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Stringency Snowballing: amusing examples of how extreme religion came to be

Fine Kineti readers, I’ve observed a repeated  phenomenon that plagues the religious world. Have you witnessed stringency snowballing?

It goes like this:

  1. Acknowledgement: Group X witnesses bad behavior.
  2. Restriction: Group X restricts bad behavior.
  3. Tightening: Group X leaders strengthen the restriction in order to gain popularity within the group. Restriction becomes more stringent.
  4. Silencing: No one dares speak against the newer, expanded stringency, lest they be seen as one who allows, or practices, the original bad behavior.
  5. Repeat: Next generation inherits the stringency, repeats the cycle, producing an even stronger stringency.

A good and concrete example is the modesty law code in hard line religious communities, for example, the fundamentalist Islamic community:

  1. Acknowledgement: Religious people acknowledge that men, being visually driven, are easily seduced by sexualized women.
  2. Restriction: Religious people require modesty, restrict women from dressing like prostitutes.
  3. Tightening: Religious leaders grow and strengthen the dress code; a strong leader must strengthen the values of the community. Leaders require longer dresses, covered hair, no makeup, covered faces.
  4. Silencing: No one in the religious community dares to speak out about the new stringency, lest they be accused of permitting (or practicing!) prostitution, sexual immorality, etc.
  5. Repeat: The social norms of the religious community now demand a strict dress code, and these norms will be passed onto the next generation, who will inevitably repeat the process and produce an even more stringent restriction.

Stringency Snowballing explains why religious Jews in Israel are dressed for 17th century Poland:

Poland <--->ultraorth

Ultra Orthodox Jews today dress more modestly (is that even possible?) than religious Jews of 17th century Poland! I mean, my God, the 17th century religious Jewish women look downright sexy compared to Orthodox standards today.

(Just imagine what they’ll look like in a few more centuries. The Stringency Snowball will grow to preposterous levels.)

It explains why Saudi women in a hot desert country wear sun-attracting black sheets with eye peepholes over the whole body.


(One wonders if religious men will ever stop blaming women for their own failures of fidelity.)

It explains why German Christian fundamentalists drive horse-driven carriages in a technological age.


It explains Jewish religious girls are suspended from school for singing on Israeli television.


And it explains laughable anti-science, anti-medicine religious quackery like this:
Israeli religious poster, asking women to daven (pray) for manufacturers who don't conform to Tznius (Jewish modesty laws) to do tshuva (repent), thus stopping cancer, flu, and wayward children

The above newspaper advertisement encourages religious Jews to daven (pray) for clothing manufacturers who don’t conform to tznius (Jewish modesty laws) in order that they do teshuva (repent), thus preventing cancer, the flu, and wayward children. (Oiy!)

Folks, I'm only touching on religious modesty laws, but it really applies to most anything in religion.

A most amusing example is the Roman Catholic Eucharist.

Did you know, right at this moment, there is a petition to the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI to change the Catholic religious service to tongue-only Eucharist?

As creepy as that sounds,  all it means is letting a priest put something directly in your mouth. Ahem. I mean – really! – it’s not as creepy as it sounds.

See, when the Church service initiates the ritual of eating bread that represents Jesus Christ, the bread must be placed directly on the tongue of the recipient by the priest, lest the recipient drop or discard the Jesus/bread and it be trampled under foot.


You can’t make this stuff up.

Now, just think how much Stringency Snowballing had to take place in order to get here. We start with the original commandment from Jesus during a Passover celebration. The gospel of Matthew records it like this:

While they were eating the unleavened bread, Jesus took it, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

Ok. Jesus commanded his disciples, at this particular Passover celebration, to eat the matzah (unleavened bread) and drink the wine, saying it represented Messiah’s body and his institution of the new covenant between God and Israel.

So how in the world did we go from that to tongue-only Eucharist?

Well, first, the religious leaders in generations following Jesus had to first strengthen the ritual. Instead of just Passover, the taking the bread and wine was done on "the Lord's Day", which scholars believe was a weekly occurrence on Sundays. (How it got changed to Sunday is the result of another Stringency Snowball, but that's for another time.)

Although earlier versions of this Lord's Supper was an actual meal, members of the devout saw abuses of the meal (e.g. Corinthians 11:17). Eventually, the meal was twiddled down to just eating the bread and the wine.

No one spoke up, of course, lest they be seen as one of those drunken rabble rousers who abused the ritual in the first place.

The spiritual meaning of the ritual snowballed, too. Jesus said the bread and wine represented his body and the new covenant. But later generations took this to mean that the unleavened bread was actually Jesus body, right then and there! And you're metaphysically drinking Jesus' blood when you take that Eucharist cup – how spiritually enlightened, cannibalistically radical is that?!

