Pick Your Poison — I Mean — Balm of Gilead

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Photo by Maxime Lebrun on Unsplash

Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation created individualistic religious expression — religion all about me and my beliefs. Even Roman Catholicism in the US fell into the chipper of individualism. (Hence, “cafeteria Catholics.”)

In the US, this individualism was institutionalized as the “wall of separation” between church and state.

The Right Wing of religious thought is overt in this subjective turn: “Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus as your lord and savior?” The Left Wing, from New Age to “spiritual but not religious” to atheism, is pure individualism at play — the goal is to “find myself” or to “be true” to myself.

Our souls (and/or minds) are our own, by golly!

Yet there is an oddity: our bodies are social creations. The way we sit, stand, walk; where we sit, stand, walk — what to do if we can’t sit, stand, walk . . . social. We learn how to move among other bodies.

Herein lies a disquieting contradiction. From standing (or not) for the national anthem to saying (or not) the Pledge of Allegiance to gracefully dancing (or not) at a party, our bodies are not our own.

The age-old solution to the disjunction between inside and outside, the subjective and the objective, is ritual. Rituals help us “put your best foot forward,” or not. (That’s why there are traditionally an odd number of stairs — so we can start and end on the same foot.) How and when to shake hands. Which hand a fork belongs in. Staring. Smirking. Laughing. It’s all ritualized.

Confucius went to town on “li,” “proper conduct.” The proper use of cell phones is too new to be covered by Confucius, though I suspect Miss Manners has taken a shot at it. Let’s just say that cell phone use is a contested area.

Martin Luther’s Protestantism has by now erased what American fundamentalists called “Romanism, ritualism, rationalism.”

So, here we are . . . . What’s missing?

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