Payoff: the Real “Tie that Binds”

12Feb09

Although the old hymn entitled Blest be the Tie that Binds would have us believe that Christian love is the essential ingredient that keeps religious organizations together, the real truth is that Christian love is no more effective in the big picture than any other kind of “love” that religions have to offer.

In fact, I believe a “hymn” of another variety can best describe the disillusionment that many folks have experienced over the “love” that communities of faith offer up as an advantage:

Someone told me that love would all save us.
But how can that be, look what love gave us.
A world full of killing, n’ blood-spilling
that world never came

– – – –  Chad Kroeger Hero

Although Hero is far too ambiguous to be referring to churches or religions  in particular, the message resonates with those who have felt the cold harsh turning away of a  myriad of sanctified synods and societies.

On both the “macro” level referred to in the song and at the “micro” level of churches and denominations, far too many seekers find themselves shut out.  Many vulnerable and fallible people who are too different, too challenging or not well connected feel left out in the cold and even mistreated by people who are supposedly enlightened by the transforming power of some written truth or indwelling deity.

It’s not that the “Tie that Binds” is not a reality to some people.   The sadness is that so few people experience the “fellowship of kindred minds” or “sympathizing tear” that there is not any credible evidence that the “tie that binds” the religious faithful together is any better than the “tie that binds” a goldfish hobbyists’ club together in “fishie” love.

The problem is that fish enthusiasts, when they become disillusioned or troubled by what goes on in their specialty groups can easily disentangle themselves from the group with little backlash. This is not true with religion. People who disentangle themselves from religious groups find themselves ostracized, maligned, forbidden to see loved ones and in some parts of the world threatened, imprisoned or persecuted.

What then is the real “tie” that binds? I am going to explain over several posts that the “tie” that binds is not a “crimson thread” as some expositors of the Bible claim. Nor is it the phenomenon of mere common faith in Christ or some other revered deity.

The real tie that binds people to their religion is a complex web of powerful forces that descend from several directions upon the believer to make the prospect of staying more appealing than the stress (to put it mildly) of leaving the fold.

This overwhelming amalgam of influences can be thought of as a dogpile of social, personal, family and psychological forces that can descend upon a believer like a team of defensive linemen trying to win a bowl game.

The dogpile of dogmatic influences that force themselves , in varying degrees of intensity, upon the faithful can be summed up in one word: payoff.  For many, staying with a religion in spite of contradiction and absurdity, can have a greater payoff than disassociating oneself from the group. The payoff can be painful, and even abusive.  But still , the forces of payoff can be enough of an influence to keep a person in the group. The payoff can even be mesmerizing – – causing a person to perceive  harmony when reason and logic reveal chaos.

I would like to unfold these ideas in future posts and invite any observations and feedback that you may want to provide.

2serious
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6 Responses to “Payoff: the Real “Tie that Binds””

  1. 1 fisher0978

    I agree with your observations to a large extent. My personal experiences with many churches and youth groups has left a lot to be desired. All the vanities, judgements, and social stratifications found on the outside can be found within the congregations. I feel this corruption within myself as well, and often must pray mid-sermon that ‘my thoughts’ would become more harmonized with ‘God’s thoughts’.
    What many Christians claim as the transforming power of the indwelling spirit is usually no more than the temporary high of human-derived care, imo. Our souls are deep, yet our mind and emotions often rest in the upper surfaces. Real transformation only occurs when the deeper springs burst forth through our being.
    That being said, I believe that church for the most part is a wholesome, innocent place. There are some rotten apples to be sure. But any place that seeks to praise higher God and consider the teachings of Jesus is pointed in the right direction, even if they develop some funk.
    Your observations about the ‘social, personal, family, and psychological forces’ tying a believer to the fold is spot on. It is unfortunate. To force somebody into box and essentially blackmail them into conforming is not a sign of spiritual wholeness.

    • 2 2serious

      Thanks for continuing to read and post your comments. I enjoy them thoroughly.

      That being said, I believe that church for the most part is a wholesome, innocent place.

