On Culture and Spiritual Community

Reverend J. Dana Trent recently asked me about my opinion of the Binkley Baptist Church’s covenant. My initial response:

“I have to admit that reading the church covenant reminded me of my psychological aversion to joining groups. The self-imposed pressure of group obligations make me uncomfortable.”

To which she responded:

“I know what you mean about self-imposed formal group pressure. The irony of that church covenant is that many people … feel it’s ‘anti-Baptist’ because Baptists are very individualistic and autonomy-oriented. I want to hear more about how you feel/perceive this.”

There is a lot of value is being part of a group. Some people need external accountability and a feeling of community to be consistent in their spiritual practice. Some people are the opposite.

For example, folks who eventually become atheists may idealize the principles of Christianity, and then become disillusioned when they don’t see those principles applied perfectly by practitioners.

Ideally, members of a community should emphasize individual accountability and introspection, otherwise those external pressures become artificial and competitive.

I would argue that in the past, humanity’s culture emphasized the virtues mentioned above, so the spiritual communities that developed within the context of such a culture did not have to address issues that arise when those virtues are not present. It may seem like a “dumbing down” of spiritual principles, but I think those virtues need to be address by spiritual communities. “How?” is a big question, and should be voluntarily determined by members according to their collective psychological predispositions. The “how” should be flexible, even readily disregarded if it’s effectiveness eventually becomes questionable.

I looked in my Gita (18.42-43) to find a few nice virtues: tranquility, self-control, austerity, forgiveness, honesty, faith, determination, and generosity.

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