Thursday, June 25, 2009

Faith Of The Heart

***WARNING -- This will be long!***

Yesterday I posted what some would consider a very loaded line of questioning regarding certain religious views. And while I seriously need to stress the rhetorical nature of that topic (I truly was playing Devil's Advocate for the sake of conversation, and in reaction to something I'd overheard) -- I thought maybe now might be a good time to express my own religious views (or lack thereof).

To be clear, this will not be an open attack on anyone's religion. I will shut down the comments section if anyone is disrespectful or using profanity. That being said, I'll not only accept but welcome differing views or challenges to anything I might say here. Open dialogue being, you know, the hallmark of enlightened society and all that.

That being said, where do I begin? How about, hey, at the beginning!

I grew up in a lax religious environment, in that my mother truly did not care whether we went to church or not. This was mostly due to her own hectic schedule trying to raise two boys on her own while making ends meet in the midst of crippling personal traumas. In such an environment, ironically, church came last. For most people, this is when they turn to religion the most, I know. But not for my mother. She had enough worrying about getting food on the table.

Still, eventually it dawned on her that perhaps her children's souls might be worth saving, so even though she could not drag herself out of bed on most Sunday mornings, she did provide for the local Sisters from St. Rita's to come by and, along with all the other neighborhood children, gather my brother and I up and march us to Mass (much to our chagrin).

In such a manner I became schooled in the dogma of the Catholic church. Since I was an avid reader, I devoured all the literature and sermons thrown my way. Because I was raised to trust adults almost unconditionally, I believed everything I heard/read in both Mass and Sunday school (which was actually held on Saturdays for us kids). I read the children's book of Bible stories, then eventually graduated to reading the actual Holy Bible. I was baptized at the age of 7, along with my brother, god-brother, and my newly born baby sister. I went through Communion and learned the Stations of the Cross. I even thought I might one day become a priest!

But even at this time I started to question certain aspects of the faith. For one, I could not reconcile with the fact that the Catholic church was clearly in the business of idol worship, though the 10 Commandments and certain other passages in Exodus expressly forbade this. Yet, all around me were statues of Jesus and Mary and various Saints being prayed to, and rosaries being rubbed like good luck charms. But even more troubling to me was seeing the same people I went to Mass with committing blatant sins of flesh, pride, and false witness during the rest of the week. The same people coming in and singing pious blessings as loud as they could on Sunday. It began to dawn on me that the Church was a great harboring ground of hypocrites.

And then my mother was murdered by my sister's father, and everything changed.

I didn't blame God for what happened, no. I was never so dense as to believe a higher power would be directly involved in such a thing. i knew exactly who did this, and the blame rests solely on him. But it did plant the seeds for a theory I would later cultivate called the "uncaring God" theory, in which I firmly believed that God existed, but was not as involved with humanity (at least, not on an individual level) as most people deluded themselves into thinking.

But I'm jumping ahead.

After my mother died, we moved in with her mother, our grandmother, whom we all loved very much. My grandmother, like my mother, is White Anglo-Saxon Protestant. Or, at least, she used to be. By the time we started to live under her roof, she had removed herself from any denomination--Anglican church or otherwise--and considered herself simply "Christian." She respected all the subdivided faiths under this encompassing banner, but did not trust too keenly the human-devised doctrines of these established churches. Although very devoutly Christian, she did not realize that this would only fuel my own departure from my relationship with Christ later on.

Although I did not blame God for my mother's death, I did eventually grow to resent the hypocrisies of the Catholic church and those who worshipped under its gilded ceilings. My grandmother insisted that we still attend our church, although she did not set foot inside. My brother and I still went to Mass and Sunday School, and still attended the church-sponsored summer youth camp each year. But eventually this all stopped. As we came into our pre-teen years, my brother and I eventually stopped going. And my grandmother no longer insisted that we keep it up. By now, my view of the Catholic church was a negative one, and even to this day I am strongly opposed to all that it represents.

