Monthly Archives: December 2013

Orthodox Church Visit – A Reflection

     During my fall religion course my love and fascination with religion and religious traditions as a field of study has been reaffirmed through deeper study. Comparing concepts from Judaism, Christianity, and Islam has given a more refined view of each tradition in its own right, as well as their connections to one another. The tradition which continues to interest me most of the three is Christianity, specifically the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox branches. This guided me to select a Greek Orthodox church when we were assigned to visit a religious site as a final project.

      I have been in Orthodox churches before, and I have studied their branch in the past, so I was already somewhat well acquainted with the layout and the imagery displayed within. I believe that the Orthodox Church is one of the purest examples of early apostolic, episcopal, Nicene Christianity. For this reason I am drawn to its study as a model for ecclesiastical religions and their development. Though the influence of medieval Byzantine, Russian, and other philosophers and theologians has changed the Church since the early days, the presence of the Patriarchs as the highest Bishops of the church, in a coequal relationship with one another, reflects the tradition of apostolic succession that many later forms of Christianity have drawn from.

      I visited Saint Barbara Greek Orthodox Church in Orange Connecticut as part of my site visit, and I was pleasantly surprised by how traditional the architecture was for an American church. The exterior of the church is built in a style similar to that of the ancient churches of the Byzantine Empire, and the interior of the church has some beautiful mosaics depicting religious figures from Christ Pantocrator, to the patron Saint: Barbara “the Great Martyr” as she is known in the eastern church.

      The symbolism of these works of art seems to illustrate the concepts Smith discusses in the Christianity section of the book about “The Christ of Faith.” Images of the life and ministry of Jesus play an important part in the art of the church, not only in the church proper, but also in the community center and other buildings on the larger church campus. People there are celebrating the life of Jesus and of the saints. The focus of their faith is on praise and tradition, upholding the traditional tenets and virtues of the Church, as well as recognizing the importance of Jesus’ life.

      Orthodox churches seem to exemplify the sense of community and unity in worship that is discussed in chapter 6 of “Faith, Religion, & Theology: A Contemporary Introduction.” These passages of the book emphasized the importance of communal rather than individual worship. This is an idea that conflicts with modernity and modern views, but the Orthodox tradition is in opposition the individualism of modern religion. The sense of community is tangible when expressed in an Orthodox service.

      A few months ago I visited Saint Petersburg, Russia with my family, and we took a day long trip to Novgorod to see a church from the 11th century. We were lucky enough to be visiting as a mass concluded and a wedding service began, so we had quite an experience. Russian churches are particularly spectacular, the whole congregation stands throughout the service, and a haze of incense fills the room. The kissing of gold plated icons and praising of Christ in song is one of the most wonderful experiences I have ever had. Though American Orthodox churches have pews and resemble Catholic ones, the same sense of togetherness and community can be felt during a service there. It would be impossible for such a faith to be practiced solitarily.

      When I visited Saint Barbara’s church, the Priest gave a presentation on the Great East-West Schism, a topic of particular interest to me. He brought up some thoughts from an Orthodox perspective that I hadn’t considered, but I found the discussion to be a fascinating experience, especially in a church like that one. Smith refers to the presence of Christ’s love being felt in a tangible way by the disciples, and I think that such a welcoming, community oriented place exemplifies this idea in practice.

      Though I continue to recognize the importance of the Orthodox Church as a model of ecclesiastical religion and the development of Christianity, since visiting several churches, I also have a new-found understanding of how special their services are. I always try to place myself within the theology of people whose faith I am studying, and while this can be an interesting exercise when using books, it is truly moving when experiencing it firsthand. In the future I hope to visit other religious sites as well, and I expect to visit a mosque at some point in the future since I have really found Koran study fascinating and challenging to my western world view, and I like to be challenged theologically and philosophically in my studies.

Works Cited

Hill, Brennan, Paul F. Knitter, and William Madges. Faith, Religion & Theology: A Contemporary Introduction. Mystic, CT: Twenty-Third Publications, 1990. Print.

Smith, Huston, and Huston Smith. The World’s Religions: Our Great Wisdom Traditions. [San Francisco]: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991. Print.

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Charles Manson and Transcendentalism

     In studying the transcendentalists as part of my American Literature class, I have been tasked with discussing a “modern transcendentalist.” Though the philosophy of transcendentalism may seem to be limited in its scope in the modern world, it still holds sway among certain individuals, despite the fact that they may not even know of the transcendentalist movement. Figures such as Chris McCandless of Into the Wild stand out as examples of good people emulating the transcendentalists. Though the intent of the original transcendentalists was to create positive changes, one person stands out as a great example of how applying a semi-transcendentalist lifestyle to the modern world can have a negative outcome: Charles Manson.