This snowballed into such a big issue that rivers of ink spilled, choirs of debate screamed, and even persecution and bloodshed took place over whether Jesus meant it was really, really, actually his body, or just representative, and whether it was meant for the disciples that one Passover, or intended for every Christian every week. There’s even a super-sophisticated religious term for all this: transubstantiation.

At some point, the unleavened bread itself fell out of favor; particularly when the Christian religion's power surpassed that of its parent religion, Judaism. When this occurred, all forms of Judaism were seen as a great evil, a regression from the Christian evolution. Even Passover itself was soon discarded in favor of Easter, a tradition without the roots of the old Jewish faith. It was a small feat, then, to rid the ritual of the unleavened bread of Passover.

And eventually, the wine disappeared too, because, who's gonna speak up against that? I mean, with all the drunkenness and abuses of the Lord's Supper, any leader who strengthened this restriction would be seen as a strong, courageous leader who cares about the values of the community.

So the Passover meal of Jesus, because of Stringency Snowballing, became a funny little ritual known as Eucharist, with oyster crackers replacing matzah, thimbles of grape juice replacing cups of wine. All the while, no one dares protest.

And now in recent times, we're seeing more Stringency Snowballing, silliness upon silliness. Somewhere along the line, a priest noticed some crushed oyster crackers in his sanctuary. Maybe he saw bits of holy bread discarded on the concrete steps to his church.

Righteous indignation! Moral outrage! How could people so flippantly treat the Holy Eucharist!

The priest starts a petition to change the ritual so that the priest must insert the oyster cracker directly on the tongue of the participants – tongue-only, baby!

This way, no one will be able to discard the Holy Body of Christ. The petition acquires the signatures of the devout thousands, who all praise said priest as a courageous moral leader who strengthens the values of the community.

And no one dares protest, lest he be seen as one who flippantly treats the Holy Body and Blood of Jesus.

And you know what? That petition will probably succeed. If not in this generation, in a future, more stringent generation.

I can envision what will happen next: someone will propose that the Precious Body cannot be chewed, but must be consumed whole without crushing. And hey, why fixate only on the bread, didn't you see someone left some grape juice in the thimble? My dear, are we going to discard the Holy Blood of the Incarnate Most High?

I hope you see through this that Stringency Snowballing leads to religious silliness. It hurts the credibility of our message when we're so concerned about discarded oyster crackers, but spend only 1/20th of that time doing the things that, you know, Jesus actually commanded.

I think atheists look at all this as religious nonsense, and it strengthens their no-faith.

I think God looks at that and it embarrasses Him.

It also afflicts the secular world!

Stringency Snowballing afflicts the religious world especially because of step 3, tightening, where religious leaders wish to be seen as strong leaders of faith by amplifying stringencies.

But it's not limited to the religious world.

2 examples are secular laws on pedophilia and drunk driving.

If a man urinates in public and is witnessed by a child, he is for the remainder of his life labeled a sex offender. How is this so? Because of Stringency Snowballing: who would ever speak up against such a law? A politician that speaks out against the new stringency would be seen as protecting pedophiles -- political suicide.

In some states, if a man is drunk and sits in his unstarted, parked car, he is liable for drunk driving, which lands you time in jail and heavy fines. How can not-driving land you fines and jail time? Stringency Snowballing. What judge, politician, or lawmaker would ever, in their right mind, object to this stringency? Their political opponents would crucify them as protecting drunk drivers, then crush them in the elections.

So how do we fix Stringency Snowballing?

First, by recognizing it. If we can look at the past and see where we've been, it helps guide where we should go. If we recognize that Jesus was eating unleavened bread on Passover, don't you think it will inform us as to the nature of his statements about his body and the new covenant?

Second, we must allow for reason. I find it so bizarre that many religious people are anti-science, anti-medicine, anti-modern-anything. God set us in a world governed by natural laws. It is not evil, friends, to discover those laws, understand them, and use them for our benefit through medicine, technology, and civilization advancement. In fact, if helping people is what will characterize Yeshua's disciples, then we should be embracing these things, not fighting them. That many of the early hospitals were founded by religious monks and saints suggests the existence of a wisdom that is lost on the modern generation of devout.

If we allow for reason, reason dictates we should not dress as if we're in 17th century Poland while living in the desert that is Israel. Reason and scientific knowledge dictates that we must acknowledge disease is caused not by immodest dress, but viruses and bacteria and genetics and more. Reason dictates that a man urinating in public is not committing a sexual act against children. A man sitting in his parked car is not driving under the influence of alcohol.

Fine Kineti readers, beware in our modern era of Stringency Snowballing, especially in the religious world, where it’s so easy to assume that all stringencies are good, when in fact they’re often heavy burdens that hurt our message about the Messiah.

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