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Friday, March 07, 2014

True Religion

When my mother decided to marry my father, she scandalized her entire family of Lutherans by secretly taking classes to convert to Roman Catholicism.  They already didn't care for her choice of husband:  he was older than her by four years, the son of immigrants, lived in Lorain, and had incited some pretty rebellious behavior from St. Patsy.  When her wedding day came, she had already been informed that her father would not be there to escort her down the aisle of a Catholic church.  She walked herself down the aisle.

Every time my mother tells that story, I have a hard time accepting it.  I think of my grandpa, a gentle, taciturn man whose voice I had never in my life heard raised.  He was an avid putterer, slow-moving, hands always busy, constantly mending, repairing, painting, trimming, fabricating doodads to make something work again like new.  He liked to tease gently, wink a lot, and get Grandma's goat.  The idea that he would purposely make anyone unhappy is alien to me.

And for what?  Religion?  My grandmother, who loved God and studied her Bible every single day, would be in attendance for her daughter.  She was devout.  She was the most religious person I knew.  For her, it was all about God's Word.  The interpreter was secondary.  She lived The Word.

My mother sacrificed a great deal to marry my father, and she continued a life of sacrifice in many ways.  As irony would have it, she became a far better Catholic than my father, whose church attendance was spotty at best and disinterested at worst.  All four of us kids were raised Roman Catholic and received the sacraments, although I'm the only one who was married in the Catholic church.

All of which leads us to today's question:

Do you still practice the same religion you grew up with, or a different religion, or none at all?

The short answer is none.  I became disillusioned with Catholicism a long, long time ago.  And I became even more wary of and disillusioned by Organized Religion in general.  And as the Christian churches became more and more of a political force, I got downright disgusted.  The things people do in the name of their god and their dogma make me sick.  It's nothing new, this war because of religion.  It's as old as the Crusades and...never mind.  You don't need a history lesson.

Instead of following a Religion, I follow a four-word rule.  It's pretty much President Lincoln's quote, pictured above, but compressed.  It is Kindness Is My Default.  In every situation, I try to default to Kindness first.  It doesn't cost me anything (like I used to think it did), and it often helps tremendously.  Think what an average day would be like if everyone had this rule.

I do understand the value of Religion to a great many people.  I do understand the Mystery Of Faith.  No one has to prove the existence of his or her God to me.  Religion is a deeply personal possession, a treasured comfort, a joy and satisfaction to its owner's soul.  It is an essential part of his or her identity.  I respect that.

But, by the same token, please respect my right to follow my own essence of Religion, a sort of self-rectitude, a kind of social benevolence by which I try, as Gandhi purportedly said, to be the change I wish to see in the world.

14 comments:

  1. I like your four word rule. And I agree, kindness is the best thing going, and gosh, if everyone followed such a rule, what a world we could live in.

    I've not been blogging lately, and gosh, you've been busy! Let me catch up...

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  2. I tried to post a comment about my religious "search" but I couldn't "paste" into this comment space. So, I posted it on your "non-reply" note. See if you can read it. Or let me know a different email to send it to.

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  3. It seems that Jonathan Swift is my "go-to" comment guy today.


    "We have enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another."

    Jonathan Swift

    No, I do not go to the Church of my childhood today. There are so many reasons why I stay away that J. Swift would have to help me write a book to tell you the whole sorry story.

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  4. We lead some kind of parallel lives, my dear.

    Former Roman Catholic, twelve years of Catholic school.

    Decided that I would be a hypocrite to stay in the church, not that I ever enjoyed listening to the priests bloviate during Mass.

    Have never regretted the decision, and even my 93 year old grandmother who went to church every week for decades upon decades, has become disillusioned with the church.

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  5. Wow, what a thought-provoking post and comments! I appreciate the Lincoln quote, your adoption of it, Nancy's Jonathan Swift quote, and the other comments. That situation must have been so incredibly hard for your mother. Heartbreaking. I am so sorry.

