Monday, February 23, 2009

Getting Religion: How Private or Public?

Last week, I established this page as an insight into why certain individuals, groups, communities, and societies are more prone to exercise their spiritual feelings than others, given their own external circumstances. The idea of certain areas of the world being better suited for individualized religious practice, and others needing communal efforts in bringing forth the religious experience and extracting its benefits, is an important concept in analyzing humanity’s total religious and spiritual capacities. Indeed, in the United States alone there exist wide swaths of personality types whose psychologies may demand different types of religious practice, ranging from a completely personal practice, like individual meditation, to a community use, exhibited in ways like the concept of the megachurch. This week, I explored the blogosphere – religion vector – and found two posts that touch on the way religion can teeter back and forth between being a personal tool and a societal endeavor. Blogger Mollie of, a site devoted to better informing media members on how to cover religion, rips into a recent Newsweek cover story in her post, “Sola scriptura minus the scriptura,” and in doing so reveals some arguments circulating about the merits of homosexual versus heterosexual unions in this country. I also reply to a post by Pastor Brian Heron of the Portland Christianity Examiner entitled, “Have people heard enough of the Christian Voice?” which talks of Brian’s difficulties in spreading the Christian message in a more individually-driven community like Portland, Oregon. My responses to each post can be found below and at the respective sites.

"Sola scriptura minus the scriptura"

No matter how universal a concept seems – in this case, the heads of familial union need to be gender-opposite – there will always be fringes of society who do not fit the definition, and to make one absolute law that marginalizes these people because of a widely-applicable conception of humanity is unfair. The Christian argument that “marriage is built on the biological differences between men and women” is specific to a long-passed time; how sure can we be, at this point in human evolution, what those biological differences are? Reader Paul (comment #16) argues that men and women are hardwired for different things, but take a look at the large groups of people, men and women, who do not in any way fit a description of those hard wirings: the women who have never felt an inkling of child-rearing instincts, the men who have never felt the need to instinctually protect their territory. I believe that we have evolved, or are evolving, past these natures that bound our concepts of what each gender is “supposed” to do or accomplish simply because of gender assignment. Given that there are humans that exist whose psychologies and biologies differ from the whole “penis goes into vagina” idea, one cannot use the argument, “Men are meant for this, women are meant for something else.” The fact that this other human psyche exists makes it, by definition, completely natural. That is the only prerequisite for something to be deemed “Natural”: it exists! Existence equals naturalness. And because it is completely natural, at this point in human history, for a man to not be brutally strong and for a woman to not be compassionately mother-like, but for those two people to switch intuitions and roles, one cannot say that marriage must be between “a man” and “a woman,” because there is no such thing.

Saying that marriage must be a heterosexual union in order for it to be a strong societal foundation also ignores the millions of cases of poorly-matched heterosexual marriages in the United States, the ones that result in societal ills like household violence or maladjusted children. To argue that two thoughtful, compassionate men or two wise, loving women could not raise children in a better way than a thoughtless, terrible man and his irresponsible wife, simply because of sexual preferences, is a blind and ignorant way to analyze human relationships.

"Have people heard enough of the Christian voice?"

It is unique, on a national level, to hear a Christian reverend’s voice speak frankly about the perception of mainstream non-churchgoing Americans toward purveyors of the Christian experience. I am sure that the attitude you have in being honest with the merits of proselytizing in any sense are informed by your living in Portland, OR, as the community there seems to be more inclined to be self-aware than in many other parts of the country. Does this overwhelming feeling exhibited by the general public influence your opinions on how public or private the religious feeling and experience should be? To put it another way, do you see greater merit in religion being a personal endeavor more than it is a group- or community-driven system, given your circumstances of being in a more intellectually, individually independent community? Is it possible for Christianity to be a completely personally-examined religion, or must scripture be followed – I do not know mine so I will not try to cite it – in regards to the importance of the church?

What place does proselytizing have in the worldwide spiritual community, at this point in human history? I would argue that this effort, whether Christian or not, is indicative of a political undertaking much more than it could be argued to be spiritually driven; the core of religiosity is one’s own experience of the divine/transcendent-human relationship, and the idea that this is created best by recruitment to a group-enacted religious worldview is questionable. Is it not more meaningful for a person to have a religious experience, some communication with what can be said to be God, on the means of their own accord, rather than seeing a person become the “marginal spirituality added” to a long-existing institution? Or is this simply a case of an individual mind reacting to a group-driven religious world?

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