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Author Topic: Religion and Hierarchy  (Read 8312 times)
Juniper
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« Topic Start: July 10, 2008, 08:08:26 pm »


Hierarchy is something that crops up in many religions. Iím not referring to the relationship between humans and the Divine, but rather the relationships that occur between humans in a religious structure/organization.

For instance in Catholicism (the only reason Iím using this example is because I find it to be the easiest) there is the Pope, various Archbishops and Cardinals, bishops and bishops of a diocese, priests, and pastors. And of course then there are the lay people.

And so I have been thinking: what is the purpose behind such hierarchy? If one was to come from a fairly Marxist perspective, their reason may be that it is a form of social control. And yet other religions beside those Ďdominantí ones such as Catholicism also have some sort of hierarchy within them. BTW for instance, has the High Priestess and High Priest of a coven.

So, do you believe hierarchy is an important aspect of a religious organization?  Why do you think many choose to have a hierarchy? Does your religion have any form of hierarchy?


(A latter thought I had: how do you feel about the hierarchy of men and women in certain religious organizations? If there is one in your religion, how do you feel about it? And if there isnít, do you think there should be one?)
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« Reply #1: July 10, 2008, 08:30:25 pm »

And so I have been thinking: what is the purpose behind such hierarchy? If one was to come from a fairly Marxist perspective, their reason may be that it is a form of social control. And yet other religions beside those Ďdominantí ones such as Catholicism also have some sort of hierarchy within them. BTW for instance, has the High Priestess and High Priest of a coven.

I may be optimistic, but I don't think it's anything as sinister as trying to control people...  Or at least, if it is that's not all of it.  The thing of it is, when you get more than about 3-4 people in a group (religious or otherwise), you've got to have someone who's running the show.  Not necessarily telling people every little thing to do, but someone who's in charge of making sure things happen when they need to and so forth.  Most attempts at "group rule" that I've seen have failed miserably.  Someone has to be the organizational person, which really easily turns into "in charge" whether the person filling the role intends to do that or not.  And in a religious group, once it gets big enough that consensus rule no longer works, I do think it makes sense to have someone kind of keeping an eye on the teachings and practices of the group to sort of make sure everyone's still going in the same direction enough that they're still "a religion" and not a loose confederation of friends hanging out together.

So the group starts out at, say, ten, with one person filling that role.  More people join.  Maybe the group doubles.  Suddenly the organizational person can't keep up with everything, so he starts delegating to one or two other people.  The group doubles again, and they find they need to delegate too...  Hierarchy has just developed.

Quote
So, do you believe hierarchy is an important aspect of a religious organization?

I think that depends on the group and what they're trying to do.  If the group is large enough, I think it's an efficient way to keep things running smoothly.  (In theory, at least; I also recognize that there is the potential to abuse the system, as there is with virtually any system.)


Quote
(A latter thought I had: how do you feel about the hierarchy of men and women in certain religious organizations? If there is one in your religion, how do you feel about it? And if there isnít, do you think there should be one?)

Again, I think it depends on the organization.  I mean, if the whole thing behind it is "men/women are inherently unfit to lead", then no, I don't like it.  I'm not sure that entitles me to try to do anything about it if it's not my organization, but I don't like it.  If there's some actual theological basis for it (maybe women lead because they represent the Great Mother--I have no idea if this is real reasoning actually used, I'm just pulling a potential example from thin air), then it maybe might make me a little uneasy, but...  I have less problems with that kind of thing because it's not discrimination for discrimination's sake, and it doesn't really imply a value judgement to me.  It's just that this happens to be a role that requires, for reasons internal to the religion, a person of a particular sex.  *shrug*  But, again, unless it's my own organization I really have very little say in it anyway.

And as I'm not currently affiliated with an organization, what that really means is that I've really got no say in what anyone does about it.  Wink
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« Reply #2: July 10, 2008, 09:14:30 pm »

So, do you believe hierarchy is an important aspect of a religious organization?  Why do you think many choose to have a hierarchy? Does your religion have any form of hierarchy?