    In the last several years, we've seen good, dear friends of decades join the church and become gay haters. They were far better people when they drank and smoked pot and loved everyone back in the day (a long time ago). Now they condemn everyone and call others and themselves sinners. Oh joy. So very disappointing that this is what religion can do to people. There is no way that was the style of Jesus. WWJD? Not that. I'm sure of it.

    I have not been to church regularly since I was in high school and that was my own doing. My father never went to church and my mother rarely went to church. Hubby played in the handbell choir at "our" church for at least a decade, which was the church he attended from birth, so our son and I would go to special services to hear him play. Otherwise, our Sunday "church" was often spent camping on our mountain property. That felt like a pretty appropriate church to us! Being in nature can make one feel much closer to higher beings IMHO. Attending church for hubby's handbell performances was nice and felt totally right at the time, but then the church made a rule that anyone participating in such church groups as choirs, youth groups, etc. had to attend regularly, dress a certain way, etc. How ridiculous and what a great way to make people feel unwanted. Half the handbell choir members dropped out of the choir and the church. We've never been back.

    I think kindness and love and communing with nature all demonstrate the best religion possible!

    Shirley

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  6. Hey everyone, here is phoebes in santa fe's original comment:

    I like that four word rule from Lincoln, too. Thanks for posting it.

    I grew up a Reform Jew. I was confirmed in the 10th grade. But I am from what I sometimes call that "lost generation of Jewish women". Since Reform Judaism did not have Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, I never learned Hebrew. And I was unprepared for the transition in religious practices the Reform movement has made in the past 30 years or so.

    What used to be "Reform Judaism" seems to have mutated into "Conservative Judaism". Hebrew is taught and children are encouraged to have Bar and Bar Mitzvahs at age 13. Very few congregations have Sunday School that goes past that age, and so, aside from learning Hebrew, the Jewish child tends not to learn much about their religion at an age where such learning would be considered beneficial. "Do your Bar Mitzvah and you're home free". Bad, bad, bad...as far as I am concerned.

    Reform congregations have an increased reliance on Hebrew in the services. Tallit and kippahs are worn by the men and to walk into a Reform service today reminds me of the Conservative services I attended years ago. Very little difference. The Reform temple that I grew up in became unrecognisable to me when we rejoined when my sons were born. They learned Hebrew and were both Bar Mitzvahed, but were two of the few students who stayed in Sunday School and were confirmed.

    All this change has made me very uncomfortable in the last 20 or so years. The prayer books are unrecognisable to me and the parts that aren't in Hebrew have been rewritten in a politically-correct gobbely-gook language.

    And the music. Oy Vey. Guitar-music by a cantor and demented dancing around the sanctuary like a bad road show production of "Fiddler on the Roof"! Out here in Santa Fe, the rabbi at the congregation I belonged to - aimed at gays and aging hippies (for the record, I am neither) - once told me that she wanted the congregation to worship as they did in the shtetels of Russia and eastern Europe. I told her that my great-grandparents came here to get OUT of the shtetels and I was no more eager to return to that way of worship. Didn't faze her a bit...

    The prayers have been transformed into Hallmark-card soothing babble. I didn't understand the service and it meant nothing to me to attend services. I hated the whole Reform Jewish movement; the same was in every Reform Jewish temple I sampled in the past 20 years. I was considering becoming a Unitarian.

    But then I attended a Yom Kippur service in 2012 as a guest of my sister and brother-in-law. They belong to Temple Sinai, one of Chicago's oldest Reform congregation. This temple has aligned itself with the Society for Classical Reform Judaism. http://renewreform.org/ Attending this service was like coming home to Judaism. I'm not kidding, I felt spiritually renewed. I actually understood the service, and the music - from a choir and not a guitar-playing cantor - was soothing. And even though I live in Santa Fe, I joined the Chicago congregation; at $300 per year, the out-of-town membership is chicken-feed. Going back to worshipping on a regular basis is one of the reasons I'm moving back to Chicago in a couple of years.

