Tag Archives: religion

Passover and Immigrants

The Jewish festival of Passover begins next week. During Passover there is a tradition called the Seder (“order”) Meal where the story of the Israelites being delivered from captivity in Egypt is retold. The overall story is the same, generally, for Seder Meals, but there are many different variations for the Haggadah, the Seder narrative.

Huffington Post recently published an article of “25 Alternative Haggadahs” , one of which was a narrative that focused on justice of immigrants.

In class and our walkthrough of Albanese’s book “America: Religions and Religion” we have looked at the combination of religion and immigration and how the two affect each other. We have discussed a good bit of how immigration has affected religion in America. Because different peoples have come to America different religions have been introduced. Freedom of religion is no longer just a nice way to say we can tolerate all Protestants, Catholics, and Jews, but now religions with different gods and sacred texts are involved. It became a practice instead of simply an idea.

One thing we have not focused on as much, though, is how religion has affected immigration. One of the 25 unique Haggadahs mentioned in the Huffington Post article is one named “Immigrant Roots, Immigrant Rights.” This Seder narrative, written by Jews United for Justice (JUFJ) located in Washington D.C., walks through the story of Passover and the deliverance from Egyptian bondage, but there are additional readings. These additions range from personal stories of immigrants’ struggles for justice after coming to America, information about laws and bills written for rights of immigrants, and ties between the Passover story itself with modern day injustice and oppression.

This Haggadah calls for the Jewish people to recognize that they were once foreigners with no rights and challenges the community to stand up for immigrants of all kinds. At the end of the packet, there is a page full of campaigns and projects led by the JUFJ in order to help aid immigrants in its community.

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Like I said before, in class we have looked a lot at how immigration has influenced religion, and now it’s neat to see how religion can influence immigration.

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A Flood of Opinions

“From #hotjesus to Russell Crowe in Noah, Hollywood mines scriptures for scripts” reads the headline of an article on theStar.com. Many have talked about how 2014 is the year for biblical movies. From The Son of God all the way to Exodus premiering in December, the year is packed full of the Bible.

Many people would come to believe that, in general, Christians would enjoy this and love how biblical stories and themes are becoming major films with big names, but that may not be the case. As we have talked much about in class, and especially during our study of The Color of Christ, there are multiple depictions of religions and their stories. As one can see, with differing depictions come differing opinions – some modest and some not so much. This weekend the new movie Noah released and as one can imagine, the opinions of this movie span the spectrum.

In a Fox News video, Jonathan Morris comments on how the Noah Movie doesn’t mention the word “God” at all and instead uses the word “creator.” This has been a fairly large debate on Fox News recently. In a separate interview Director Darren Aronofsky talks about how this was a different time entirely in history where it is a “magical and fantastical world” which would produce different choices in many areas including language.

After the beginning of the backlash, some Christians began bringing up the other side saying that it’s a Hollywood adaption and that people should not be so uptight about it. In an article on Christian Post entitled “Noah Movie: Why Christians Should Stop Complaining About Biblical Movies and Watch Them,” Marty Duren writes about how the movie was never intended to be direct adaption of the story in the Bible. He says that instead of fighting it, Christians should be glad the that “cultural bridges” are being built for the gospel. He writes, “Why destroy the bridge rather than walking over it? The gospel travels more easily over a bridge than over a chasm.”

While we are in the midst of controversy and people getting angry, why not throw in some satire, right? From the Christian Post Phil Cooke writes, “The Noah Movie Opened This Weekend. Christians: Run For the Hills.” This article includes quotes such as, “After Friday’s opening, be ready for millions of Christians to turn away from the faith,” and, “This movie will be the most catastrophic event since the crucifixion.” Again, obviously satire, but one individuals commented “Amen!” There is also a twitter account @FakeJDGreear which pokes fun at issues like this.

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Should a Christian, Jew, or Muslim look at this film and be appalled by its inaccuracy to the text? Should they be excited about the text being mentioned at all and take every ounce as a step towards others being enlightened? Or should they look at this film as a film and nothing else? Who knows?! All one can do is understand that the choice made by people will be determined by many different facets – religious background, views of his or her family, geographic location, etc.

People think differently. People see differently. People choose differently. And as we have seen in our studies of American Religion, this is not something new.

