These include factors such as the secularization and diversification of religious belief and practice; social and geographical mobility; the growth of both consumerism and environment.
Christian Rituals and Evil
Christianity has always had its rituals by which to confront and overcome evil. Its story is the biblical story of the unending struggle of God against chaos and sin, a story whose decisive chapter was the life and death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. It ritualizes that story in the drama of the yearly liturgical cycle that commemorates and makes present the Christ mystery and brings into Christians' lives the Spirit of Christ that is the power of life overcoming sin and death. Sometimes people misunderstand the way in which the power of Christian rituals works; they may even have a semi-magical view of the power of these rituals (Aghaie, 2007). However, at the heart of Christian ritual power over evil is something that Christianity inherited from Judaism-namely, the insight that the ultimate root of evil in human life is human abuse of freedom. This is the message of the biblical story of Adam and Eve: evil entered human history from the very beginning because of humans' choice to reject God's wisdom and follow their own destructive decisions. The two key Christian sacramental rituals, baptism and the Eucharist (or Lord's Supper); counter this false decision to follow the path of evil by committing a person to follow the path of Christ. In baptism, before the person enters the water as a symbol of accepting the implications of Jesus' death and resurrection, he or she makes a formal rejection (through godparents, for infants) of Satan and all Satan's works and ?pomps' (Waddy, 1999).
Clearly, this ritual is not some magic formula but a basic option to avoid sin, which is the most basic form of evil. However, this option must be made again and again as one goes through life, for the temptation to evil remains. Humans can abuse one another, betray one another, be unfaithful and deceitful in dealing with one another. Repeating the ritual of the Eucharist is meant to empower Christians to resist such temptations by strengthening the commitment to good that they made in baptism. In other words, the Christian response to evil lies in freedom. Christian rituals are meant to give persons the opportunity to join together and support one another as they work to bring justice and peace into the world (Waddy, 1999). That there are evils in human life is a fact. That humans can overcome these evils is ultimately a matter of belief: belief in the power of God's Spirit, working in and through humans, to conquer evil. This is what Christians celebrate when they come together as a community of faith to ritualize.
Sacraments and Grace
Christians not only say that Jesus saves us and that Christian rituals celebrate that salvation. Many Christian communities would also say that Christian rituals ?give grace. In fact, part of one traditional definition of a sacrament describes the major purpose of it as ?giving grace. As is often the case with Christian language, Christian themselves do not always know the original meaning of their own language. "Grace" is probably another instance of this. The word, like ?sacrament, is a transliteration of a Latin word, in this case, gratia. The Latin word gratia originally meant either a gift or the thanks given for a gift. The word continues to be used in the latter sense in Spanish, gracias, and Italian, grazie (Aghaie, 2007). So when Christians writing in Latin spoke about the "graces" (gratias) given to Christians by God, they meant anything that God give us for free (gratis). It wasn't any particular thing in itself rather, it was anything that we received from God that we didn't deserve. The big gift of God, or in one form of insider language, ?sanctifying grace, is salvation. Nobody deserves to be saved; God loved us and God saved us, and so we get salvation for free. But we get a lot of other things for free, too: the universe, our own birth, the world we live in. These are all free gifts from God and therefore ?grace. If you really think about it, most of life is ?graced. If you were born into a family that is loving, that was able to send you to a good school or perhaps even to college, it wasn't because you deserve it, it was a free gift of God. If you were born in the United States rather than Haiti or Mali or Iraq, it wasn't because of any great virtue on your part. It was grace. Not everyone is crazy about the idea of grace, of course. Some people don't think that they ever got anything for free (Sanft, 2005). Whatever they got, they earned or deserved. They don't owe anybody anything. They are self-made. Of course this is a lie: at the very least, no one is their own parent; at most, it takes a tremendous amount of hubris to think you deserve sunsets, soft summer nights, and decent health. Still other people feel horribly guilty if they think that they have gotten something for free.
When it comes to grace, this, too, is a mistake. The proper response to grace is thanks, not guilt. Guilt still implies that some- how people ought to deserve grace. The point of grace is that it's free, undeserved, and wonderful. Appreciation seems more in order and certainly also enjoyment (Waddy, 1999). It would be insulting to God, for instance, to say, well, OK, thanks, God, for this great day, but I'm not going to enjoy it because I don't deserve it. What ingratitude. Of course you don't deserve it; that's not the point of a gift. When we give gifts we want people to feel happy, not surly or guilty or entitled. Writing about God's great gift of salvation, the 14th-century mystic Julian of Norwich wrote: Always a cheerful giver pays only little attention to the thing he is giving, but all his desire and all his attention is to please and comfort the one to whom he is giving it. And if the receiver takes the gift willingly and gratefully, then the polite giver counts as nothing all his expense and labor, because of the joy and the delight that he has because he has pleased and comforted the one whom he loves (Aghaie, 2007). Since God has given us so many wonderful free gifts (graces), the only proper thing to do is thank him and enjoy the presents. So Christians celebrate, praise God, give thanks, and really should have a wonderful time doing so.
Proponents of the definition of reality thesis seek to find in ritual a single central mechanism for the communication of culture, the internalization of values, and the individual's cognitive perception of a universe that generally fits with these values. Those who diverge from the more mechanistic aspects of this approach, like Grubb and Morgan, tend to treat ritual as a particular instance of a larger category of strategic practices characterized by formalization. While the definition of reality thesis improves on the preceding three models by reworking them in terms of a more subtle understanding of social control, it continues the tendency to see rite as a nearly magical mechanism of social alchemy by which the irksomeness of human experience is transformed into the desirable, the unmentionable, or the really real (Sanft, 2005). This type of focus on ritual obscures a very basic issue, namely, the particular types of social arrangements in which ritual activities are an effective way of defining reality. No matter which definition of ritual is used, it is obvious that not every society or subgroup appeals to ritual activities in the same way and to the same degree. Hence, any theory of ritual as social control must also specify what type of society or community is likely to depend heavily on this form of control and why.
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