Denison Journal of Religion

Article Title

Denison Journal of Religion, Vol. VI


"Ritual and Religious Tradition: A Comparative Essay on the Use of Ritual in Christian, Jewish, and Hindu Practice" by Josh Clark

This essay examines the link between existential despair and the use of religious ritual in several religions. Clark argues that ritual proves its significance when community members are suffering. Ritual does not offer much to those who are content within their current social frame, but it can rejuvenate those who use ritual to reconnect with divinity as they struggle through life despite their great despair. Clark first notes this process in black womanist theology. He uses the example of theologian Katie Cannon to show that the ritual of storytelling has not only provided black women with generations of stories of their survival and successes, but has also painted a picture of the oppressor against whom they must fight. The stories of Jewish women during the Holocaust such as those that Melissa Raphael collected, Clark claims, also offered hope despite their suffering. The ritual they turned to most frequently was washing each other and revealing the imminent, female face of God, Shekinah, to each other and to themselves. Clark also sees ritual play this hope-inspiring role in the biblical stories. He particularly turns towards the ritual of Passover as a way for the Jewish people to recommit themselves to their God despite the difficulties of knowing that God intimately. Finally, Clark concludes his argument that ritual, no matter its religious context, is a hope-inspiring tradition by using the example of Hinduism. The rituals of Hinduism, he explains, are performed when Hindus are dissatisfied with their current life situation, and the expectation that the performance of a ritual could lead to a tangible change in their life. Clark argues that no matter the specific expected outcome of a tradition, rituals are used by religions as a way of battling despair.

"Coming to Terms with Death: Theodicy in Hindu Myth and Biblical Narrative" by Gitanjali Bakshi

This article examines the manner in which two major world religions explain death. Bakshi claims that both religions make peace with the end of life through an overwhelming respect for nature, theodicy, and a "masochistic attitude." Using the language and theories of Peter Berger, Bakshi examines the Hindu myth of Mahishasuramardini and the Biblical narrative of Job. The story of Mahisha, Bakshi explains, shows him as a half-brahmin, half-beast who desperately craves the immortality of the gods. All of his attempts fail under the overwhelming power of Durga, the creator and destroyer goddess. Right before Durga kills Mahisha, he surrenders his individuality to the whole of the religious experience and understands why his death is necessary, and accepts his decapitation. This, Bakshi explains, is what Berger terms the "masochistic attitude""the ultimate surrender of the self to find ecstasy in the greater religious experience. The biblical narrative of Job, the story of a good man on his death bed as he questions his fate and the workings of god, also has a sense of this masochism. Job's friends tell him repeatedly that he must have done something to deserve his fate, but for the bulk of the story Job refuses to accept this answer. Through reflection, Job finally comes to terms with the fact that he must accept God's will and the natural process. In both of these stories, Bakshi argues, the frailty of the human understanding of the moral order is destroyed through the overwhelming power of nature. These stories show that only through a respect for the power of nature and a complete surrendering of the self to the divine can religious people find honest acceptance of death.

"When Politics Dominates Religion: A Theological Critique of Televangelist Rod Parsley" by Leigh Rogers

This essay is a critique of the nationalism of the religious right, as it is personified by Rod Parsley, a televangelist based in Columbus, Ohio. Rogers claims that the election of George W. Bush, and the terrorist attacks of September 11th, have created an atmosphere in the United States that has bound religion to a partisan, nationalistic agenda. Rogers, fearing the impact of this mindset, offers a theological critique of Parsley and others with similar agendas. Rogers' critique is threefold, beginning with Parsley's polarized view of good and evil. By accepting American imperialism as an absolute good, anything that stands in any way opposed to that imperialism becomes an absolute evil. Instead of this view, Rogers posits an understanding of evil, as Augustine said, as "a distortion of the good." Good and evil, therefore, exist among and with each other, and cannot be perfectly divided for the benefit of a simpler world. Secondly, Rogers claims that Parsely's notion of having a God who can fix any problem immediately ignores the power of the future. Rogers references Jurgen Moltmann as an opposing view to this claim. Moltmann, famous for his Theology of Hope and the concept that eschatology is not the end of days, but rather the unfolding of God's work in history, is a strong opponent of Parsley's belief in God's "quick fixes." Rogers uses Moltmann's theory of a hopeful future which inspires men and women to work towards that future today to explain that a theology cannot ignore the power of the future. Finally, Rogers concludes her critique of Parsley by emphasizing that Parsley sees the role of the church as one that propogates the nationalistic and imperialistic tendencies of the United States instead of grappling with the demand for justice and peace in the gospel message. Rogers charges the reader to subvert the nationalistic agenda of religious leaders like Rod Parsley by reexamining and recommitting themselves to aiding the disenfranchised.

