19 Feb “Religious” or “Spiritual”
From the Desk of Laura Bunker:
Throughout the history of the world, religion has played an essential role in civilization. In fact some say that “religion is older than civilization,” because “before the first cities, before the first writing or the first state systems, religion shaped human experience.”
Religion is just as critical to society today. The research of Dr. Pat Fagan shows how many ways the benefits of religious beliefs and practices “flow over to all the other major institutions of the nation: the family, education, the marketplace and income, and government.”
However, the attacks against religion and religious freedom are becoming more sophisticated and blatant than ever. For example, wealthy U.S. foundations are paying hundreds of thousands of dollars supporting “communications strategies to convince conservative Americans that religious exemptions are ‘un-American.’”
Unfortunately, America’s understanding of religious freedom is changing. “In many sectors, religious freedom is now viewed as a sort of special interest policy mainly benefiting religious conservatives while obstructing efforts to end discrimination and to provide access to abortion and contraceptives.”
According to Douglas Laycock, a leading scholar and litigator,
“[f]or the first time in nearly three hundred years, important forces in American society are questioning the free exercise of religion in principle—suggesting that free exercise of religion may be a bad idea, or at least, a right to be minimized.”
In this precarious political climate, it is more important than ever to preserve the critical influence of religion in our homes and communities. Today’s excellent alert by Dawn Frandsen discusses how to keep the fires of religious freedom burning for the next generation.
President, United Families International
Protecting Religious Freedom: An Intergenerational Approach
By Dawn Frandsen
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” So says the First Amendment.
Whether used as a noun or a verb, the word “exercise” means utilization, practice or employ. So—no law can be made that prohibits actual engagement in religious behavior—regardless grammatical slicing or dicing.
The original 1948 version (it was changed rather significantly in 1966) of Article 18 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights stipulated:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”
“Manifest” is a strong verb referring to a clear showing and an outward action.
Even a cursory knowledge of history makes it obvious that those establishing the new America and those who had just witnessed the atrocities of religious prejudice during the Second World War would deem it imperative to clearly guarantee the right of religious expression.
That guaranteed ability to outwardly exercise and manifest religious beliefs was once clearly a priority, but now that right is being assaulted—and from some very interesting angles.
One way is the slight twist on the words. More and more we hear that we have the “freedom to worship” instead of “freedom of religion.” It is easy accept that semantic adjustment as an idiomatic equivalent. But it is not. China (and the former Soviet Union) allows for private worship, but not a free outward expression of religious beliefs.
The legal mindset comparing the freedom to worship vs. the freedom of religion affects how abortion and birth control are dealt with in the new health care law; all the questions surrounding gay marriage; tax exemptions for religious contributions or religious institutions; public prayer; public display of religious emblems; evolution vs. creationism; and climate control, in which the secularist claim that it is man, not God who controls the elements. The list goes on and on and on.
These details of the current assault on the right of religious practice is fairly indigenous to our times, however, the tangible problem is anything but new. The list of those persecuted for their religious beliefs and the fight to maintain them is as long as history itself. Think the Masada, the hundreds of years of Moorish massacres, European Jews, Eastern Orthodox Jews, Mormons, Catholics and Protestants. Another list that goes on and on and on.
As Mark Twain pointed out, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”
Running parallel to the relentless historic list of events, actions and laws that restrict or prohibit religious expression there is a different, but rhyming list that goes on and on and on. It is the echoing sound of those who are not willing to give up those rights. The Pilgrims, Martin Luther, John Lathrup, Joan of Arc… and us.
“Religious” or “Spiritual”
There is no question that we must do all that we can to protect our religious rights in the public arena. They are clearly being chipped away at a rapid pace. But as parents, grandparents and leaders, we also should be carefully examining how we can help the rising generation become the part of that confidant and defiant list of people who are not willing to relinquish their right to worship God.
We are not likely to run across in the newspaper, but there is actually a substantial amount of data supporting the fact that teens really are and want to be more religious than predominant opinions seems to assert. Here, though, is what we are seeing and being told regarding teens and religion:
One of the more resonating, present-day angles of assault on religion is that it is better (or maybe just easier) to be “spiritual” than to be “religious.” Here is a list of how the two concepts are compared: http://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/mistic/mistic_10.htm
As you can see, the premise of being “spiritual” is that “religion is an institution established by man” in order to do things like “exert control” or “instill morality” as opposed to spirituality which is “born in a person” and is then “chosen, while religion is often forced.” There is a nomadic element to being spiritual that is romanticized while the deep-rooted security found in being religious is marginalized.
So what does make a teen more religious as opposed to spiritual? What are the contributing elements in life that raise children and teens into the young adults who will indeed be part of that stalwart group that every generation thus far has had—those who refuse to stand by and allow their religious rights to be downgraded?
Most character traits and beliefs are gained through a supply-side model. So of course, the biggest social predictor of whether teens will declare themselves religious is to look at what the religious lives of their parents really do look like. (Teenagers and children can see right through hypocritical “do-as-I-say-but-not-as-I-do” practices.)
A similar and equally critical supply-side contributor is a youth’s ability to actually articulate their beliefs. If they don’t understand their religious beliefs enough to clearly explain them to others, how then will they know how to or even what they are defending?
Teaching your children
So what does this data mean for us as grownups? First we need to be cultivating the relationships, in whatever form they come, with this younger generation. They can’t trust what we say if they don’t trust what we do. We need to be involved and serious about our religious practice and proactive in defending our ability to continue to do so.
Second, we need to work harder, probably a lot harder, on verbalizing and articulating what we believe. The reason so many teens easily gravitate to being spiritual as opposed to being religious is because spiritualism is so vague. Its vocabulary consists mostly of generalities. For instance, they can say that “God is good and God is love,” but can they explain the importance of religious practices—either their own or others? Can they tell you why past martyrs and prophets have died for the right to practice? Can they clarify their convictions of Jesus Christ?
The war against religion is not going away. The question is, can we as parents, teachers, grandparents, leaders, neighbors and friends strengthen and teach our youth to be the confident warriors needed for the battle?
Here are some excellent resources and research on how to accomplish this critical task.