Belonging, Not Believing

TheRevealer.org has an interesting post today about new religions in the US, and about postmodern religious folks who want to "believe but not belong." It includes some bits from a recent NPR "mini series" on religion.

It includes this Professor Lorne Dawson of the University of Waterloo, on what he calls a "new watershed" in American religion.

"It's called believing without belonging. People are still intent on having a spiritual aspect to their life. People want to believe. But they no longer have confidence in the traditional ways in which religion was organized and delivered to them, so they're ceasing to belong. Believing without belonging is perfect for a postmodern
age--an age that tends to reject absolute truth.

There's an increasing willingness to say, 'Well, what I believe is true, but I believe that other individuals have access to the truth as well. In fact, I think I can have my beliefs and add on to them some beliefs of my neighbor.'"

There's another side to this postmodernism religion, at least among what's known as the emergent movement among Christians.

They want to belong and not believe. That's one of the themes in these two pieces from the NY Times.

Spend anytime talking to these postmodern Christians, or surfing sites like EmergentVillage and you'll hear them talking about living out the faith in community. That more important to them than discussing theological niceties. They still believe, but more than anything, they want to belong.

Still, I hope to spend some time listening to this NPR series, especially the segment on "the Toronto blessing."

Here's how it's described on the series website:

Bradley Hagerty reports on The Toronto Blessing, the fastest growing Christian church. Pentecostal worshippers display a personal, physical connection with God through manifestations such as speaking in tongues and barking like dogs.

I'm not sure about the barking like a dog part, but at least someone's paying attention to the Pentecostals.


A Twist of Fate

I missed Karen Robidoux's story on Dateline on Sunday--I was at a church meeting, of all things.

Robidoux was a member of a small sect in my hometown called the Body, and several years ago her infant son Samuel starved to death after a member of the group prophesied that God wanted her to stop feeding him. She was charged with murder in his death, but was acquitted of that charge, and was convicted of assault and released for time served after spending several years in jail.

I blogged about this a few months ago as I'd been covering this story for several years. It's still about the most awful things I've ever encountered.

Since then, she's been putting her life back together at a place called Meadowhaven. I don't know how she's doing it--how do you go on when you've done such a god-awful thing.

She's getting help from Rev. Robert Pardon, who runs a center for people leaving "high control groups" like the Body. (The Boston Phoenix and the Boston Herald have done features on him.)

This story's not going away. The sect still exists as do others--like the 12 Tribes, also accused of being a "high control group" by former members, and they push the boundaries of our pluralism. (The 12 Tribes did a long response to a series of Boston Herald articles--accusing the Herald of undertaking the same kind of "holy war" that the 9/11 terrorists did.) How does our culture respond to groups that claim to know the mind of God and require absolute obedience?

I don't have a good answer for that question. And when I think I do, the story of Abraham and Isaac comes to mind, or the stories of missionaries that put their families in danger to fulfill what they see as God's calling. The line between them and the Body is a lot closer than I'm comfortable in admitting.

I'm not saying they are the same. Any group that abuses its members is suspect in my book. It's just not as simple as saying that anyone who claims to hear God's voice and know God's will is a kook, as several people told me while I was reporting on the Body. There's kooks aplenty in the Bible as well.

BTW, the Attleboro Sun Chronicle has done a remarkable job on covering the story of the Body in recent years. They are a pretty small paper, and I don't know if they ought to get a Pulizter for this kind of story, but I know this--I don't see how Dateline could have covered it any better than the Sun Chronicle.


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