the perspectives of the military officials who sponsor and officiate these things. Simply put, get out of the last 2 generations and try to take on things in a post WW2 paradigm. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Speaking Christian For Social Convenience

The language of Christianity, like in any religion, evolves in usage over time. The native language of English we’re commonly used to hearing it in is a translation of the original ones it came from: Hebrew and Greek. Since these were significantly different cultures than our own, there are many nuances that exist in the language as it translates into our own and this applies especially to difficulties of spiritually and doctrinally accurate translations of the Bible as a whole. That’s only part of the reason behind the changes of meaning of words like “belief”, “salvation” and the “rapture” among other common ideas within the tradition. Even associated Christian language not directly concerned with orthodoxy has issues Christians are aware of.

Language with strong Christian undertones used in politics goes as far back as Abraham Lincoln, accused of being an atheist by his opponent. He didn’t attend church much, but he admittedly, from what historians can find, believed in some supernatural, spiritual or transcendent reality. George W. Bush is very much the president to reference for using evangelical terms to influence his constituents. The tendency of politicians to associate with Christianity as a generic religion, even if they don’t necessarily hold those beliefs with the same conviction or in the same vein as their voting bloc, has made many Christians cease to even use the term Christian to describe themselves, preferring “Christ follower” in many cases. This is a more explicit problem of speaking Christian for laypeople and ministers alike, since those in politics can be said to abuse the influence that Christianity has on otherwise reasonable people and take advantage of their malleability in the face of a fellow Christian who “speaks their language” and thus shares their values. The tendency of separation can arise as well, since these people might start to behave in an unfair way towards even fellow party members who don’t share the religious beliefs of the candidate and start making a candidate’s religion or lack thereof a focal point, when, as I’ve said before in “Mormon Candidate Discrimination,” there is no reason to pick anyone based on their particular religious beliefs. If Bush’s policies were bad, I didn’t vote for him because of his Christianity, being a skeptic even in my teenage years when he ran both times, but because I disagreed with what he wanted to do in office.

Defining belief is already confusing enough with distinctions about atheism, theism, etc, but in Christianity, the meaning has become more focused on either creeds or believing things to be literally true. But belief historically had more of a meaning of living that conviction in practice and being loyal to God, not to human creeds or interpretations. Trusting in God to allow you to make sense of things, for instance, is more genuine a belief than just believing something to be literally true because you’d otherwise have to drop cherished traditions of creationism or the like. Just simply doubting the truth, even temporarily, of your native faith has a benefit in that you investigate those beliefs more closely before choosing to believe or not believe in them.
Salvation is another word whose definition has shifted towards something it wasn’t to begin with. The idea today focuses on the afterlife, on what happens after you die. But the word for salvation, at least in Hebrew, had more meanings to it and was used in contexts of freedom from bondage (Exodus), rescue from exile (Exodus again) and transition from violence to peace (Isaiah perhaps, swords to plowshares). Salvation doesn’t have to automatically imply that you refer to the hereafter, but instead can mean you focus on bringing heaven on earth in some sense. You work at salvation; you don’t automatically achieve it in any sense. This is not to say there is some merit of your works, but simply that your focus should be balanced between heaven and earth, so to speak. Admittedly this idea of salvation is taught in some way, but the fact that it doesn’t stick means either the methods are ineffective or people are just naturally more affected by cultural education than academic education in any sense. Maybe that’s my pseudo-pessimism talking, but the responsibility isn’t just with nonbelievers like me who study religion academically, but ministers and Christian believers who study their religion in a different light. If you want to teach people what salvation actually is in the Bible, then you should try to demonstrate it to people in a way accessible to them. Admittedly this would be tricky with etymology, so I’d suggest you find examples in the text itself that demonstrate through deeds rather than words. In this way, people can reference the text they hold sacred without feeling as if they’re betraying the spirit of its message.