Meanwhile, however, my grandmother taught us about God from home. We would have deep conversations long into the the late hours of the night on Christ, the Bible, and what it meant to be a good person in this time of great evil and suffering. Although I have since turned my back on certain aspects of religion, I still cherish these moments to this day. I know my grandmother certainly does.

Eventually, however, I took her distrust of organized religion to the extreme, as teenagers are wont to do. Instead of just shying away from the physical structure of Christianity, I decided to wage all out rebellion upon the faith as a whole. I became very angry, I stopped saying my morning and evening prayers, stopped reading the Bible, and became an all-around atheist asswipe. This is also when I came up with the "uncaring God" attitude -- that God is an absentee landlord, as Al Pacino so succinctly put it in the film "Devil's Advocate." In fact, I doubted He existed at all.

You see, atheism is fine if that's what you want to be. But there's a rational, informed way of going about it. And I was certainly not this. I was the typical teenager, full of know-it-all'ism and hubris. I thought I had it all figured out. Religion was for sheep; science held the keys to true enlightenment.

I would hold these views for a VERY long time. Certainly throughout high school and college, and most of my early twenties. However, as with most things in life, experience and maturity began to change my views yet again. I cannot point to any one specific influence, but perhaps my increased knowledge of the world and the many different cultures and religions that populated it informed this metamorphosis into a more accepting and inquisitive temperament.

Or maybe I just grew up!

This is not to say that I'm not left with some pretty radical notions on the matter. I'm listed as "agnostic" in my Facebook profile for a reason. Which is to say that I do believe there is a higher purpose to life, and that *maybe* there is a greater being out there who shapes and guide our souls. But, more importantly, it means that I'm still searching for (capital-K) "Knowledge". Of God, if there is one; what He might be; and what He specifically wants of us. That sort of thing.

Moreover, it has left me with a great deal of impatience regarding organized religions. By "organized" I mean the wholly man-made and humanly run money-making machines that are most denominations these days. Nor do I reserve this view solely for Western religions. Unlike some agnostics, I don't believe that Easterners got it right, either. I'm as much against Buddhism and Islam as I am Christianity. I'm of the belief that all of these faiths are idealistic and human-made, and are therefore fallible and most unreliable. I reject the Bible as just a collection of allegorical tales, the Koran as merely a beautiful tapestry of verse, and the Torah as simply a quaint moral guidebook of song. They have their place, and I would encourage my own children to study and respect these tomes completely. But not for purpose of spiritual enlightenment.

In other words, I believe it is only possible to know God through my own self-exploration. No book or high priest(ess) is qualified to to do this. Only me. In addition, I believe in living life as a good, honorable, morally centered individual. Not because God tells me so, or because I might burn in hellfire and damnation if I don't. But simply because it is reprehensible to live my life at the harm or expense of others' rights.

I will never tell another person that their beliefs are wrong. Such is not my concern. I can only be concerned with my own spirituality. The path to God is a personal one. Not even my wife or children may join unless they choose to believe in what I believe of their own volition. My wife is Catholic, for instance. Do I berate her and force her to abandon her beliefs? No. We each have our own path to take.

So there you go. A lengthy diatribe, sure. And if I've offended anyone, I didn't mean to. Just letting you know where I stand, and why despite my beliefs I'm completely open to any and all interpretations of spirituality being discussed here. Not that I ever want this blog to delve into such weighty matters on a consistent basis.

I didn't start this experiment to be one of *THOSE* type of bloggers (rolls eyes dramatically).


Kim Kasch said...

It's a shame, "religion" is about who belongs to the group, while I believe God loves and accepts any individual.

Sometimes we "people" are the worst advertisements for what we believe in.

Ashe Hunt said...

Well put my friend. We've done our roundabouts on this subject and most likely will have some more, for it is an evolving journey. Again, well put.

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