Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Any Religion That Doesn't Involve Jesus

A bit of humor for April Fool's Day from the website "Stuff White People Like." It's all the more fitting in light of recent Episcopal Church forays into Islam and Buddhism (which is no April Fool's joke).

Religions that their parents don't belong to

White people will often say they are “spiritual” but not religious. Which usually means that they will believe any religion that doesn’t involve Jesus.

Popular choices include Buddhism, Hinduism, Kabbalah and, to a lesser extent, Scientology. A few even dip into Islam, but it’s much more rare since you have to give stuff up and actually go to Mosque.

Mostly they are into religion that fits really well into their homes or wardrobe and doesn’t require them to do very much.


Perpetua said...

People who would never have anything so tacky as a statue of Jesus, the Virgin Mary or St Francis in their living room will have a statue of Quan Yin and a Buddha.

Bryan Owen said...

Does this observation come from your experience, Perpetua? Please say more ...

bls said...

Yes - and it might be a good thing for Christians to do some self-examination on this topic, and to try to understand why the Christian faith has such a poor reputation among many people that they would prefer almost anything else....

Bryan Owen said...

Hey bls. Haven't heard from you in a while. I hope and trust that you are having a blessed Lent.

Can you give us some specifics on exactly why the Christian faith has "such a poor reputation many people" in comparison to why other religious faiths have either (a) an equally poor reputation among many people, or (b) a better reputation? An empirically grounded, comparative analysis will be helpful. And who, exactly, are the "many people" you have in mind?

Perpetua said...

Hi Bryan+,

In the living rooms in my region and social class, it is acceptable to have small statues of a standing Quan Yin (maybe 6 inches tall) and a larger statue of a seated Buddha (maybe 12 inches tall)or the head of a Buddha (maybe 12 or 18 inches tall).

The people who decorate with these statues would make fun of people who would have Christian statues.

It is sort of like what is described in the book Inside Culture: Art and Class in the American Home from the University of Chicago Press. Professor David Halle reports on his research on interior decoration. In Chapter 6 he discusses religious iconography:
"Religious iconography is confined, in the houses sampled, primarily to Catholics. White Protestant and Jewish households are mostly barren terrain for the study of religious images ...Every white Protestant couple in the sample asserted their dislike for religious depictions... Some Protestants and Jews are caustic about Catholic iconography...A Protestant woman in Manhattan: Religious art? I don't have any. I can't stand Christ on the cross.! It's horrible -- nails dripping blo0d ...Thats' one reason I like Japanese art."

Also Halle found that the working class Catholics had more religious art and displayed it in public rooms of the house, while the upper-middle-class Catholics were less likely to have religious art and, if they did, to display it in a "muted way".

What I have observed that is different than what Halle found relates to Buddhist art. Halle found that the "avant garde" upper-middle-class would display their cultural capital by displaying "primitive art" from Africa or Latin America. I see some of that, but more of the Asian (Buddhist) religious art.

P.S. Halle found that displaying "primitive art" was highly correlated with political party.

Bryan Owen said...

This is very interesting, Perpetua. Thanks for sharing. I wonder how all of this pans out in the South. I don't see a lot of Buddha statues in people's homes here in MS.

bls said...

Sure, Fr. Bryan. Here's a section from a Barna report (the link from my blog doesn't work anymore, but I'm sure this is still somewhere on the Barna site):

"While Christianity has typically generated an uneven reputation, the research shows that many of the most common critiques are becoming more concentrated. The study explored twenty specific images related to Christianity, including ten favorable and ten unfavorable perceptions. Among young non-Christians, nine out of the top 12 perceptions were negative. Common negative perceptions include that present-day Christianity is judgmental (87%), hypocritical (85%), old-fashioned (78%), and too involved in politics (75%) - representing large proportions of young outsiders who attach these negative labels to Christians. The most common favorable perceptions were that Christianity teaches the same basic ideas as other religions (82%), has good values and principles (76%), is friendly (71%), and is a faith they respect (55%).

Even among young Christians, many of the negative images generated significant traction. Half of young churchgoers said they perceive Christianity to be judgmental, hypocritical, and too political. One-third said it was old-fashioned and out of touch with reality.

Interestingly, the study discovered a new image that has steadily grown in prominence over the last decade. Today, the most common perception is that present-day Christianity is “anti-homosexual.” Overall, 91% of young non-Christians and 80% of young churchgoers say this phrase describes Christianity. As the research probed this perception, non-Christians and Christians explained that beyond their recognition that Christians oppose homosexuality, they believe that Christians show excessive contempt and unloving attitudes towards gays and lesbians. One of the most frequent criticisms of young Christians was that they believe the church has made homosexuality a “bigger sin” than anything else. Moreover, they claim that the church has not helped them apply the biblical teaching on homosexuality to their friendships with gays and lesbians.