I believe that all groups create heirarchy - there are just times it's overt, and times it's covert. Even in groups that are consensus based, it's very easy to have people feel that others are more experienced/committed/involved/doing more work/know more/whatever (all of which are very positive things, but which create a hidden heirarchy structure.)

One of the things I've figured out my brain is that I *far* prefer an overt power structure. That way, it's much easier for me to decide if I buy into it and can work in it, and what my role in it is. Once I have that, it matters far less to me what the role *is* - I can do leadership, but I've also happily done 'follower' or 'student' or 'random member of community' for years at a time.

In my own experience (which is in a priestess-led tradition), there's a bunch of things going on.

- Someone has to make final decisions about when things happen, what's happening at them, etc. In a healthy group, lots of other people probably get input into this, but someone has to say "Well, 2 people can't make this date, and 1 person can't make that date, and that's the best we've got, so we're going with the second one." if you want to get together.

- There are times when painful things happen in groups - a group member abuses the trust of others, fails regularly in their responsibilities, or disrupts the work of the group. I'd much rather be somewhere where there's a clear and defined way to handle this in a way that causes minimum disruption to the group's work - and that usually means a leader taking the heat of the decision, because if you leave it to general agreement, chances are it'll still be an issue in 6 months, somehow. (Either there will be no decision, or a substantial number of people will be unhappy with it.)

- Part of it is taking ritual responsibility. If I'm the one inviting people into my home, initiating them, forming deep and lasting energetic connections, that absolutely isn't something anyone else has the right to force or demand: it's got to be something that I feel comfortable with.

I just posted, on my public blog, a long discussion of how I view the role of HPS (It is long: it's over 4 pages of plain text), but several people have told me they've found it really useful already. It is very much about me and how I view things (in other words, I don't claim to speak for anyone else), because it was written up as part of the coven process stuff I'm working on for my new coven. (It also speaks almost entirely about being HPS, rather than other roles, because that's me, and the other stuff isn't.)

It gets into some of the more esoteric arguments: if you want a group to be on the same page, and of the same mind, you need some way to agree what that is, and you need someone (or maybe 2-3 people at most) who work closely together to make sure that happens.

All of that said, one of the things that I really appreciate about the trad I work in is that we've been really clear there are all sorts of useful ritual (and outside of ritual) group roles, and that they are all necessary. HPS and HP are obvious ones, and fairly public - but other roles are also important and meaningful and useful. Including "Person who comes and shows up and is a stable presence in circle".

Part of the thing I appreciate about the heirarchy is that it lets people say "I want to do this bit" and "I am not interested in doing that bit." far more clearly: it's much easier to avoid disappointment or frustration or feeling overwhelmed by assumptions. And it also makes it clear when students or people still learning things can and should focus on those things, and leave certain worries to other people.

(one of the things I most appreciated during my Dedicant year, for example, was knowing that my job was to learn the Dedicant stuff. I helped out with 'stage managery' things at a number of rituals, but I wasn't the one worrying about packing everything the day before, or making sure we had all the supplies, so I could use that time in other ways for my own learning. Which, if the role hadn't been so clearly defined, I would have worried about, because I'm like that.)

http://gleewood.org/threshold/2008/07/09/role-of-the-high-priestess/
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« Reply #3: July 11, 2008, 12:01:11 am »

I believe that all groups create heirarchy - there are just times it's overt, and times it's covert. Even in groups that are consensus based, it's very easy to have people feel that others are more experienced/committed/involved/doing more work/know more/whatever (all of which are very positive things, but which create a hidden heirarchy structure.)

This is my experience with Reclaiming events, but they try to make the hidden hierarchy not so hidden-it's not overt, but it's definitely there, I guess you could say. It's a transparent hierarchy. Everything is done by consensus, and b/c of that everyone has to be very clear not only about  their own intent but the collective intent, which can take some time and definitely requires experienced people facilitating the process. But also, most of the big ritual planning is done in cells, so there are only a few to several people in charge of a very specific part of a larger event. Anyone can come to a big planning meeting, anyone can say they want to help, and then the plans get made- and that's where the people who really know their shit or have specific skill sets related to the planning do their work.

