Religion.A Call For Reflexivity

As discussed in Roy Lewicki’s Making Sense of Intractable Environmental Conflicts, conflicts between two parties stem from differences in each party’s framework–how one views oneself, how one views another, how one feels conflict should be managed, etc.  Subsequent framework analysis can be undertaken to decipher the differences between the two parties, possibly leading to reframing on each side and perhaps solutions.  This idea of framework transcends the environmental conflicts Lewicki and his peers specifically discuss.  We can see framing of people, ourselves, and situations is daily living.  Framing theory influences our actions and opinions in most things, encompassing our identities and views of our world.

There are fundamental differences between groups of people in our society that are often considered taboo, yet fuel numerous conflicts between its members.  These categories are often fundamental in our identities and when contested, cause us to feel extremely threatened.  Among these is religious preference.  The framework surrounding religiosity or lack of religiosity has created a taboo topic not to be discussed at dinner parties for fear of offending any member present.  Why is this?  What aspect of religious belief or lack thereof has driven this topic to a framework so sensitive that the argument is abandoned oftentimes before reframing can be considered?  Religiosity has been perceived as instilling deep-seeded value systems within the members of American society.  The weight of these value systems, different for everyone, overtakes our frameworks, influencing, in theory, every decision we make ethically and morally.  As a result, these value systems leak into our daily living and are applied to everything we see, do, and learn.

It is a wonder that something so fundamental to our decision-making is rarely up for negotiation.  Religious or non-religious beliefs, being so deeply instilled within our value systems, provide the core of our identities.  We take pride in how we live our lives based upon our religiosity.  Christians attempt to selflessly, giving to others and loving.  Atheists derive their own interpretation of morality and ethics, learning from their own experiences and creating a moral code of their own accord.  Other religious live by their own set of determined values, attempting to live by a code set out for them that they have chosen to believe.  Each party embraces its title, holding it close to its identity.

Again, as discussed in Lewicki’s book, the conflicts arise from differing characterization frames of the other parties.  At times, religious believe atheists to be arrogant.  This may or may not stem from insecurities in one’s beliefs, or feeling threatened by someone outside of the socially typical “group”.  It may even be fear of someone without religious ethical motivations, someone with an unknown and potentially threatening agenda.  I spoke recently with a professor of mine about her journey to atheism.  After giving me a brief history, she expressed that telling those close to you is similar to “coming out.”  She was apprehensive about telling her friends and family because, she said, some would characterize her as “that typical radical”, others would be worried for her afterlife, and still others would doubt her ethical motivations.  Each of these characterizations is negative.  No one she knew, she said, was going to react positively to this development, as is typical when religious create a characterization frame of atheists.

On the other side, Atheists, seeing religious beliefs as false, frame religious as blind followers absent of logic.  Some may pity their ignorance, questioning the time spent on something so obviously false and therefore worthless.  This may stem from a self-righteous attitude and a feeling of superiority, or simply apathy for their beliefs.  Others, typically agnostics, are intrigued by religious belief and wish to learn more.  The underlying theme is that the different characterizations have separated the groups, and have left each threatened enough to typify any religious topic as controversial.

Now, these value frames, as I stated previously, are intertwined with our identity frames.  Many members of society hold these religious or non-religious definitions close when certain issues are discussed, creating controversy over some topics.  The question becomes, how do we resolve conflicts closely related to religious issues (abortion, capital punishment, same-sex marriage, etc.) let alone have a clean, understanding dinner table discussion about them?  The characterization frames and identity frames remain clear, but the essential conflict-management frames, used to have this clean dinner table discussion, are undoubtedly vague.  At the dinner table, passivity is utilized, made evident by the golden rule to “never discuss politics or religion” at a gathering.  At the political level, everything from fact-finding, to adjudication, to struggle, sabotage, and violence have been utilized with little success.

These conflicts have obviously proven to reach deeper than simply political ideology.  We can see that the fundamental conflict is the perception of either side, the misconstruing of a religious person by a non-religious person and a non-religious person by a religious person, along with our strict and unwavering identity frames.  This fundamental perception is what pervades our political issues and what leaks into our dinner table discussions.  If these characterization and identity frames are reframed, we may find our society more tolerant of all religions, life-styles, beliefs, and ideologies.

The crux of the strict value-based identity frames has resulted from years of societal pressure and expectations.  Each of us may or may not have been raised a certain religion, researched and discovered one that we have agreed with, or abandoned religion altogether.  Regardless, we have all chosen and have an answer when asked where our values systems lie.  Religious ideology, stemming back thousands of years, has been the foundation for societies and has dictated lifestyles.  Relatively recently has science contested what was once the explanation for phenomena and caused society to question religious beliefs.  No wonder religious characterize atheists as radicals, they have broken away from what was considered the norm since the beginning of recorded history.

