1. notleia says:

    I think that all rituals are placebos to some extent. But it seems like they fulfill a psychological function that’s hard to get in any other way, for feelings of connection and community.
    But dang, those sound like some nerrrrrrrrds who can’t get their LARP fix without slapping a coat of Jesus paint on it to save their dignity (debatable efficacy).
    In fact, I’m tempted to call all short-term missions more or less a ritual in that they give group bonding experiences through the alienation they feel from annoying out-group people going on their daily business. It ain’t effective for actual evangelism, for sure. But it’s one of the few ways that poor kids in the youth group get to travel at all. Why not just go to Mardi Gras? Except I found out about Maslenitsa, which goes on for a WEEK before Lent and that sounds like fun except I’m not that enthusiastic about Russian food.

    • Travis Perry says:

      Well…it’s interesting how you put that about placebos. But I don’t think of prayer as a ritual. You probably do. I also don’t think prayer is a placebo. But you probably do. But I believe God is real and cares about people and prayer is talking to Him, which is neither a ritual nor futile.

      Whereas you come awfully close to not believing that–if you don’t doubt it entirely. Which I think is tragic. But it is what it is.

      As far as No Greater Love, this is an organization that’s been going to New Orleans Mardi Gras since 1975. They evangelize but do so with a kind voice and showing mercy to others. By having been there so long, they are really a part of the culture of Mardi Gras by now. The way you think, you could imagine this as one part of Southern culture (because most who go on this trip are Southern) in conversation with another part, the party-going tradition of the French verses the strong Evangelical tradition of the South. You could also think of it as the older generation reaching out to the younger, since those who attend No Greater Love are on average significantly older than the average Mardi Gras partier. (You could also think of it as a conversation between rural and small town USA versus urban America–because most people who participate in the ministry are from small towns or rural areas and of course they’re going to an urban area.)

      Most of the people I went with thought of what they did in terms of spiritual battle, light versus darkness, trying to show the love of Christ to an ungrateful and even hostile world. Which is consistent with their belief system and certainly would not make them nerds.

      I thought of things a bit differently. I increasingly see the spiritual war as being about ideas, as per the series I wrote on the subject that you’ve seen. The most important thing we did in my opinion was demonstrate a kind-hearted and empathetic version of Evangelical Christianity. Yes, one in which we talked about life after death and the need for Jesus, but we do so with sincere voices, genuine kindness, and empathy. Us walking the cross through Bourbon Street while certain members of the crowd yelled at us and threw beads and beers at us, with us not responding in kind, simply moving forward, looking out at people with kindness as best we were able, was an attempt to visibly demonstrate both the love of and the suffering of Christ.

      Was it effective for the crowd? I can’t say for sure. Anecdotal evidence I’ve encountered suggests it was. At least for some people.

      But simply because some very nice and decent people are attracted to this ministry doesn’t mean they are really properly using the Bible. And as a guy with a strong analytical streak who cares a lot about truth, it seems incumbent on me to point that out. Hence this article–not just for them but for all sincere Christians who get certain things wrong about their own faith.

      • notleia says:

        That feels like claiming part of the charm of going to a cheese shop is the protesting vegans (I don’t know that any vegans do this, but don’t give em ideas).

        • Travis Perry says:

          Some people filmed us on their cell phones as we passed and some people applauded us. Not many, but some. So I’m not pulling the idea that we were part of the event out of thin air.

          Also, I have only known a few vegans in person and some more online. My personal experience with them suggests they would be very eager to tell everyone exactly why they didn’t approve of a cheese festival with a heaping dose of scorn (by the way “cheese shop” doesn’t work as an analogy but a “cheese festival” works a little bit). That is, if they were to routinely attend one.

          But let’s imagine a cheese festival scenario truly analogous to what I’m talking about–let’s say there was a cheese festival, say, in Wisconsin, that vegans have been visiting since 1975. In ’75 the cheese people would not even know what a vegan is, but let’s pretend there were a significant number of them back then anyway and they showed up and passed out flyers that politely pointed out what they thought was wrong with dairy. And they handed them out not with smiles on their faces and polite deference which is what the No Greater Love ministry taught all of us to do and practiced as far as all evidence I have indicates and has practiced since its beginning, forty-five years ago.

          After a while, regular attendees to the cheese festival would be like, “Say, it’s those nice vegans again.” And by being nice and presenting their case, some small percentage of cheese festival people would change their ways and become vegan. Because it’s about making the presence of an idea known in a way that creates a positive association, even in a place hostile to the idea.