Quote
One of the things I've figured out my brain is that I *far* prefer an overt power structure. That way, it's much easier for me to decide if I buy into it and can work in it, and what my role in it is. Once I have that, it matters far less to me what the role *is* - I can do leadership, but I've also happily done 'follower' or 'student' or 'random member of community' for years at a time.

I prefer an overt power structure too; I love Reclaiming rituals and philosophy, but I can't stand the planning meetings. I love working in small groups, though, and I don't do well in big, organized ones. In my Daughters of Kali group, I'm in the initiate circle, but there less than 20 people in all three training circles; it is the perfect size for me. I love it there, and value that community as much as I do my work with Reclaiming. My thing is, I like being a student, follower, random member of community and leader simultaneously, which is part of the reason I'm mostly solitary.

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« Reply #4: July 11, 2008, 12:07:03 am »


So, do you believe hierarchy is an important aspect of a religious organization?  Why do you think many choose to have a hierarchy? Does your religion have any form of hierarchy?


(A latter thought I had: how do you feel about the hierarchy of men and women in certain religious organizations? If there is one in your religion, how do you feel about it? And if there isnít, do you think there should be one?)
I think, we as humans, during a time of need, always look to the smartest, most experienced, or strongest person that we can find. When we have a question that we just can't figure out, most of would ask a teacher, an adept, or someone who has studied the subject for a long time.

We see it in our spiritual and mundane lives. For example: most people want the government to keep out of their lives. During the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and Rita, the first place people turn to was the government for help. (I was involved in both hurricanes, so I am not talking bad about anyone... I was lucky, my house made it though with only some roof and water damage.)

Another example is my own spiritual journey: I am Pagan, but I also study Buddhism. I can read a sutra till my eyes are about to pop out of my skull and sometimes I just don't understand what I am supposed to get out of it or how I am supposed to do something. There are always teachers, gurus, lamas, and others to ask for clarification. I am grateful they are there, without them I could be most lost than I already am. This is also true for my Pagan journey.

I really don't see it as social control, but I do believe that it can become that depending on who the person is that is on top of the hierarchy. I also believe that any hierarchy should be unbias... it shouldn't matter what gender, sexual preference, enthicity, etc. This is one of the many reasons why I am not too fond of the Catholic church set up. Intellegence and experience are what matters, not what a person has between their legs. 
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« Reply #5: July 11, 2008, 02:59:38 am »

I really don't see it as social control, but I do believe that it can become that depending on who the person is that is on top of the hierarchy.
Yes, but it also depends on what authority people give to that person.

For example I respect that many forum members here have more experience with Paganism and deity than me so I respect their expertise. But that doesn't mean that anyone could define my path for me, they can just light some things up that are lying in the dark for me, but it's my decision to take the path they are highlighting or to turn into another direction. Even if someone is very aggressive about a topic and thinks everyone who does it different does it wrong he/she doesn't have controll authority, but expertise authority. I listen and then I choose.

Of course this is easy to say on a forum with so much diversity and different opinions. If there's just one expertise authority in a religious structure it can become controll much more easily.
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« Reply #6: July 11, 2008, 06:30:04 am »

Yes, but it also depends on what authority people give to that person.

For example I respect that many forum members here have more experience with Paganism and deity than me so I respect their expertise. But that doesn't mean that anyone could define my path for me, they can just light some things up that are lying in the dark for me, but it's my decision to take the path they are highlighting or to turn into another direction. Even if someone is very aggressive about a topic and thinks everyone who does it different does it wrong he/she doesn't have controll authority, but expertise authority. I listen and then I choose.

Of course this is easy to say on a forum with so much diversity and different opinions. If there's just one expertise authority in a religious structure it can become controll much more easily.
That is very true. Sometime we can be like sheep and just blindly follow whoever comes along without thinking things through.
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« Reply #7: July 11, 2008, 08:15:35 am »

And so I have been thinking: what is the purpose behind such hierarchy?

