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Subject: Symbolism and religion rss

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Junior McSpiffy
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I've been kicking this idea around for a while. It's just been kind of filtering and bubbling around but with no order or structure, so as I finally decide to put it on paper, so to speak, forgive me if this doesn't come out entirely right. My hope is that through discussion I can come to understand my own thoughts better.

It started when I went to the temple a while ago. And everything there was symbolism. X equals Y. Since I won't go into details of specifics here, I will translate into something which has a fairly similar parallel that is more readily grasped: baptism. Baptism, at its core, is little more than an outward act which symbolizes an inward commitment and devotion. But the symbolism is that of death of the old self, burial and rebirth, being reborn clean and new. The Last Supper, sacrament, or communion, is also laden with symbolism. So much of what I do on a daily and weekly basis revolves around the symbolism.

Tithing: giving a portion of your increase to God as a symbolic gesture of recognizing His hand in all things and showing gratitude for it. I mean, I think the LDS church would be just fine if my family skipped paying for a bit. But I don't think I would.

The Sabbath: taking that one day each week and giving it to God for the same reason, expressing gratitude for the gift of life and time which has been given us

Word of Wisdom / health codes: practical health codes, but ones that have symbolism layered on top of it.

Prayer: To those who don't believe in the existence of God, it would be easy to see the act of prayer as simple meditation. Meditation with symbolism layered upon it.

The crucifixion: the central point of the Christian faith, death by proxy is about as symbolic as it gets.

The list goes on. Back when Christ was in the heart of His ministry, He taught by parables. He could have just come out and said "Don't be dicks to other people" or "Don't get so wrapped up in money." But he taught things in these obscure, roundabout ways. "He that hath ears, let him hear." That's a fun verse which those in the know love to use to justify their faith in the midst of scorn from those who just don't get it, but I think it was taught that way for more than that. I think like a therapist, He recognized that it means more and becomes more internalized when a person figures it out for themselves in their own time and their own way. So the shepherd who is standing out in the field with his sheep, devoid of any app to distract, would have had much more time to gnaw on that morsel of parable he'd heard that day. The merchant riding with his caravan would have a lot of time to work over that bit he'd heard in the marketplace. And it isn't just that they'd hear, it's that they'd internalize it. It would become part of them.

Today, religion is sort of "solved." All these points of doctrine which were taught by symbolism are now fairly codified and laid out with much more structure. We don't "need" to delve into so many of those things the way previous generations did. Yet each day I sit down in church, these rituals of symbolism get driven into us. Honor the Sabbath. Baptism. The temple. Over and over this insistence of relying on the symbolism keep coming up. And at times I feel like it's the symbolism that is holding us back. The Gospel, Christ's teachings, were not about the symbols. They were about love and service. And the symbols sometimes feel like burdens that interfere with that.

So why do I stick with something that is so... remedial? If I feel I have an understanding that has all the symbols and proxy lessons figured out, why do I stick with it? For me, it's twofold. First, I think the symbolism is practical advice with the mystic and divine layered on top of it. I benefit from paying tithing. Not just in an ethereal, abstract sense. It forces me to sit down with my money. Budget. Figure out what I have and how to live within it. Prayer and the Sabbath force me to slow down, to put my thoughts in order, to think about what I prioritize as important and valuable in a world which encourages people to sprint as fast as they can without looking that closely at where they're headed. These things are of practical use to me, but they also have symbolic use, reinforcing lessons I feel certain I've learned after four decades of having them drilled into me.

But many of these things are also commandments, "sinful" to violate. But if I get the lessons, then why is it sinful? And that brings me to my second reason. "God is no respector of persons." (Acts 10:34) Back in a time when the symbolism was much more needed, these things were commandments for a reason. It was so people would live them and through living those lessons they would hopefully engage in introspection and take those lessons and make them part of them. And I suppose that is still what it is today, it just feels like I am so removed from that part of the learning process now that I'm nearing half a century. But how can a person rectify the thought of "God said person from Era X couldn't go to heaven without the symbolism, but people from Era Y can because their level of education makes the symbolism unnecessary?"

So, I go with it. Oh yeah, there's also the fact that I believe God exists and my faith and devotion are increased by this religious faith. There's that as well. Primarily.

