Sunday, 30 January 2011

Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music

Last week I asked readers and fellow bloggers to participate in a debate about religion and today I'm pleased to announce the two posters who rose to the challenge and who will be contributing to our discussion.

But before I give way to today's post, I would like to add my own thoughts to the debate.

It seemed to me, both from the comments left last week and the feedback from the contributors, that religion and God are two separate issues. It also transpired that some people prefer to see God as a personal entity and not as part of an organised movement headed by a (usually male) leader. Another element that caught my eye was the word 'faith' and how it's used (wrongly in my view) as a byword for religion. For instance, I would say that I am a person of faith, even though I don't worship. I have faith in my fellow human beings, hence my being a 'humanist'. It wasn't surprising to read how many bloggers had grown up against a religious background - after all I follow your blogs, so I've read your stories. It was, nonetheless, revealing to read how many of you had given your religious faith the heave-ho. Lastly, it was interesting to see some posters highlighting the spiritual side of their religion, or their relationship to God. In a post I wrote about a year ago, I expressed concern about how spirituality has somehow become an equivalent of devoutness, stripping the concept of its more innate human aspect. In my opinion, we're all spiritual, religious or not.

And now, without any further ado, let me introduce you to the two bloggers (and writers in their own right!) who will lead today's post:

Judith Mercado (JM) writes the blog 'Pilgrim Soul'. She was born in Puerto Rico and moved at a young age to the U.S., where her parents became Pentecostal ministers. Her multicultural fiction frequently explores the tensions among conflicting religious perspectives, as well as those between the Latino and Anglo cultures. selected her novel 'Choosing Sides' as a quarter finalist in its 2010 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award competition. "Asunder," a short story, won the literary category of the 2010 Literary Lab Genre Wars competition. Other short stories have been published in literary magazines. She has just had two short stories published in Gemini Magazine (click here to read it) and Rose and Thorn (you can read it by clicking here).

Jodi MacArthur (JMA) writes the blog 'Fiction Writer ~ Jodi MacArthur'. Exiled in deep southern Texas, Jodi MacArthur is a Seattle author hoping to write her way back to the Pacific Northwest. She writes omnivorous fiction favoring fable, suburban punk, horror and bizarro.

The three questions were:

1- Complete the following sentence: Religion is... and expand on your definition, please.

JM: Religion is, on a personal level, finite humanity’s endeavor to explain itself vis-à-vis the infinite. On a social level, religion establishes codes of morality and behavior. Culturally, it facilitates expression of cultural norms. Politically, it can serve as a tool for creating and defending the political unit. It is paradoxically both unifying and divisive. In other words, religion is a protean concept.

That is my answer through a cognitive filter. But, if religion appealed only to the mind, it would not have achieved its enduring quality. It would also not explain why, despite significant differences, the overwhelming majority of people associate, formally or loosely, with religion in all its variants.

The opening line of my favorite hymn says, “Oh, Lord, My God, when I in awesome wonder consider all the works Thy hand hath made.” Am I a churchgoer? No. Do I believe that there is a Creator responsible for bringing our world into existence? No, at least, not in the anthropomorphic sense. And yet that hymn moves me every single time I hear it. Is that because it is a relic from my childhood? Perhaps. Or could it be that the hymn appeals to an unknown and unknowable part of me that wants to connect with that dimension of life which, science’s efforts notwithstanding, we fall short of grasping in all its beauty. Of science’s efforts, Max Planck himself said that future progress in understanding liminal conditions “…will never enable us to grasp the real world in its totality any more than human intelligence will ever rise into the sphere of ideal spirit: these will always remain abstractions which by their very definition lie outside actuality.”

Rather than try to understand or judge the human predilection toward embracing religion, I simply accept that it exists. Indeed, I respect that religions seek coherence and order in a world that intrinsically may be incoherent and chaotic. I also embrace religion’s attempt to connect with the numinous, which has little to do with the mind. Of course, my respect and tolerance do not extend to the use of violence and oppression.

