The pressure from her grown-up daughter to make an effort and decorate the house for Christmas and the memories from attending Philip Gould’s, the pollster who helped to create new Labour, funeral gave Jenni Russell the opportunity to share with the The Sunday Times readers her thoughts on ritual and our need for it, be it religious or plain social function.
Some of her ideas of what rituals can (still) do for us, the “me” generation, hit home. My evangelical upbringing and evolution is a witness to what she is saying here:
Whether we are Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist or anything else, it is about benefiting from the understanding of the people who lived before us in our struggle to give our lives structure and meaning.
Many of my generation spent much of their lives rejecting formal rituals -abandoning religion, avoiding marriages or christenings, writing their own ceremonies. Living in a society whose highest value is individualism, we both want to fit in and to demonstrate proudly just how different we are.
While in my home country the mark of individualism through abandonment of the rituals is not so poignant as I found it here in Britain, it is rapidly taking over using other means or forms. A raw materialistic value system, for example, is one shape of individualism that can unsurprisingly cross borders and generations.
The crude individualism will end up being of little use in feeding with purpose the complex human being. I see more and more an evolution in the modern environment toward finding a place and sense for old, certified rituals.
Or as she puts it better:
I have been struck in recent years by the number of Jewish friends who have embraced the practices of suppers and Sabbaths although they ridiculed them in their youth. In the same way, I now see that Christian ceremonies can still be full of meaning for those without faith. In our desire to be brought together with others and to be uplifted, we don’t necessarily need to demand practices that perfectly reflect every element of our own views.
This to me seems as close to an ecumenical encounter as it can be.