And maybe, there's a lesson for me to learn from feeling better than the mechanisms I am compelled to take part in. Maybe there's something to be learned from that as well.
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This leads to interesting places, some of which are key questions in Catholic doctrine in the modern era. Given that Catholics don't think that salvation happens through faith and faith alone, then the possibility of heaven for pretty good people that have no faith at all becomes possible, and with that, comes not having the Evangelical need to convert others.

Another interesting digression is the definition of religion: Someone that believes that some thoughts and behaviors are key to good and virtuous life might not be called religious in the US, where people require supernatural components and large organizations, but if one squints a little, it's not hard to find sacraments and belief systems in the American left, that just happen to not be protected, in practice, by laws. And yet, the belief in the value of the sacrament is no different than those of a Christian, and they serve the same utility.
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I believe that religion is no exception to the rule that if one genuinely understand it, one will inevitably be able to come up with some new and interesting insight. In Judaism we call this a chiddush, literally a new thing. To say religion is solved is to claim there is nothing new to be said about it. If you genuinely believe that, which I don't think you do upon reflection anyway, it would mean nothing to you. Yet clearly it does. If you believe the symbolism is meaningful to you but you cannot articulate why and the usual reasons seem simplistic to you, then I encourage you to delve deeper and to figure out how and why they are meaningful to you. If they weren't, you'd not be saying what you are nor doing what you say you do. If the conventional meaning makes no sense to you but the symbolism seems like something you find value in, then figure out for yourself what that value is and what its implications are.
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Junior McSpiffy
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whac3 wrote:
I believe that religion is no exception to the rule that if one genuinely understand it, one will inevitably be able to come up with some new and interesting insight. In Judaism we call this a chiddush, literally a new thing. To say religion is solved is to claim there is nothing new to be said about it. If you genuinely believe that, which I don't think you do upon reflection anyway, it would mean nothing to you. Yet clearly it does. If you believe the symbolism is meaningful to you but you cannot articulate why and the usual reasons seem simplistic to you, then I encourage you to delve deeper and to figure out how and why they are meaningful to you. If they weren't, you'd not be saying what you are nor doing what you say you do. If the conventional meaning makes no sense to you but the symbolism seems like something you find value in, then figure out for yourself what that value is and what its implications are.


Yes and no. I mean, as one becomes more secure in their understanding on one degree of philosophical and spiritual thought, it opens up insight leading to more questions, deeper questions. So there is always something to discover. It's why we are asked to revisit scripture so often, not because there's something new in there but because we've changed enough to see more in it than we were the last time we visited it. But on the other hand, the broad strokes of human morality are pretty much dried. Atheists would disagree to varying extents about how influential religion was millenia ago in it coming about, but they pretty much all agree that religion is outdated in morality in modern times. Yet here we still are, using symbolism based on teaching the more basic principles which are already well established across society. I do keep looking at symbolism for depth of meaning in my own life. But the broader strokes... it feels like the law of diminishing returns has kicked in for what I can find there. And maybe that's the point. Maybe I am supposed to stop looking to the big societal nature of "This is what it takes for -people- to be good" and look more to "What does it take for -me- to be good." It just feels hard when so much of the religious experience still seems tied up in the former more than the latter.
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What Mormons do, seems to be excellent; what they say is mostly nonsense.

Dickens
 
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Well, the OP is too vague for me to make a more substantive reply. All I can do is encourage Junior or anyone else to thoughtfully and thoroughly examine whatever religious questions arise for them which they find meaningful questions. Then it's a question of being honest with oneself and giving things due thought and consideration. No one else can do that for a person.

Here at least is an expression of moral support and encouragement.
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Junior McSpiffy
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whac3 wrote:
Well, the OP is too vague for me to make a more substantive reply. All I can do is encourage Junior or anyone else to thoughtfully and thoroughly examine whatever religious questions arise for them which they find meaningful questions. Then it's a question of being honest with oneself and giving things due thought and consideration. No one else can do that for a person.

Here at least is an expression of moral support and encouragement.


