Posts Tagged ‘psychology of religion’

Pilgrimage Statistics 

Consecutive Days Riding:  92                                      Days Blogged: 90 

New Mileage: 12                                                   Total Trip Mileage: 733

I am riding the bike tonight in a great deal of pain.  Last week I made a trip to the dentist.  It made for an interesting experience and was mentioned in my blog, but something is amiss!  So I will try and get in to see someone in the next couple days. Hopefully all it will take is an antibiotic and some pain killer to make things right.

Today I met with the two sections of my Psychology of Religion course for the first time.  Close to fifty young people will sit through my lectures and tests for the next fourteen weeks.  We will discuss the various personal and societal functions that religion meets within our individual lives and our culture.  We will explore fourteen different religious traditions that now have roots in the United States, everything from Jainism, Baha’i’, Zen, to Islam. 

Tolerance or Acceptance?

We talked today about the difference between diversity, a recognition of the wide variety of different faith traditions, and pluralism, which is an acceptance of the validity of these beliefs for each tradition.  For society to function properly we must have at least a tolerance of the diversity within our society.  For our society to flourish and prosper I would argue we need to not just tolerate others but celebrate our differences by embracing a pluralistic attitude.

I tell my students that it is not my intention to challenge or undermine their belief systems. I do not want them to “lose their religion.”  However, I expect that they will explore their beliefs on various topics that are important in the discussion of religious traditions.  Such as:” What is the source of mankind’s suffering? What is the nature of the divine (Deity or Godhead)?  What happens after we die?  Each of the various belief systems has an answer to these questions.  Our exploration and discussion is not undertaken to establish which of the belief systems has “the truth,” but to explore how each express and experience “their truth.”

All hold their truth!

I challenge the students to recognize the importance of culture and time period (e.g. how were Buddha’s beliefs tied to Hinduism, India and the time period of 400 BCE) to understand what shaped the nature of a tradition’s beliefs.  I challenge them to recognize the various sources of knowledge and how different religions make use of these sources. For example, the primary monotheisms are called “people of the book” for their reliance on the revealed wisdom of the Old Testament; whereas Zen Buddhists will tell you to burn all of your sacred books because true knowledge and understanding comes from revelations of moment-to-moment experiences.

We will study the differences between cults, sects and churches and the importance of mystical experiences in some of the wisdom traditions.  We will discuss the characteristics of belief systems that head down a “slippery slope” to what some people would call an “evil religion.”  One of these characteristics is holding to the belief that “the ends justify the means.”  I remember hearing someone after the 9/11 terrorist attacks make the statement: “kill all of the Muslims and let God sort them out.”  In their eyes the goal of safety with respect to a perceived threat trumped the death of innocents and the ill will that such actions would generate.

It will be an interesting semester with so many religious topics in the news to act as fodder for our class discussions.  Of course as the semester progresses the unfolding “signs of spring” will make it harder for the students and their teacher to focus on course materials. Maybe rather than lecturing on Taoism I will just send the class out to commune with nature and “know Tao” as an in-the- moment experience!

Each brings their offering to the community table.

Please keep the people of Haiti in your prayers as they struggle with the effects of today’s earth quake.

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding: 43                              Consecutive Days Blogging: 44

Today’s Mileage:  10                                           Total Trip Mileage: 365


Visitor Center

As I ride the bike I recognize that we are quickly approaching the west coast of Florida.  We will visit Marco Island in coming days and then head towards Naples and our next Pilgrimage Site.  Our travels today take us past the Collier Seminole State Park so I will include photos from the park for your enjoyment.

Red Shouldered Hawk

Yesterday I spoke about the “levels of analysis” we may use when talking about spiritual and religious matters.  In my Psychology of Religion class I steer my students away from the usual “who has the right/proper form” questions towards these questions: how do religions and spiritual systems attempt to meet individual and community needs? How are different religions meeting the same functions with similar processes?”

Canoe trail

Today I’d like to speak briefly on the topic of morality from a functional perspective. Specifically  I would like to address the question:  how do we judge morality? I often hear people speak of other people’s behavior as being moral or not moral.  This is a deceptive simplification of the issue, we call dichotomous thinking.  It’s not that one person has a set of morals and the other is totally without.  The real issue is that the one person’s behavior (the actor) falls outside of what the other (the viewer) sees as moral.  However, in all likelihood, it fits the definition of “moral” held by the actor.  While one person might view going on a gay date as immoral, the person going on the date may judge it as the moral thing to do as they are acting in a congruent way between their feelings and actions.  For that person to deny and not act on their homosexuality, would  be for them, a deceptive and immoral action. I believe if we step back and take a functional approach to analyze conflict laden situations, we will see that both individuals have morals and both use them to judge their actions and choices. It’s in the content of their morals where the differences exist.

Primrose with visitor

In my current academic research I have come across the works of several Social psychologists in working  the field of Moral Foundations Theory. Recently the authors, Jesse Graham, Jonathan Haidt, and Brian Nosek, have reported finding that liberal and conservative individuals base their moral judgment and decisions on different sets of moral foundations. 

Moral Foundations Theory hypothesizes that there are five sets of “moral intuitions” which people use to make their moral judgments.  These include: 1) Does the action harm another and is it caring (Harm/Care),2) Is the action Fair towards the other individual and promote reciprocity (Fairness/Reciprocity), 3) Does the action fit with a loyalty towards one’s group (Ingroup/Loyalty), 4) Does the action show respect for prevailing authority (Authority/Respect), 5) Does the action fall within one’s views of what is a pure or sanctified behavior (Purity/Sanctity). Their research indicates that while individuals tend to use all five of these foundations, clear difference exist between individuals who rate themselves as liberals, who make primary use of Harm/Care and Fairness/Reciprocity, versus conservatives, who make more or less equal us of all five foundations.

Salt Marsh Mallow

These findings point to and highlight the source of conflict between individuals on the opposite ends of political and religious discussions.  Liberals look first and foremost at the impact a choice or decision has on minority members of the society. Conservatives give significantly more weight to tradition, established authority figures and ideas of “right and wrong” as defined in sacred texts.

These authors note: “Western societies are growing more diverse and with diversity comes differing ideals about how to best regulate selfishness and about how we ought to live together.” Political and religious issues overlap in areas like abortion, separation of church and state, waging “just” wars, and gay rights issues, to name a few.  Whenever I hear a discussion concerning political and religious issues among individuals from opposite ends of the political spectrum, I remind myself that we all have morals and that we strive to live by them.  While this recognition may not help us find a common ground on questions of content and form, it will at least keep us focused on the other issue: the shared need to find a basis for our living together as a community.

What are your moral foundations?  Go to www.yourmorals.org and complete the online questionnaire to find out!

Sunset over the park

Thanks to the Florida State Parks Service for the wonderful photos.  Visit www.floridastateparks.org for more information.

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