With Christmas comes Amazon gift certificates.
In trying to decide how I wanted to spend my gift certificate from my sister, I stumbled across The God Delusion, a volume on the case for atheism written by Richard Dawkins. Why I had not heard about this when it came out is beyond me; perhaps I should crawl out from under my rock now and then. I decided that it was important for me to buy this book. I also decided it was equally important to buy some C. S. Lewis or the writings of Aquinas to supplement Dawkins’ tome. And why? I don’t know.
It would be more than slightly dramatic to call the ever-changing nature of my spiritual ideology an “existential crisis.” It’s more that I am full of questions and every time one is answered to my satisfaction, five more crop up. It’s the spiritual version of the Medea and is a real pain in the ass. Raised in the Baptist faith, I stopped going as soon as I was given the okay from my mother. Until I was about 17, I called myself a Christian and had attended many Christian camps and youth groups. I had not gone through the baptismal process, but I considered myself in the born-again camp. I left because I believed the Emperor had no clothes. There are so many things in Christianity and in other religions that completely chafe against what I believe in my heart to be right.
At the present, my thoughts on Christianity can be summed up thusly: I cannot, and will not, believe in a deity that insists on people attaining redemption through a single conduit. It is unfathomable to me that someone who does not believe in Christian principles but lives a good life is subject to eternal torture under Christian dogma. The concepts of heaven and hell themselves are unfathomable to me; when life is lived in so many shades of gray, how can there be two black and white outcomes for the life that was lived? Shouldn’t there be a sliding scale? Somewhere between the mansions of heaven and Hell, which I imagine looks a bit like Darfur, isn’t there a middle-class suburban option?
I consider Jesus to be a wonderful teacher and a man of principle. He was a liberal in his time and a model of unshakable faith, which I admire as I am constantly doubting and questioning. I don’t believe that believing he was the Son of God is the only way to get to Heaven. Even now, typing that out, my upbringing whispers back to me: “If you’re wrong, when you die you’ll have to eat every single one of those words at the throne of judgment.” But I believe it is true. I believe that whatever deity–or deities–a person chooses to believe in is between them, their spiritual mentor, and their mental wellness professional. I believe that because I don’t believe that any religion is the true answer, or even half the answer.
Beliefs themselves are tricky things. I believe that Love is Love; all partners, regardless of orientation, should be given the option of being equally protected under the banner of Marriage. Not civil unions, not domestic partner registries, Marriage. First of all, heterosexuals have really not covered themselves in glory with this whole sanctity of marriage thing, hello 50% + divorce rate. Anyone who trots out that argument really ought not to insult their own intelligence like that. Second, and most importantly, marriage is a government institution. Don’t agree? How many hetero couples do you know that get married in a religious ceremony without the benefit of a license, without changing insurance policies and a tidy legal document proving a union? Marriage can be officiated by a clergy-person, but it is a government institution. Ergo, all couples who feel the need to combine their lives and protect the family they want to create should have the option of establishing a legally recognized union that is the same as all other current marriages. And yes, should the subject of polygamy arise, I think that if consenting adults choose to enter into that agreement, it’s not my cup of tea in the slightest and I think it would be the height of insanity to take on multiple wives, not to mention actually being a wife in that scenario, but if that’s what they want, go for it. I cannot believe that God would create a man with the capacity to love a man, or a biological woman who identifies as male, or any other GLBT position and then turn around and condemn that person to hell. I can’t. I won’t. It’s not right. It’s not fair. And I know “life isn’t fair,” but if we are children of Christ, are we not operating on the principle of a just creator? To me, the whole scenario sucks rocks.
There you go. A huge, long, outpouring on ONE issue. Abortion, environmentalism, foreign policy–it would seem that organized religion has something to say about all of it. Some of it I agree with, some of it I don’t. And at the end of the day, I don’t know what to think. Especially when I look to nature, I can see the presence of something huge; I think that I could be a part of something greater than myself.
On the other hand, I find “coffee hour Christianity” disgusting. That term applies to all major religions, from Islam to Hinduism and back again. Groups that band together under the guise of being in the same religion, but the spiritual instruction and worship takes a back seat to the coffee hours, the basketball games, the bake sales, the alcohol-free cocktail hours and meet-n-greets. Spirituality is paid lip service and practiced at the voting booth, but not in daily life. I can’t muster respect for that kind of person, especially when they try to tell me that I’m wrong for abstaining from church. If I want to worship, I will worship in a way that’s meaningful to me. If I want to hear a listing of community events with a hand bell performance, I’ll pop in to my local place of worship, but only if they’re putting out the good donuts.
Those who insist on their religion as the “truth” are especially bothersome. This may be why people of the Ba’hai faith are my favorite sort of believers; they are only allowed to discuss their faith when asked directly. I don’t know what’s right; I resent those who presume to know that they do. I would never tell a believer of any faith that they are wrong, because I don’t know. All I can say that is I don’t agree. Perhaps that language is not specific enough, but I think that makes all the difference. However, I don’t want to be put in a position where I can remain silent, and through my silence imply agreement, or say that I disagree and invite debate. That’s a good way to ruin a nice meal.
Beyond that…I don’t know. I simply don’t. I will put my beliefs on social issues into practice when it comes to raising my children (which I do not yet have) and when it comes time to vote. On the day-to-day stuff, I think it is going to have to be enough for now to just be as good a person as I know how to be, and to question everything as possible evidence for the existence or non-existence of God. I’m not sure I’ll ever come up with an answer that suits me, but I’d like to try to look at all the options first.