Whatever the original purpose of a hierarchy, after it has been in place for a long time its purpose tends shifts more and more to preserving its place and power. While the original purpose may have been great and not included things like accumulating/protecting power, the latter usually ends up taking a greater and greater percentage of the attention of members of the hierarchy as time goes on and new people come into the positions. I'd like to say this doesn't happen in religious hierarchies, but religious humans are still humans.
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« Reply #8: July 11, 2008, 03:59:34 pm »

Again, I think it depends on the organization.  I mean, if the whole thing behind it is "men/women are inherently unfit to lead", then no, I don't like it.  I'm not sure that entitles me to try to do anything about it if it's not my organization, but I don't like it.  If there's some actual theological basis for it (maybe women lead because they represent the Great Mother--I have no idea if this is real reasoning actually used, I'm just pulling a potential example from thin air), then it maybe might make me a little uneasy, but...  I have less problems with that kind of thing because it's not discrimination for discrimination's sake, and it doesn't really imply a value judgement to me.  It's just that this happens to be a role that requires, for reasons internal to the religion, a person of a particular sex.  *shrug*  But, again, unless it's my own organization I really have very little say in it anyway.

I think I see what you mean when you say that perhaps discrimination for discrimination's sake is worse than there being more of a theological reason for having a person of a particular sex taking on a specific role. Yet I think it starts to get difficult to see the difference when the theological reasoning behind it may well just be discrimination for the sake of it (or it appears that way to others). For instance, in the tradition of the Jehovah's Witnesses it is not technically a woman's role to lead a bible study. And if she has to (because the male leader is unavailable for instance) then she must wear a head covering to show that she is under the leadership of that male, and is not stepping out of her place. Of course the theological reasoning behind it is because the Bible teaches that man is the head of woman. That's a reason internal to that religion, and yet I find myself hopping from foot to foot trying not to get too angry about it.

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« Reply #9: July 11, 2008, 04:01:35 pm »


Intellegence and experience are what matters, not what a person has between their legs. 

Well put. If I felt the need to seek out a spiritual leader, then these are the things that I would look for.
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« Reply #10: July 11, 2008, 04:05:11 pm »

Whatever the original purpose of a hierarchy, after it has been in place for a long time its purpose tends shifts more and more to preserving its place and power. While the original purpose may have been great and not included things like accumulating/protecting power, the latter usually ends up taking a greater and greater percentage of the attention of members of the hierarchy as time goes on and new people come into the positions. I'd like to say this doesn't happen in religious hierarchies, but religious humans are still humans.

Completely true, and history has proved this time and time again. The theory behind Communism was anti hierarchy and yet people were needed to lead revolution. In theory, power was supposed to have been given up after a successful revolution, but unfortunately once humans have had a taste of power very few are willing to give it up.
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« Reply #11: July 11, 2008, 05:19:38 pm »

For example I respect that many forum members here have more experience with Paganism and deity than me so I respect their expertise. But that doesn't mean that anyone could define my path for me, they can just light some things up that are lying in the dark for me, but it's my decision to take the path they are highlighting or to turn into another direction.

Bear in mind that there's also issues of scale.

In Wiccan groups, where 3rd degrees are autonomous, it's up to the leaders to decide what's fair game: there's no higher heirachy (beyond them being respected/amiable with other people in the tradition - which is to say, major changes have consquences, group-specific ones that are non-abusive are generally totally up to the individual group.)

But at the same time, if I have a set of rules for my group (oh, and believe me, I do, and they start with 'no abusive behavior' and go on with 'we're together to focus on shared stuff, and here's what it is', with a lot of explanation about what that is, and how we figure it out.), then I get to exert control over who's in those group spaces with me. And who's invited to my house to do them. And whether I want to tie myself long-term via initiatory ties to a given person. (The control here, being that if I'm unreasonable and petty and whatever else, I'll find myself without a group sooner or later.)

But if someone doesn't like the way I make those choices? There are tons of other groups in town. And in most cases, I wouldn't lift a finger to stop them or speak against them.