I come to this stance having experienced the full spectrum of religious belief. As the daughter of evangelical ministers, I grew up in a theistic environment. I then became an atheist, only to later shift to an embrace of the numinous. In my fiction, I spend a lot of time in churches, with characters who embrace, characters who flee from, but always characters who try to make sense of religion and spirituality in their lives. In this, they reflect my own life's journey. In a larger sense, they may reflect humanity’s journey as well.

JMA: Religion is a practice, a belief, a faith, a lifestyle, sometimes and often transformed into a denomination or a means of control all centered on or about a higher power or deity. That is what I think of when I think of the word religion. I believe the original Latin meaning has something to do with the word ligament, to be attached to God.

2- Do you think that religion has a role to play in modern democracies? Why?

JMA: Although, I do believe that morals support and uphold a family, society, and therefore a country, religion should be chosen (free will) by each individual, and should have no place in the government. I believe government should be there strictly to protect people, not to direct and control their lives.

JM: When religion embraces the individual as the ultimate arbiter, it is consistent with democracy. When, however, religion asserts that the social group or deity is the ultimate arbiter, religion may not cohere with democracy. Conflict, even warfare, may result when democracies and theocracies then seek to impose their differing values on each other.

3- Many of the ills visited on contemporary societies nowadays such as individualism, rampant consumerism and unchallenged materialism are usually paraded as the result of the erosion of religious values in the west. However, countries under theocratic rule still suffer from a similar erosion of human rights whilst displaying very intolerant attitudes to women, gays and other groups. What's your take on this?

JM: This is essentially a question about what determines human behavior. Religion can foster intolerance, yes, but it can also promote compassion and respect. Some religions encourage, through prosperity consciousness, the accumulation of wealth. Others uphold poverty and charity as the highest ideals. That all these practices thrive in both religious and nonreligious environments essentially proves the point that religion or lack of religion is not their cause.

JMA: This is something I’d like to think on for a while before spouting out an answer. But my first thought is this, mixing religion and power is never a pure and pretty thing. It is always a corruption and will lead to corruption under any circumstances (history proves this).

Thank you very much, Judith and Jodie for agreeing to participate in this discussion. It was great having you both on board. One last thought from me. If I was a religious person, it's very likely that my prayers to God (whoever that deity might be) would echo the lyrics of the song in today's clip because this melody pretty much sums up my vision, not just for me, but also for my fellow human beings. I hope you enjoy the music today, even if you need to speak, or at least understand Spanish very well. Ta muchly.

© 2011

Next Post: ‘Food, Music, Food, Music, Food, Music… Ad Infinitum’, to be published on Wednesday 2nd February at 11:59pm (GMT)


  1. my G-d!!!
    {nopun intended.}


    its been way too long since my last visit, Cuban.
    but, as usual, a great pleasure stopping by
    for a minute.

    a surprise today: Judith and J.M. offered much to
    consider (and thanks for the heads-up on their blogs)
    especially suited for a Sunday morning.

    and here's the irony,
    we have GOT to be in sync, somewhat.

    yesterday i revisited "Lord of the Flies"
    the 1963 B&W version. yowza!!!

    does Goldin beaucoup justice,
    and the camera work? every frame a painting!

    anyhoo, my favorite is the scene where the boys,
    half-naked and painted fall into an after-the-hunt
    rapture, beating on logs and sticks, chanting and
    undulating dance-wise . . . .

    well, you get the picture: the birth
    of religious ritual and the arts in one bound.

    whatever this means, i leave to the wise.
    the point is that this is what i watched yesterday,
    and today i began the day listening to
    "Jesus Christ Superstar" (1970_
    - the original concept recording;

    and just as the 14th track
    "Gethsemane (I Only Want To Say)"
    begins, where Jesus has his doubts
    i click on you Blog.


    wonderful dissertations
    on the meaning of religion,
    if not G-D itself.

    very nice, and entertaining.
    (i know, i know . . . nice?
    what else can i say ,
    lower eastside, limited vocab,
    dont'cha know - - - )

    the fact of the matter is that
    like love, faith is difficult to define,
    and like marriage,
    religion challenges both.

