Religion seems to find its way into almost every aspect of our lives. In the United States, the political mainstream describes a "separation of church and state," in order to separate this profound force of religion from the public lives of its citizens. Thus, the freedom to worship any religion remains a private and personal issue. However, in this imperfect world, it becomes virtually impossible to achieve this kind of separation. Some subtle examples of this can be seen right here on campus. The intriguing yet simple New England architecture that we see all around us, is the result of the Old World Puritan religion. Also on campus, Rollins Chapel, supposedly a "universal place of worship", is structurally shaped like a cross, the symbol of the crucifixion of Jesus. Delving deep into these religious symbols, there exists a common thread uniting all religions. The aspect of community becomes the "heart and soul" of almost all religious groups around the world. It is this upon which George Weckman focuses his article.
The author defines the characteristics of a community in a number of ways. For one, he claims that some sort of initiation or "entrance ritual" needs to occur in order to mark the acceptance of an individual into the community as a whole. In addition to these entrance rituals, the individual will, most likely, participate in other types of rituals throughout his life. This may include his eventual departure from the community, such as death. Secondly, the author emphasizes the fact that communities often possess clearly defined ritual activities that are unique to their own particular community. He goes on to say, "Gathering as a group for such rites is perhaps the most persistent aspect of religious community, and is arguably its reason for being."
Thus, the author emphasizes the manner in which ritual activity and communal "togetherness" form the basis of community. I'd like to agree with Weckman's view, but I feel that it can go beyond its present position. Weckman gives the reader the impression that communities form only as a result of their union through religion. However, it is quite possible that religious communities are the "cause" and not the "effect" of religious experience. As is the case with many tribal religions, the community becomes the central force that "designs" the religion. Throughout Africa, many animistic religions have developed as a result of their immediate environment. Weckman touches upon this subject, "Where nature and its processes are the focal point of religious attention, the community is conceived and structured with reference to the natural world." (Weckman, 567) I disagree with his point here. The author fails to relate the cause of the naturalistic religion to the community itself. Arguably, it is the community that formulates the religion of the society. This, in turn, further emphasizes the importance of community structure.
In addition, I'd also like to argue that sometimes the community actually becomes more important than the actual religion itself. For example, Reformed Judaism has become the opposite extreme of orthodoxy, where its members actually feel more connected to the community than to the beliefs of Judaism itself. From personal experience, I can honestly state that this is the belief of some individuals. Judaism is a very defined religion. In many extremely orthodox communities, such as the Hasidim, religious beliefs strictly define the person. In somewhat of a contrast, a Reformed Jew becomes more inclined to accept the beliefs of those around him. Although this may be an extreme generalization, I believe that the aspect of community may be more important and influential in many people's lives than the author suggests in the article.
Finally, according to the author, a religious community often has defined status or social distinction, and these distinctions often manifest themselves in the...