A term used commonly these days, such as with Harold Camping’s notorious failed prediction of the end of the world, is “rapture,” I don’t mean rapture like being enraptured or in ecstasy of the Holy spirit, but the event of people being twinkled into the sky in the end times when God judges the world. Unfortunately for Christians using the term with such confidence, not only is it contradictory to ideas from the Bible, but it isn’t even in the Bible. The concept didn’t even exist until the early 20th century and is based on Thessalonians 4:16-17 primarily, among other verses, such as in Revelation. The idea clashes with the more active ideas of salvation in Christianity, since the rapture is something believers passively wait for, not “working out their salvation in fear and trembling,” (Phillipians 2:12) referencing the call to be vigilant even if you don’t know the time when Jesus will return. The rapture only half matches up with Jesus’ idea that we don’t know when the end will happen, but it’s too specific, whereas Jesus said himself he doesn’t know; only God does. Saying you believe in the rapture and are Christian is like saying you believe in the second coming of Barney the Dinosaur and are Satanist. I’ll admit that was a terribly bizarre comparison, but the point was that no matter how popular an idea is, like the Trinity in canon, it doesn’t reflect what the text itself implicitly states. We read ideas into religious texts, like everything else, but sometimes we just add ideas into a text that weren’t there before, like the rapture.

There are more words and even phrases I could bring up, but Marcus J. Borg’s book, called “Speaking Christian: Why Christian Words Have Lost Their Meaning and Power-And How They Can Be Restored,” is a highly recommended read if only to make oneself aware of the history of language in Christian traditions as they’ve evolved and split over time. Even if you disagree, which might happen, there is at least the realization of the importance of words and why you should at least be careful in your use of them. Awareness of language’s dynamic and sometimes fluid and malleable nature is important to any discipline in one way or another, but religion is especially pertinent, since language can change meanings of cherished ideas. Without realizing that rapture is a relatively new word in Christian usage historically, you would go down a path of believing it always existed as canon, same as people believing all Christians historically believed life began at conception, or ensoulment to be precise. Opening your mind doesn’t always mean you throw away your brain when you do it. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Inaugural of Irreligion

I’m not sure of the presence of secularism and non religion in academic journals before this year, but now a joint effort from Trinity College in Connecticut and the Non-religion and Secularity Research Network is publishing the first journal centered on those very subjects, called Secularism and Nonreligion (It doesn’t have to be a creative name, it just has to be specific). They’re already asking for publications for peer review, which also makes it quite official in the academic world. There have been essays about atheism published elsewhere, I’d imagine, by philosophers such as Antony Flew, A.J. Ayers and such, but now there is a chance to investigate the structure of atheism, secularism and non religion in general from an academic perspective centered on this instead of just incidentally relating to it in terms of other disciplinary concerns, like epistemology in philosophy.

According to a survey from 2008 released by Trinity College, the number of religious “nones” is the fastest growing group. If nothing else, it shows that people are becoming one of two general groups: spiritual but not religious or secular in some form or fashion. The former is quite probably the bigger group of people, very eclectic and syncretic in nature, fusing religious traditions in one way or another or drawing from those traditions in different ways. The latter is trickier and can indeed constitute an entire journal of study. I myself feel like this publication is made for my endeavors, though I’ve only partly started covering secularism and the like on my blog and general academic ideas, particularly in my Atheist Alignments project, which I should revisit in the future or add onto with something else, such as a project I’ve been wanting to work on called Secular Bible Philosophy. The idea is to take the philosophy you find throughout the bible and formulate it in a secular fashion or find general wisdom the Bible presents and enumerate how it can be agreed upon by nonreligious people without recourse to God.

The span of the journal seems to be secularity, secularism, nonreligion and atheism. If I had to guess, this would probably cover many irreligious philosophies of one form or another, such as Confucianism, Buddhism, even Daoism to an extent. A lot of this would have to fall under a standard of what you consider religious, which is already contentious amongst scholars of religion, from what I recall. There are popular theories ranging from sociological to psychological and those can exclude or include various religions as we commonly understand them. Some people might not consider Buddhism a philosophy, for example, and place it under the religious at least in part.

There are also the political and ideological areas of secularism, such as laicite, which is a practice in France where religion and state are more radically separated so that neither really interacts with the other. The idea of separation of church and state could also be investigated from the secular and atheist perspectives primarily. The American perspective, for instance, in contrast and comparison to the French political situation would be an excellent article for starters.

