Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Worship for Nonreligious Theists

In my last post, I only briefly mentioned the need to worship God.  It may seem obvious to many religious folks that a belief in God necessitates His (Her) worship, but this is not always the case.  Satanists "believe" in God, but they certainly do not worship Him.
Deists believe in a creator God who, after creating the universe, has sat back and let everything run its course without any further involvement from Him.  Deists tend not to speculate on an afterlife, and their moral code is not dictated from the top down, so there is no dogma that ushers them towards any particular form of worship, or any worship at all.

Buddhism, as it turns out, is not exactly atheistic.  The Buddha actually didn't teach anything about God's existence one way or the other.  Rather, he was concerned with the issue of suffering and how we as individuals, through our own agency, can eliminate suffering in our lives.  With the focus being on the nature of self, there wasn't much room left for worship.  That's not to say that there aren't folk understandings of Buddhism where indeed followers worship a god or gods, but this generally seems to be a merging of Buddhism with other faiths.

Which brings me to why I believe that worship ought to have a prominent place in my spiritual life as a Theist.  Perhaps I'm carrying over a bit from Christianity, but I do see God as a parental figure.  Just as we normally assume that our human parents deserve honor (be that because of the Catholic 4th/Protestant 5th Commandment taken from the book of Exodus, or a more secular sense of respect for one's elders), so too does our Heavenly Parent deserve honor for having brought us into being.

So what exactly is worship?  I like this definition: "extravagant respect or admiration for or devotion to an object of esteem".   Let's examine this further.  

Respect is "a feeling of admiring someone or something that is good, valuable, important, serious, etc, and should be treated in an appropriate way".  It's the opposite of the common adolescent attitude of "I don't care".  In essence, respect is caring for and about something/someone that one has deemed important enough to be cared for/about. Admiration is synonymous to respect.

Extravagant generally means "more than is usual, necessary, or proper".  Certainly, this is a subjective judgment call. Towards the end of my ESL teaching career, I was also working as an ESL coordinator assistant of sorts.  We frequently had last minute class cancellations, causing undue stress and financial worries to the instructors, who never knew just how much income they could count on.  My last semester working was no exception.  When one of my colleagues lost several of her classes, I immediately offered for her to teach one of the classes that had been assigned to me.  I saw nothing out of the ordinary about it, especially since I had the administrative work to fall back on. Yet my supervisor made a point to praise my decision as "very collegial".  The instructor likewise was quite grateful.  It would seem that my simple act of sharing (think back to Kindergarten!) was seen as extravagant - more than usual or necessary.

Having said that, can one really have "too much" respect for God Almighty?!  I think not, so I'll take it to mean indeed "more than is usual", but certainly not "more than is necessary or proper".

Devotion means a strong love and loyalty and the use on one's time, money, energy, and skills for a particular purpose.  Within the realm of religion, it refers to private acts of worship, those done aside from the "regular corporate worship of a congregation".  So it is the things we do out of our own inclination, regardless if others join us in doing them, that we hope show our respect and admiration for the object of our devotion.

And finally, esteem - respect, affection, high regard.  And so, the object of esteem is simply that to which we direct our devotion, respect, and admiration.

Let us recap.  We have an object of esteem - God.  We hold God in high regard, seriously considering Him important, valuable, good. We dedicate whatever we have - time, effort, money, skill - to express our respect for Him.  And we do so more than we show respect for anything else that we find worthy of our attention.

Now that we have a working definition of what worship ought to look like, the next step will be to itemize possible expressions of worshiping God outside of the traditions of any single religion.  One possibility would be to simply mix and match - utilize the devotions found in various world religions to make up our private spiritual practice.  This in fact is what many Spiritual Independents do. (I should note that my taking on the label of "Theist", or more specifically "nonreligious Catholic Theist" is merely a more specific understanding of the bigger label I had previously taken on, namely that of a Spiritual Independent.)

Another possibility is to look outside of religious traditions all together, into the wider, secular world, and see how else I might worship God.  How do I show respect or admiration for my parents?  For my spouse?  For my daughter?  For my elders?  For morally sound authority figures?  For the planet, even?  What do I do so that not only they know that I admire and respect them, but that others also see this?  How do I spend my time, money, effort, skill?  Again, this is something many Spiritual Independents incorporate into their private spiritual practice.

What comes to mind for me includes attachment parenting, minimalism, environmental stewardship, and inter-cultural open-mindedness. How do I live these expressions such that they are clearly directed towards an appreciation and uplifting of God in my life?

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