Spirituality & Fundamenatlism II

July 2, 2004 | 4 comments
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Hi, sorry to have dropped out for a few days (what do you call a guest blogger who doesn’t blog?). A friend from the philosophy department has been helping me (actually, I’ve been helping him) work on a home construction project that is taking longer than expected (proving, I suppose, that between the two of them, law and philosophy can confuse pretty much anything).

I enjoyed the comments. Some thematic responses.

1. The time line for the “spirituality” research is from about mid-1980. At that point, most scholarship began to abandon the “secularization hypothesis,” which posited that as scientific rationalism progressed in its ability to explain more and more, and religious belief would wither away. I think DaveB is right that a better way to think about spirituality is as a restatement of the secularization hypo, rather than a successor, which is how I had thought of it. I would add that while spirituality rubric may apply to other countries–mostly developed, Christian ones–it is largely confined to observations about the US.

2. I apologize to the “false-dichotomy” folks for not posing the spirituality-fundamentalism opposition in a more nuanced way. A better way to have put the question would have been, “How is spirituality manifesting itself within the Church (if at all), and how is fundamentalism manifesting itself ( if at all). On the other hand, there is considerable insight to be gained from disciplined examination of a subject through the lens of a dialectic. My experience with those who cry “false dichotomy” is that they often opt out of the examination because they are not comfortable with the apparent consequences of either prong, though Dan, Lyle, John, and others no doubt have different motivations for rejecting the premises of the question. Still, I’d be interested in how they think the Church responding to these influences, or why they think the Church is insulated from them, or why they think they don’t exist.

3. It seems to me that both spirituality and fundamentalism are evident in the contemporary church. The manner in which (acceptable) roles for women have evolved in the Church is an excellent example of a spirituality orientation, as danithew observed. Church teachings about the role of women during the last 30 or 40 years have roughly paralleled the move towards gender equality in American society. Although the initial Church reaction to the “women’s movement” was fundamentalist–e.g., the anti-ERA initiatives–it is now acceptable for LDS women to go to graduate school and to have careers (though this seems to go down easier with more traditional members if the career is also traditional, like public school teaching or nursing, as opposed to law or business). There has also been a rise in gender equality rhetoric within the Church–e.g., spouses are to support each other as equal partners. It’s possible that this is the result of revelation simpliciter, but it seems more likely to me that it came as the result of tacit recognitions by members and leaders alike that the 1950s single career/stay-at-home mom no longer works for substantial numbers of faithful members–e.g., can a working class family on a single income really buy a home in a decent school district with a decent commute in, say, LA or NYC–imposes substantial personal costs on the wife, and at some level is simply not fair.

On the fundamentalist side, I would say first that the question is whether the Church is fundamentalist now. While it is true that a fundamentalist church in 1890 would never have abandoned polygamy, that says little about our attitudes towards theological change in the church in 2004. I also agree with the suggestion that we have fundamentalized the principle of hierarchical obedience in the Church. Whereas members of many fundamentalist religions prooftext the Bible, we prooftext conference talks and BYU firesides. My experience–as both participant and observer–is that, whatever their substantive origin, member-leader conflicts in the church morph almost immediately away from the substantive origin of the conflict into questions about the member’s willingness to observe the law of obedience by submitting to the leader’s judgment. Even when a leader’s orders are rather off-the-wall, such as the many beard and colored shirt examples that seem always to be with us, there is enormous pressure to conform, and failure to do so is often not excused by lack of substantive merit in the leader’s underlying command.

4. I think I disagree with the suggestion that spirituality is the easy way out; it’s no more accurate than saying that people stay in the LDS Church because it relieves them of the need to think for themselves, since our leaders tell us everything we need to do and know. No doubt there are those who are attracted to spirituality because it lets them have their sins and commit them, too, like there are undoubtedly Mormons who like the fact that they don’t have to think about right and wrong if they don’t want to, but both of these characterizations ignore the complexity of the experience in both instances. Having to decide what is morally right in the absence of authority can be as difficult and complex and undertaking as deciding whether to obey the counsel of a church leader. I have several close friends who are atheists, and I know that they simply do not experience moral or ethical questions as simply adjusting their views of ethics and morality to whatever they find convenient and easy to live by.

5. I use “immanence” to signify the conventional meaning of “internal” or “within the person or mind,” rather than the (also common) “immersion” or “all around us.” The shift from transcendence to immanence would thus be a move from objectively true or real principles, to principles that work or individuals. Many religious people, especially Latter-day Saints, recoil from the idea that our own attitudes can have anything to do with what is true or real. But if one has any sense that hermeneutics captures how we make sense of the past and the present, or accepts that construction plays some part in how we understand reality, then the move from transcendence to immanence is seems to me unavoidable.

Fred

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4 Responses to Spirituality & Fundamenatlism II

  1. Angela Wentz Faulconer on July 2, 2004 at 6:51 pm

    Fred: “It’s possible that this [rise in gender equality rhetoric within the Church]is the result of revelation simpliciter, but it seems more likely to me that it came as the result of tacit recognitions by members and leaders alike that the 1950s single career/stay-at-home mom no longer works for substantial numbers of faithful members–e.g., can a working class family on a single income really buy a home in a decent school district with a decent commute in, say, LA or NYC–imposes substantial personal costs on the wife, and at some level is simply not fair.”

    This is only partly true. As to Church leadership–Appeals that women stay at home with their children are regularly accompanied by the “if you possibly can” caveat. But this caveat is always founded on family finances, not the question of whether it is “fair” for women to stay home, or the fact that a given woman’s career interests or talents might suggest another path. So, women in difficult financial circumstances have the blessing of Church authorities to pursue a career, but others do not–at least not while they have young children.

