Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Religion & Culture

When one considers religion as field of Academic study, the societal influences and cultural biases create a world where creed, code, cult and community clash against the secular understandings of a nation that claims the autonomy from religion in daily life. The very definition of religion opens the door to seeing the most mundane and minute beliefs and practices of the American people as religious gatherings. In accepting the "American Religion" of freedom and the right to express one's self, bridges of understanding are built between former foes, and pluralism becomes a new format where all belief is sacred and "the other" transforms to one's brother.

    Defining religion in the terms of creed- the word or belief of a people, code- the rules or boundaries stemming from the creed, cult- the group practices and traditions and community- the social structure of the organization, allows the scholar to analyze all aspects of American culture from sports to government and fraternities to churches. This broad characterization may seem daunting to those who wish to keep a system of easy labels, but this classification also gives credibility to the young religions of America trying to establish their theology in a nation awash in relativism.

    Prior to taking this class, my personal experience had lead me to judge that the religion of Scientology was not a religion at all, but an elaborate systematic approach of using blackmail, extortion and fear to gain power and money. However, this course helped me to differentiate the cultural practices and personal beliefs of the religious men and women of all faiths. Breaking past my prejudice and judgments, I see the common thread of their religion to my own- their belief to mine- our shared goal of a better world where everyone gathers according to the dictates of their own conscience.

    Furthermore, as people are able to distinguish the cultural traditions in their religious worship, they are given the opportunity to find their faith once again. There can be no doubt that religion and culture constantly rub and crash against each other; creating two separate yet similar worlds full of art, inspiration and order that shape our society for good and bad. In removing the cultural influence from religion, religion can be found in an undiluted form. This concentrate becomes the basis for a new faith free from the changing trends of modern culture. In removing religious influences from culture, societies may examine their motives for change and no longer hide behind the mask of religious conviction to enact change or suppress humanity.

    In conclusion, the religious diversity in America is what defines this nation. In all our actions, words and beliefs, our nation constantly changes to meet the needs of its citizens. In recognizing that we are united by our differences, we are no longer defined by what we are not, but we become a people who embrace "the other" as they are us, and we are them.