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Ash Wednesday and Public Christianity

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Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of the forty days of Lent on the Christian calendar, has been celebrated for centuries in many churches. As a representation of repentance and dependence on Jesus, Christians across America come together to be blessed with the words of Genesis 3:19 and marked with ashes in the shape of a cross on their foreheads. The ritual is not uncommon and widely practiced in American church culture, but what happens when it is taken to the general public, outside the confines of a strictly Christian sanctuary? Ashes To Go, a national organization that was started about seven years ago, has done just that: church officials bring ashes to public places, blessing people as they pass by and marking them with the symbolic cross of ashes.

We take ashes to the street corner because that reminder of need, humility, and healing shouldn’t be confined to a church building.  We probably need it more when we are in the middle of our daily business! The ashes we receive are to remind us throughout the day of our need for God, and of God’s call to us.

Ashes To Go, as seen in the above quote taken from their national website, is all about the mission to remind people of their need for repentance, even if that reminder comes in the middle of a crowded urban street corner. On the national website for the organization, stories of joyful reactions and “smiles of gratitude” are described. But America is not a country of one-sided opinions, and in fact many negative responses have been shared in a number of articles about this national phenomenon since its beginning. One particular piece in The Washington Post by Michelle Boorstein features both sides of the argument, noting that even though the majority of people walking by Ashes To Go at Union Station would identify themselves as Christians, the reactions to being asked to represent this faith on their foreheads seemed to vary.

But why do so many people object to the idea of making this ritual public for those who would like to participate, and why are so many of those objecting people Christians themselves? According to Boorstein’s article, the many Americans who call themselves “unaffiliated” with any particular religious group include a portion of Christians. As the custom of wearing the ash cross for Lent is mainly associated with what the article calls “traditional Christian denominations,” it follows that people of the Christian faith who do not want to be associated with specified tradition would in fact not want to take part in such a conventional practice. But this simply cannot account for all the Christians passing by Ashes To Go at Union Station who were not willing to participate in what is widely accepted as customary for their faith. Why were people hesitant to proclaim their religion in such a way that it could literally be seen on their foreheads?

The answer may lie in American culture today. In a country that emphasizes religious and cultural freedom, it is not surprising to find that people are hesitant to show what they truly believe in such a straightforward fashion. Modern culture in America is seemingly geared toward imaging and outward appearance. How a person looks or what a person wears is paramount to the way that person is viewed by society. For example, someone sporting large, dark-framed glasses and colored, tight-fitting jeans might be labeled in American culture as a hipster. Outsiders may associate this identification with any number of characteristics and connotations, whether they are true or not. In the same way, many people, including Christians, could be opposed to being branded by a cross on their foreheads for Ash Wednesday. The implications that come with being publicly labeled as a Christian are enough to make some believers pass by the Ashes To Go station rather than receive the blessing.

In her book America: Religions & Religion, Catherine Albanese continuously returns to the theme of religious change brought on by an evolving environment and America’s “manyness.” The effect of national religious diversity and changing culture can be seen even today. The controversy of Ashes To Go and public labeling of faith illustrates just how much American culture can influence religious perception.

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Christian Denominations: One Faith or Separate Religions?

Throughout history, Christianity has been at the forefront of America’s religious culture, and that still holds true for the present. It is the most popular religion in the United States today—in fact, the PewResearch Religious Landscape Survey shows that nearly 78.4% of American adults identify themselves as Christians—but is this religion really one unified faith? There is something to be said about the fact that the poll lists major denominations as separate entities (even dividing Evangelical Protestants and Mainline Protestants), and what is even more interesting is the sheer number of subcategories listed under each tradition. Many varying beliefs comprise most American religions (“Catholic,” “Jehovah’s Witness,” “Other World Religions,” and “Don’t Know/Refused” were the only traditions in the PewResearch survey that did not have subcategories listed), but Christianity’s ubiquitous differences are undoubtedly the most prominent.

Why is it that Christianity in America seems to be defined by contrasting theology? Can it really be classified as one unified faith, or are the differences enough to call the varying denominations separate religions? A great example of this concept is illustrated in this episode of Cheers, where a married couple fears for the sustainability of their relationship due to religious differences—specifically differences of denomination.

