All posts by Olivia

Congregation Visits

Last week we presented to the class all of the different congregations within Redlands that we visited. It was really interesting to see all of the similarities and differences between congregations of the same faith, and how even when the same congregation from last time was presented, there was new information and observations about it. What most stood out to me was the abundance of elements besides belief that might lead someone to choose a particular congregation. For example, several locations have longer mass, while others, such as St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, where Robert and I visited, have shorter mass, lasting for a duration of about 25 minutes or so. For those who have busy lives and try to make religion fit into their daily routine, shorter masses before work or school allow them to better fulfill this goal. Another example of non belief related features of congregations were the communities within them. The presenters of the Latter Day Saints Church gave an example of this when they discussed how one man who always attends has “his spot” that everyone knows not to sit in. The UCC Congregation, which has most of the faculty from the U of R attend, is known for its open mind and inclusiveness, displayed through the rainbow flags and banners throughout the congregation, and the female Pastor Jill. Although almost all congregations were types of Christianity, they all exemplified very different morals and atmospheres of worship and community, which reinforced the idea to me that choosing a congregation is less about belief and more about what draws you to it, and therefore, the success of a congregation must have little to do with belief as well.

Fluffy Bunnies

Throughout the many  Jigsaw readings and articles we have been discussing in class these past few weeks, one of the few that caught my eye and I resonated with was the Fluffy Bunnies one, about “fake” Pagans. While in no way am I familiar with the religions encompassing Paganism itself, nor do I claim to be a practicing Pagan, I took a WGS course last semester called “Women and Witchcraft,” which explored the portrayals of witchcraft in the media and how there are harmful stereotypes perpetuated in the media of it.

Many Pagans were offended by movies such as The Craft and Rosemary’s Baby which draw connections between Satanism and the devil with witchcraft. The Craft specifically was not intended to be offensive and the director consulted actual people involved in high leadership positions within the religion to incorporate real elements of Paganism into the film, however, many Pagans found it offensive that elements of their religion were “appropriated” for entertainment. The “Fluffy Bunnies” the article discusses are practicers of some parts of Paganism, but hardcore believers argue that they are giving the religion a bad name, and that they do not respect all aspects of Paganism, only some. Therefore, this gives others a limited view of Paganism is about. In both scenarios, only certain elements of a religion are represented by a practicer or production.

However, religion, and furthermore, spirituality,  is really about picking and choosing what parts appeal to the individual. That is the job of pastors, to appeal to the congregation by emphasizing certain verses of the Bible and adapting it to fit in people’s everyday lives so they can relate to it. It seems unfair to claim someone is a “fake Pagan” for the level of religious intensity they exercise in their lifestyles.

Gospel Hour

The article that my group read for class last week on Thursday was “Gospel Hour,” which we presented to the class. It was about a gay bar in Atlanta where performers in drag would put on gospel songs with choir from a local church. This blend of evangelical Christianity with the LGBT community was an interesting instance of highly individualized religion, and an example of spirituality. Something that I found interesting was that not only did the participants of the service claim  that Christianity was often hostile and derogatory towards members of the LGBT community, but that LGBT people who were Christian felt that they could not openly discuss their faith within their own community. This was surprising to me because as an outsider to both of these communities, I expected that the LGBT community would be more inclusive, especially members within the deeply religious South. However, it does make sense, because of the rhetoric used by many conservative Evangelicals with their interpretations of the Bible. It seems as though both groups’ overall disdain and animosity towards one another are the driving force behind this amalgamation of two countercultures. It allows both groups to express their religiosity without fear of judgment or negative reaction from their peers.

Some observers at first reacted negatively towards the Gospel Hour, claiming it was sacrilegious or anti Christian. However, when they are claiming it to be that, it seems that they are actually denouncing all forms of personalizing religion, thus, implying that adapting religion and applying it to individualized or personalized situations, is wrong. Obviously that is the job of priests and rabbis already, to help bring religion into the lives of the members of their congregations, so it seems hypocritical to claim that just because they happen to not relate to the performance.

Supreme Court vs Religion

Recently, at the beginning of the month, although I have just now heard of it from an opinion piece in the New York Times, the Supreme Court received a case regarding impermissible establishment of religion in the U.S. Although society is now “secular” in theory, this is not always upheld in practice. The Court ruled in favor last year of a baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a same sex couple, and upheld President Donald Trump’s executive order on banning immigration from Muslim countries. This current case involves a cross in Maryland built to honor WW1 victims, however, this cross was built with public funds and on public property.

The Trump administration claimed the Christian cross, on which Jesus died for humanity’s sins and was resurrected, was “secular.” However, even liberal justice Stephen Breyer wondered if because this was built when the nation was not as religiously diverse, it should be allowed to remain, since it did most likely connect with the majority of the fallen soldiers’ faiths.

