“Religious borrowing has always existed. It’s certainly a big part of the way religion in America is experienced and consumed, especially if you think about the spiritual but not religious or the nones. Some forms of cross-tradition borrowing are positive. For me, borrowing is the bigger category and appropriation is the problematic form. And the reason it’s problematic, for me, is when the borrowing happens in conditions of injustice, oppression and power inequities. That’s what generates harm.”
In fact, we might say that syncretic religions (and most religions have at least some syncretic elements in them) depend on religious borrowing.
But it’s religious misappropriation that we have to be concerned with. And I believe Unitarian Universalists are particularly prone to religious misappropriation. Here’s Liz Bucar again:
“I think that progressive secularists, a community which the academy is full of and which I’d probably identify with, haven’t always been understanding of religious communities or thought of them as a source for what human flourishing can look like. They often think about religious communities as problems to be solved, or as people ruled by hierarchical institutions or arcane rules and doctrines. This position sets them up for maybe not being as respectful or deferential to religious claims as they could be.”
Honestly, this sounds like Unitarian Universalists. We look a lot like progressive secularists. Many of us treat religion as a problem to be solved, rather than a source of human flourishing. We set ourselves up to be less than respectful to other religions — even perhaps less than respectful to our own religion.
Individuals can access educational, spiritual, and cultural resources on their own, independent of congregations. The Chabad movement continues to expand its network of synagogues, minyanim, religious schools, preschools, camps, and college campus houses, and undoubtedly is planning new initiatives. This movement abandoned the typical synagogue financial membership model of “joining” a synagogue for a relationship-based model of involvement. They understood that people who are emotionally connected to a rabbi and community are willing to contribute voluntarily. Chabad’s global reach and its ability to work with families over a lifespan has been a disruptive force for many established synagogues.
I think a key phrase here is “disruptive force.” This is a phrase that comes from the world of business, and it refers to the way that innovation that provides a good-enough product or service can put high-end or excellent products on the defensive and by so doing, completely disrupt an established market. An example of this is Craig Newmark, who developed Craigslist, a Web site that offered largely free classified advertising; in so doing, Newmark disrupted the newspaper business, for newspapers had depended on classified advertising for their financial survival. Arguably, Craigslist isn’t as good as newspaper classified ads — because it’s a free service there are many stupid ads which merely waste one’s time, and of course when one bought a newspaper one also got journalism along with the ads. But Craigslist ads are good enough, and Craigslist has disrupted the newspaper business model by driving newspapers out of the classified ads business.
As much as we’d like to think that religion is free from market forces, in today’s consumer capitalism nothing is free from market forces. And there are disruptive forces acting on religion. Hayim Herring gives the specific example of Chabad as a disruptive force acting on typical synagogues. While Unitarian Universalist congregations rely on a different financial model than do Jewish congregations, we also have disruptive market forces acting on us. Perhaps the most important disruptive force acting on Unitarian Universalist congregations is the religious-fee-for-service business model. Continue reading “Disruptive forces acting on congregations”
Driving home late at night, I was flipping through the radio stations at the low end of the dial, and happened to hear an interview with a yoga teacher who calls himself “MC Yogi,” and who has issued a yogi hip hop album called “Elephant Power” (after Ganesh, natch). Here’s a video “MC Yogi” has released on Youtube:
In a way, it’s kind of fun that someone is using hip hop as a medium to talk about Hindu gods and goddesses. But it also makes me uncomfortable. If you check out some of the live videos of MC Yogi on Youtube, you’ll see a bunch of fit white people in expensive yoga togs shaking their yoga bodies at a retreat center somewhere far from the inner city predominantly black neighborhoods where hip hop was born. That cultural dissonance makes me pause; then throw in comic-book stories about Haruman and Ganesh, and I’m beyond pausing and into discomfort.