In this dramatized example of religious tension in America, Kelly and Woody are not even of different faiths. Not only are they both Christian, but they are also both Lutheran—they simply belong to different subsets within the Lutheran church. If the seemingly minor contrasts between the Lutheran Church of Missouri Synod and the Lutheran Church of America are large enough to cause inter-personal issues such as these, what is there to say about Christian denominations as a whole? Woody’s statement that he and Kelly are “from different religions” seems to be a comical exaggeration, but is there actually merit to this claim?

In America: Religions & Religion, Albanese defines a religious system in terms of four variables: creed, code, cultus, and community. A comparison of denominations of the Christian faith would in fact show that there are distinct differences in each of these categories. The creeds, or explanations about the meaning of life, vary if even by a small factor. This is illustrated humorously in the above Cheers episode. The codes, or rules for everyday living, are very distinct among denominations too. How often in Christian culture are people arguing about how others of the same faith are living? The cultuses, or rituals to act out the understandings of the creeds and codes, most certainly differ; each denomination has a different idea about baptism, communion, worship, prayer, and other church rituals. The variance in community is the most prominent, as tight-knit church culture is pervasive in Christianity today.

So if each category in Albanese’s definition of a religious system is different for each denomination in the Christian faith, does this make each one a separate religion? This is a possibility to think about, but the answer may be deeper than just generic characterization. According to studied definition, people of Christian faith may belong to many different religions; yet they identify themselves with each other, bonding over a sense of shared beliefs. It follows that this idea of common community and personal connection does not come from the strict categories that Albanese and other religious scholars put forth to attempt to define religion; it comes from the idea that they have unified faith. Many endeavors have been made to characterize and explain religion, but it seems that even ones as broad as Albanese’s fall short when it comes to conundrums like denominations within Christianity. Defining religion is a difficult undertaking; even the most prominent example of religion in America doesn’t seem to fit perfectly into a label. Maybe this is a result of identifying the term with the wrong definition. Perhaps faith and religion are two very different matters, or perhaps denominations are simply examples of “religion inception” (religions within the main religion of Christianity); either way, the lines appear to be blurred, and maybe they always will be.

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The Battle of Faith-Based Films

From left to right: Son of God, Heaven Is for Real, and Noah

From left to right: Son of God, Heaven Is for Real, and Noah

Hollywood is Hell on Earth. This is what some Christians, at least in the South, would have you believe. Many of these people view Hollywood as a place filled with celebrities whose views have long strayed from those of mainstream Americans. A place used as a scapegoat for the “downfall of America.” A place where Christianity is almost nonexistent. A place not to be looked up to in any way. Oh yeah, and that place where all your favorite movies originate.

For years, Christians have complained about the lack of Bible-related films coming out of Hollywood. That is not the case this year. In 2014, there will be four major, religion-themed movies coming to a theater near you: Son of God, Noah, Heaven Is for Real, and Exodus. One would think Christians might be satisfied with so many of these films being released soon, but that is not exactly the case. Seemingly every time a Bible-related film hits theaters, there are numerous religious organizations lining up to criticize the storyline or accuracy of the movie. Paramount, the studio releasing Noah, recently announced that the following clarification would be included with the film:

The film is inspired by the story of Noah. While artistic license has been taken, we believe that this film is true to the essence, values, and integrity of a story that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide. The biblical story of Noah can be found in the book of Genesis.

I mean, it’s not like Hollywood has a track record of embellishing the narrative of a “based on true events” movie.  Dr. Jerry Johnson, President of the NRB, summarizes the Christian viewpoint in his article about Noah as, “If the world made it, we are against it, and can provide the list to tell you why.” Instead of continually trying to pick a fight with Hollywood, Christians ought to embrace the fact that the film industry is spending millions of dollars to essentially tell the story of the Jesus and the Bible.

In a similar article, Phil Cooke makes the case for why Christians should support the movie Noah, and other comparable movies. For starters, the story of Noah written in the Bible is fairly short. As with many parts of the Bible, this story leaves many blanks unfilled and leaves the imagination with room to wander. This means that in order to create a feature film, some creative freedom must be left to the writers and producers. This does not discount the entire story as worthless, though. Instead, this introduces a new viewpoint, perhaps never considered by the person watching. Furthermore, I know it may be hard for some to fathom, but there are a seemingly infinite number of interpretations of the Bible. This could be embraced as a way to promote an open dialogue about Christ and the many forms that He takes in different cultures.

