Friday, October 17, 2003

Religion and Belief

I posted a few things on the Religious Debates forum at Evolution last month and I been meaning to elaborate on some of those ideas for a while. So, before I get distracted with outlining and worldbuilding for my NaNoWriMo project today, I thought I would try to put some order to my thoughts. (I know, not entirely possible for me. But still, I try.)

Religion and the reasons people choose to believe a certain thing, join a specific denomination, or attend church regularly are things that have always facinated me. Probably because I can't quite wrap my mind around it. It just feels empty to me.

For me, the relationship with God is a very personal issue. As I've written previously (perhaps not here though) I don't have any sense of God when I'm in a church or attending religious functions. (The one notable exception to this is Sacre Coeur in Paris, which just has a quiet presence that never fails to soothe me.) No, I generally feel that connection outside, whether it be at the top of a mountain, under a clear, starry sky, or out in the middle of the Grand Canyon.

Hiking the GC was the first place I had felt that overwhelming sense of how immense and how intensely beautiful a place could be - and also the feeling that I belonged there and... I don't know quite how to explain it. Just this incredible sense of awe and well-being. I've felt it again many times since, but hiking there was the first place I had felt it in a very long time. So for me - that's it. No church, no religion can come close to that feeling. And maybe that's because those are man's constructs and are flawed in the way that we are all flawed - subject to human imperfection and a certain mortal pettiness.

Outside - in nature, if you prefer - you don't have that. There's you and there's wind, rain, rock, sun, trail, mountain... Nature has a certain impassive "been here long before you - will be here long after you" kind of wonder to it. If you don't have respect for the climate and the terrain, you're going to be in trouble. But if you approach the activity/place with the proper respect and preparation, the rewards can be amazing.

So maybe that's the feeling that other people find in their church communities... I'm not sure. I think many people go because they think they have to or because they are afraid not to. That's what I couldn't get behind - that going to church always felt like such a chore. With all the grumbling and fussing it didn't have any JOY in it for me.

I was raised Catholic. I believe I stopped attending mass around age 16 or 17. I recall numerous times sitting around the dinner table, talking, and the subject of religion and faith would come up. The big question was always, "Well, what DO you believe, then?" I never had an answer. A couple times my mother dressed me down for acting like I was better than everyone else "You think that we couldn't possibly understand how smart and complex you are." But what I don't think she ever understood was that I didn't have the words to give an answer. Belief is such a complex subject. I didn't have the experience or the reference to explain so that I could understand it myself, much less transmit that understanding to someone else. I still don't have it and I might never.

It was never as simple for me as "Oh, Jesus is the son of God and with the Holy Spirit, they are all One as the Holy Trinity." I mean, honestly, what does that mean? I think those are terms that men have established to put something that is beyond human understanding into a package that most people can at least recite, if not comprehend.

On the Jesus subject (very briefly)... I believe there are some people in this world who have a greater connection to God (or whatever term you prefer), a greater awareness of our place in creation. I have no doubt that he existed and was a compelling individual whose intelligence and compassion set him apart in his time. He was most certainly a teacher and a leader. Was he the Son of God? Well... in some sense, aren't we all? Some people just shoulder the responsibility better than others.

The whole cult of Christ - Christianity... I just can't believe that's what Jesus would have wanted. It's become a twisted heap of rules, regulations, hierarchies, and opposing factions. In theory, I think it's a positive philosophy. It practice, it doesn't always come out so good.

The whole Bible argument - "Well, it says in the Bible that..." - used to justify hatred and prejudice... sick. Really sick. Those words were not inscribed by God's hand. Even Christ didn't have a go at them. No. Those words, filtered through the imperfect, and naturally prejudiced minds of men, work hard to interpret what the authors saw as God's message. But it's also a mythological history of a people. Stories have long been used to illustrate an author's point. And while there are clearly factual historic details in there, it's not meant to be a literal thing.

Anyway, I think that's enough for me today. I'll return to the subject later.

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