Perfectionism

This article is part of a series entitled Correlates of Religious Impulse.
See also: 1. Purists; 2. Unconditional; 3. Perfectionism

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One of William Sharp’s illustrations for The Brothers Karamazov. Dmitri stands at right.

T. H. Luhrmann is surely correct when she argues, in her New York Times OpEd of the same title, that “Belief Is the Least Part of Faith”. Luhrmann, a Stanford anthropologist, notes, both in her editorial and in her broader work, that the popular vision of the Evangelical Christian who literally believes in God — a fantasy cultivated, largely, by the secular left — is but a fantasy, and that the normal folks at the Baptist service are there, rather, for a collective exercise in faith. They seek a community of fellow worshippers, Luhrmann argues, a group with which they can learn “how to be more aware of God’s presence.” [1]

Though the impetus to religion which Luhrmann describes is certainly empirically dominant, it might leave something to be desired. For one, the image of a group of people coming together for the worship of an entity in which they only tenuously believe has something of an air of dishonesty to it. “Please stand if you’re able” — a church service should perhaps unorthodoxically insist — “to pause for a moment, put your books down, step into the aisleways, and begin to actually discuss the difficult realities of your beliefs.”

Further, the sheer abstractness of these doctrines might leave one feeling empty. Patrons of the New York Philharmonic’s Lincoln Center love Beethoven and Brahms. In the New York Public Library, readers love Nabokov and Tolstoy. In New York’s Trinity Church, worshippers love, well, love. Is that all there is for me?

Deeper investigation will lead us, in time, to rationales for religion with more propensity to induce fulfillment. They’ll also lead us to religious practice’s most imposing problems, and also, I hope, to their eventual solutions. Continue reading

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Unconditional

This article is part of a series entitled Correlates of Religious Impulse.
See also: 1. Purists; 2. Unconditional; 3. Perfectionism

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return,” Job famously laments; “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” [1] In the Book of Job, God, urged by Satan, tests Job: whether his worship can withstand the systematic destruction of his earthly blessings; whether his religious faith stands firm and never falters; whether his devotion to God is unconditional. Satan thinks that Job worships God only for the rewards he’s been given: he taunts, “Does Job fear God for no reason? … But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” [1] God knows that Job worships Him for reasons which lie beyond temptation, betrayal, and exchange. God knows that Job’s devotion is unconditional. The Book of Job extols unconditional faith.

Religion is not the only thing which functions best under conditions of unconditionality. Continue reading

Purists

This article is part of a series entitled Correlates of Religious Impulse.
See also: 1. Purists; 2. Unconditional; 3. Perfectionism

Why do the religious seek purity?

“Because their scriptures command them to,” one might be tempted to respond. Jesus tells his disciples, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth… But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven,” (Matthew 6:19-20) [1]; the Quran instructs, “[F]ollow not [personal] inclination, lest you not be just,” (4. An-Nisa’ 136) [2]; the Bhagavad-Gita commands, “All… activities should be performed without attachment or any expectation of result.” (18.6) [3]

This answer is unsatisfying. Why do all of these religions command us to purity in the first place? Supposing that religious faiths arise and evolve spontaneously in response to people’s spiritual needs, it would follow from this that purity’s ubiquity in religions implicates it as a fundamental component of the human religious impulse. Were we to suppose, instead, that God created the world’s religious creeds (or, Heaven forbid, just one), we would still have to understand purity’s role in our earthly lives, and whether — provided that this role were a positive one — God’s presiding approval were prudence or coincidence.

I’ll explore purity as a human phenomenon, then — one inextricably linked with religion, and one in need of explanation. Continue reading