“We Could Only Resort to Prayer…”

Hands clasped in prayerThere was an interesting story on the radio the other day — in which a Roman Catholic bishop in the Philippines described how they’re now ringing church bells every evening to raise awareness about the brutality of the ongoing drug war in his country.

Give it a listen (go here if the embed doesn’t work):

What caught my ear, and prompted me to bring this story to the attention of my Theory of Religion seminar the other day, was how praying seemed to be not enough.

… that is why we have resorted to ringing of bells, because we could only resort to prayer.

But if one takes seriously the claims of those people we may study — those who see prayer as efficacious — how is communicating directly with a powerful being who governs the universe not already enough? Why resort to anything else, whether or not it’s ringing church bells?

I don’t ask this question flippantly — not at all. Instead, the bishop’s claim strikes me as a fascinating instance of a folk theory of religion, offered by a religious devotee — someone who seems to know that, for whatever reason, there are limits to the effects this discourse can have.

For, at times, people seem to know that they need to do more than merely pray to a god.

When those times are, and in which situations, is unknown to me; in fact, I wonder how devotees know when to take an unchanged situation as the answer to their prayers, whether they like it or not (concluding, perhaps, that the ways of God are unknown to mere mortals…), and when they must decide that they need to resort to something else — to take matters into their own hands, as it were.

Simply put, when is praying to a god not enough and how does one know it?

Given all the critiques you can now find online of merely saying “you’re in our thoughts and payers” when a disaster occurs — and yes, I’m thinking of debates around this topic that we’ve just seen, here in the US, concerning the hurricane and then terrible flooding in Texas (e.g., see below) — this seems to be a pretty timely question to ask.

Joel Osteen Tweets

So the above interview, undoubtedly given in a life and death situation where a social actor probably feels pretty frustrated that a much desired change has not taken place, raises what I see to be some pretty interesting questions for the student of religion concerning the folk expertise of the people we study: for sometimes and somehow they seem to know that their claims need to be augmented.

“They’re Not All That Evangelical”

Picture 9

Maybe you saw my post the other day on how the way we define and use the category religion can create the very thing that we then set about to examine — failing to see that it wasn’t a naturally occurring item in the world, and thus in need of study, but was our creation to begin with. The example was the way we define so-called evangelicals, understanding them as doing something that involves “faith” as opposed to “politics” and the quandary that then results when we see them voting in large numbers for Donald Trump in the Republican primaries.

How do we explain this? Continue reading

Points of Contact

Picture 16Do you know that painting? It’s detail from Norman Rockwell’s 1951, “Saying Grace,” which sold for $46 million a couple years ago. It came to mind after an exchange that I had over on Twitter the other day, in which I wrote the following:

Picture 17The painting nicely illustrates the point — that classification is the trace of a social situation in which difference and similarity are being worked out. For, to break it down to it’s simplest, I’d argue that those two figures on the right are “saying grace” or “being religious” only inasmuch as the two on the left are watching them. Continue reading

“Let Us Bow Our Heads…”

publicprayerYesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments for why public meetings, such as the Greece, NY, town council pictured above, ought either to be allowed or disallowed from opening with prayer. What do you think?

Learn some background on the case here. See item C on an agenda from one of Greece NY’s recent town meeting here (PDF).

Interested in a report on how the arguments before the court went…?

(Photo from the LA Timeseditorial on the case.)