Ritual and…

Just to be clear, I’m not trying to cast dispersion on a group of people or play into stereotypes, but I am wondering about attitudes of groups of people I’ve encountered over the years. I also know that “Ritual Studies” is not a discipline that I know a whole lot about, and I’ve forgotten a lot concerning Behaviorism and Behavior Modification.
Part of this comes from just seeing “Equus” on Broadway with Radcliff and Griffiths and what might be understood as a commentary on religion, worship, and psychosis (among other things). Part of this comes from thinking about the “vestal virgins” that brought in and ceremonially poured the “waters of baptism” into a giant font in the National Cathedral during the enthronement of Katherine Jefforts-Shori as Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church. Part of this comes from witnessing what seems to be a need to create all kinds of different and new forms of ritual within what is supposed to be a Christian context but often lacking any resemblance to norms of Christian Tradition and liturgical forms. Are we bound by “trendiness” and pop-ideas of “relevance?” I don’t know.
What would prompt the designer(s) of the enthronement liturgy to incorporate this kind of thing in the liturgy? In other contexts, what prompts priests or bishops or liturgists to depart from TEC Canons and the Book of Common Prayer that we vowed to uphold and abide by? Some say rebellion against convention or Tradition, some say boredom, some say a determination to remake Christianity in a new image (Spong-ish), some say a loss of faith, some say sincere interest in… you name it.
I don’t know their intent or their thought processes, so I’m not going to make some kind of declarative statement concerning their spiritual well-being or such things. Yet, why in the case of the enthronement liturgy, when they could have used a much more Anglican/Episcopal/Traditional “bringing in the waters of baptism” or something that was not perceived by many, Anglican and non-Anglican alike, as being indicative of paganism, did they use that form? Use women exclusively in the ritual, I don’t care, but why the quasi-Roman/Greek “vestal virgin-esque” dressed women carrying large urns of water? I know many people, liberal and conservative, that simply laughed at the spectacle. It was a joke, which I am pretty sure wasn’t the intent of the designer(s) of the liturgy. What was their reason or motivation? What was in the minds of those who loved it?
Anyway, it makes me wonder about the spiritual condition of people I’ve encountered in the past and still encounter today, particularly if I see my place as a priest to be about the “cure of souls.” I know I’ve mused about the generational shift taking place and the demographic differences between the desires of and worshiping “sense” of the upcoming generations contra the Baby-Boomers, but I’m trying to get beyond all that and trying to figure out foundational motivations, the conditions of the heart, the psycho-social-spiritual dynamics that prompt people to do or say or believe. When it comes to Christian worship, apologetics, theologies of all kinds, and personal experiences with the Divine, how does our “stuff” work its way out for good or for ill concerning the cause of Christ, deficiencies in Christian experience, and…
I wonder, and this is just wondering, whether groups of people may not be so much “Christian” in the traditional sense, as they are perhaps Ritualists and Behaviorists finding expression within Christian forms and traditions. This is an Anthropocentric rather than Theocentric focus or foundation.
I’m defining the following words, thusly:
“Ritualists” – simply, I’m thinking about those who put a great deal of stock in social or personal “rituals” and the significance of such rituals in creating meaning, rites of passage, and providing for interpersonal connections and social order and cohesion.
“Behaviorists” – those who believe that through some kind of behavior modification we can “reconfigure” people’s attitudes, feelings, and actions in such ways that bring about personal and social peace, harmony, and meaning.
“Christian” – the traditional notion that there is a personal, Trinitarian God, engaged with His creation, and who has provided a way for the restoration of personal relationship between humankind and God through the finished work of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Logos. Liturgical forms of Christian worship – rituals – are designed to help encourage and foster deeper encounters with the Divine.
It seems to me that there are people who gravitate to Ritualism, or a sensing or believing that in ritual people(s) find psycho-social expression and/or cultural meaning and order. By creating rituals, there is developed cultural “touch-points” that help the masses be included in the overall social context. Then, there are behavioralists that strive to use ritual to bring about their notions of what is best for society and the Modernist ideas of a continual and forward movement and progress of humanity to more Utopian expressions of society.
The people in this group, whoever they may be, at least in the West, were probably raised with a sense of at least cultural-Christianity, so they find ready expression of their ideas within the ritualistic forms of Christianity, yet without the foundational expectation or experience of personal relationship with God. As such, Christian traditions provide a means or structure for ritual and behavior modification without the emphasis on mystical ideas of the Divine. Again, a human focus rather than a Divine focus. Form without the power.
So, there may not be a necessity for abiding by Christian Tradition or norms, or a need for theological reasoning for the doing of any particular ritual beyond the temporal outcomes hoped for. Consideration of Divine intend, if present and accepted, is of lesser importance. What is their apologetic for what they do? Sometimes, the apologetic doesn’t go much beyond social ideals of identity politics or political correctness – all that we do is to make people feel welcome, included, good about themselves, and increase their sense of satisfaction or self-actualization (perhaps a la Goldstein or Maslow?).
From an anthropocentric perspective, we can do anything ritualistically that we think achieves our desired personal or social outcomes. From a Theocentric perspective, there is something else that comes into play – the desire of the Divine (as much as we are able to understand such a thing). I’ve come to truly appreciate Tradition – that which has survived over time and in many cultures – as something that might suggest a “realness” or legitimacy that new forms lack. Does God provide for ways of ritual that are given or revealed to humankind through Scripture and Tradition and are purposed not for social outcomes, but for nothing less than restoration of relationship between God and Man?