    So that's my story. I am actually re-turning to religion at age 63!

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  7. How wonderful for you, Phoebe! I feel that religion and worship should provide comfort and be real at the same time. My husband's former church has an early service that sound very much like what you have been trying to avoid for the last 20 years. Guitars and rock bands. Jeans and sneakers. And the sermon was a Powerpoint presentation. So wrong in our opinion. Oy vey. :-(

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  8. phoebes in santa fe--Thank you so much for relating this to me. It is so very reminiscent--almost exact, in fact--of what has happened to Catholicism in the past thirty years. Because of dwindling numbers and the desire to be more inclusive and engaging to the youth, the Church started to include guitar masses. They began having more laity perform parts of the mass, including communion. People show up to church in shorts, pajama pants, flipflops--even the altar boys and girls. It's far too lax and casual, as far as I'm concerned.

    These changes began to pave the way for my exodus from the Church; I was uncomfortable with the lack of dignity and loftiness. But other things, as I mentioned in my post, drove me farther still, the Church's duplicity, lack of respect for women, and its cruelty being chief among them.

    Your return to your religion is an incredible story. And you are leaving the warm climate of Santa Fe in order to do so! Truly, a piece of your heart must have been missing to make this odyssey of faith. There is a great deal of the Jewish religion that appeals to me, if only from an aesthetic sort of place. It has the ritual, the mysticism, and the chanting that I used to love about the old Latin masses of my youth.

    Thank you again for taking the time to email me your story. I very much appreciate it.

    Shirley--Your comment immediately brought to mind a poem by one of my favourite poets, Emily Dickinson, titled "Some Keep the Sabbath Going to Church". In it, Miss Emily says that instead of going to church on Sundays, she instead wanders into the orchard where she has birds for a choir and the canopy of trees for a cathedral dome. Rather than listen to a preacher, she can hear God through the sounds of Nature. And instead of waiting for Heaven as a final reward, she is already experiencing it.

    So enjoy your mountain cathedral, Shirley. You're in some good company.

    Gina--Yes, it would seem that we do. I wish I had the comfort of faith sometimes, however, since it brings so many others a great deal of solace and hope. I suppose I have it in a different way, and I try to have it in humanity.

    Nancy--Now that is some Jonathan Swift I can get behind. It's absolutely the truth. Sadly. And I'm truly sorry that my post is evoking such disappointment and disillusionment in Religion. I didn't expect this.

    J--I know, right? But I remember a while back when you had "bloggarhea" and posted a couple times a day! No danger of that here.

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  9. My disgust with religion in general is long and wide and deep. I was raised Roman Catholic and stopped as soon as I was physically able to. It all seemed so stupid and pointless to me. I haven't been back since and don't envision that I will ever return.

    So much of religion is NOT about the concepts of kindness, caring, and lifting up, but of power, money, tribalism, and forcing your personal brand of faith down the throats of others. So much of history, especially in Europe in the last thousand years, was about the Catholic church and its attempt to rule the world. It literally told kings and queens what to do. Look at missionaries to Asia, Africa, and the Americas, and weren't the Crusades fun? When Henry VIII finally said no, and there were other pockets of discontent, all hell broke loose, and it's been going downhill for Rome ever since. These days, scandal, education, and the desire for self-determination have put a huge damper on the Catholic church's power. I'm not sad.

    For me, religion smacks of ritualistic superstition, which is where the roots of religion come from: if I appease the {insert your supreme being here}, nothing bad will happen. It can be as innocuous as deity worship or as insane as human sacrifice. It's just astonishing to me that people will make up all kinds of shit and then decide that that information is real and true, then use it as a means to intimidate and repress others, and call it religion. AND you can't question any part of the dogma or the sanctimonious assholes in charge or you're a heretic! This ridiculous mindset overshadows whatever good might come out of religion.

