Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Great Why

I've been thinking a great deal about religion lately. Er, if "lately" can mean "since-2001-when-the-entire-United-States-seemed-to-become-in-a-flag-waving-911-backlash-frenzy-a-more-conservative,-religiously-bent-place-to-live".

I grew up in the US equivalent of Vatican City and didn't realize, until leaving Salt Lake, that most people don't get a religious analysis of world events on the nightly news. Or that most newspapers don't have a "Church News" section that's 16-20 pages long. That not everyone views their entire global experience through biblical glasses. Except, you know, many of them do.

At any rate, my attenuation to religious rightwingery is probably a bit acute and hypercritical, but not without provocation. Mainly, this comes back to my family.

I can believe that there is a world of people I don't know very well who believe things which are (to me) overtly suspect. But when it comes to my smart, analytical family, I am perplexed. And relieved, too, that I escaped that particular orthodoxy.

I think metaphysics is an important topic, and when my kids are old enough to both understand my beliefs and that they can also explore whether they share those beliefs or not, we'll talk about it more seriously. When I recently tried to explain to Milo why grandma and grandpa don't believe in dinosaurs, I had to laugh. Trying to find euphemisms he would understand, "God" became "a very powerful wizard" (like I'll never have to deconstruct THAT later...).

That might be unfair to their beliefs, but I can't feign reverence for the entire creationist package. Which is not to say that the universe in it's particular perfection doesn't awe me, but I find the concept of a sacred, cognizant, man-focused creator as likely as believing that it was all done by Santa Claus.

 I take my disbelief in invisible powerful beings (as well as salvation and sins, atonement, begatting, motes in your eyes and camels through needle eyes) pretty seriously. Even though, in the end, I think it's all just a big pile of dogma (ho ho).

And I find myself constantly wondering why, taking nearly exactly the same path, my siblings and I arrived at precisely the opposite location. From my seat, it's almost as though my entire family is mentally ill: believing in invisible entities, following directions from incendiary plant-life, a wealth of predestination, eating bread they refer to as a piece of a dead body, and, for that matter, zombie worship. So...clearly it's difficult for me to "get" religious people.

Do they really believe absolutely and more-or-less literally in all that stuff about Mohammad/Buddha/Moses/Krishna, floods, locusts, crucifixion, frogs, pale horses (and in my family's case, golden plates, peepstones, plural wives, priesthood...)??

Because that's a LONG list of complicated, conflicting stories to add to the standard list of ethics, appreciation, self-care and socialization (kindness, cleanliness, self-awareness, empathy...etc.) that everybody everywhere has to figure out.

When you add guilt and atonement and baptism and sacraments and prayer and whatnot various minor rituals and goat sacrifices and bible quoting to all the basic do they ever navigate the already difficult waters Is all that self-loathing gratifying? Can't you just forgive yourself? Can't you listen to your own voice standing up for what you feel is right or wrong? Can't you just appreciate the universe without doing what you are told by some pious talking head, let alone believing that it was created for YOUR benefit? Do you really need to eat that (proxy) dead body and drink that (pretend) blood?

Am I an atheist because I was adopted, and told from the outset by my parents that they expected me to fail at living with their piety (aka fitting in) because I was the product of sin? Am I a product of negative-wish-fulfillment on their part?

I'm grateful for the ways in which being regarded as an outsider led me to skepticism. My birth parents and their families are also ones who have left the religions of their birth (Judaism and Catholicism respectively) for more personal quests of beliefs, so maybe I inherited an innate restlessness with pigeon-holes, particularly those of a metaphysical nature.

Whatever the source, I wouldn't trade my belief that life is precious because it is our total experience for one which thinks we are infinite and ultimately destined for glory. Despite the palliative comfort in that belief, it is self-deluding.

At any rate, that's my longish off-the-cuff of today. What's the point? What, really, do people get out of being religious aside from that delusion of a luxurious, infinite afterlife? Is my entire family a bunch of self-deluded liars?

Because they all claim to have frequent spiritual encounters with the metaphysical universe, burning bosoms (seriously) and still small voices. Which know...sounds crazy and/or liarist. And that's my perpetual conflict. I love my family. I respect that they want to pursue truth in all forms. And that for us, truth has taken on completely opposite trappings.


radishly said...

All right, this time I'm waiting until I hear your thoughts on the new format before I give you my opinion. I do miss the belly, though.

I have to keep my mouth tightly clamped on this subject because I'm far too lazy to flesh out a fully constructed, multi-angular comment that would cover all of my thoughts as well as cushion the inevitable insult follows gross generalizations.

I will say that I have a deep appreciation for the fact that most of my friends, acquaintances, and co-workers are atheists. Thank jesus.

steenky bee said...

I hope you hear that "still small voice" or at least see some popcorn popping on that apricot tree.

Nothing opened my eyes more than hearing myself explain THE CHURCH to my best friends from San Diego. They were truly interested and not judging, but hearing myself say the words really got me going WTF? Really? About lots of things in this state. So I take it you're not here anymore? Sister, and I mean that in the street way, not the Relief Society way, you're missing out on Carol Makita and her Religion moments in every newscast.

steenky bee said...

Wait, also? You're adopted? Both of my children are adopted! I still keep in contact with their birthmoms too.