All in all, I hope this spawns other publications of this type. Atheism and secularism have been underrepresented in terms of real academic studies, so along with more presence of American Atheists and the like, this promises to give real consideration and attention to a subject that is pertinent in an America becoming more diverse in terms of people either rejecting religion for spirituality or rejecting both religion and spirituality altogether, and everything in between. Agnostics, atheists, apatheists, skeptics and many more classifications come to mind and, if I could, I’d like to publish something there in the future myself, even if just once. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Evangelism and Evangelicals

Discussions about evangelism go hand in hand with talking about evangelicals, a group within Christianity characterized by a deep need to be “born again” and to share the gospel in missionary work of one form or another, hoping to convert others to the good news. The idea of good news is the very expression evangelical and evangelism derive their modern usage from, euangelion/evangelion, Greek for good news or message. Of course, one can evangelize about anything you feel is good news, but Christianity popularized the notion that Jesus’ death and subsequent alleged resurrection are good news for the whole world. But even if it is true, the way many evangelicals and Christians in general of that stripe go about it might be said to be missing the point of Jesus’ message in part.

The first general quality of missionaries and evangelists is their fervor for conversion. The most obvious example that comes to mind, ironically, is from Mormonism, where young men, and women at times, are sent to various places across the world or even within the U.S. to spread the particular Mormon flavor of Christianity. Evangelicals might have a few choice words for Mormons as to whether they’re in conformity with orthodox and/or Biblical teachings, but we’ll leave that for them to squabble over. The notion of conversion comes with a category of what genuine conversion consists in, or at least what it appears to be. 
Someone can convert for various reasons besides a spiritual experience of any form. The influence of peer pressure motivated me, as well as some genuine curiosity, which was sated in part. Although even today after around a year’s worth of study in Christianity through my four year university education concentrated on religious studies, I still don’t think I’ll ever understand what is more a phenomenological or existential aspect of Christianity. It might be my psychology doesn’t dispose me to believe I need salvation from outside of myself and so theistic religions in general are not terribly compelling in any spiritual matters, so to speak. In that sense, Christian missionaries have to be that much more creative to try to pull people into their particular proclamations of faith. That much I can credit them for, not to mention they were the first historically to start translating many Eastern texts from Buddhism, etc.

Evangelism also has an ironic effect of education in one form or another. Even if it could potentially confuse one with the varied doctrines that might be presented from one Christian group to the next (Mormons and evangelicals for the pertinent example), or even one non-Christian evangelical group to the next (they do exist), there is at least the spread of some form of information in what is referred to by many as the free market of ideas, most notably, Penn Jillette, noted atheist and magician. In the same way that with freedom of speech guaranteed by the first amendment of the U.S. constitution, even if the ideas being presented and shared are controversial in nature, as Christians would say strongly that the Gospel is (foolishness to the wise and offensive in general to nonbelievers), people should still have a right to present those ideas without fear of being persecuted. In this way, people can learn and be more discerning in the future. Christians could be said to have a bit of a persecution complex, ironically, thinking that they’re somehow the only group that gets ostracized and threatened in any way by other people for doing missionary work (like in China), but Muslims and Mormons are still both isolated and treated harshly by their neighbors in the U.S.

With this in mind, there is a bad side to evangelism that was implied and that’s the fixation upon religious identity that comes from conversion. Christians seem to think only those who believe specific creeds or tenets can be said to follow Jesus. But many Muslims, Jews and others agree with Jesus’ ethical teachings and even many ideas about how the Abrahamic covenant works in one sense or another, particularly things about interpreting religious law, which Jesus brought up many times in engaging with the Pharisees. Jesus also broke down many boundaries that exist today and if Paul is any indication of Jesus’ teachings, in heaven, there will be no Gentile or Jew, no rich or poor, and no male or female among other distinctions we make on a day-to-day basis about people’s identities. Distinctions such as specifically what you believed about Jesus would be less important to Jesus as opposed to whether you follow his teachings sincerely. Even if you don’t believe in God, you can behave as Jesus did, not discriminating based on one’s livelihood or your bad traits (adultery, perjury, etc), but taking you as you are. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to help them in becoming a better person, but you should first and foremost accept them as a fellow flawed human being, which Jesus 
was, in part, even if he was also God in the same breath.

I hope I haven’t given any impression that all evangelicals behave like this, or even all Christians. The idea behind evangelism, from what I’ve seen and understand, is less about trying to convince someone about Jesus through words or debate, and more about showing God and Jesus’ effect on your life through actions and deeds, your behavior as a whole. In that sense, people could conceivably do this sort of thing and not even realize they’re making someone think about Jesus, though people can think of similar figures depending on culture, such as Siddhartha Gautama in the East. All in all, though, evangelism is a fairly good way to spread information and engage with people, but evangelicals, to an extent, have made it more about division than the unity that Jesus tried to advocate in his teachings, including everyone in the kingdom of heaven who would follow him. Let Jesus run his kingdom; the disciples of Christ are supposed to walk the world and proclaim the kingdom to others, am I right? Until next time, Namaste and aloha.