    My rule is the Golden rule as much as possible, tempered by what I call "situational ethics" and the "win-win" mindset. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, always keep in mind that each situation is unique, and try to have everyone (people and animals) come out a winner. I just try to do the best I can in whatever circumstances I find myself. I'm happy if I succeed, but I don't beat myself up if I fail. I just resolve to try to do better next time. I didn't need any religion to tell me that. I already knew it.

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  10. LaFF--Oh, the dreaded situational ethics. Does this mean you are a secular humanist?

    All kidding aside, I think, at its core, we have come down to the same idea: be kind. And what can ever be wrong with that?

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  11. I was raised a R.C., attended catechism classes for years and went to a Catholic school for a year, during which time I became obsessed with being a nun. I ditched the Catholic religion entirely at the age of 18 when my father, who had converted to Catholicism in his college years, confessed that he did not believe in God. The Catholic Church's stance on birth control also had something to do with it, especially at an age where I had made the decision, in spite of warnings from the nuns, that sex outside of marriage was not a mortal sin, or even a sin at all, that sex was not just for procreation, and that the all the women in the Catholic Church who secretly took birth control pills were just being hypocrites. You either believe it or you don't. But you don't profess to believe it and then secretly do what you want to.

    Kindness as a default is a great way to reduce it down to 4 words. It's really "love thy neighbour" and the Golden Rule, since we all appreciate being treated with kindness ourselves. I am such an all-or-nothing person, though, in spite of the fact that I know full well that life is mostly shades of grey. I have a hard time feeling or acting kindly towards those who do not exhibit kindness themselves. To get into recent political comments, I could never feel kind towards the likes of Sarah Palin or Dick Cheney. They do nothing but spout hate and intolerance, to say nothing of ignorance. I suppose, however, that I should feel kind towards them because "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." In everyday life, it's the same issue: there are so many times when I have to feign kindness. In the long run, that's probably the most virtuous kind of kindness. :-)

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  12. Ortizzle--Sometimes pity and kindness can be the same thing, as in the examples you give at the end of your comment. :-)

    I was not obsessed with being a nun, as you say you were, but I became quite interested in it when I was in junior high school. I was in a tough urban school, unhappy, bullied, and certain that my future was going to hold nothing but more of the same: being branded an outsider because I was fat and intelligent. I loved the mysticism of the Mass, and being a nun felt like security and identity to me.

    In my usual way, I was able to compartmentalize the dread and sickness I felt each Monday in catechism, courtesy of those nuns. I don't know why I failed to make that connection; why I didn't see myself as falling to the enemy.

    Finally, in high school, where a few more junior highs fed in and the gangs and bullies were spread out, I felt better. I was in with better people, friendlier people, smarter people. My plans to be a nun were still there, but as time went by, they became more ephemeral. Pretty soon, they simply disappeared.

    I would have been a kickass nun. But I would have had to be an integral part of the Church, and I couldn't do that.

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  13. I grew up Southern Baptist (I know!), went to Zambia for a year & a half to work with missionaries & met my husband at seminary. But the Southern Baptists lost me when the fundamentalists took over - & when our home church wouldn't ordain my cousin who wanted to be a Hospice chaplain - simply because she was a woman. We felt so betrayed - heck, women RAN our home church.

    When Mike & I moved to Ohio in 1997 we were invited by friends to attend their Episcopal church & I haven't looked back since. I don't know that I'm a very spiritual person, but I love to sing and I'm lazy. I know that if I didn't go to church each week I would never do anything of worth for the world. The Episcopal church is such a good fit for me - it's a haven for bleeding heart liberals :) And now I'm the Senior Warden at my church - yikes!

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  14. The Bug--My dear Aunt Shirley and Uncle Dick in Gettysburg are Episcopal Liberals. They adore their church, the priest of which is a gay man with a husband. Your point is well taken.

    The doctrine of the Evil Woman is one of the reasons that I had to eschew organized religion. Even if it wasn't preached, it was always there, insidious and sinister. Catholic priests cannot marry, and women cannot be nuns, bishops, popes, etc.

    The Episcopals are light years ahead of the rest of the Christian world.

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