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Essay/Term paper: Religion in our lives

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Religion

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Religion In Our Lives

Religion seems to find its way into almost every aspect of our lives.
In the United States, the political mainstream describes a "separation of church
and state," in order to separate this profound force of religion from the public
lives of its citizens. Thus, the freedom to worship any religion remains a
private and personal issue. However, in this imperfect world, it becomes
virtually impossible to achieve this kind of separation. Some subtle examples
of this can be seen right here on campus. The intriguing yet simple New England
architecture that we see all around us, is the result of the Old World Puritan
religion. Also on campus, Rollins Chapel, supposedly a "universal place of
worship", is structurally shaped like a cross, the symbol of the crucifixion of
Jesus. Delving deep into these religious symbols, there exists a common thread
uniting all religions. The aspect of community becomes the "heart and soul" of
almost all religious groups around the world. It is this upon which George
Weckman focuses his article.
The author defines the characteristics of a community in a number of
ways. For one, he claims that some sort of initiation or "entrance ritual"
needs to occur in order to mark the acceptance of an individual into the
community as a whole. In addition to these entrance rituals, the individual
will, most likely, participate in other types of rituals throughout his life.
This may include his eventual departure from the community, such as death.
Secondly, the author emphasizes the fact that communities often possess clearly
defined ritual activities that are unique to their own particular community. He
goes on to say, "Gathering as a group for such rites is perhaps the most
persistent aspect of religious community, and is arguably its reason for being."
Thus, the author emphasizes the manner in which ritual activity and
communal "togetherness" form the basis of community. I'd like to agree with
Weckman's view, but I feel that it can go beyond its present position. Weckman
gives the reader the impression that communities form only as a result of their
union through religion. However, it is quite possible that religious
communities are the "cause" and not the "effect" of religious experience. As is
the case with many tribal religions, the community becomes the central force
that "designs" the religion. Throughout Africa, many animistic religions have
developed as a result of their immediate environment. Weckman touches upon this
subject, "Where nature and its processes are the focal point of religious
attention, the community is conceived and structured with reference to the
natural world." (Weckman, 567) I disagree with his point here. The author
fails to relate the cause of the naturalistic religion to the community itself.
Arguably, it is the community that formulates the religion of the society. This,
in turn, further emphasizes the importance of community structure.
In addition, I'd also like to argue that sometimes the community
actually becomes more important than the actual religion itself. For example,
Reformed Judaism has become the opposite extreme of orthodoxy, where its members
actually feel more connected to the community than to the beliefs of Judaism
itself. From personal experience, I can honestly state that this is the belief
of some individuals. Judaism is a very defined religion. In many extremely
orthodox communities, such as the Hasidim, religious beliefs strictly define the
person. In somewhat of a contrast, a Reformed Jew becomes more inclined to
accept the beliefs of those around him. Although this may be an extreme
generalization, I believe that the aspect of community may be more important and
influential in many people's lives than the author suggests in the article.
Finally, according to the author, a religious community often has
defined status or social distinction, and these distinctions often manifest
themselves in the way the people live their religious lives. Weckman makes the
point very clear by stating:

"Ones role in the family or ones lineage may also determine religious status,
and one's political office or status as a leader in the society at large tends
to take on religious significance." (Weckman, 567)

I'd have to agree with Weckman's view here. A prime example of this
would be the caste system in India. The status of every individual is validated
by its role in the religious society. This is also the case with many Muslim
governments. The actions of many of the "Muslim nations" are dictated greatly
by the Islamic community.
The most important point conveyed by Weckman is his reference to the "
two groups" of religious communities. He refers to these two groups as natural
and specific religious communities. He writes:

"One of the clearest distinctions to be made among religious communities is that
between groups specifically and self-consciously organized around religious
beliefs and activities and those societies or Ônatural' groups wherein whatever
is religious is part of the whole social structure. The distinction may also be
made by noting that the specific religious groups are typically or theoretically
voluntary, while one is born into the latter type of community, and there is no
choice about joining it." (Weckman, 567)

At first look, this distinction seems rather obvious. According to the
previous statement by Weckman, one can assume that someone making a conscious
decision about their religion is involved in a specific community. Together
with natural communities consisting of individuals going "unconsciously" into
their beliefs, we can observe the whole spectrum of religious community.
However, Weckman goes beyond this simple defining statement to explain
what it is that actually constitutes these two groups of communities. After
further analysis, the distinction becomes less clear. The author states:

"Even though one is born into such social structures, initiation into "real"
participation in the community is one of the signs that the social unit is also
a religious community." (Weckman, 568)

Thus, the assumption derived from the initial statement is incorrect.
This weakens Weckman's distinction between natural and specific communities.
Now, all individuals must participate in some sort of acceptance behavior that
brings them into the actual community. Specific communities therefore encompass
all natural communities to a certain extent. This brings up an interesting
point. According to Weckman's definition of a natural community, we can assume
that the Hindu caste system must be defined as such. All Hindus are born "
unconsciously" into an already defined caste that was willed to them from their
previous life. However, the Hindu must also participate in a ritual that
formally brings them into the community. As a consequence, I argue that we can
look at the Hindu caste system as both a natural and specific community.
The author also supports his idea of specific community by defining the
six types of specific religious communities. These include: cult, sect,
established sect, denomination, ecclesia, and universal church. (Weckman, 569)
According to Weckman, these six types of communities were developed to indicate
the manner in which the community is integrated and accepted into society as a
whole. Weckman describes in detail the extent in which each type of community
has integrated themselves into society. A cult is a type of community that is
least involved and accepted into society. A cult is usually led by a
charismatic individual who is usually very personal and emotional with his
followers. (Weckman, 569) A classic example of a cult can be the Branch
Davidians led by David Koresh. At the other end of the spectrum, the universal
church displays characteristics of extreme integration and is often fully
accepted within society.
However, this notion of the "six types" of specific communities becomes
less discernible with further examination. For example, the universal church,
which can best be used to describe the Roman Catholic church, is not necessarily
specific in the manner in which he defines it. Many people are "born" into the
catholic faith, thus placing these people into a natural religious community.
Many people describe themselves as being part of a community such as the
catholic church, but just how specific is the universal church? Can a community
this large actually function productively? Where then, do we draw the line?
Weckman touches upon this point effectively. He states:

"One of the characteristics of the specific religious community as compared with
the natural religious community is its voluntary character. Yet this
characteristic is almost completely absent in the ecclesia and universal church
and is of little importance in the denomination and the established sect."
(Weckman, 570)

The author makes the distinction clear between what most people consider
a "faith by choice" and a "faith by birth." People can be born into a religious
community that does not fall into the six specific categories. Does this mean
that this person is not associated with a specific community? Not necessarily.
Therefore, I agree with Weckman's belief that a specific community is not always
voluntary. In many cases, it is just the opposite.
Community can come to mean a variety of different things to a variety of
different people. Despite a few weaknesses, Weckman presents a clear and
concise description of the dynamics and functionality of communal structure.
His arguments are vivid and compelling. I believe Weckman encompasses the
central idea of the influence of community with great vivacity, "Nevertheless,
it is not too much to say that nearly all religious situations do have a
communal dimension and that in many the community is the decisive factor."
(Weckman, 566) Without a doubt, it is the community that forms the basis of
religious life. When dealing with religious community, one can't help but
realize how disparate many of them are. Nevertheless, community will persist as
the basis and the foundation of all religious life throughout the world.


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