Showing posts with label Christianity. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Christianity. Show all posts

Saturday, January 3, 2015

"Create Your Own Religion"

Quit Playing Prophet by Mark Yuray is certainly worth a read.

I've been following a few atheist and humanist sites over the past year or so. I always find it interesting to try out the head space of people who view the world much differently than I do. I find it fascinating that suddenly, arriving seemingly concurrently with post-apocalyptic visions of the world in pop culture, young people are obsessed with science and rationality - religiously obsessed, as if all of life must be put through these twin lenses or be counted inauthentic. And these are the same people who spend loads of money on steampunk costumes and paraphernalia so they can go to comic book conventions and interact with other people who are also pretending to be fictional characters.

What?

I also have found it amusing to read ranting comments about the harmfulness of religion and how it "poisons minds and hearts" and amounts to child abuse while watching the twin trends of lessening religious observance and increasing rates of suicide, mental illness, obesity, illness, depression, illegitimacy, family breakdown, crime, arrests, imprisonment, and poverty.  Not that these two are in any way connected. Of course not.

Full disclosure: While I am a practicing and observant Catholic, I've experienced my own periods of religious doubt, some lasting for years. From what I've read few people come out of the experience of infertility and miscarriage with the same view of the world and how it works. I was no exception. It took its toll.

I've read the whole Bible, had read it by the time I was 15 (I was raised in an evangelical tradition). There are a lot of things, particularly in the Old Testament - which, I confess, I prefer - that do not rest easily in my mind with my ideas of right and wrong and how to handle conflict.

I've never observed a miracle, have never seen anything that I would classify as even being close to miraculous. I am naturally religious; I'm not at all spiritual. When people - and this happens frequently - tell me that everything happens for a reason, I cringe.

I have come to believe, however, that my personal ideas and beliefs, questions and doubts are unimportant, that focusing on what I need my religion to provide for me is, in fact, hubris and completely inappropriate. Religion was never meant to provide individual satisfaction or happiness, although it does do this frequently enough. I've known so many people who have survived horrible trials only because of their religious faith and the support their religious community gave them.

Religion is the way culture maintains and reproduces itself. It's the way values are transmitted between generations, the way worldviews are shaped, and destructive behavior within a community is minimized. Religion gives us multisensory ways of experiencing the passage of time and heightened spiritual experience. Religious belief inspires; it's creative. Religion ties people to their communities and brings them together to celebrate and mourn everyday happiness and sadness.

While it's true that people could theoretically come up with purely social methods for transmitting culture and bonding themselves together, most people would not feel compelled to participate without some higher meaning or guilt attached, and you need significant buy-in for the prophylactic effects of religion to work. A small percentage of people are capable of creating community and policing their own behavior adequately without this framework. Most people are not.

Human beings are endlessly innovative, and it's quite possible that someone could come up with a successful religious framework that would accomplish the above goals in the West better than Christianity has for the past two millenia. Certainly Christianity has not done a great job of standing up to the kindergartenish ideals of "fairness," "equality," or "tolerance" over the past century. But I have absolutely no interest in a religion created out of whole cloth for practical reasons for the same reasons I wouldn't bother to learn to "speak" Dothraki or an Elven tongue, even though I love languages. The countless iterations of Christian observance tell us nearly everything we know about our ancestors and what they believed, lived, and valued. The rituals they made up to celebrate life and time satisfy me very likely because they satisfied them and we are genetically connected.

The pastor's chair that once sat in the front of my grandfather's church sits in my bedroom today. It's not the most valuable piece of furniture in my house, but it reminds me that my grandfather helped build his church with his own back and his own money and these things were important to him. I still sing his favorite hymn, and it helps me to remember the person he was. I have my grandmother's stained glass nativity set, and I think of her and how we are alike and different every year when I set it up.

I am neither a philosopher nor a theologian, but I am a mother, and I have chosen to raise my child in a religious community with religious values. He feels he is a part of something and surrounded by like people who care about him. We talk about the saints who came before us, we sing the Agnus Dei as people did for centuries. Religion meets different needs in different people, but I'm not confident I could manufacture anything out of whole cloth that would be as relevant or inspirational as what Christian tradition offers. And it would not be a connection to my ancestors or their lives.

From what I've seen over the past 43 years, attempts to bypass the negatives of "organized religion" while still maintaining its "spiritual" benefits have failed, and the Boomers had the benefit of being raised in a functional society with actual rules and obligations. I'm not foolish enough to think I could do better on my own.