These movies are not intended to replace the Bible. Instead of complaining about trivial details, Christians should look to use these movies as a facilitator for nonbelievers. The art of filmmaking has the power to reach an audience untouched by the Christian community. These movies could lead to someone picking up a Bible for the first time in their lives. And, in the end, is that not what all Christians want?

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Bird Jesus and the Rise of a Religion in a Week

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On February 13th, a social experiment began. An anonymously-run account on Twitch.tv, a website that streams media live, set up a stream for a play-through of Pokémon Red Version, which is a popular game released in America in 1998. Here’s the trick: the viewers control the gameplay by typing key commands into the chat feature of the site. Some special coding allows for these commands to go directly into the game. Essentially, instead of one player controlling the game, it’s a collaborative effort on the parts of everyone who comments. The project is called “Twitch Plays Pokémon”, and can be found here.

A week into the experiment, nothing was going as expected. The project gained rapid popularity with a peak of over 120,000 viewers, drawing massive attention and creating utter chaos. In spite of the conflicting orders by viewers in the chat box, the group was able to make tremendous progress in the game—but this wasn’t the only surprising outcome.

Somehow, Twitch Plays Pokémon has created an entire religion for itself. This is made complete with plenty of conflict, lore, and schisms to boot. Here is the “definitive religion chart” posted by the Twitch Plays Pokémon Facebook page on February 22nd. It’s messy and complicated and almost impossible for anyone who isn’t directly involved to understand—but those who are there contributing to this saga don’t only understand it, they feel it.

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One of many elaborate histories of TPP religion.

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Stained glass window featuring the prominent figures of TPP religion.

Anyone who has watched the live stream would be able to identify themselves to you by their denomination—and justify their stance, too. You can find Anarchists who serve the “Great Helix Fossil” and find their salvation in “Bird Jesus”. In contrast, you may stumble across those who follow the “False Prophet” Flareon and worship the Dome Fossil as their god, citing Democracy as the right path. These two groups struggle against each other for control of the game. Twitch Plays Pokémon, after less than a week of playing, was no longer about playing a video game. This social experiment became its own religion, and then started its own religious war.

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Viewers create art imitating established religious symbols.

According to the definition of a religious system in America: Religion and Religions by Catherine L. Albanese, the products of Twitch Plays Pokémon are indeed classifiable as a religious system. The Albanese definition from the introduction of the book states that religions that include creeds, codes, cultuses, and communities are considered religious systems. Because of the heavy borrowing from Christianity, the Twitch Plays Pokémon religion fulfills the creeds, codes, and cultus aspects with terminology and practice almost identical to those of Christianity—just substitute the names of major figures. The community facet is the only portion of the religious system that was present even before the religious themes became prominent. The community was there from the very beginning of the game online.

How does something like this happen? Something as simple as a group of people working through a video game together has very rapidly generated an entire slough of religious denominations each with their own histories, legends, philosophies, and even artwork. From a Religious Studies standpoint, this is remarkable. So many questions can be asked about this experiment and its products, but the most glaring is this: Why religion?

Why would an internet-based, collaborative video game play-through turn itself into an elaborate religious system? Why not stop at the themes of Anarchy and Democracy and create a political climate? What about keeping to the norms of internet culture, or sticking to the theme of Pokémon games? The incorporation of religion could have happened for several reasons, but the total religious overhaul was entirely unprecedented—and it all started from a game for kids.

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The Racial Makeup of American Churches

After visiting a predominately African-American church as a child, I had a question: “Why is our church mostly white, and theirs mostly black?” Reverend Thomas Barclay, the new head of the United Pentecostal Council of the Assemblies of God had a similar experience with Assembly of God churches.  Since being elected four years ago, he has now tried to bring the two denominations together. While they are not yet trying to merge, they still intend to try to bring the two denominations closer.  The UPCAG has around 70 predominately black churches in America and a couple other countries.  The Assembly of God operates over 360,000 worldwide churches with around 300 predominantly black churches in the US.  

Reverend Thomas Barclay, the man behind the coming together of the UPCAG and the Assembly of God.

