Thursday, September 3, 2015

A Run-Down of the Religions I've Considered Over the Years

I thought I'd gather my thoughts here about why I ended up abandoning the pursuit of conversion to the various faith traditions that have fascinated me over the years, some of which I pursued longer and more intensely than others, in the hopes that when the next inevitable religious doubt overcomes me, I remember that the grass is the same everywhere I go, and to just stay put and wait it out in my own Catholic church.

In no particular order, below are the religions I've considered making my own at one point or another.

I was an active solitary Pagan for a year, an inactive Pagan for another year, before I finally called it quits.  I had my own personal Book of Shadows that I did, and I celebrated monthly on the full moon as well as the two solstices and two equinoxes.  I participated in several community events for Pagans, as well.  Ultimately, I ended up abandoning this faith expression as it lacked community, tradition, and felt a bit too fairy-tale for me. I liked the feminine divine aspect, as well as respect for nature.

For about five years, off and on, I attended five different meetinghouses for various lengths of time.  I never shared a spoken ministry during meeting.  For several months, I was in touch with a spiritual advisor who was a member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).  I finally decided against joining because I wasn't getting the regular educational and encouraging aspects I had been used to from a homily based on scripture readings.  I also missed the ritual and music.  I did appreciate the four main testimonies of peace, equality, integrity, and simplicity.  And I loved the silence, though it lacked balance with more vocal and lively worship.

Reform Judaism
I attended an educational workshop and a Hannukkah celebration open to the community at large, as well as a Yom Kippur celebration at Georgetown University. I also visited a synagogue when I checked out a sale they had going on.  I decided against becoming a Reform Jew because it rubbed me the wrong way that there was a mandatory financial obligation that went with membership.  I also felt like an outsider when surrounded by other Jews.  It felt more like cultural appropriation than conversion.  I had originally considered Reform Judaism because it did not require circumcision or keeping kosher, though because of this (in part), most other Jews don't consider Reform Jews Jewish anyway.  Also, Judaism as a whole seemed to have a straightforward theology - one God - which I liked. 

I've attended Friday prayer services at several mosques with friends.  I've also been to Muslim weddings.  One of my good long-time friends is Muslim, and I've also gotten the benefit of staying in her home and seeing first hand what a Muslim home life could be.  I read and watched a lot of videos about Islam during my two-month stay in Germany.  As with Judaism, I liked the simplicity of their theology - one God, Allah. I also liked the modesty and humility that came with the practice of wearing the hijab.  However, I could not get on board with infant circumcision, animal sacrifice as part of Eid celebrations, and the halal dietary restrictions.

This was the first non-Catholic religion that I ever studied or considered.  I've practiced yoga and meditation off and on over the years, and I've visited two Buddhist temples.  The theory of reincarnation resonated with me.  Zen buddhism was the particular form of Buddhism that I was most interested in due to its simplicity.  However, the complete lack of a belief in God just didn't cut it for me.  The one thing I never questioned was that there must be a Creator of the universe.  It seemed impossible to join a Buddhist community and maintain a Buddhist practice when these did not center on the worship of my Maker.

Honestly, Taoism was a quick, one week stop for me.  Everything seemed perfect .... as long as I was buying into the idea that there's such a thing as philosophical Taoism.  Then I came across an academic website explaining why such an idea is a mere Western appropriation of the religion of the Tao.  I couldn't label myself with something that was made up by westerners and had a very different meaning for Chinese Taoists.  What I do love about Taoism is that there's a balance to everything. However, while God is sort of implied, there isn't a lot of emphasis on Him.  It felt like a disjointed effort of trying to reinvent the wheel.

Unitarian Universalism
I attended several UU services, and I never really felt like there was anything there for me.  On paper, it seemed like a possible good match, but in real life, it was more of an organization of do-gooders than a spiritual home.  

