Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Owning My Own Spirituality

When I was religious, I took offense to my religious faith being compared to superstition.  But now that I'm not religious, I have to address this question head-on.  What is the difference between organized religion and superstition?  Superstition is a belief without basis in reality, no evidence, no proof.  At best, some anecdotal stories that encourage the perpetuation of the belief.  Many people follow superstitions "just in case" they're true.  That is the same as being superstitious.  People who are not superstitious do not believe in nonsense, period.  They don't let fear or hope in good luck charms affect their otherwise rational behavior.

And religious people?  Again, they either believe outright, because the elders, priests, imams, rabbis passed down the messages earlier prophets claimed they received directly from God, or they may not believe completely, but follow along "just in case".   

Our western concept of religious faith is based on revelation and trust in authority.  First, some person or group of people received a message directly from God. That message was understood to apply to an entire people, or even all people.  Then the prophets took it upon themselves to teach others what "God said".  They must have been charismatic to get people to believe all manner of nonsense... that and/or the people centuries and millenia ago were just that much more gullible.  

At any rate, after being repeated over and over again and having more and more people come to believe something, people grew up hearing their grandparents believing things, and it just doesn't enter many people's minds that so many people, over so many years, could actually believe utter nonsense.  It must be true, right?  So they believe and pass it on without question, perpetuating the now organized superstition for another generation.

Some religious people will tell you that you don't need to take it on other people's word alone.  That if you search the Scriptures, you'll be reassured of the revelation yourself.  The problem with this is that you often find what you are looking for.  If you want to believe something, you'll look for evidence to confirm it.  If you want to disbelieve it, you'll find evidence against it.  There's not an objective way around it.  People either want to believe or they don't.  Except when you have people who want to believe but just don't.  Surely, if life were easier as a believer, especially if someone had once believed with all of their heart, and now wants to return to that faith, what possible reason could there be to not be able to find evidence to confirm one's deepest desire?  The only explanation I can find is that what was once believed simply isn't true.

But if you're nonreligious, or post-religious, you already know all of this.  There isn't really a way to convince someone to give up their religious faith without replacing it with some other faith that is even more enticing. 

What I find funny is how anti-superstition some religious people can be.  Really?  You can't believe that nonsense!  It wasn't passed down directly from our approved leaders and authority figures!  How can you trust something not jotted down thousands of years ago and then translated into our language so that we can have holy writ?  That's just silly superstition.  No, what we believe is not only truth, but THE truth.  Just look at the millions and millions and millions of people around the world and through history who have believed just as we do!  That many people can't possibly be wrong!

No, if each individual went on their own spiritual quest and had the same revelation directly from God, without consulting scriptures or the traditions of their faith community, then we could claim they may all be on to something.  Near-death experiences come to mind.  But that so many people opted out of thinking for themselves and just accepted what was fed to them?  That's not proof of anything other than the human desire to have hope and have it easy.  

It's been difficult for me to try to wrap my head around being nonreligious, post-religious in a religious society.  Even when that society is only nominally religious, and multireligious at that. It seems that having a religious identity is simply expected, even if one doesn't really subscribe to it, even if others disagree with it.  

I imagine it may be like this (even worse) for people who identify as gender-fluid.  The expectation is that you're either female or male.  You're not given options; you have to forge them yourself and then just insist on them over and over again.  

Or I guess when an adoptee is made to feel like they must choose which family - birth or adoptive - is the "real" one for them.  People without this experience don't usually understand that you can consider both sides fully family.

I've fallen into this trap before.  During our years of infertility and pursuit of adoption, I picked up on societal hints that made me feel as though I had to have one of two life ambitions fulfilled in order to be considered a fully functioning member of society:  I either had to have a career, or I had to be a mother. (Men don't even have this option; fatherhood does not exempt men from pursuing a career.)

This is probably why the Universe has handed me the challenge of being post-religious.  I wasn't able to figure out how to live without the stress of the mother/career woman dichotomy.  I insisted on motherhood because I couldn't succeed to my liking in a career field.  I was supposed to opt out, not buy into the labels.  

I didn't.  And so I was handed another challenge, which has at least awakened me to the idea that I cannot live my life according to predetermined labels.  I cannot measure success using someone else's ruler.  Happiness is indeed the goal of life, but how I get there is entirely on my own shoulders to figure out.  I cannot just call on my religious label, career, motherhood, to give my life meaning.  

I cannot hope to transcend the world while still living by its rules.  And the world's rules say religions are there for me to choose one that I like best so that I can have a neat framework within which to find fulfillment and joy and peace.  But I already know this is not necessary, and for me now, impossible.  

Being completely honest now, why have I felt the need to have a religious identity?  Was it for me, so that I could point to it when someone questioned me about why I believed something or what my morals were based on?  If so, this was a cop-out.  Am I unable to claim ownership of my own life ethics and philosophy?  Does it matter that much to me if other people accept what I tell them or not? What does their acceptance, their opinion, have to do with the inner workings of my mind and soul?

Or was the need for a religious identity for the benefit of others?  To help ease their ability to classify me according to what they already know about different religious identities?  This of course is nonsense, as people are not fully knowledgeable about different religions, and many don't even know the various ways of being members of their own religion.  And besides, why do I care if others have an easy or difficult time placing me on the spectrum of religious beliefs and practices?

Perhaps it's for the benefit of both - being able to stay active to some degree within the religious community of my upbringing without adhering to its theology or morality?  But is this really possible?  To participate in a Catholic small group, let's say, where all participants are assumed to be Catholic, but to announce to the group that I'm actually Catholic-in-name-only?  What would be the point of that?  Am I there to learn or to teach?  If to learn, I already know what angle they're working, and I'm not interested.  If to teach, then I'd be quite arrogant to think I can teach anyone about the nature of God and humanity.  I'd only be taking on the role of their prophets and priests, which I reject.

Alex disagrees with me.  He calls himself Catholic because that's the label he picked and likes, and he uses the terminology that goes along with it, but he holds onto his own beliefs, only periodically adjusting them based on what he learns from Catholicism.  In essence, he's comfortable in this Catholic box; I am not.  I feel disingenuous.  If we were in an interreligious dialogue group, that'd be a different story.  But in our case, there are certain expectations.  If a participant isn't fully "in line with Rome", then at least the presupposition is that they want to be.  Or even if not, the other participants are fully allowed and encouraged to push that line of thinking.

I'm tired of trying to lift the layers of metaphor from Christian stories in order to find the unadulterated simple truths.  I want to go straight to the source, to look to nature, to not get wrapped up in symbolism.  Taoism, Zen, Deism is where I'm looking for my inspiration.  That would likely give me the label of Spiritual Independent.  I like aspects of various religious, philosophical, and secular traditions.  Different things resonate with me.  Together, they form the framework that gives my life meaning.

Perhaps next time I am asked about my religion or faith - if such an obvious encounter should actually take place - I just say "I'm independent" and let that stand for itself.  I have to own my beliefs, my ethics.  I have to explain why I still find meaning in attending Catholic worship services if I no longer view myself as a Christian.  I have to take that responsibility onto myself.  If someone questions me, I need to follow the advice of Paul: (1 Peter 3:15) "Always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you."

I cannot ride on the coattails of others any longer.

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