Tuesday, June 11, 2013

A new series: honoring the struggle

Frederick Douglass said, "If there is no struggle, there is no progress." I like to think that is absolutely true when it comes to creating your own personal value system. I think that the struggle should be celebrated, not ignored or feared. And to that end, I'm going to start honoring the struggles around belief. Starting with my own. I'm going to start a new series where I'll invite people to share their own struggles with faith/religion. I want to hear from people with a variety of different start points and end points. So if you're interested, let me know!!

[dude, you gotta watch this video]

How would you describe your religious upbringing?
I was raised Southern Baptist. We were no drinking, no dancing (allegedly, I never saw this enforced), fundamentalists. So we take the Bible literally and word for word. Even though we don't stone adulterers or kids who curse their parents, a distinction I felt was never satisfactorily explained.

What did you like about it?
The community. People always were looking out for each other, baking meals and going to funerals of people they might not have ever met, just to support one another. And I think the rules and the certainty that fundamentalist religions offer are sort of comforting (you know, until they aren't).

What did you dislike about it?
The stance on women, homosexuality, and hell. My youth group was pretty much obsessed with hell, who was going there, and why (and also when, via the rapture. Which is any day now, obviously). I could never really get a satisfying answer about God sending people to hell, in spite of him being love and all. The oft-used phrase, "because God is holy and just and full of mercy" started to sound like code for, he's a big jerk. This God seemed like he was either all powerful or all loving, but not both.

What would you consider the low point/turning point in your faith/religious beliefs?
When Cork got really sick and we didn't know if he was going to get better, I went into the cliched atheist in the fox hole mode. I wouldn't consider myself an atheist, and I still can't quite consider myself one. But I had been so ambivalent about God (I had strong negative feelings about Him based on the teachings of my church, my youth group, and my few visits to Duke's campus crusade team; but strong positive feelings about a hypothetical God who actually was loving) that I could hardly even force myself to think/care about God or religion. But the thought of losing Cork forever made the Mormon notion of heaven and families being eternal sound perfect. I started reading up on Mormonism. And really liked a lot about it. But some of the stuff (think Southpark does Mormonism) just seemed nutso (no offense, Mormons). But then I was like, well, it's no more nutso than the stuff in the Bible (which a fundamentalist takes literally). The only difference is, the Bible has thousands of years to soften the crazy edges. Mormons just have a couple hundred years. So it seemed pretty hypocritical of me to think Mormons were any more nuts than I was. Then I was like, well shoot. Maybe we are both nuts? Maybe this whole religion thing is a crazy sham we invented to make ourselves feel better about death? Maybe I can just finally drop all this cognitive dissonance I've been carrying around about God being loving and sending people to hell, and I could drop all of the bizzarro beliefs requirements (virgin birth, human sacrifice, talking/flaming bushes, etc.). It felt simultaneously liberating and crushing. Not to mention isolating. It's not a topic that many people are eager to discuss. For the vast majority of people who have stood on the ledge of serious doubt, the view seems to be either something they have been intentionally avoiding, or something they've talked themselves down from with what I considered regurgitated platitudes that were in no way new or compelling to me.

How would you describe your religion/faith now?
I'm not gonna lie, I've lost a lot of (but I guess not quite all) faith in Christianity (not to mention Christians). I'm in a pretty undecided place. I've definitely lost all interest in Hell. I could see it existing as a place for people who straight up choose it (and no, not "choose" it by sinning and failing to ask for God's forgiveness while professing a belief in Jesus's death on the cross as a proxy sacrifice). I still pray, maybe just out of habit. But I think maybe out of a sincere belief that there is something greater out there who gives a sh*t. I just don't like the idea of God being an abusive, helicopter parent like my childhood faith made him out to be (doling out punishments of death and torture, and obsessing over your every, stupid move). I'd much prefer a  peaceful, free-range parent of a God. So I think when I finally overcome my religious apathy and inertia about  finding a religious "home" that aligns a little more closely with my values, I'll probably hit up a Unitarian Universalist church. But until then, I'm sort of an undecided/agnostic/universalist. I'm definitely interested in religion, I spend a lot of time reading and writing about it, and expect my views to continue to evolve. (I even found some semi-comforting ideas about death, that I like a lot more than the eternal church camp I'd been imagining.)

if you'd like to write a guest post on the topic, you can email me at laurabeth57 [at] gmail [dot] com

1 comment:

  1. For me the problem is not religion, but organized religion. I, for one, am a firm believer in finding and maintaining a personal relationship with the supreme being, for me "God". I was raised in the "Cristian" Church, the "Disciples of Christ". I guess they're still in business, though since high school I have traveled several religious roads varying on the Christian theme: in college, non-denominational, most nearly Episcopalian; then "bystander-Catholic" during marriage number one; then briefly leading non-denominational Protestant shipboard services in the Navy; then, nothing organized since. About twenty years ago I read the Bible front to back, but came away a bit confused in what I perceived to be lots of contradiction and historical "flexibility". Still, I think it was a valuable experience that I am trying again in a topical format. The advantage of this background is 1) the "Christian" denomination, at least as practiced in my local congregation, was very ecumenical, 2) the dalliances with Episcopalian and Catholic only served to increase my open-mindedness. I also visited Saudi Arabia and bought a copy of The Koran, though reading that proved too challenging. Currently, I am enjoying debating with Jehovah Witnesses in my sife's family. Fundamentally, I believe all, or at least most religions/denominations at their core believe/teach the same thing, which we "Christians" simplify as "Believe in God" and "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." We Christians add "Jesus Christ is the son of God and along with The Holy Spirit complete the Trinity and make a team of spiritual 'mentors'". It's all about trying to do the right thing inside an imperfect person and in an imperfect world. Period. ("Why would God make it totally good or totally evil? That would prove nothing and individual life would have little or no purpose.) I don't get too hung up about dogma and denomination. I think they are too subject to (mis)interpretation and manipulation for purposes beyond their essential spiritual nuggets. I get turned off by "scriptural arguments" that center on chapter and verse that was directly "inspired" by God. For me the Bible must be considered in its entirety and is as much history as doctrine. The simpler the better. The world is complicated enough. As I said this is my personal relationship with the higher being. Unlike some religions/denominations I am a FIRM believer that one can/should communicate directly with "God". Take personal responsibility for your life/actions. Why else are we here?