Well, I became a Christian, attended various denomination churches, then brought that Christianity back into Catholicism.  I got caught up in the frenzy of Jesus loves me.  The services were energetic, and I started to believe that I felt the Holy Spirit moving among us. But what never jived well with me was the idea that God would allow anyone to suffer eternal damnation for a belief.  I have always believed that what we do in our life matters more than what we believe, and I could never shake this enough to truly embrace the Protestant version of Christianity.

Orthodox Christianity
There was a bit of wishing for the olden days of Catholicism when I became interested in Orthodoxy.  I felt that the Orthodox churches did a better job of maintaining the ancient mysticism and ritual and sacredness of Mass than did Catholicism.  However, I guess I just never felt a strong enough pull to make the jump.  When I actually believed Christianity, the Catholic apologetics for the papacy just seemed to make sense.

I welcomed visits from Mormon missionaries for a couple of months.  Visited the local Mormon church.  Watched some videos on Mormonism.  I liked the way they seemed committed to their faith, the tight-knit community they seemed to have.  But the theology always felt far-fetched, and a prohibition of alcohol was a turn-off for me.  Not because I drink regularly or anything, but just because I hate being categorically told no to something that I do not see as an inherent threat.  My interest was short-lived, though I waited a bit to see if it would come back before completely bowing out of missionary visits.

Speaking of tight-knit communities, I was a little obsessed with the Amish for a time.  I had read that there have been a handful of outsiders converting to the faith, but I really knew it was never going to happen since I was already married and being Amish is not something one spouse can be while the other does something else.  The back-to-basics lifestyle really appealed to me.  Being closer to the land, something I am not but wish I were.  Modesty, working with one's hands.  But after seeing several documentaries on the Amish, I thought it was too much harshness and not enough love.  Discipline is very strict, and the worship services seem quite dry and uninspiring.  

I never considered Hinduism a valid option until I read that Julia Roberts had converted to Hinduism. I learned that yoga originated with Hinduism and not Buddhism, and again, reincarnation made sense to me.  However, the theology just seemed too foreign for me.  Even when I tried to look at the different gods allegorically, as I was advised to do, there was too big of a learning curve, and I guess I wasn't motivated enough to pursue it.  

Spiritual Independence
Pretty much this is what I really wanted - an anything goes way of life.  But when it came down to it, I didn't really want anything to go.  I want standards, boundaries, traditions, rituals, community, structure, tried and true practices. 

I toyed with the idea of labeling myself a Deist, and finally did embrace the label, over the course of the most recent year.  The theology is so simple - God exists, just look around you!  But the problem was that it stopped there.  It's not a religion, it's a theology.  A very basic, minimalist theology. There's no community or spiritual practice that goes with it.  I am still waiting, about two months later, to be accepted into an online deist community.  I have chosen to see that delay as a sign from God to give it up and come back home to Catholicism.

Well, I've left it and rejoined it a couple of times now.  I left due to my core belief in religious relativism, which I know is a big no-no within Catholicism.  Ultimately, I do not believe that there is a universal religious truth.  I believe that what is, is going to be experienced differently by different people depending on their circumstances, and that these differences are what leads to the varying religious interpretations of the world.  I believe that God is unknowable, so to claim you've got Him figured out is just plain arrogant.  And yet, I've searched for alternatives for 20 years now, and I keep coming back to the Catholic tradition.  Essentially, what it comes down to is that Catholicism is a tradition for me.  It's a spiritual practice.  A set of comforting rituals and wise teachings, some of which I disagree with.  It's a wealth of beautiful reaching out to God in the form of music and art, and to our fellow human beings in the form of Catholic-run hospitals and schools.  Catholicism has a lot to offer, no less than any of the other traditions I visited over the years.  But it has one thing more - I have a birthright familiarity with it.  It may not be what staunch Catholics want to hear as the reason for me being Catholic (namely, that it'll just have to do), but I've been told by several priests and nuns over the years - God will meet me where I am.  So here I am.