Trots fight back »« It wasn’t like that

The believer’s inner needs

Recognized.

I’m reading Kenan Malik’s talk at the Conway Hall conference on blasphemy, and it corroborates what I was just saying about contemporary religion (that it’s contemporary religion that is seen as “fulfilling people’s needs” and that it’s reading backward to think religion has always been seen that way).

This intensely personal, deeply emotional response marks a shift in the way that believers understood their relationship to belief. Faith has always had an emotional components and for some faiths such emotional spirituality has been  central to their outlook. Nevertheless there has been a fundamental shift in the character of religious belief in recent decades. Sociologists talk of  the rise of the ‘therapy culture’ to describe the growing emotionalism of our age.  Scholars such as the philosopher Charles Taylor and the sociologist Olivier Roy have described how such emotionalism has become central to new forms of ‘expressive’ faiths.  Faith, as Charles Taylor observes in his book A Secular Age, has become disembedded from its historical culture, and reconstituted instead as part of the culture of ‘expressive individualism’, forms of spirituality grounded in the primacy of individual experience and rooted in the social values of what the writer Tom Wolfe has called the ‘me generation’…

In Spiritual Revolution, their study of religious practices in a small town in northern England, the sociologists Paul Heelas and Linda Woodhead show that while traditional religious congregations are on the decline, ‘New Age’ forms of spirituality are beginning to fill the gap. But more than this, many once-traditional believers are beginning to adopt New Age attitudes and rituals, developing new forms of faith that celebrate the emotional aspects of spirituality and seek to fulfil the believer’s inner needs.

Toldja.

Comments

  1. Rieux says

    Another (positive) angle on Malik’s piece is that his general point applies rather well to contexts quite a ways removed from Rushdie-and-Islam:

    The prohibition of blasphemy remains a means, in Kolokowski’s words, of ‘reaffirming and stabilizing the structure of society’, of ‘proclaiming “this is how things are, they cannot be otherwise”’. But it has become a means of protecting beliefs deemed essential not to society as a whole, but to specific communities, and to an individual’s identity and self-esteem. What, however, defines a community? And who defines which beliefs are essential to a community? Or to the identity of individuals within it? These, too, are matters not of theology, or even of culture, but of power. The struggle to define certain beliefs or thoughts as offensive or blasphemous is a struggle to establish power within a community and to establish one voice as representative or authentic of that community. What is called offence to a community is in reality usually a debate within a community – but in viewing that debate as a matter of offence or of blasphemy, one side gets instantly silenced.

    Obviously the main referent of that point is Rushdie-(or Danish cartoonists or Hirsi Ali or Charlie Hebdo or Namazie or ASH-LSE or whatever)-and-Islam. But the above could just as easily refer to Be Scofield blasting gnus, and especially Greta Christina (FFS), as racist cultural imperialists because of the manner in which atheist evangelism attacks “traditions” that have allegedly been “liberating” to various “communities.” To which Malik’s response is on the nose: everything in the above paragraph from “What, however, defines a community” through the end of the paragraph could just as easily have been written as a rebuttal to Scofield stuff like this:

    For African Americans, Christianity and Islam have played a central role in the process of humanization – both in the eyes of the dominant culture and in building up the community, personal identity and psychological resilience to resist white supremacy, slavery and segregation. “Reason” as articulated by the new atheists makes no room for marginalized populations[‘] need to resist these forms of oppression, nor [does it] recognize[ ] the important role that religion has played in this process. Rather, the simplistic labels of harmful, poisonous or virus are carelessly used to discredit it.

    In Malik’s terms, Scofield is stating as definitive his preferred One True Narrative of the “role” that “Christianity and Islam have played” in African-American history and community. He simply pretends Black skeptics and other cross-cutting currents out of existence; as Malik puts it, “What is called offence to a community is in reality usually a debate within a community. – but in viewing that debate as a matter of offence or of blasphemy, one side gets instantly silenced.” Same goes for Scofield’s treatment of Native Americans, and indeed every other community (except for gnus) he mentions.

    And that, inevitably, is what a piece like Scofield’s (or the LSE Student Union’s attack on ASH, etc.) does: it declares an Official Cultural Identity for the group being “protected,” an identity that invariably happens to match the views of that community’s most conservative, if not reactionary, elements. Black skeptics? Native Americans who have discarded religion as unworthy? Muslims who disdain blasphemy laws and policies? Too bad; the Scofields and LSESUs of the world wave them out of existence with a flick of the wrist.

    Not that this is a new observation, but it’s bitingly ironic that the factions that benefit most from this kind of lefty backstab are the right-wing fundamentalist ones. It’s liberal and secular-leaning African-Americans/Native Americans/Muslims who get screwed by these blindly religious- (and inevitably white-) privileged attempts to “help” them.