Reverend Thomas Barclay, the man behind the coming together of the UPCAG and the Assembly of God.

While I am not Pentecostal, I can still relate to the racial differences in churches.  Growing up in South Georgia, I was raised in a very traditional Southern Baptist Church.  We had black members who attended regularly, however they were by far the minority, as 99% of the congregation was white.  However, being in South Georgia I had many friend who attended predominately African-American churches, and I visited with them on many occasions.  The style and feeling is so different between the two, that I was uncomfortable at their church and they were uncomfortable at mine.  It had nothing to do with race, it had to do with the style of worship and praise you grew up in.

A recent poll of Senior Pastors on diversity.

A recent poll of Senior Pastors on diversity.

A recent LifeWay Research poll shows that 85% of Senior Pastors when asked said that every church should strive to be racially diverse, but only 13% said their church had more than one predominant racial or ethnic group in their congregation.   Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research said that this is due, in part to human nature because, “Everybody wants diversity, but many don’t want to be around people who are different.”  While I do not agree with this statement entirely, I do think there is some truth to it.  While most people do prefer to be around people like them, I would like to believe that many other people are more comfortable with anyone that worships the same God being in the pew beside them.

In America: Religions and Religion by Catherine Albanese, we talked about historical churches during slavery, and how while many slave owners brought their slaves to church with them, there was also a large slave religion in the background, sometimes even unknown by the slave owners.  As the last blog post pointed out, most churches in Tuscaloosa were integrated before the Civil War and slave owners and slaves worshiped side by side, however today Tuscaloosa’s churches, like most around America are predominately one racial or ethnic makeup.  However, this time period in American history also divided lots of religions and denominations in America, because of the issue of slavery.  Segregation is the time period where, like the rest of America, the church you attended was decided by color.  Although in present day America, a black man and a white man can sit side by side at a diner, they are still most likely not going to sit side by side in church, even if they adhere to the exact same religion.

Even when a church is multi-racial in America, they do not tend to stay that way.  In this slightly dated, but still relevant CNN Article, some stories from interracial congregations are shared.  Pastors of interracial churches share that, when preaching and even talking in normal conversation to their congregation, they have to pay careful attention to what they say, because one slip of the tongue could start a firestorm.  They share that it is like being in a campaign.  The article says that, just like in normal culture, skirmishes can still arise over who’s in power and racial issues like interracial dating.  Curtiss Paul DeYoung, co-author of United by Faith, which examines interracial churches, was once the pastor of an interracial church in Minnesota but as he puts it, “I left after five years, I was worn out from the battles”.  The church he was a pastor at eventually went all black.

This raises a question in my mind.  While yes, most people believe that all churches should strive to be interracial as the poll pointed out, is it really a bad thing if they are not? Shouldn’t people be allowed to worship wherever they feel comfortable?  As long as no one is forbidding people to worship in interracial setting, is it such a bad thing if people don’t?  I just feel that people should worship where they feel comfortable, and if that is in a small intimate sanctuary full of people exactly like them or a mega church with many races and ethnicities represented, they are free to do so.

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The Changing Faces of Marvel and America

ImageEarlier this month, Marvel released the first issue of Ms. Marvel starring Kamala Khan, a Muslim-American teenager. Khan is the first Muslim-American superhero to star in a Marvel comic, though Marvel has featured other Muslim-American characters in the past. The former Ms. Marvel, Carol Danvers, has been rebranded as Captain Marvel, a member of the Avengers, leaving the role of Ms. Marvel to be filled by Khan. 

The series is written by G. Willow Wilson, an American convert to Islam. In an interview with NPR this January, Wilson says she initially, “wasn’t sure that the world was kind of ready for a character like this,” but that she has tried to create an authentic character. In creating Kamala’s character, Wilson worked closely with editors Sana Amanat and Steve Wacker. Amanat revealed in a video for the Washington Post that the inspiration for a Muslim-American lead character actually came from a conversation between herself and Wacker, about her experience growing up as a Muslim-American. Wilson said the three “spent a lot of time before [they] actually sat down to script the series working on background issues so that she felt like a real human being. “

Ms. Marvel

Wilson said readers can expect the typical action of a comic book, combined with new challenges unique to Kamala’s immigrant family background. Her family members range from more traditional Muslims, like Kamala’s brother, to more “relaxed” Muslims, like Kamala. But the overarching storyline is one of changing identity, both of Ms. Marvel’s change from white, blonde Carol Danvers to Muslim-American Kamala Khan, and Kamala Khan’s change from normal teenager to superhero.

