Holding the values and beliefs of a religion other than Christianity often makes one wonder if they have broken the norms of American society. A norm, as defined by Miller (2002), is “a generally agreed upon standard of how people should behave, usually unwritten and learned unconsciously.” While many Americans practice Christian beliefs, one of the benefits of living in a free nation happens when all religious denominations can practice their faith in peace, regardless of the majority preference.
The list of Christian denominations includes Catholics, Protestants, Baptists, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Anglicans, Eastern Orthodox, Methodist, Presbyterian and many others. Being an individual who reads of, and practices, many religions both old and new in the world I do not follow Christian beliefs. I would rather define myself as a mystic or perhaps even shaman since I have inclinations towards honoring the earth, nature and spirits; this is also a common practice among Native Americans.
Salvation, or offering oneself up for saving by another being such as Jesus predominantly occurs in Christianity. However, I am at odds with this idea in my own spiritual practice. My beliefs stand in contrast because in my mind each person has the capability to save themselves, if they would only realize that inner strength. Of course, going to a Sunday service and honoring holidays such as Christmas and Easter are practices that I do not partake in either. However, I do honor the Solstices, which fall surprisingly close to many of the Christian holidays.
Being a mystic in a predominantly Christian world can make for a lonely but very peaceful existence if you allow it. While others scurry around buying gifts during the Christmas rush, I tend to my natural wares, making blankets, canned goods and handcrafted candles along with other natural gifts for those in my family who are Christian. It saddens me at winter time to hear everyone complaining about how much the Christmas gifts they have to buy will cost them; and how they need to spend a great deal of care budgeting for their gift expenses.
Everyone feels so pressured and rushed to get to the stores to find the perfect gift. While the rest of the world worries away their time, I relax on the sofa watching television and knitting another new blanket. At this point, when I am at odds with not only Christians but a capitalist nation (the dominant culture) that values material goods, I wonder if I am particularly selfish for not wanting to deal with the stress and headaches of grumpy customers standing in line at the stores.
Luckily though, I am American by birth so although my religion may differ from the majority, I still blend in rather effortlessly with society. Other groups, such as new immigrants to this country struggle with many obstacles as they adapt to their new home. They must learn a new language, find employment and maybe need to attain some education to help them gain the financial means to support their families.
This can present huge difficulties to immigrants since Americans predominantly speak English and the business world can show prejudice towards people who do not have adequate training in American based education systems. New immigrants must also learn the laws of our nation and the subliminal norms that we hold. One popular norm, for example, being that little boys wear blue and girls wear pink.
Being part of the dominant culture I do not have to worry about figuring out such subliminal norms, I learned them as I grew up in this society. Nor do I have to worry about building socioeconomic status and attaining education and training in American schools to find and adequate job. I have already had that training, and luckily a stable financial background for building my own monetary status.
Also, one of the blessings of being in the dominant culture allows me to understand how to behave in public gatherings. I know that I am not supposed to talk in class, or speak out loud during funerals. As an American I should not often show emotion either, crying in public is somewhat taboo. We tell our children to suck it up, or act like a big boy or girl when they have the urge to cry. These few examples show the norms that we learn growing up as American that other groups have to face and adapt to when living in the nation.
Getting back to the issue of religion, standing outside of the cultural norm in terms of popular faiths has its benefits. When voting, I do not have to depend upon a candidate’s religious background or goals to help me decide which person I think would make a better leader.
As I have mentioned before I also do not have to spend a great deal of money on gifts for various Christian celebrations either. When crisis strikes, such as the priest scandal ongoing in the Catholic Church, I do not have to worry that my children have been hurt by people we call on to save our souls or connect us to the Divine. One thing I do enjoy is that I can give to charity of my own choosing and am not obligated to give part of my funds to any one church.
Overall, standing outside of the cultural norms of Christianity in the American culture has benefits, some of which have been mentioned in this essay. Being an American born citizen also gives me great advantages to help me blend into the society despite my varying religious beliefs.
Other individuals such as immigrants have to struggle with things like learning a new language, discovering subliminal social norms, and attaining adequate education in the American school system that mainstream society does not have to worry about. I believe that I am very lucky to have the ability to stand both inside and outside of popular culture, because it gives me a well rounded perspective as to how both sides, the “included” and the “excluded” can feel.
Dubois, N. (Ed.). (2002). A Sociocognitive Approach to Social Norms. New York: Routledge.
Miller, B. D. (2004). Cultural Anthropology (2nd Ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
Pettit, P. (2002). Rules, Reasons, and Norms: Selected Essays. Oxford: Clarendon Press.