    As to the membership of the Church, no doubt there are women who choose to pursue careers (despite a lack of financial necessity to do so), but there are also very many who choose to remain in the home.

  2. john fowles on July 2, 2004 at 7:33 pm

    I see where Fred is going with his use of fundamentalist/fundamentalism–but I still think (as I noted on the earlier thread) that “fundamentalist” is not the right term for describing the Church right now. Because of its lack of belief in Biblical inerrancy, this Church, it seems to me, is far less fundamentalist than any Christian denomination that believes in it. It isn’t the nicest term in the world, but those religions, and any other religion that can be termed fundamentalist, can also be termed dead religions, i.e. they are fundamentalist precisely because they do not have continuing (real-time, so to say) revelatory leadership, as I for one believe that this Church does have. (This does not need to open me up to accusations of naive/blind faith or anything like that–I can recognize and accept the mortal weaknesses and failings of our leaders; however, it does imply something of how I view conference talks and obedience, etc.).

    But how can this Church possibly fit the label of fundamentalist? The Church is far different today than it was in the mid-nineteenth century. That fact does not shake my feelings for the truth of the Church in any way, because that is what it means to be a living religion. If Fred is referring to fundamentalism as merely meaning holding fast to certain moral principles and virtues in the face of a society that becomes rapidly more morally deviant every day, then I agree with him that the Church does exhibit that quality but argue that we should move away from the terminology of fundamentalism. Beleif in a universal (unchanging) moral code does not equate to religious fundamentalism. In other words, just because the Church finds certain virtues immutable, does not earn it the title fundamentalist.

    As to Angela: “So, women in difficult financial circumstances have the blessing of Church authorities to pursue a career, but others do not–at least not while they have young children.” I think that this both reflects how the Church is not fundamentalist and also holds true to immutables at the same time. That might seem like a paradox at first glance, but it does not have to be.

    On the one hand, the Church is flexible with its views on many things and in this context, the Church’s rhetoric has been more friendly to women working outside the home when the need is there. On the other hand, the Church maintains a stance that women play an indispensable role in nurturing their own children. Thus, the Church emphasizes a preference that women with young children, who do not have to work outside the home to make ends meet, should stay at home with the children. This both acknowledges simple biological and physiological truths and moral/eternal truths about roles. First, it makes sense for women to stay at home with young children because they can nurse. Whether you choose to nurse or not is a different question. It is just biology–as if mother nature is just saying that it makes sense for women to nurture young children because they are uniquely equipped to do so. Second, though, in maintaining this preference, the Church is also holding true to a moral/eternal principle about the role of women in family life. But I don’t see how staying true to this immutable can qualify the Church for the label of fundamentalist in light of the signigicant movement of the Church on this very issue and many other issues. A fundamentalist church or religion not only does not move on any position, but also actively fights against any impetus to do so. Flexibility is not a characteristic of a fundamentalist religion.

    As to transcendence vs. immanence, I agree that there could be some movement there–after all we are all merely citizens of the world and if the society generally is moving in that direction, then it is only natural for LDS people to experience that same shift as well. However, I think transcendence will remain in the LDS framework because of the peculiar and revealed nature of the framework itself.

  3. Christian Burridge on July 4, 2004 at 1:07 am

    If there is a shift, I would say that the shift has occurred in the minds of the philosophers and theologians rather than in the approaches of practitioners of faith. As one obtains “any sense that hermeneutics captures how we make sense of the past and the present, or accepts that construction plays some part in how we understand reality” one can describe behavior of individuals through a different lens that the old “transcendental” or Cartesian view. The breakthroughs in the 20th Century in hermeneutics and philosophy of language, primarily brought about by Wittgenstein and other logical positivists, allow us to analyze the religious practices and attestations of spiritual phenomena with a new skepticism of metaphysics and the putative transcendental religious order of things.

    The rejection of analytic philosophy, i.e. the Cartesian assumptions of reality, into a more dynamic and postmodern view may be more of an explanation of a shift rather than any actual practices of believers. Professor Geddicks goes at lengths to belabor the rise of the lessening of authentic human religious experiences because of innovations in technology. His points are well taken in my mind. However, aren’t these merely examples of the age old epistemological problems between body and mind, sense and perception with even more elaborate technological barriers between what Kant described as the nouminal world and the phenomenal world? Is there really a problem if perception is always a barrier to the nouminal world? What does it matter if digital technology adds another step to achieving what is real? Or in other words, is Professor Geddicks imposing an impossible standard to measure one religious experience if one must be in tune with reality to have an authentic religious experience? Or can one even discuss the difference if such experience is inherently individual and cannot be objectively compared with another person?

  4. Jan Sjåvik on July 4, 2004 at 2:30 am

    As a confirmed fallibilist I would suggest that construction does, of course, play a role in the way we understand reality! But that understanding is probably not exactly “true” by correspondence since we, like Paul of old, still see much of the world through a glass darkly (the Rortian mirror of nature is not nearly as polished as we might wish). So, with Kierkegaard we should probably accept the idea that against God we are always (or almost always) in the wrong, and if we don’t worry too much about the implications that this realization may have for our self images, we may, with time, get a few things right. That takes humility, of course. In particular, it takes the humility to be willing to give up both cherished notions of objectivity and rank subjectivity, substituting intersubjectivity (in Donald Davidson’s sense of the term). In principle, Davidsonian triangulation is not terribly different from the council process, and it seems to me that his idea of intersubjectivity is related to what we in the Church call the law of witnesses. So, my most sincere thanks to all of you for keeping the conversation going and thus showing me how you respond to some of the stimuli in the spiritual world that we share.

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