Marvel’s decision to have a Muslim-American girl star in her own comic will face criticism from some parties for being “un-American,” but perhaps these critics are wrong. If we look at the changing face of superheroes like we look at the changing face of Jesus, we can see a pattern of change of identity central to American religion. Just as the portrayal of Jesus changes as the face of American religion and culture changes, so does the portrayal of other “superhuman” figures.

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In their book The Color of Christ, Edward J. Blum and Paul Harvey discuss how differences in Jesus’s appearance over time reflect the view of Jesus Americans held at that moment in time. During the early colonial period in New England, where many Puritans immigrated seeking religious freedom, visual representations of Jesus could not be found, because the Puritans believed that to look to an image of Jesus would constitute breaking the second commandment. However, in Catholic areas, Jesus was often depicted as bloody, and to many Native Americans in French-settled areas, Jesus was portrayed as a “Manitou,” or powerful hunter spirit. Visions of Jesus were changed by every group of people who came into contact with him, and his image came to reflect the views of these groups of people. Eventually, Jesus came to be known as the white man depicted in Warner Salman’s famous Head of Christ (shown above) in 1941. To Blum and Harvey, this showed that, “by wrapping itself with the alleged form of Jesus, whiteness gave itself a holy face,” and you’ll notice that this depiction came to the forefront of the American depiction of Jesus just before the civil rights movement began. 

Though they are in no way recognized as a part of any organized religion I know of, superheroes are still seen as important, prominent, though fictional, figures in American culture, just as Jesus is. Can’t they represent the changing landscape of religion in America, just as images of Jesus represents the view of Christians in America? Perhaps Marvel’s choice better reflects the landscape of America today than past comic series have. As people continue to immigrate to the United States, bringing with them their own religions and traditions, it becomes impossible to ignore the growing number of non-white, non-christians in America, and the need for our superheroes to represent that changing face of American religion. 

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Football Fanaticism as Ordinary Religion

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We’ve all seen the Bud Light, “it’s only weird if it doesn’t work,” Bud Light commercials this year during football season-fans will do crazy things in an attempt to bring victory to their team. Sports superstitions vary from wacky pre-game rituals, like dancing around the TV or setting out the remotes in a certain order, to the downright disgusting, like wearing an unwashed pair of underwear or (apparently) eating a quinoa burger.

But for many, football superstitions move beyond these rituals and into almost-religious territory, as explored by Daniel Burke in his article “For some fans, Super Bowl has supernatural twists.” Often fans will pray before games, asking God to intervene and lead their favorite team to victory. Whether or not this is appropriate, or even worth it, is up for debate. Jennifer Smith found the appeal to a deity inappropriate, and when responding to a Super Bowl prayer posted on the CNN Facebook page said that, “Praying for a game while millions suffer in poverty is sick.” Other theologians argue differently. Some say that God is present at the game, but doesn’t intervene in the outcome, while others say that God is in the gathering of people.

No matter how you slice it, football (and really, sports in general) superstitions seem to blur the line between secular culture and religion. At its most basic level, the sport of football seems to have no ties to religion. But the culture that has grown around it certainly seems to align with the definition of ordinary religion, as well as some of the components for religious systems set in Catherine Albanese’s book, America: Religions & Religion. 

The term ordinary religion refers to the elements of religion more or less synonymous with culture, and football has definitely become synonymous with American culture. Along with that, there’s certainly a reason fans’ devotion is often referred to as “following a team religiously.” I had never seen so many people so deeply committed to a cause before I went to my first nearly-sold out Alabama football game (against a small, unranked opponent, nonetheless), and I’ve never seen faith as strong as the faith fans put in head coach Nick Saban. But more than that, followers of football demonstrate three of the four “C’s” of religious systems outlined by Albanese-codes, culteses, and community (the fourth, creed, an explanation about the meaning of human life, has yet to make an appearance). Community is the easiest to see, the thousands of people gathered in stadiums to watch the game, as well as the millions gathered to watch at home, certainly count as community. Codes and culteses, the rules which govern everyday behavior, and the rituals to act out the understandings expressed in creeds and codes, aren’t as visible on the surface, but are still present. The belief about half of Americans hold that the supernatural influences sporting events could be seen as code. The rituals that fans partake in would then constitute culteses.