    (oh! i should mention that a recent favorite blog is
    merely an aggregator, but that title! yowza!)

    finally, your sunday musical selection:
    La Negra (another favorite)

    thank you so much for including her
    and now, adios
    hasta la proxima,
    to java i go.


  2. Madre, qué buena idea tener la participación de tus compañeros bloggers... y qué fantástica participación! Me han gustado mucho las aportaciones de las dos bloggers.

    Y Mercedes Sosa... sin palabras!

  3. I like the way you get others involved in your blog to participate in the debate. It makes for a very interesting and thought provoking read.

  4. Hi ACIL,
    Beautiful layout. Thank you for your warm comfortable style and easy discussion. I feel it is important people feel free to express how they feel on these topics without being looked down upon, and I appreciate you giving a platform for this. Wonderful. You and your site are valued. <3

  5. ps. Bare eyed sun ~ Lord of the Flies is an amazing book that gave me months worth of thought and exploration. I love that you bring that up here. ;-)

  6. Hola Cuban,

    Thank you for bringing us the discussion. And thank you Judith and Jody for sharing in your thoughts and views. It was interesting.

    Your blog offers me the adult conversation that I need. Maybe sometime you could elaborate on your faith in human beings. I would be interested to know.

  7. Thank you, Cuban, for letting me participate in this discussion and special thanks for the Mercedes Sosa clip.

  8. Great questions as always, Cuban :) I definitely percieve a difference between 'religion' (organised worship or practice of some kind) and 'faith/belief' (a more internal thing). Loads of food for thought, thanks!

  9. Many thanks for your kind feedback.

    Aisha, it's easy to explain my faith in human beings. We're fallible by nature, with many virtues and just as many imperfections. When we succeed, we do so through a mix of brawn and brains, sometimes more of the former than the latter, some other times the equation is reversed. But we plough on. My main identity marker is as a human being, above my nationality, my skin colour, my language, anything else.

    Thanks for all your comments.

    Greetings from London.

  10. Ahh, the passion of Mercedes is a perfect accompaniment for this post. Fascinating discussion. I'd add to you point that we're all spiritual, which is how we were created but not everybody acknowledges that part of themselves.

  11. Thank you Cuban, now I understand. It is when I say I am a Muslim first, you'll say I am a human being first.

  12. I love the discussion posts, and this one has left me thinking hard myself, which is surely a good thing! My thanks to the three of you. I shall say nothing of trinities!

  13. Thanks for hosting such a fascinating debate, especially about such a universal topic, Cuban! Thanks to Judith and Jodi for sharing their thoughts with us!

    What you said about faith got me thinking... I agree with you that as humans we're all born with faith (in ourselves or fellow humans or humanity, as you put it). So, when did faith get tied in with (organized) religion, I wonder? Maybe early humans developed faith in heavenly objects or the nature around them to begin with. Some began to worship them as a way of assimilating themselves into the bigger picture, so to speak? When a few did this, and they got their prayers answered (by coincidence or not?) slowly the others in the group joined them in worship. This could have been the beginnings of religion and faith getting used intechangeably? Just my thoughts... Thank you so much for making me pause and think!

    Wish I could understand the words of the song you picked!!

  14. ACIL, thanks for hosting another interesting discussion. Great questions and answers!

    Judith, good point about religion as a relic of childhood and other reasons why it grabs us. Your life/professional experience reminds a bit of Kelly Kerney’s, the author of the novel Born Again.

    Jodi, interesting fact on the etymology of religion.

  15. Oh Cuban, this was so gratifying to read, thoughtful and honest. Loved the music! Thanks for providing a place to stop and be renewed in so many ways.

  16. Many thanks for your thoughtful comments.

    Greetings from London.

  17. My latest post links to this discussion.

  18. Haven't visited for a while either. Definitely a great discussion; thought provoking and interesting!

    Judy (South Africa)



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