(The exception is actual legal or significant long-term damage problems: in that case, I think other group leader's deserve a head's up and whatever information I can provide so they can make an informed decision. But in that case, I also wouldn't and couldn't force them to do what I thought they should: there's no mechanism for that.)

Anyway, this is a very different situation than a larger group hierarchy, like in many Christian denominations, where the standards and consequences are set (for at least a chunk of issues) at a denominational level, and individuals in that denomination don't always have a lot of say in how the denomination responds in a specific case once it comes to their attention formally. (Informally can be a whole other matter, though.)
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« Reply #12: July 11, 2008, 10:46:32 pm »

So, do you believe hierarchy is an important aspect of a religious organization?  Why do you think many choose to have a hierarchy? Does your religion have any form of hierarchy?

I can deal with hierarchy if it's acknowledged, necessary, and useful.  I like the model of leadership and responsibility from Diana's grove - it's in a PDF here.  (The specific article is "Myths About Power, Community, Heroes, and Being Hero-Less.")

I'm in one organization (OTO) with a fairly complex hierarchy.  It's also a large international organization with various local branches, so the complexity makes sense.  And the ways I've seen the hierarchy play out so far make sense to me.

I've seen people make hierarchy among themselves with no good reason.  I've also had a bad experience with a group when I thought it was informal and apparently it was organized with a probationary period and such.  I like to know what I'm getting into.

I also lead a small group (with someone else).  It's pretty informal, but I like to poke issues of power, responsibility, and leadership and such because of it.
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« Reply #13: July 12, 2008, 03:37:03 am »

Yes, you're right. I think it matters also a lot if you're part of a closer group regularly working together or just loosly associated with other people under some umbrella term. I have more freedom at the moment because I'm just researching Paganism and trying out what might fit to me. There are no tight requirements for me to meet so I could belong to Paganism at all because it's a loosly association of very different religions/paths.

Once I choose a specific path and want to work regularly in one specific group, there will be more obligations for me. I'll choose the path and the group carefully and it's my responsibility (and the choice of the group to accept me or not). Once I'm a trainee or initiate in a group I'd have to follow the authorities there or leave. But it's an authority I choose by joining a group with a specific structure and specific people. Of course it's a form of controll then because maybe I don't like everything in the group, but still want to participate in it.

If one takes TC as religious/spiritual group working together in a specific way (we are religiously/spiritually very diverse, but I have the impression we have an authority structure and specific rules regarding our interactions), I could for example dislike the quoting rules (which I don't after I got used to them) and still choose to be a board member for a variety of reasons and just follow those quoting rules even if I disliked them. IMO TC doesn't exercise much religious controll, apart from maybe preventing you to bash other religions.


Somehow I don't think that any group is really fully perfect to all of one's needs and likings. So I guess in a group there's always some social controll involved and you have to look if you fit to the group regarding the important parts. I don't know, maybe I'm just a bit naive and inexperienced, wonder how the more experienced board members see this. Are the religious structures you are part of 100% fits?
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« Reply #14: July 12, 2008, 12:02:42 pm »

Once I choose a specific path and want to work regularly in one specific group, there will be more obligations for me. I'll choose the path and the group carefully and it's my responsibility (and the choice of the group to accept me or not). Once I'm a trainee or initiate in a group I'd have to follow the authorities there or leave. But it's an authority I choose by joining a group with a specific structure and specific people. Of course it's a form of controll then because maybe I don't like everything in the group, but still want to participate in it.


Just to throw it out there, you may find that you never do choose one specific path, or want to work regularly in one specific group. I am in two, at the moment, and love them both. I guess I'm a spiritual poly Wink But it's not at all uncommon. Most of the folks I work with most closely have allegiances and affinities to a variety of practices and organizations.
Logged

Goddess grant me:
  The power of Water,
  to accept with ease & grace what I cannot change.

  The power of Fire,
  for the energy & courage to change the things I can.

  The power of Air,
  for the ability and wisdom to know the difference.

  And the power of Earth,
  for the strength to continue my path.

http://rosejayadal.blogspot.com/

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