      I agree that in many ways churches can be wholesome places. But I also think that any place that is humanly authentic, supportive of its people whereever they are in life and engenders a positive outllook on the self and the world can be a place that causes “the deeper springs . . . [to] . . . burst forth through our being.”

      I don’t believe there is a bifurcation between the forces I describe and some truer inner essence of religion or personal spirituality. I tend to think that the “payoff” I’m beginning to describe is true of most organizations. It’s just that in many cases, the congregants are more tightly bound because of threats of ultimate doom or social stigma.

      Of course, please realize that our experiences are probably quite different. In your churches, for example, if you told another member or a clergyman that you do not believe in a personal God, but a God who is a manifestation of cultural and personal processes within the mind, how would you be treated? Would you be allowed to teach a Sunday School class (or its equivalent in your tradition)? Would you get to sit on committees and boards?

      Or, would the leaders of the church become “concerned?” Would they schedule meetings with you to “encourage” you by “counseling” you through God’s word? Would people eventually quit talking to you if you persisted in your non-traditional viewpoints?

      It may be that my experiences with fundamentalism have caused me to more willingly see the church as just another human organizaion that is not authentic enough to be an outpost of spiritual expression.

    • 3 fisher0978

      Though I believe I have sympathy for both sides of the argument of excommunication, disconnection, or disfellowshiping, I feel the practice has a dark side that is easily exploited.
      I think 2serious has very valid points that should be considered sincerely by folks of any faith.

      • 4 2serious

        Hi Jerry!

        My point in the series on the concept of payoff is not about the rightness or wrongness of ostracizing members of a group. The point is that the pressure that the prospect of such a separation from the group exerts on a person can cause them to stay in despite profound problems with the organization as a whole. The pressure can be so real that members might see harmony where no harmony exists, certainty where there should be no certainty, or truth where, under normal circumstances, no truth would be found at all. Fear of being a social/religious outcast can literally change the mind!

        That being said, the idea of excommunication would be less troubling were it not for the fact that it is usually carried out unevenly and with differing sets of standards for different followers. If you are rich, popular, athletic or powerful, I believe disfellowshipping is less likely than if you are unattractive, not well connected and not powerful. Kinda’ makes the whole thing pointless.

        I’m still working on my post about the socio-economic factors of “payoff.” I’ve kinda’ gotten a bout of writer’s block on that one.

        Nice to hear from you.

    • 5 fisher0978

      Hi, sorry to be a pain but it seems the original comment remains unchanged.

  2. 6 fisher0978

    My involvement in church has been pretty limited. I’m usually just the guy who would drop in from time to time, sit quietly in the back, and leave after the service. The only perspective I can bring to the table is in that casual way. I’ve visited various denominations, got what I could, and usually left before getting tied down. I suppose I’m too absorbed with my own journey of faith that church has been more of a temporary shelter than a home. Also, I’m frankly, pretty stubborn and block-headed, and much of what I want to see, I interpret as such. I pick and choose the pieces of the pastor’s sermon that fit my puzzle and disregard the rest. Perhaps my ignorance has rendered me immune to most of the payoff that seizes other believers 😉

    I do agree that churches are human organizations. I view them mostly as social clubs with sprinkles of Biblical wisdom tossed in. I believe they miss the point on many occasions, and often go in comical directions. I see them frequently focus the majority of their energy on preserving a meme and growing the flock, than on searching for God. And I can easily imagine members becoming ‘concerned’ when another member’s faith falls outside their dogmatic norms. I guess what sets them apart a bit from more ‘secular’ organizations is that on varying levels the members are seeking something wonderfully beyond this world, however occluded by the world it is.

    I returned to church after around a decade-long drought. The first one I went to was a Korean Onnuri Church. Before going there I had walked a dark road, which intersected many circles of destruction. I believe I had seen the curse sin plays upon ourselves. A cloud hung over me. When I entered the service, the congregation was joyfully singing cheesy, Christian pop songs of Jesus’ blood healing us. It was exactly what I needed at that point in time and I felt great refuge in that simple level of ‘God’. I have since started attending my girlfriend’s church, but I am very thankful the Onnuri church for existing.
    My personal journeys aside, I think your observations of payoff are insightful and stand well.


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