The Denominational Imperative
Published on: November 20, 2013
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  • Gary Novak

    This post recalls to mind Berger’s January 10, 2013 post on why there aren’t any humanist funerals. Are “Sunday Assemblies” any more likely to succeed than humanist funerals? Can humanists construct Durkheimian “functional equivalents” of religion without God? Can they, perhaps, even extend their umbrella to cover
    not only Unitarians but those who golf religiously? As Berger notes in both posts, there is a good deal of ambiguity in the language we use to describe our religious status—spiritual “nones” who pray, etc. No doubt one reason for that
    indefiniteness of language is the fact that religious experience is not geared into the paramount reality, where we all understand what a past-due bill is.

    Richard Rorty wrote an essay on “Religion as a
    Conversation Stopper,” which might be taken as an explanation of Berger’s humorous
    anecdote about people not daring to ask what religion it is that is “against” some proposed activity. Rorty takes religion’s conversation-stopping nature for granted and sees it as a good reason not to admit religion to the conversation.
    Another possibility is to converse about humanism as a possible religious concept. The idea would not be to argue for or against faith but to clarify the creeds of our faiths (religious and humanist) by engaging them in broader conversations, by “confronting the traditions.”

    Of course, there are many “fundamentalists” who
    would not wish to put their faiths at risk by “yoking themselves with unbelievers,” but many others could benefit from a more open quest for faith in
    an age of credulity. I suspect one could make a tidy profit marketing software claiming to discover one’s true religious identity through a carefully
    constructed questionnaire. (And on your I-Pod, no one knows you’re a dog.) “New, improved! Sunday Assemblers included!” We don’t know how to talk about this stuff, because we don’t talk about it—in the public square. (Berger shows how—without denying that at some point religion must be a conversation stopper—the conversation
    can be fruitfully carried much further.)

    I will close with a non-sociological prediction:
    if Sunday Assemblies succeed in providing humanists with the equivalent of Christian communion, God will be so delighted He will crash the party.

  • Wayne Lusvardi

    Sociologist Wade Clark Roof in his book “The Spiritual Marketplace” found four different types of religious identities:
    Evangelicals – High spiritual identity/high religious identity

    Dogmatists – Low spiritual identity/high religious identity

    Spiritual Seekers – High spiritual identity/low religious identity

    Secularists – Low spiritual/low religious identify

    Mainstream – midway spiritual & religious identity

    Roof found that atheists were the most prone to divorce, dislocation, and alienation. Perhaps atheists are tire of what Berger calls a “homeless mind and are seeking community. I agree with Gary Novak that the anti-institutional and antinomian secularists might find religious institutions more acceptable after they put their toe in the spiritual waters. What’s next? Baptism? And wait until they have children — that is usually a turning point of what might be called “nomization.”

  • Anthony

    The Peace of Westphalia, which ended the Thirty Years’ War in 1648, confirmed the principle that each local prince could decide whether his state would be Protestant or Catholic and that the minority denomination in each could… Thence forward, denominations and breakaway sects though not without intense conflict provide impetus for “Denominational Imperative which conforms to modern idea of pluralism. A pattern that (giving lingering notions of Sunday…) obviously appeals to…. “Francis Bacon, often credited with the principle that beliefs must be grounded in observation, wrote of a man who was taken to a house of worship and shown a painting of sailors who had escaped shipwreck by paying their holy vows. The man was asked whether this didn’t prove the power of god. Aye, he answered, but where are they painted that were drowned after their vows?”

  • qet

    I think Berger could have drawn a further inference from his parentheticals about the newer “denominations” demanding equal stage time with the older. Such behavior has nothing to do with “pluralism” as historically understood but is a form of pluralism as it seems to be currrently understood, which is that it is not enough that you tolerate my view/denomination; you must endorse its “validity” and otherwise publicly recognize it and approve of its existence if not its creed/dogma.. It used to be that the idea of religious freedom here meant the right to be left alone. Now, mere leaving alone is considered to be a very public disapproval, which it is claimed violates the right.

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