I kept it vague in part because I am still working out my thoughts on the subject itself, still fleshing them out as I go. But the other reason was specifically because of you. I could only speak to the symbolism I experience in my own faith, but I didn't want to make the discussion exclude anyone of other faiths who wanted to share their perspective and the symbols of their own religions and how they see them interacting with modern society.
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fpvillalobos wrote:
What Mormons do, seems to be excellent; what they say is mostly nonsense.

Dickens


Never heard that one before. A very good one-liner. Of quotes, I always leaned toward Twain and his criticism of how verbose the Book of Mormon is. ""And it came to pass" was his pet. If he had left that out, his Bible would have been only a pamphlet. "

But I don't see what Dickens' observation has to do with the point at hand regarding symbolism.
 
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GameCrossing wrote:
whac3 wrote:
Well, the OP is too vague for me to make a more substantive reply. All I can do is encourage Junior or anyone else to thoughtfully and thoroughly examine whatever religious questions arise for them which they find meaningful questions. Then it's a question of being honest with oneself and giving things due thought and consideration. No one else can do that for a person.

Here at least is an expression of moral support and encouragement.


I kept it vague in part because I am still working out my thoughts on the subject itself, still fleshing them out as I go. But the other reason was specifically because of you. I could only speak to the symbolism I experience in my own faith, but I didn't want to make the discussion exclude anyone of other faiths who wanted to share their perspective and the symbols of their own religions and how they see them interacting with modern society.

Thank you. Much appreciated.
 
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To restate as I understand what you are saying...

The symbolic meanings associated with religious worship have, for you, become transparent. And while you see the value in religious worship, the symbolism is no longer compelling, and even distracting from doing the part of religion that you find meaningful. Yet you feel compelled by your religion to go through these symbolic motions. This results in some kind of internal friction with regard to your religious observance.

Something like that?
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have to keep the faithfull sheep entertained. Also it's a much easier way to placate the hyproctrits and keep their 10% by letting them go through the motions than actually make them practice a religion.
 
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rayito2702 wrote:
To restate as I understand what you are saying...

The symbolic meanings associated with religious worship have, for you, become transparent. And while you see the value in religious worship, the symbolism is no longer compelling, and even distracting from doing the part of religion that you find meaningful. Yet you feel compelled by your religion to go through these symbolic motions. This results in some kind of internal friction with regard to your religious observance.

Something like that?


That clarifies it fairly well, for myself if not for others. Thank you for helping me line my thoughts up in a way I couldn’t seem to do on my own.
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rayito2702 wrote:
To restate as I understand what you are saying...

The symbolic meanings associated with religious worship have, for you, become transparent. And while you see the value in religious worship, the symbolism is no longer compelling, and even distracting from doing the part of religion that you find meaningful. Yet you feel compelled by your religion to go through these symbolic motions. This results in some kind of internal friction with regard to your religious observance.

Something like that?

Let's suppose that this re-cap is correct.

From a Jewish POV, we take as an axiom that at least a good portion of the symbolism is inherently arbitrary. Symbols are meaningful because people imbue them with meaning. Yes, ours is a contract with G-d which delineates the symbolism to a good extent but that is neither here nor there in this respect.

For me therefore I find it useful to "get meta" and ask what function having symbolism serves. The specific symbolism unites me with the Jewish people as yours does to Mormons. In Judaism, we have a Jewish manner of doing literally everything so that we will be habituated to think about the Torah way of doing things no matter what we are doing. The Torah way should always include doing right rather than wrong, helping people in need who want the help, and respecting both our fellow human beings and the natural world Obviously not everyone does so but I hold to the view that the worst advertisement for any religion or ideology is invariably its adherents, barring pathological cases.
 
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GameCrossing wrote:
Tithing: giving a portion of your increase to God as a symbolic gesture of recognizing His hand in all things and showing gratitude for it.

I never realized that tithing was a symbolic action (as compared to a functional one: Good Works don't come cheap!)

Trying to tart it up with symbolism just reminds me of this guy...

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spoon wrote:
GameCrossing wrote:
Tithing: giving a portion of your increase to God as a symbolic gesture of recognizing His hand in all things and showing gratitude for it.

I never realized that tithing was a symbolic action (as compared to a functional one: Good Works don't come cheap!)

Trying to tart it up with symbolism just reminds me of this guy...