          The right to show up at a place dedicated to the opposite of what you believe is a very important form of freedom by the way–the freedom to disagree, to persuade. First Amendment freedoms, of religion, the press, etc.

          Though I think there are places where the freedom to disagree should be suppressed because some places are private space versus public. So a cheese festival would be appropriate for polite vegan protesters. But a cheese shop wouldn’t be.

          An open air rally of Christians is an appropriate place for non-religious protesters (like the guy who followed our group on Monday with a “I hate religion” sign, working to counter our work to portray an alternative to the festival). But the inside of a church is not an appropriate space. Nor would I expect to be allowed to pass out tracts in a mosque, lest you imagine I’m only talking about defending my own private space and don’t care about others.

          Which relates to the issue of my perception once upon a time that Speculative Faith was intended to be private space for Christian believers. But if the admins here won’t enforce that, then this isn’t private space, it’s public. So your peppering of criticism here is a “thing.” Even when what you say is of a completely non-Christian nature most of the time, of the sort that once inspired me to think, “Hey, why are we letting her do this on a Christian site?”

          So your criticism of No Greater Love ministries is super-ironic. Because protesting in your own way Christian ideas is what you do on this site on a pretty much continual basis. Though you aren’t quite as polite as the No Greater Love people.

        • Jill says:

          This response makes me a little sad because Mardi Gras started out as a Christian festival and has been so far removed from it that it’s like vegans at a cheese shop.

          • Travis Perry says:

            Yeah Mardis Gras is far removed from its Catholic roots in New Orleans.

            The only really Catholic thing about it that I know of is midnight on Tuesday is of course Ash Wednesday. The police clear the streets then in N.O. At midnight, which is early for party animals. But when Wednesday starts, the party is over and horse-mounted police officers make sure it’s over.

            I imagine that’s due to residual Catholic tradition.

      • notleia says:

        Oh, I got distracted about vegans, but I was also gonna say something about prayer as a ritual.
        There is a preexisting notion along that line. IIRC CS Lewis posited that prayer was for the prayer’s benefit rather than God’s, given that God is omniscient and doesn’t actually need us to tell him things. It does seem superstitious to treat prayer like casting cleric-class spells. Makes me think of those people who insist on ending a prayer specifically in Jesus’ name, as if improperly closing the invocation would make it misfire, lol.
        I’ve more or less given up on distinguishing “proper” Christian rites from the more superstitious adaptations because they both seem to stem from an OCD-esque impulse to try to control things that aren’t controllable.

        • Travis Perry says:

          Well at least praying “in Jesus’s name” is based on something Jesus actually said. Ending a prayer in “Amen” is also a traditional thing because that word derived from Hebrew basically means “let it be so” (or even “it is so”).

          French Protestant prayers (and sometimes French Catholic prayers, too) end in “ainsi soit-il” or “so let it be” (which reminds me of prayers in the new version of Battlestar Galactica ending in “so say we all”). So they end prayers without even saying “amen,” which works just fine.

          But those are minor things based on Biblical practice and long tradition. Such practices by themselves don’t stop prayer from being talking to God.

          But when you think using a special phrase makes prayer more powerful then you’re wandering into strange doctrines…

          In short, there is such a thing as proper prayer.

  2. There’s a lot of placebos that are more subtle. One that’s kinda iffy to me is when people act like God will ensure success, happiness or safety just because he loves them, or because he’s been ‘building so many good things in their lives and doesn’t want them to get ruined’ or something like that.

    While God does love us, wants us to be happy and may make plans for our lives, that doesn’t mean we’ll escape insanely difficult failures and hardships. If we make bad decisions, then bad things will happen. Or, something painful or scary will happen, but later on that brings about a better end. And then there’s simple cause and effect factors to existence that we are probably going to be subject to by default. God probably isn’t going to sit there and intervene in those without a reason. Now and then he probably does, which is why prayer is important, but it’s toxic to think that means God will always make things turn out as we want. A lot of people have probably doubted or even rejected God because of the subtle narrative that God will make our lives happy and prosperous just because he loves us. Life isn’t like that, though, and I don’t think he ever promised us a pain free existence.

    Phil Vischer actually has a pretty interesting story about that, with basically the rise and fall of Veggie Tales. His book, Me, Myself and Bob is pretty good and talks more about the actual business end and actual events behind his company’s fall. But he also gives speeches now and then that kind of cover more of the emotional arc he went through:

  3. Jill says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard people pleading the blood of Jesus. “In the name of Jesus,” many times.

What do you think?