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