You are living in the most secular world that ever existed. Everyone still has an opinion about religion.
- It’s an antiquated set of beliefs about a bearded man in the sky.
- It’s a tool for bigots to push their misogynistic, homophobic, anti-science agenda forward.
- It would be nice and comforting to believe in a religion if I could get past all the irrational stuff, and oh, all the hypocrisy.
- Opiate of the masses.
- It is enough, or preferable, to abide by your own morality.
- There is no God, no Creator, no-pie-in-the-sky spiritual truth.
- We make our judgments by empirical science and accept only the cold and mysterious reality of physics and biology.
Actually! I find every single one of the statements above highly defensible and compelling, each in considerable philosophical and moral weight. That said, there is something that really bother me about the current state of socially- sanctioned unreligiousness.
People often mistake the leadership for the religion itself. This happens all the time, and it’s tempting! After all, the leaders are the ones who make the rules for their adherents. Leaders are the ones who symbolically and practically speak on behalf of their church to the outside world. So yeah, it feels like a reasonable thing to do.
Except, it kind of is and it kind of isn’t.
Judging a religion by its leaders and public doctrine is kind of like judging a country by the actions of its government. Is that fair? Kind of, maybe, in some circumstances, depending on the situation? I think a lot of Americans I know would prefer not to be judged by, or held accountable for G. W. Bush’s decision to start the Iraq War. A lot of non-Americans who are pissed off about our involvement in the Middle East don’t have much sympathy about that. On the other hand, many believe that the German people deserve some of the responsibility for Hitler, having brought him to power and abetted his decisions.
In other words, it’s not so black and white to me.
Catholicism is often judged by the actions of the Vatican. It’s a little disingenuous to say that you totally shouldn’t do that, because Catholicism is an explicitly centralized, top-down religion, and the Vatican does kind of control everything. And unlike a nationality, strictly speaking, there is an element of choice in professing a religion. But also, there are one billion Catholics in the world, spread out across every continent. Damned if you think that Indian rural Catholics and Korean progressive Catholics and Peruvian indigenous Catholics and Brooklyn hipster Catholics are all fairly represented by the PR put forth by a small group of balding men wearing dresses in Rome. In fact, I’d wager to say that the vast majority of Catholics don’t keep up with, or don’t particularly care about whatever the hell is going on in Vatican, or what the New York Times thinks about it.
People live their lives, get together and spread mayo on sandwiches for the church picnic, argue about the correct way to dip Easter eggs in paint, raise funds to fix the rectory ceiling, hike to the faraway parish to get a newborn baptized on time. The mundane, trivial and profane goings-on of human lives everywhere intersect with communal sacred space where we find meaning, forgiveness and comfort.
The people make the church; not the other way around.
I just read this article: 7 Popular Mormon Bloggers on Why They Would Never Vote for Donald Trump, and it got me thinking about the tension between the official authority of a church (and perceptions thereof) and the lived experience of its adherents.
Statements like this:
On the night that Hillary got the nomination I was alone, because I didn’t know who in my community I could talk to about it. I was too nervous to reach out. […] But I’ve turned my daughters into Hillary fans, so now we’re all in it.”
I’m very engaged in some of the feminist movement in the church. Having a candidate that’s a female is something that’s really important and interesting to me, especially as a mother of two girls.
I have a few friends who are not plugging their nose while voting for Trump, and they’re really excited about it, which makes me nervous.
Abortion is a big issue for Mormons. Based on my research, Trump has never been particularly conservative or antiabortion. So I’m not sure why people are voting for him based solely on this important issue.
Sounds to me like evidence that Mormon women are — GASP!! — critically-thinking, modern women with a nuanced perspective on cultural norms that sometimes conflict with their private truths JUST LIKE MOST OTHER WOMEN EVERYWHERE FUCKING ELSE.
I wish this kind of a thing were less of a surprise for people. It’s very important to see the ways in which the people make the religion, not the other way around, and people are smart and resourceful and conflicted and grappling and kinda fucked up and courageous and inventive and dissonant wherever you go. At least, that has been my experience and I’ve lived in five countries in three continents.
Failing to realize this so puts us at risk of other-izing (to use the parlance of our times) entire groups of people. Religious people are not always fairly or adequately represented by their leaders. Even when the leaders claim otherwise. People, in the complexity and beautiful messiness of conducting human lives, make religious doctrine an living, adaptive animal. People imbue meaning and beauty into ritual, which would otherwise only be a mechanistic series of movements.
If you want to know a church, look not at their book but at the parisioners’ hands, broom closet, the way they crease bills before putting them in the collection basket, little baby fingers dipping in holy water and making the tiniest ripples, the after-service gossip, the preacher’s secret stash of anti-balding shampoo.
People is where you find their God.
Get Missives from Our Lady of Perpetual Fuck Yeah (i.e. the patron saint of this website)! Every two weeks, I’ll email you a benediction, links to new posts and probably appraisals of sex scenes in whatever books I’m reading.