That's akin to saying there's no value in the internet because of child pornographers.
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GameCrossing wrote:
spoon wrote:
GameCrossing wrote:
Tithing: giving a portion of your increase to God as a symbolic gesture of recognizing His hand in all things and showing gratitude for it.

I never realized that tithing was a symbolic action (as compared to a functional one: Good Works don't come cheap!)

Trying to tart it up with symbolism just reminds me of this guy...


That's akin to saying there's no value in the internet because of child pornographers.

Not really. Donating to the church serves an obvious and practical purpose. Why does there need to be some sort of divine metaphor to make it worth doing?

Once you tie the donations to spiritual worthiness, you aren't much different than Jim Bakker.
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spoon wrote:
GameCrossing wrote:
spoon wrote:
GameCrossing wrote:
Tithing: giving a portion of your increase to God as a symbolic gesture of recognizing His hand in all things and showing gratitude for it.

I never realized that tithing was a symbolic action (as compared to a functional one: Good Works don't come cheap!)

Trying to tart it up with symbolism just reminds me of this guy...


That's akin to saying there's no value in the internet because of child pornographers.

Not really. Donating to the church serves an obvious and practical purpose. Why does there need to be some sort of divine metaphor to make it worth doing?

Once you tie the donations to spiritual worthiness, you aren't much different than Jim Bakker.


Except.... you are removing God from the equation. Because if God existed and it was just about the church getting its needs met, then why don't we just have a daily weather forecast of sunny with a 100% chance of manna? If it were about the needs of the church, there's lotteries, the stock market, all sorts of ways money could be made with the help of divine inspiration. But the members are asked to give.

For someone who assumes the non-existence of God, that part's easy. Money has to come from somewhere. The priests have to eat, so put some meat in the pot. But for those who do believe in God's existence, there must be a different reason. And like everything else, it's not about God making us jump through hoops for His amusement. It's to help refine us. To help us learn and become what we're intended to become.

If you don't believe in God, or if you believe He just does things for gratifying His insatiable ego, then your skepticism is well-placed. But for those who believe there is a God and that He doesn't act for His own good but for ours, then tithing serves a purpose aside from the day-to-day filling of the coffers. The fact that those like Bakker perverted the concept for their own profit is not a condemnation on the institution itself.
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As a fellow believer, I largely agree with you but want to offer a word of caution.

I think that a focus on the symbols rather than the spiritual realities they represent has been a problem for God's people since the beginning. (See Isaiah 1:13).

However, I feel that my religion is much more than just a big allegory about how I should be a good person. I believe that the crucifixion and resurrection are literal events orchestrated by God for salvation. The cross functions symbolically, but it is also the place where the atonement literally happened.

All the other symbols--the Eucharist, Baptism, etc.-- point to literal realities of the cross. If the cross isn't literal, it is meaningless, offensive, and we don't need it. I have to always remind myself of that.
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fpvillalobos wrote:
What Mormons do, seems to be excellent; what they say is mostly nonsense.
Dickens

Nice quote. It's from 'Household Words', a weekly magazine edited by Dickens. volume 69, July 19, 1851.

Looks like you are relatively new to RSP? I'll send you some geekgold so you can get an avatar if you want one; check your geekmail at the upper left of the screen

edited to include quote
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hibikir wrote:
Given that Catholics don't think that salvation happens through faith and faith alone

Whoops... just the other day, when I was explaining to Hellhammer why it is her moral duty to oppose God's will, I told her "most, maybe all--I'm not sure" Christian denominations were faith-not-works. We're saying it's, what, about half? Less than half?
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kuhrusty wrote:
hibikir wrote:
Given that Catholics don't think that salvation happens through faith and faith alone

Whoops... just the other day, when I was explaining to Hellhammer why it is her moral duty to oppose God's will, I told her "most, maybe all--I'm not sure" Christian denominations were faith-not-works. We're saying it's, what, about half? Less than half?


Definately less than half.

Even once you get to the "Faith Alone" is core requirement for salvation you quickly then run into the scripture in James 2 that points out...

Faith without Works is Dead. Aka lip service isn't "Faith". If you only talk the talk and don't walk the walk than it is quite likely you don't have the "Faith" required for salvation.