To put it all into a real-life situation: I’m from a family of Arizona Wildcats fans, which makes me part of a community, even though I’m a bit of a satellite colony. Since I know that my actions influence whether the Wildcats win or lose, even though I’m nearly 1500 miles away (code), I watch what I say on game day. And since I held my tongue and said, “Arizona is ahead!” instead of jumping up and screaming, “OH MY GOD, ARIZONA IS WINNING,” like I wanted to, my avoidance of the word “winning” is the sole reason Arizona beat then-no. 5 Oregon (culteses).

Though we don’t consider football a religion now, the parallels between followers of football and followers of religion are clear. But America’s history is one of the birth and growth of religion. Someday, the football stadium might become the church, and the future of the world determined by men in pads and helmets, rather than an abstract deity.

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Religion as History: Conflict in Modern America

In Albanese’s America: Religions and Religion, many chapters bring up the idea of religion as a sense of history. For example, the Hopi had accounts of their origin through a Trickster figure known as Inktomi the Spider, and many of their religious rituals and practices honor figures of their supposed history. The same goes for Jews; the Sabbath “memorializes the God of Israel, who created human beings out of nothing” (Albanese 51). They also commemorate events such the giving of the Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai. For Christians, there are many holidays celebrating their history, Easter being one that memorializes the Resurrection of Jesus Christ on the third day after his crucifixion. The history of gods, origins, sacred events, etc, obviously plays a large role in the shaping of many religious practices in America. But what happens when a religion’s certain historical beliefs conflict with something….like science?

We see this issue arise in the debate between creationism and evolution. Although the two have been debated for years, the recent debate between Bill Nye (evolution) and Ken Ham (creationism) has brought extreme attention to the topic. Nye and Ham represent two people on opposite sides of the spectrum, and as one can see in “Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham: Are evolution and religion at odds?” people don’t necessarily take specific sides. For many, science doesn’t necessarily eradicate religion, and religion doesn’t have to completely ignore science. For example, 24% of Americans believe that evolution occurred, but that God guided the process. However, there are Americans (33%) who believe that humans have always existed in their present form. I was intrigued by this extreme view, one that fully accepts creationism and denies evolution. More specifically, it was Answers in Genesis that really caught my eye. Ken Ham, the creationist defender, is the CEO of this ministry, and it seeks “to expose the bankruptcy of evolutionary ideas” and proclaim the truth of biblical history. In the AIG video, it shows that they even built a Creation Museum to provide exhibits outlining the events of this history.

The Garden of Eden exhibit at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, KY.

The Garden of Eden exhibit at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, KY.

Answers in Genesis completely denying evolution reminds me of the religious groups who immigrated to America and refused to accommodate to the culture. What’s similar is the idea of remaining true to every detail of one’s religion while surrounded by new and opposing forces. There were those who mixed traditions, who combined their orthodox ways with the modernity of America. Similarly, there are people who are infusing science into biblical history: still accepting certain parts of their faith while also accommodating for modern scientific evidence. But Answers in Genesis will have none of that. Religion as history is not something they’re willing to give up or even alter. Some people merely see biblical history as a series of stories used to teach lessons and instill moral values. But AIG sees it as a history book. And what’s interesting is that no matter how far we’ve come in the realm of science, they are not willing to abandon their beliefs in any way. It intrigues me that the idea of religion helping one make sense of the world can mean radically different things for different people. For AIG, they have complete faith that this book is a “reliable, eye-witness account…and can be trusted to tell the truth in all areas it touches on.” But what about the eye-witness account of the laws of nature and the scientific evidence we have today? How each person deals with this conflict is symbolic of religion as a whole in America. Everyone interprets their religion in different ways. Some abandon certain beliefs and keep others. Some adopt an entirely new way of thinking; some abandon religion completely. And some hold on strictly to their traditional ways. Conflict is what has, does, and always will drive religious change and diversity in America.

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