Monday, August 1, 2011

CRU Cuts Out Campus and Christ

I wasn’t aware of the presence of many Christian groups on my college campus, excluding the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Young Life. Campus Crusade for Christ, recently having changed its name to Cru/CRU (?), might be even less recognizable than it was before. The name change was motivated in part, if not primarily, by the negative connotations of the term “crusade”. When someone says they’re crusading for a cause, it doesn’t usually suggest anything positive, especially for history buffs, since you think commonly of the Crusades, a series of campaigns against Muslims; among other heretics and nonbelievers; that ran at one point or another from the early 11th to late 13th centuries. The conflicts are brought up even today in terms of Christian-Muslim relations, such as the Cordoba House, renamed to Park51 because of negative associations with Cordoba mentioned by Newt Gingrich, amateur historian that he is. Supposedly the name has been dropped in many areas of the group already, but the official announcement is making people confused and in some cases angry. They claim the group is bending to political correctness in taking Christ out of the name. But they didn’t just take out that term. Apparently the word campus is not even pertinent to the more wide ranging mission of the group, associating with much more than just college aged people.

In one way, the name associates the word “Crew” in my mind: a group of like minded people. But technically, you could still easily associate the word crusade with this group and unless you go about 10-15 years in the future, people are still going to be able to see the new name and think, “Wait a minute…Cru…Crusade…You’re Campus Crusade For Christ, forget you guys,” This was probably another reason they shortened the name and took out Campus and Christ from the name, since they felt they were isolating people or pushing them away since the name was so explicitly evangelical in nature and had too narrow a field of vision. Apparently Cru is distinct enough from Crusade that people, for the most part, won’t automatically make the connection of Cru to Crusade and from Crusade to Christ, which seems more doubtful the more educated you become. In virtually any college, you learn in some part about the Crusades in a history course (I did, at least). And even if you don’t learn about it historically, it would no doubt come up at some point. The resultant association of the Crusades with Christianity would then resonate in some sense within a person’s memory. With that in mind, Cru was decided to apparently make for a more general advertisement.

It’s not completely dissimilar in some way from Catechumenate, at least at my college. I didn’t know, surprisingly, the definition of the term, which, had I known, I wouldn’t have attended a single meeting, which I, unfortunately, did go to before I realized the nature of the meetings. No, it wasn’t like a cult, but the historical basis of Catechumenate is a practice for Christians to learn more about the faith before their baptism. It was practiced a lot in the early church and is still done in more traditional denominations, especially Anglicans/Episcopalians and Lutherans in explicit use of the term. Roman Catholics call it Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults and the status of catechumen is considered a default of sorts with many Protestant churches, myself included probably when I was a teenager. The deception practiced in advertisement for Catechumenate that I observed was that it implied you could talk about any beliefs you had, even if they didn’t originate from Christianity, but, quite the contrary, that was the entire hour of the discussion, complete with prayer before and after and hymns in the opening. I don’t hold any grudge, but heck, I didn’t have much of any interaction with Campus Crusade for Christ, Fellowship of Christian Athletes (especially because I’m not an athlete) or Young Life, since they were invitation and yet they made it clearer from the start what they intended to do. The honesty involved can be a double edged sword, so one could understand why CCC changed its name to reflect a more neutral sounding idea of community and such and then slowly introduce Jesus into discussions after some time.

This name change was not unexpected and, technically, had been in the works for at least a year or so anyway, but now that it’s more official, the status of the group will probably have a boom for a time, even outside of campuses and in a more general setting of ministry and mission work that the group tries to do. But I also don’t see the group’s message necessarily changing at all, since the leadership seems to imply that they will still preach the Gospel, but will do it under a name that will attract more people. I have to wonder if this is what Jesus would do, though. He didn’t sugarcoat anything or try to make his message more appealing to people. He told it like it was, so I can see how some Christians could be understandably disappointed in this change. Either way, the evangelism continues with other groups, so even if Cru crashes and burns, others will no doubt rise from the ashes. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.