The concept of faith alone is not that works aren't part of the walk of faith, but that works are not the foundation of your salvation. Aka you cannot "work your way" into heaven.

However works are strong evidence that the process of salvation is happening in your life.

One of the core concepts of salvation is that we are being remade into new creatures who are becoming more compassionate and loving through our relationship with God. If that is not happening than something is not working the way it should be. It can be put this way... you are not saved by good works, but you likely aren't saved without them.

This comes down to the motivation behind the actions and how that effects or reflects your heart condidtion. If you are only doing good works because you expect to earn a "reward" than your heart is not in line with God's yet. However once your heart is even a tiny bit aligned with God's it will be impossible to not WANT to do good works out of genuine love and compassion for others.


So basically you got it entirely wrong when you were talking to your daughter... you should probably go and fix that now.

 
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spoon wrote:
GameCrossing wrote:
spoon wrote:
GameCrossing wrote:
Tithing: giving a portion of your increase to God as a symbolic gesture of recognizing His hand in all things and showing gratitude for it.

I never realized that tithing was a symbolic action (as compared to a functional one: Good Works don't come cheap!)

Trying to tart it up with symbolism just reminds me of this guy...


That's akin to saying there's no value in the internet because of child pornographers.

Not really. Donating to the church serves an obvious and practical purpose. Why does there need to be some sort of divine metaphor to make it worth doing?

Once you tie the donations to spiritual worthiness, you aren't much different than Jim Bakker.


Spiritual worthiness is entirely the wrong description.

Spiritually instuctive or growth inducing is a better one.

Tithing makes us better people in a multiude of ways, some of which Junior already listed. And too that list I would add it helps keep individuals from becoming slaves to the concept of money/wealth.

But the best lesson IMO can be learned if you take note of Jesus's observations upon seeing the rich man give a lot to the temple with showy fanfare vs the Widow giving her mites unobtrusively. He pointed out that she was the example to follow and why. Giving isn't about filling the coffers of the church it is about what happens in your heart when you give freely and joyfully back to God and about the relationship it helps build and then maintain between you and God.

That some people pervert the teaching in ways to bilk others is shameful. But it doesn't change the reality of the true purpose for and effect of tithing in a person's spiritual walk.

 
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As for the OP itself... I have a lot of thoughts it generated that I hope to have time to write up at some point. But cannot now it is late and I need to get to bed. Maybe tomorrow. But great topic Junior. Thanks.
 
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Meerkat wrote:
kuhrusty wrote:
hibikir wrote:
Given that Catholics don't think that salvation happens through faith and faith alone

Whoops... just the other day, when I was explaining to Hellhammer why it is her moral duty to oppose God's will, I told her "most, maybe all--I'm not sure" Christian denominations were faith-not-works. We're saying it's, what, about half? Less than half?

Definately less than half.

OK; I think most of the people I've argued with in RSP have been of the Evangelical faith-not-works persuasion; I did not realize that most Christians disagreed with them.
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Meerkat wrote:
spoon wrote:
GameCrossing wrote:
spoon wrote:
GameCrossing wrote:
Tithing: giving a portion of your increase to God as a symbolic gesture of recognizing His hand in all things and showing gratitude for it.

I never realized that tithing was a symbolic action (as compared to a functional one: Good Works don't come cheap!)

Trying to tart it up with symbolism just reminds me of this guy...


That's akin to saying there's no value in the internet because of child pornographers.

Not really. Donating to the church serves an obvious and practical purpose. Why does there need to be some sort of divine metaphor to make it worth doing?

Once you tie the donations to spiritual worthiness, you aren't much different than Jim Bakker.


Spiritual worthiness is entirely the wrong description.

Spiritually instuctive or growth inducing is a better one.


In Mormonism, there are spiritual repercussions for not tithing:

lds.org wrote:
Choosing to live the law of tithing will be a great blessing throughout your life. A tithe is one-tenth of your income. In order to enter the temple, you must be a full-tithe payer.


I'm sure it varies by flavor of Christianity, but it sure sounds like spiritual extortion to me.

You can compare that with Judaism (completely optional) or Scientology (which ties donations to the material needs of the church. Though you still can't progress in your clearing if you aren't paying through the nose for more audits).
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