Category Archives: Religion and Spirituality

Christians on High Horses

HHsA recent comment by the U.S. president led me to wonder:  What’s the difference between a modern ISIS terrorist and a Christian Crusader from 1000 years ago or an Inquisition interrogator from 500 years ago, from the point of view of their victims?

The answer: not much.

Now what’s the difference between those two above and a modern Christian, whose faith has spent the last 500 years ridding itself of crusades and inquisitions, whose faith has undergone massive social and cultural reformations when the Age of Enlightenment contributed to the secularization of European democracies and the founding of the secular democracy of the United States, events which liberated Christianity from being a tool of the State, a liberation that allowed Christianity to completely restructure itself from a political force at the command of kings to a growing and still-emerging body of Christ who take their inspiration from the actual teachings of Jesus – how would modern Christianity compare to the Dark Ages church that was more a political force than a spiritual one?

The difference would be something like the mother of Coptic Christian brothers who were beheaded by ISIS expressing her forgiveness for her son’s murderers and hoping for their killers’ salvation; it would be calls for prayer rather than calls for revenge in response to the persecution of Christians in many parts of the world, it would be the universal condemnation by the Christian community of hate and provocation that occasionally arises among them by those claiming to act in the name of Christ.

Christianity remains at or near the top of the worlds fastest growing religions, and it has successfully transformed itself into one of the world’s more pacifistic and also among the most generous of religions for global foreign aid.  Much has changed since the days the president was referring to. That Christianity existed in another time, another place, for an entirely different purpose and with a polar opposite reason for existence than the Christianity we know today.

So I don’t know if protesting the violent slaughter of those who will not convert to the perpetrators’ religion means that Christians are on a high horse of some kind.  I believe that everyone is protesting these acts of violence regardless of their spiritual tradition, and I believe that most reasonable people also accept the perpetrators’ own stated rationale for committing those acts.

Clearly the president is as horrified by this violence as everyone else is.  But the comment about being on a high horse about it made no sense at all to me, and I find that I cannot resist a brief response.

Spirituality vs Religion: Seekers and Dwellers At the End of the Road

SeekersDwellers

Back in 2003 a paper was published that examined the effects of two different kinds of spirituality on psychosocial functioning in old age. The study, Religiousness, spirituality, and psychosocial functioning in late adulthood: Findings from a longitudinal study (link accesses the pdf), used life course data from a longitudinal research project done by the Institute of Human Development at the University of California, Berkely.  The results reflected a few things that seem intuitively obvious, but found other things that some might find surprising.

The types of spiritual experience they measured were what they termed “dwellers” and “seekers”.  From the paper:

Religious dwellers tend to accept traditional forms of religious authority; they inhabit a space created for them by established religious institutions and relate to the sacred through prayer and communal worship.

By contrast, for spritual seekers individual autonomy takes precedence over external authority and the hold of tradition-centered religious doctrines.  Spiritual seekers are explorers who create their own space by typically borrowing elements from various religious and mythical traditions, and they frequently blend participation in institutionalized Western religion with Eastern practices.

…What differentiates dwellers and seekers is not the seriousness of effort to incorporate the sacred in their lives but their relation to religious authority and tradition.

Much is known about Dwellers.  They have better intergenerational family interactions, large supportive social networks, and are much more likely than others to engage in voluntary  community caregiving activies.

By contrast little is known about the late life psychological functioning of Seekers.  Some sociologists, and not just dweller sociologists, have hypothesized that the self-referential emphasis of spiritual seekers is evidence of “excessively narcissistic self-absorption” that may in fact undermine the community obligations promoted by institutionalized religions.

Fortunately for those of us who live in both worlds, that turned out not to be the case.  What emerged instead was something positive for both groups, something that hints at fertile ground for future research now that exploration of alternative spiritual lifestyles has become more common in Western culture.

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