As the article points out, it is hard to imagine a Wiccan or atheist memorial with public funds being defended in the same way by the Court. However, with religious context, it doesn’t seem fair to say that both are equally inappropriate within a World War One memorial. A Wiccan memorial in Salem would probably be more supported. However, even with this justification, the Supreme Court is beginning to grow extremely worrying to me with its inability to separate church from state. The Muslim death row prisoner not having the same rights as a Christian death row prisoner comes to mind as a prominent example of this. The linking of church and state is not a reflection of the religiously tolerant and pluralistic views of society today.

Religious Pluralism

Chapter Eight of McGuire discussed the prevalence of religious pluralism, which can often be confused with an individual possessing various forms of belief that span across several religions. Instead, it is actually not only tolerance of a religion, but the belief that that religion’s views are true for that person. Some religions are inherently pluralistic, like Hinduism, which believes that all people worship the same God, regardless of who they believe it to be. This concept stuck with me, because all religions discuss the forgiving, loving nature of their God/higher power. It makes sense that belonging to a different religion than what turns out to be “correct” or “right” would not stop God from protecting them or allowing them to enter Heaven, simply for doing something as “human” as not believing in his correct form. If God can forgive all sinners I believe that would be forgiven as well.
Religious pluralism seems to be important in maintaining a secular society, as it is able to distinguish between the values of a specific religion and the values of one from a different country or culture. Validating other belief systems will lead to an increased religious freedom and tolerance within our (sometimes less than it should be) secular society. However, it seems that pluralism is not as pervasive as it should be within other aspects of society. For example, politics wise, people are likely to attack their opposing side in ways that seem much harsher than if it was a particular religion. Since I am from the liberal bubble of San Francisco, “hating Republicans” was often a way to bond and begin a friendship between most people. It would literally  be used as a pick up line, conversation starter, or a way to make fast friends out of strangers. Any attempt to look past one’s religion was seen as betrayal akin to Nazi sympathizing, as Republicans were the ultimate enemy to my friends. It seemed harmless at the time, however, had “Republicans” been replaced with a religious group, I realize it would have been incredibly offensive. So why is pluralization of politics not as widespread or positively received within society as religious pluralism is, especially given their interconnected relationship?

Supply Side

This week’s McGuire reading for Tuesday focused on religion in the modern world, and what exactly is its present position. Four different narratives (secularization, reorganization, individualization, supply side market analysis) currently dominate the answer to the future of religion. The supply side narrative is the only one of these that I had not before heard of as an explanation to the changes in religious trends over time. It is explained that the U.S. has a free market for religion, and what makes a church successful is the participation and amount of members. The reading states that by redesigning a religion to be more popular, “church members will flock through your doors.” (299)

The connection between church and religion, however, is not always present.  Strange but plausible is someone who considers themselves to be Christian and reads the Bible daily, yet never attends church, and because of the religious free market, it is easier than ever to find ways to practice different forms of religion or even start a new church. When people are reminiscing about the “good old days,” McGuire points out, they include the singular neighborhood community church everyone attended, but fail to bring up the “gravely restricted individual freedom” people were subjected to, particularly women. These authoritarian, patriarchal structures found within churches and congregations were non democratic and placed no emphasis on the individual. Additionally, as other cultures and Eastern religions make their way into Western culture, there become more mainstream options for church attendance. Supply side seems to ignore that religion and church can coexist separately as well as together. The success of a church is not always due to religion itself, but the members, charisma, hospitality, and physicality of the church rather than its actual beliefs. As religion becomes more individualized with the growth of spirituality, we may find that while churches become less frequently attended, religion still has the same amount of presence within people’s lives, just differently than it may have with religion.

Mormon Jane Austen?

In my Jane Austen centric English class, we discussed the large LDS following Jane Austen’s British Regency novels have and the various adaptations, such as Scents and Sensibility, that reimagine her novels with a Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints framing narrative. While this was surprising initially, it turns out that biographies of Jane Austen sold significantly more in Salt Lake City than other major U.S. cities with a ratio of 8:1, which is famous for its significant population of members of the church.

As it turns out, the large following Austen’s novels have in connection to the church is due to the morals and values presented in the 1800s. For example, abstinence before marriage, and a strong emphasis on getting married as quickly as possible, are values in the church and the novels. The chaste society seems to appeal to Mormon women as it is comparable to their own. What I find more interesting, however, is not the reimagining of Austen characters within Mormon settings, and incorporation of their faith into religious based adaptations, but how they seem to be misinterpreting the values Austen describes. While the societal values of this time period do seem to agree with current LDS values, Austen is not necessarily advocating for them. She portrays her female characters as being harmed by the patriarchal society they live in, and her novels feature characters attempting to have suitors and be married, not for starting a family to fulfill God’s destiny, but to survive in a society where men only receive inheritance of property. Her writings have been declared feminist by today’s standards and had she been a contemporary writer, many scholars declare she would not write about the institute of marriage as frequently. The chastity was a product of its time, and it does not attempt to glorify it.

While the adoption of Jane Austen into the LDS Church is debatable, it is worthwhile to see that such an enduring writer can be beloved and relatable with women today. More often we see reimaginations of works as being MORE “progressive” than the original, so it is interesting to see a reversal focused not on societal issues but one that is faith based and seemingly more conservative than most of society’s morals and values today. Religion can train its practicers to identify aspects of their faith in other media, which will most likely lead to an increased tolerance of religion.