  2. GordonWillis says

    This intensely personal, deeply emotional response marks a shift in the way that believers understood their relationship to belief.
    Such gush, such timbre, such…well, anyway, so believers have a relationship to belief, do they? Does that mean that they believe something, or does it mean that they believe something and wish they didn’t, or does it mean that they believe something really and really hope they do, or does it mean something else?
    .
    Faith has always had an emotional component
    It’s nice, it’s comforting, it’s not nice, it’s bloody uncomfortable (depends on what you want to do, perhaps; or maybe you don’t believe in it after all and wish you didn’t have to pretend: these are presumably bad relationships to belief).
    .
    and for some faiths such emotional spirituality has been central to their outlook.
    Oh, so this is spirituality now, is it? I thought it was relationship to belief. Or perhaps relationship to belief is spirituality, like when you believe that a dropped glass is lots of sharp bits, and just know that it was the wrong glass. That’s just so spiritual. And we’ve got “faiths” now, but it was “faith” before. So what are we talking about here, sort of thing, you know? And what’s this “outlook” thing? Does a “faith” have an outlook? Surely only people can have outlooks — after all, only people can see. Well, they can sometimes, but I mean, they’re the only ones who can (if you ignore beetles and things, who don’t believe anything at all so who cares about them?). But anyway, faiths are just how people see, aren’t they? I mean, faiths are what people believe, a point-of-view sort of thing, you know? Lord, I’m confused! Help thou my unbullshitment!
    .
    Nevertheless there has been a fundamental shift in the character of religious belief in recent decades.
    Aha! people are believing something else!
    .
    Sociologists talk of the rise of the ‘therapy culture’ to describe the growing emotionalism of our age.
    Those bloody sociologists. All of them! Whoever they are!! So, people get mixed up, and they look for help, and this is the “therapy culture”, presumably because the religious culture gets people locked up in Irish laundries or raped in the confessional. And then they get all emotional about it. Cheap! cheap! cheap! they twitter, but let’s face it, if that sort of thing happens as much as it does happen something must be rotten in the state of Denmark, sort of thing, you know, eh?
    .
    Scholars such as the philosopher Charles Taylor and the sociologist Olivier Roy have described how such emotionalism has become central to new forms of ‘expressive’ faiths.
    You see, this isn’t honest-to-goodness “emotional spirituality that is central to their outlook” . Oh no, this is emotionalism. Do Messrs Taylor and Roy actually call it “emotionalism”, I wonder? If so, why? It’s central to new forms of ‘expressive’ faiths is it? Well well. So what’s the problem? It’s emotional in an “emotionalism” sort of way? It’s new forms (is that allowed?)? It’s expressive (what isn’t? — yes, but should it be?), and they’re “faiths” — but isn’t that alright?
    .
    Faith, as Charles Taylor observes in his book A Secular Age, has become disembedded from its historical culture
    So it’s not alright. You see, there’s this quality called “faith” which can manifest itself in various mundane objects, such as methodism or zeppelin-manufacturing, but which really and truly can only participate in that which is but a worldly shadow of its true nature, which is whatever we are talking about here, sort of thing, you know? Or maybe it’s the other way round, but honestly, does it matter?
    .
    forms of spirituality grounded in the primacy of individual experience and rooted in the social values
    Oh, like religion, you mean! Moses and very hot chatty shrubs, Sam and “Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth”, Young Mary and “in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth” (wherever that was, anybody know? But it’s a real individual experience, so it’s prime, and grounded, sort of thing, you know?). Then there’s Jesus showing off his groovy new punctures to Thomas and showing just how bright he really is to poor old Paul, and John Haught telling everyone that his experience of God is really real, really.
    .
    rooted in the social values of what the writer Tom Wolfe has called the ‘me generation’
    I get the impression that someone is not happy. The “me generation”. Oh dear. This must be bad, people worrying about their lives. Of course, when bishops had real power, nobody worried about their lives at all. No, they had faith. Think of all that emotional spirituality (please God, don’t let the inquisitors use the strapado, or saw me in half [so biblical, sigh!], or even pull all my toenails out. And please don’t send me to hell for ever and ever amen: honestly, it’s really hot down there). Oh for real social values! None of this trying to sort out one’s problems and get right with other people. None of this wanting anaesthetics when Eve dealt with real pain when giving birth. None of this emotionalism about comfort and peace and harmony and computers and having a bloody good time.
    .
    Shall I go on? Oh sod it!
    .
    A thought: weevils and ships’ biscuits go so well together that God must surely have designed it just so. Now there’s real faith, and none of your silly emotionalist crystals.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>