The problem is managing a conflict between two directly opposing opinions that have no fact-base, political regulation, or economic regulation.  There is no judge of what is most beneficial to society, because to judge what is “good” is rooted in these beliefs, causing direct opposition from the beginning.  There are religious experts to turn to, but these are not necessarily respected by the atheist side.  Creating an atmosphere of tolerance and understanding in the context of religiosity goes deeper than these frameworks.

The truth is, very few members of society truly romanticize their own religious preferences and demonize the opposing ones. Yes, there are fundamental differences, otherwise there would be little conflict over religion; however, most are not religious radicals or condemning  atheists. Most people can walk away from a heated religion-based argument and collect themselves and move on, perhaps considering further some of the opposition’s viewpoints.  In progressive American society, many people engage purposefully in religion-based conversation for the sake of their own education and understanding, and often people are unhappy with their religious orientation and are looking for an alternative.

Yet, at the base of our identities still lies a value-system often rooted in our religious orientations, and this leads to intolerance and negative characterizations of others who do not share our values.  Regardless of our uncertainty about our own religious orientation or curiosity about others, we each feel the need to, somewhere in our identity framework, define where we lie on the religious spectrum, setting ourselves up for tension-filled discussions on the topic.  Why is this?  Are we simply following societal conditioning?  Tolerance and openness in regard to these topics requires a significant level of reflexivity that is currently absent from out religiosity.

As with anything, we must ask ourselves why we have “chosen” either orientation.  Religiosity is a very personal thing, and many people are hesitant to share these deep ponderings with others, yet self-analysis is still critical.  Discovering the true reason we attend or do not attend service every Sunday, or believe or not believe there is an afterlife will be the beginning of stimulating self analysis.

If reflected upon deeply, one will find that there is a large gray area between religious and non-religious.  One will find that he or she does not particularly agree with every teaching of his or her church or community.  One may find oneself even frightened at the conclusions and possible doubts as to his or her religious orientation.  But, one will find that a process of self-discovery can take place, and that asking these questions can be an opportunity.

The reflexive process involved with religion is a necessary one that not all people attempt.  Be it for fear of doubt or feeling limited in options, many either blindly follow the path set by those who raised them or are absent of religious inclination altogether.  Yet, if the goal is religious tolerance and acceptance, this reflexive process is necessary.  By undergoing such a self-analysis, one will learn to appreciate other who have done the same.  One will learn to appreciate other religiosities, and even appreciate those who have doubt.  One may even find that religious orientation is an unnecessary label for a person and come to appreciate all opinions.  By undergoing this reflexive challenge, one will reframe both oneself and others in regard to religiosity.

Often people are reflexive in this analysis and personal feeling, and most would be able to share with you a religious or non-religious journey.  The final challenge, which translates directly into the origin of the dinner table discussion conflict, is being reflexive in action:  taking the personal analysis and applying it to daily life.  For example, if as a Catholic you agree with your church’s appreciation for tolerance of all peoples, do you then discriminate against those who hold different value systems than you?  If as an atheist you appreciate a moral code, do act accordingly in daily life?  These questions and subsequent analyses allow one to reframe how he or she lives daily and appreciates others’ values.

Religious intolerance pervades our daily life.  We see it in tense conversations, in Rick Perry’s campaign videos, and in our personal opinions of others.  In our relatively progressive culture, religious radicals are rare, but present, driving conflict socially and politically everywhere.  The issue lies in the framing of either party, both strict identity frames and similarly unwavering characterization frames.  We reach a problem with reframing the resulting issues because the underlying source of dissent lies in these steadfast value-based frames.  As a result, conflict management is very tricky.  The solution to something so very personal requires personal analysis.  Once reflexive analysis is undergone, one can find oneself more appreciative of all side, defining a personal moral agenda and/or religious belief system.  Once undergone, the next challenge is to allow these newly acquired beliefs to pervade your daily life, constantly making oneself aware of how each personal identity frame and characterization of others has changed one’s actions.

This hackneyed topic is such because of its fundamental nature in society.  It is then all the more necessary to continually analyze and apply to daily life.  As a society, we are approaching a day with limited religious intolerance.  In order to expedite this process, self reflexivity is necessary to appreciate others’ stances as well as the large gray area of the religious spectrum.  As we abandon typical societal pressures, let’s reframe our views toward a more educated and tolerant perspective.





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