Religion and Hope

One of the case study presentations this week in class highlighted the differences between a non believer and an active participant in religion’s daily activities and lives. While the man, an “agnostic atheist” millennial in the tech industry with several roommates lives a life without faith, a stay at home  wife and mother of a young daughter incorporates God and her religion into several aspects of her life. One of the more memorable parts of the video was when she claimed that people who are living without faith are not living life to its highest potential, as their lives do not have “as much meaning” as those who believe in a higher power connected somehow to humanity. Quite obviously, the belief that by living a life for God she was doing something meaningful, stuck with her. Another point made by her that jumped out at me was when she described briefly how her religion strengthens her in times of weakness, as heaven and unconditional love could be a comfort to those who might feel grief or distress.

This led me to considering the reasons people turn to religion, as well as the times that people do so, and it is undeniable that in times of grief or tragedy or shortly after, people do turn to their faith more often.  There are numerous reasons why someone may choose to practice a religion, especially more so after a tragic event to cope with it better, but one of the likely leading factors has to do with the situation being out of someone’s own hands and in a higher power–by placing full control of the situation into someone else’s hands, we relieve some stress. The idea that even death, a finite ending, is not the ultimate end, because you will see your beloved deceased relatives in heaven again and they are in a better and spectacular place, is a wonderful and beautiful idea no matter what your personal belief system is, even if for some non believers it is not a reality. Therefore, people do use their faith in religion to comfort themselves about the futures of their own lives as well as the future of others. My question is, what if theoretically God had no current interaction or control over humanity–for example, if Christianity drastically changed its main beliefs and suddenly,  while God did create the world and humans originally, he now has no control over current or future events, and no afterlife is certain, how many people would feel a loss of religion? If praying to God was unnecessary and pointless, there was no life after death, and no concept of “destiny,” and he was strictly the Creator of the world in the beginning and nothing more, then would people stick with their faith?

My personal guess is that many would turn to a more scientific “evolutionary” point of view of creation, and many would reject Christianity. What does this say about the influencing factors of religion and why people turn to it? Is comfort a necessary aspect of religion?

Bible Literacy in Schools

According to an article from, officials in 6 different states, including Virginia and Florida, are reviewing bills that will allow Bible study within the classrooms of public schools, permitting that these are taught not as religious classes but teaching the literary, cultural, and historical significance of the Bible. President Trump tweeted his support of this.

A little bit of background on this topic is that in 1869 the Cincinnati School Board ended scripture reading because of the Catholic opposition, as the schools were reading the Protestant version of the Bible. This was an attempt to regain the Catholic children back into the public schools they had left. In 1963 the Supreme Court ruled Bible study in public school unconstitutional, yet today, many prominent conservative Christian leaders are attempting to undo this and continue pushing Bible literacy in schools.

This is an interesting discussion, as the Bible, whether one is a believer or not, has had an undeniable trend on American literature and society. Hundreds of thousands of works of art have allusions to the Bible within, especially literature and American classic works that many high schoolers will be exposed to. Teaching it as a strict piece of literature could be beneficial to developing critical analysis and insight among students, within English class. However, the strong support from so many conservative leaders leads me to believe that the emphasis would be less on literary significance and more on teaching it as truth, which is against the nature of the bill. Our country has always had freedom of religion, but how can we say that we uphold this value if our public schools push specific religion?

Spirituality vs Religion

91% of Americans in 2014 believed in either God or some form of a higher power, but that does not necessarily correspond to an increase to religion, as identifying as “spiritual” instead of religious is gaining popularity. This concept of spirituality disagrees with religious organizations as a whole, and it is the belief that one does not need to belong to a church or community to practice religion. It allows individuals to shape their own religious beliefs and ideas independently of others and lacks external guidance. Why has the growth of spirituality occurred in the present day? What factors have led to the growth of independent belief systems?

Marrying someone outside of your religion is becoming more and more common in the present day, and even more progressive is that within these couples, neither is forced to compromise their own faith. It used to be that one would usually convert, however, more and more couples are married in different ceremonies respective to each other’s faith. This means that the products of these marriages, their children, are growing up in interfaith, blended households, allowing them more exposure to multiple perspectives and answers to life. Identifying as spiritual means that people who want to embrace both sides of their family can do so. They can pick and choose the aspects of religion that they truly believe in, instead of just blindly following all that is told to them.

Another possible explanation for the rise in spirituality is more exposure outside of Western ideology. For example, yoga, practiced by 20.4 million Americans, is a Hindu philosophical tradition which also has roots in Buddhism and Jainism. Yet, in my yoga class at the local community center, there are people of many different backgrounds and faiths within it. The same goes for astrology’s religious roots. Even concepts like “karma” which many people believe in regardless of religion, is originally a Buddhist and Hindu belief. These could all serve to enhance a person’s understanding of the universe and a higher power beyond just one text or one congregation.