      In old age, Charles Manson espouses a philosophy of environmentalism, anti-authoritarianism, and rejection of society as a whole. The ideas he and his remaining cultists preach developed out of the hippie movement and the “Summer of Love” in San Francisco in 1967. He was already a disturbed individual when he arrived in San Francisco, and his mental status blended well with the darker underbelly of the atmosphere of social upheaval, peace demonstrations, and free-love there. The ideals of the hippie movement and the “Summer of Love” are very closely related to the transcendental philosophy, and they mirror many of Thoreau’s ideas on civil disobedience and resistance to established social conventions. These ideas were integral to Manson’s final crusade of insanity before being put in prison one final time.

      One could say that the hippie movement was the 20th century iteration of the transcendentalist movement, and in the same way that certain individuals such as Thoreau, Emerson, and Fuller championed the transcendentalists, major figures symbolized the hippies. Charles Manson is the pinnacle of the anti-cultural aspect of the late hippie of movement of the late ’60s and early ’70s. Whereas early hippies and other counter cultural groups had been supporters of the creation of new ways of being a society, the changes undergone after the introduction of harder drugs into the movements in the late ’60s gave them a distinctly anti-society bent that would develop into a heavier sound in music, as well as adding a more cult-like nature to the groups. Cocaine is a hell of drug.

      Manson used the atmosphere in which he found himself to carry out the spread of his “philosophy” which is something like a distorted, dark version of transcendentalism. They were (and are) environmentally conscious, they see society as the root of people’s problems, and they advocate peace. After he drew people into belief in his ideas, he used that power to act out on his mental problems through violent acts in direct contradiction to the ideas he preached. This doesn’t, however, remove him from consideration as a modern transcendentalist since he and his “family” continue to insist that no one was killed, and that they are peaceful dissidents in favor of the ideal of free-love. Manson considers himself a political prisoner after all that he did.

      As many people probably know, Charles Manson, a convicted murderer, founded and leads a group called Air, Trees, Water, Animals, or ATWA. They are an environmentalist group, and they advocate living in balance of nature, and in awe of the natural order. They desire a world without engineering of the environment by people in order to build up a society which Manson and his cultists feel is the root of evil. Manson’s ideas could even be considered “radical” transcendentalism in that they bring ideas that echo Thoreau and Emerson to an extreme. They believe so fervently in peace and nature that they will kill to protect them. For a time they were racists, and they believed that a race war would place them as the white leaders of the world after black people killed all the other whites (helter-skelter), but surrounding that period are their more pleasant-looking, nonviolent, hippie-inspired moments.

      Transcendentalism was a cultural movement with the intent to break down many of the barriers society had put in place to achieving the state of existence which they saw as perfect; that being the absolute freedom of the individual. Individualism, along with a deep love of nature and civil disobedience, was one of the defining traits of the original movement. The hippie movement as a whole built on this, and they emphasized individual creativity and freedom. Though in reality he brainwashed his followers to think the way he does, Manson’s written (and ranted) ideas promote the same individualistic ideas as the hippies and the transcendentalists before them.

      Though it would be a terrible thing to suggest that someone as deranged as Charles Manson should be supported, or his actions condoned, the parallels between the ideas he has expressed and the ideas of the transcendentalists are quite striking when the two are compared. The connection between the hippies and the transcendentalists is quite often cited by people studying these movements, and so it seems that to ignore the impact that transcendental thought had on Charles Manson would be to ignore an important figure in the development of counter-cultural philosophy and the negative aspects of it. No matter how nice and friendly a philosophy seems, it may be far more dangerous than its leaders are letting on. In the same way, some of the “scarier” groups that we face in the modern day may actually just be minding their own business. Perhaps the old saying “don’t judge a book by its cover” could be put to good use in taking a neutral stance to ideas, no matter what their PR looks like.

Works Cited

“Charles Manson and the Manson Family.” — Murder! — Crime Library on TruTV.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Dec. 2013. <http://www.trutv.com/library/crime/serial_killers/notorious/manson/murder_1.html&gt;.

“Charles Manson’s Basic Philosophy as given at This 1986 Parole Hearing | The Manson “Family” Blog.” The Manson Family Blog. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Dec. 2013. <http://fromspahnranch.wordpress.com/2008/11/09/charles-mansons-basic-philosophy-as-given-at-this-1986-parole-hearing/&gt;.

“Youth: The Hippies.” TIME.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Dec. 2013. <http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,899555-1,00.html&gt;.

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