"AIDS and Empire: Setting the Conditions of a Pandemic" by Cora Walsh

In this article, Walsh criticizes the imperialistic tendencies of the United States for not only helping to create an economic and social system that stratifies wealth, but also creates such deplorable conditions of the poor that their physical well-being is also jeopardized. This is seen most profoundly in sub-Saharan Africa where the AIDS pandemic has hit most violently. Furthermore, Walsh is disappointed in the United States for creating an atmosphere of inefficient humanitarian response. During the presidency of George W. Bush, the U.S. frequently gave government resources to conservative Christian groups that practice such things as abstinence only responses, making effective treatment to those suffering from the illness much more difficult. Walsh links this societal condition to a religious response by linking the subversion of the Empire with Jesus's work in the gospels. This, Walsh claims, serves as a challenge to Christians today to work against the imperialism of the United States and show respect to the dignity of all people by actively aiding in the fight against the AIDS pandemic.

"A President's Jeremiad of Terror (Excerpts from Honors Thesis, The Rhetoric of the War on Terror: George W. Bush's Transformation of the Jeremiad)" by Lauren Clark

This essay examines George W. Bush's transformation of the Jeremiad as an internal critique to a self-promoting form that characterizes an "other" as the enemy, and not the self. The Jeremiad is a rhetorical form that is originally taken from the biblical prophet Jeremiah. The form consists of four primary steps: (1) painting a picture of the ideal of the community, (2) clarifying how things currently stand, (3) warning against what will happen if the community does not change, (4) offering hope for a future in which the community does change its behavior. In its original form, all of these steps are a part of self-reflection. Clark argues, however, that when President Bush adopted this rhetorical form after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, he altered the form so that instead of serving as self-reflection, it served to draw battle lines against exterior enemies. Clark describes Bush's use of the form: (1) a typical drawing of the American dream, (2) a list of the transgressions of the terrorist against the United States, (3) threats against the others unless they comply with the United States' demands, (4) the triumphant United States returning the world to peace, justice, and democracy. Clark makes it clear that Bush deviates from the original form of the Jeremiad and in doing so the form loses its power. It is no longer an inspirational call to action within a community that has fallen into corruption or immorality, but rather it claims a perfect ideal for one community while making an unqualified enemy of another.

"Jean-Paul Sartre: The Bad Faith of Empire" by Megan Henricks

This essay shows Sartre's concept of "bad faith" as a considerable influence several theologians' criticism of empire. In order to explain "bad faith," Henricks first elucidates Sartre's concepts of "being-in-itself" and "being-for-itself." While "being-in-itself" implies on object that simply is what it is and cannot become more than its current identity, "being-for-itself" has the capacity to change and transcend its current identity. Humans, Henricks points out, are "beings-for-themselves" but they also contain qualities associated with "beings-in-themselves." This duality of humanity is of the utmost importance to respect. "Bad faith" is a lie to oneself that has destabilizing results. "Bad Faith" can also occur outside of oneself towards others in the form of objectification or by shirking responsibility for actions. This links the theory of "bad faith" to imperialism"a social reality for which many try to avoid responsibility. The theologian Kelly Brown Douglas sees "bad faith" occurring when people are not treated as though they have "being-for-itself" status. Henricks also uses the work of Cynthia Moe-Lobeda to condemn imperialism using "bad faith." Moe-Lobeda says "bad faith" is tied to transnational companies gaining so much power and money that they can make it impossible for Christians to act in accordance with the Gospel. No matter their action, Christians will always play into the hands of the more powerful. Mark Lewis Taylor uses the concept of "bad faith" in his explanation of the way that liberalism champions liberty and justice, but only for a select number of people. Henricks shows that theologians and Christian social ethicists frequently make use of Sartre's theory of "bad faith." She demonstrates that his lens can be revealing when looking at the problem of empire and that his writings have greatly influenced some great Christian writings on the subject.