Posts Tagged ‘exclusion’

Religious symbols

Yesterday, two friends and I discussed the word “religion.” The three of us have been working on “personal creeds” as an exercise in spiritual practice. After all, what do we believe? Is there more for us beyond the Nicene or Apostles’ Creed? Does it matter? And, is this creed-building an aspect of religion?

Librarian that I am, I looked up the definition. Webster’s has a few choices: a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices; a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith; and, for interest’s sake, an archaic meaning: scrupulous conformity or “conscientiousness.” A thoughtful addition to all of these definitions comes from Wikipedia, “The word religion is sometimes used interchangeably with faith, belief system or sometimes set of duties; however, in the words of Émile Durkheim, religion differs from private belief in that it is “something eminently social.” That resonates with me.

Religion has gotten a rather bad “rap” these days, primarily because of people who are using it to practice exclusivity. On one hand, they claim that everyone is welcome into their club, but that welcome only lasts as long as one follows the doctrine, the rules, the agreed upon credo. And yes, it is a social interaction. For many years, I learned to use the right language, to ignore the anti-whatever of the day, and to pretend I didn’t watch adult movies or read the Harry Potter series.

I remember attending churches where the word “religion” was used dismissively, as though, their worship ways were higher or “spirit-led” and therefore unbounded by the rigidity of religion. And yet, over time, these free spirits ended up with an “order of worship” and a belief statement and lines drawn in the sand. Often, the Bible, as a whole, is used as a standard, calling on the inerrancy of scripture as the foundation for everything. But, isn’t that religion?

I remember attending a church unlike my charismatic beginnings for about three years. Liturgical and systematic, every week’s service was codified and several passages from the book of prayer were repeated each week. This form of worship is often derided as “dead.” But, in the end, it was not the liturgy that drove us away, it was the people who said, in more ways than one, “we don’t do that here.”

Religion is an overarching term that encapsulates the way we choose to worship and what we believe. Just within the “Christian” religion, there are 6 major mega-blocs (according to http://www.philvaz.com/apologetics/a106.htm and The World Christian Encyclopedia [WCE], people who identify themselves as Independents, Protestants, Marginals, Orthodox, Catholic, and Anglicans.) Within those blocs, the WCE has identified 33,000 denominations. Each one slightly different in practice. Is there any wonder that people fall away? We’ve managed to make it all so very complicated.

Judaism has managed to keep the number around six or seven while Islam appears to have only two. I’m sure there are other minor differences there too of which I am unaware, but honestly, the comparison is noteworthy.

Religion, in and of itself, is not a bad word. In fact, it’s a very broad term, much like a forest. The trees and plants that make up that forest are varied and beautiful, useful and ornamental. But they are all part of the forest. And it’s the forest that helps keep us alive.

What do you believe?


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The very thing the people didn’t want (to be scattered) was exactly what happened anyway. They thought by building a city with a great tower, it would protect their place, their homes, their city; instead, disunity broke their dreams. Miscommunication is the root of most discord, whether it’s in a marriage, a family, a neighborhood, church, a business, an organization, a government, a city, or a nation. If we do not understand one another, we cannot build or grow because our foundation is sand.

Genesis 11:4-5; 6-8
Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” . . . The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”  So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city.

People often get an idea of how to build something and more often than not, don’t play well with others in the sandbox.

At my work, we have a training class that I help lead, and at one point in the workshop, a table group is asked to build the tallest structure possible with marshmallows and raw spaghetti. It usually ends in disaster or a a very puny, unstable construction. In some cases, the tower is tall and even solid, but often, this comes at the cost of unity, a dictator emerges from the group who forces cooperation. That kind of accord is fleeting.

It’s always been a curiosity to me as to why God would not allow the group to build that tower in the plains of Shinar when they still had the same language. Most commentators talk about the issue of pride. The idea that they wanted to build the tallest tower, as though that, in itself, would seal their safety and confirm their power and authority. And I see that. But I cannot help but wonder if there was more to the story. That they spoke the same outward language but did not really communicate.

Were they really all in agreement about the nature of the tower? Or did they argue and argue and argue about it? Were there power plays and the formation of spheres of influence? Did leaders emerge who were then challenged by other leaders? It’s usually a matter of perspective, of vision poorly expressed that causes misunderstandings. Often, over time, one group develops their own secret vocabulary. Have you ever tried to sit in on a conversation of techies or researchers? They’re speaking English, but I have no idea what they’re talking about.

Of course, it’s in all arenas. Even librarians have lingo like standing order, YALSA, professional collection, MARC record, catalog, folksonomy, bibliographic instruction, boolean searching, call number, controlled vocabulary, ALA, and format, just to name a few.

But Christians are no better: saved, born again, walked the aisle, rapture, name it and claim it, holy laughter, received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, tongues, testimony, and so on.

Groups develop their own language within a language. And we often take those secret languages to build, not a tower, but a wall around ourselves.

So, what happens? Either you have to learn the language of the group or you might as well go elsewhere. Just something to think about today.

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