My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I requested a pre-publication review copy of this book some time ago but was denied, and as I had some time available while recuperating from surgery, read it now. As I am still trying to understand why people have one religion, I thought perhaps Mr. Bidwell might have some insight on that line as he explains why people have more than one religion.
Well…he seemed to explain the “how”, but I didn’t find out anything new as to the “why”. I think that’s because despite being “spiritually fluid”, possessing “religious multiplicity”, having “multiple or complex religious bonds”, Bidwell is still trapped by perspective. Oh, he does think outside the box, obviously, given his unconventional subject, but … there is always a box. The edges of his (admittedly large) box are religion and he does not address what is outside it.
Bidwell, in addition to being a Buddhist, is “a minister of the Presbyterian Church (USA), part of the Reformed tradition of Christianity. [he is] authorized to represent that tradition, and [he is] accountable to it.” I rather liked that he called it a tradition, as it tacitly acknowledges that other interpretations of his Christianity hold different views than his chosen one. This is further cemented when he says “I do not believe that God is one or that all paths reach the same mountain. Religions are not different descriptions of a single reality; they describe different (and sometimes related) realities.” He earns points with this astute observation:
It’s dangerous to reduce everything to a “logic of the One,” because the qualities of the ultimate “one” usually look suspiciously like the ultimate reality proposed by the tradition of the person making the claim to unity.
Really good observation; gods are formed in our image. He also leveled up when he recounted during his Presbyterian discernment, answering the question, “Mr. Bidwell, do you believe that Jesus Christ is the only way to achieve salvation and spend eternity in heaven with God?” with “No,” I said. “I don’t believe that.”, and then the next question, “Mr. Bidwell. Have you heard the phrase ‘I am the Way and the Truth and the Life; no one comes to the Father except through me’?” with
I nodded. “Of course,” I said. “But remember that Jesus in the Gospel of John is speaking as the Logos, the ruling principle of the universe, a concept Christians adopted from Hellenistic philosophy. And we don’t know that Jesus ever said those words; the writers of John had their own purposes for including them. Those words have a context we have to consider.”
I should have stopped with “of course.”
How many people do you know whospeak with some authority on a religion who actually talk about context? That John paints a considerably different picture of Jesus than the synoptic gospels is often either not understood, or a distinction that is avoided.
More telltales of his box, he relates a story of “Marie Romo” (he changes names and details to protect the identities of his examples) who suffered abuses and was able to divorce, becoming “a single mom with three children and no driver’s license, no diploma, no job, no work history, and no prospects” who “out of instinct, […] turned to God” (italics mine). No. Out of culture. Marie also practices Hinduism in her particular duality. Instinct may or may not have anything to do with it – I’m still processing Pascal Boyer on that account – but clearly, Marie’s Mexican culture was her “instinct”.
Still another revelation of the box in which he operates here, when discussing the problems spiritually fluid people suffer, whether to hide of disclose, he says
Disclosing multiplicity carries enormous risk. Spiritually fluid people often feel anxious when deciding whether to hide or disclose their religious multiplicity. Hiding it can protect them from judgment, conflict with others, and the need to justify themselves. But concealing multiplicity also compromises their honesty and authenticity; they’re unable to be vulnerable with people they care about, especially family and religious leaders.
Imagine a world where declaring no religion places someone in the ‘least liked” category. Multiple religions surely to be better than, … shudder…, none!
In wrapping up, Bidwell looks at W.E.B. Du Bois, who used “double consciousness” as a term to describe living between two social realities. Bidwell says
Yet double consciousness also empowers, bestowing what Du Bois called the “gift of second sight.” Because you live in two realities, you see things with more complexity. You are always aware of context and the ways that larger social systems shape how others perceive and receive you. You know the psyche of the dominant group as its members cannot. At the same time, you learn to decode and understand how others are seeing you. You anticipate their criticisms and micro-aggressions. You know how and when they consider you a problem. The gift of double consciousness allows you to trace the invisible commitments and values that collude to keep you in your place (as defined by more powerful people and communities). This knowledge makes it easier to resist and subvert attempts to devalue you, to keep you at the margin, and to convince you and others that you are illegitimate.
Bidwell’s thesis is spiritual fluidity, multiple religions, give someone this double consciousness. I offer something far less complex: Simple awareness of other cultures, traditions, belief systems… Humanism … is a greater “double”.
So, the most important lesson of this book is for fluids in hiding to know that they are not alone. One wishes this good on them. Meanwhile, I still search for “why”.