A recent post by Steve Grogan entitled “Why I Prefer Spirituality over Religion” got me thinking. I started to simply reply in the comments, but I soon realized that I had far more to say. Here is Steve’s post:
And here’s my response.
I understand how you feel. Truth be told, I have had similar knee-jerk reactions myself. But deep down, I don’t believe that many people are “churned out of churches” with narrow viewpoints because they have ideas “ground into them.”
You have come upon the verge of a powerfully brilliant realization, and I hope you don’t mind if I — one martial artist to another, in a friendly way — give you little helping hand making the leap.
Humans are not generally stupid or easily brainwashed. I believe people sometimes espouse ideologies they really aren’t deeply invested in, and that they do so for reasons that are frequently quite mundane. They make investments in order to receive gains. If they are lonely, they may go to a church to make friends or to interact with existing ones. If it benefits them socially, politically, or commercially, some folks will attend a church just so that they can hobnob with powerful people, make business contacts, and so forth. This group explains why, as you said, some people you perceive as religious don’t practice what they preach.
Others attend a given church out of tradition. Going to the same church that grandma and grandpa attended provides a sense of security, stability, and comfort. Or maybe they just go because they’re bored, or because they feel they’re supposed to.
And there are the role players. These are people who attend churches to pursue their self-aggrandizement, so that they can either feel — or appear — pious, hardworking, selfless, and/or committed. They volunteer for projects, try to raise the most charity money, lead the choir, the committee, the study group, etc.
Many go to church in search of guidance and direction. The ones who are free-thinking and determined may stay for years, quietly studying and seeking, perhaps even secretly harboring a viewpoint divergent from fellow congregants, holding out hope that someday enlightenment will come. Others are more rudderless. For them, something, anything, is better than wandering aimlessly. Once inside, lacking wisdom and insight, and surrounded by others who follow the teachings, these types do whatever it takes to exemplify the ideal.
In my experience, there is usually a small but very vocal group of people who are the hardcore believers, the ones who have mistaken the communion wine for the Koolaid. Don’t judge the entire congregation by these characters. That would be like judging all Muslims based on the behavior of a few jihadists.
With all this in mind, it should be no surprise that people in religious organizations might be “unwilling to admit that anything else might be true or make sense.” When you challenge someone’s religious beliefs you are forcing him or her to self-evaluate. People don’t want to look themselves in the mirror. Hardcore believers will be especially resistant because they have invested so much more. It is as if they have built a massive and incredible bridge, and you are asking them to admit that the engineering is faulty, or that it perhaps may lead nowhere.
Human beings don’t usually like facing facts about themselves and others. They don’t enjoy admitting uncertainty, poor judgement, or true motives. If they are in a congregation owing to heritage or tradition, it isn’t fun to admit that grandma and grandma might have been wrong. If they’re there because their friends are there, a challenge of beliefs may ignite feelings of tribalism. In the end, although some people do push back against religious criticism because they are true believers, reasons vary greatly because people vary greatly.
Making assumptions about the homogeneity of “religious” people — some of whom may only appear to be religious — lacks nuance. This goes for all broad categories of people. You are a martial artist, a practitioner of Wing Chung. Why do you practice it? Do all practitioners of Wing Chun have the same reasons? How many reasons are there for people to practice Wing Chun and advocate its concepts? I posit that there are as many reasons as there are practitioners. How would you react if someone criticized Wing Chun?
Most of the things you have observed have more to do with human nature than they have to do with religion. As a martial artist, you know that when a person is pushed, he usually pushes back; when she is pulled, she pulls back. This is a natural tendency.
But the master is the one who pulls when he is pushed, who pushes when she is pulled.
Perhaps, when dealing with intolerant people, folks with whom you disagree, and so forth, you might anticipate the push. All options are available to you in terms of thoughts, feelings and actions — pushing, pulling, blocking, shielding, clashing, avoiding, and so on.
From one martial artist to another, I feel I must warn you against the great trap that is dualism. I really hope you don’t think of this as a lecture. I enjoy your blog, and I find it thought provoking. Please keep posting.
Yours in the arts,