Barna is, I'm sure you know, an evangelical himself - or at least polls for evangelicals.

There are lots of other similar stories. This one, for instance: "Unchurched population nears 100 million in the U.S." Could be higher, too, due to reporting error - but as reported, that's over a third of the population.

The "unchurched" are the fastest-growing segment of the "religious" population. And the "churched" apparently don't go to church very often, either.

Obviously, these people think Christianity is either a negative or at least has nothing to offer them.

bls said...

And BTW, here's another "empirical" fact: Frs. Thomas Keating and two other Trappist monks started the practice and teaching of "Centering Prayer" in the 1970s because so many people were turning to the East to learn meditation.

Why, when these practices have long been in the Christian tradition? Apparently Christians have been doing a pretty poor job of getting this idea across, too.

Why be shocked that many, many people don't think it has anything to offer, given all this? I'm sort of surprised that you'd even ask the question you did, to be honest. But perhaps that's because my area is so secular that it's plainly obvious to me.

Bryan Owen said...

Thanks for following up with these resources, bls. I didn't intend in my comment to come across as snarky (sorry if I did), I just wanted you to say something more than what at first glance appeared to be a rather sweeping charge. So this is helpful.

Given my social location in the Bible Belt, my perception is that while many people attend church, the numbers are, in fact, dwindling. Especially for people under 40.

At the same time, I'm becoming increasingly aware of how even many cradle Episcopalians in their 50s, 60s, and 70s seem to know so very little - not just about TEC and Anglicanism - but about Christianity. And in some cases, when they do find out more, they "prefer almost anything else" in ways that fall into line with the piece from "Stuff White People Like." Why bother studying the Bible and Christian doctrine when you can learn about Buddhism and Islam? That's way more cool!

I am familiar with Thomas Keating, Basil Pennington, and others who popularized the technique of Centering Prayer for the reasons you've cited. That's a good example of (a) the fact that the Christian tradition has the internal resources to speak to people in today's world, and (b) the fact that the Church often fails so badly to teach and form people in accordance with those internal resources. I frankly am concerned that (b) has advanced to such a degree that it may not be possible to fully live into (a) any longer. In which case I would expect Christianity to continue dwindling in numbers.

So I think we're probably pretty close to being on the same page in our perceptions even if, as you note, you live in a place that's far more secular than where I live.

bls said...

No problem, Fr. Bryan. I've been saying the same thing - and posting the same links - for a long time, and I guess I thought I'd said it practically everywhere by now. Obviously not.

I think there are some reasonable objections to some of the Christian story; many people are looking for something without miracles, I think - something that fits better with empirical data (now that we're talking about empiricism). I mean, it's a bit hard to buy the Resurrection thing in this day and age, not even to mention some of the other examples.

But mostly, Christianity deals in other things anyway - the miracles are not really the center of the story (with perhaps the exception of the Resurrection). That's what's not coming across.

But many people are well aware of Christianity's positive moral teachings - as even the article I linked noted. And many can identify with the week in our year coming up, especially; long before I was involved in the church, I still was affected by Holy Week and all its events. Christianity does speak to people about life, quite directly - and I've found that you can "suspend disbelief" about some of the other stuff.

So I'm not so worried, actually. The story is a great one, and it can't be killed by anybody. But Christians should be aware of how they are viewed, and of their part in discouraging people from listening to the story itself.

Bryan Owen said...

I'm in agreement with you about the greatness of the Christian story, bls. It really does speak to people's deepest hopes and dreams - if we know how to tell that story in a way that makes the right connections. My concern is that too many of our folks don't know how to do that and/or are afraid of doing it (the dreaded "E" word - "Evangelism" - can be a real party pooper here).

I'd also point out that the Resurrection was also a real stumbling block to belief in the earliest days of Christianity. In spite of the empirical data we take for granted in our time, folks back then understood very well that dead people stay dead. Period. So the central claim of the faith could have been just as hard of a sell 2,000 years ago as it can be today.

Unless, of course, one "spiritualizes" the Resurrection, emptying it of it's core content and making it more "marketable."

But if that happens, it's no longer the Christian story we're telling, but something else ...

bls said...

Yes, you're right - a "spiritualized" Resurrection is something else. That's why you have to "suspend disbelief" on the topic, rather than rewrite the story.