me and my religion
September 24, 2002 12:46 PM

I started researching theology when I was six.

Seriously. I believe my parents had me baptized and then promptly ceased any pretense at going to church. We did Christmas and Easter, so we were Christian in a very vague, amorphic way.

But my friends went to all sorts of places. I had a Mormon friend, a Baptist friend, a Jehovah's Witness friend, a couple of Catholic friends and a family of Jewish friends. They all had rituals around their house and going to church, and I went to church with them. I primarily went to the Baptist church, with its remarkably old school total immersion baptismal font. My best friend went there.

Then I went to a Methodist church, because I was a small girl and small girls rotate through best friends [and military children's best friends are always moving away]. Somewhere in there, my parents started coming to church with me and I started doing silly things like vacation bible school. Vacation bible school is a superb summer pasttime when your church is two minutes from the bay and the beach, by the way.

We kept going to this church off and on. I think my parents even went to grownup Sunday school, my girl scout troop met there, my piano teacher held our recitals there, I belonged to a youth group, and I sang in the children's choir. We had sleepovers in the church; I still love that musty church smell.

At some point, we stopped going to that church. I don't recall any reason. Maybe there was none. We went to another church for awhile, tried out a Unitarian church where my harp teacher and my mother's social work professor played in a band. This entire history happened by the time I was 12 years old. I think. It was around the time Nietszche and Marx and Asimov started offering me new perspectives on religion and I started reading about other religions. Also around the time I started refusing to say the twenty-third Psalm at my non-religious school's daily "chapel".

I don't recall there ever being a deep spiritual purpose to church. It was more a series of social events and friendships. I think it's that casual attitude towards spirituality, learned no doubt from my parents, which continues to drive my perspective on religion.

By casual, I don't mean dismissive. Simply that my personal relationship to things spiritual is fairly fluid, and I'm not willing to say without a doubt that one thing or another is true. This is the only area of my life where I'm clearly a relativist.

This relativism also means that I can't really commit to a religion, though I do have some favorites. A lot of that favoritism is based on what each religion seemed to offer at the time I researched it. And a lot of what they offer, to me, is tightly entwined with their social structures and social policies.

For instance, given my personal politics, I would never consider Catholicism (and in fact, most variations on Christianity), Islam, or Judaism. The big three are so closely woven into the political fabric of the western world that I cannot help but hold them accountable for their past (and in many cases current) attitudes towards women and homosexuality. If you are able to overlook those pasts, delve into them, or are simply unconcerned, so be it. That is your decision. I'll probably enjoy discussing your beliefs, and will concede that some of them seem very sound and useful and that I delight in your faith's sense of ritual. I cannot, however, abide by any faith that refuses people the option to choose things that should be secular concerns. The very fact that the Catholic Church has had a position on abortion, National Socialism or homosexuality bothers me.

It also bothers me that we talk about the Muslim World. And the Muslim World talks about it, too. And the Christian Coalition. And Zionism. These things all disturb me. I feel very strongly that the spiritual benefits offered by faith are damaged when the leaders of faith fail to separate their church from the state, and vice versa. Even the Unitarian Universalists near me were all big Green Party supporters - and while I may agree with them, I don't like blurring those boundaries.

[Also. If you are a Charismatic Christian, I will likely not talk to you. That is the only branch of faith in which I have never found an intelligent, rational person who can discuss their beliefs without berating others who disagree.]

I've considered eastern (Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism) religions, but they never really resonated for me. I find the gods and metaphors of Hinduism and Sumerian religion interesting, and I like the social logic of Confucianism, but I think the association of eastern religions with old hippies in America pretty much spoiled them for me. It doesn't hurt that all of these religions are taught, even in college theology classes, as museum pieces, not as breathing faiths.

I have dabbled in paganism. The attitudes expressed by so many who follow pagan paths are so friendly and warm that they stand a fair chance of sucking me in. I'm fascinated by historical paganism (basically, anything other than Wicca) and the choices that a whole pantheon of gods can offer. I'm particularly fond of the Hellenic/Platonic/Jungian perspective on gods as archetypes for aspects of the self.

The key difference (for me) between Wicca and other approaches to paganism is that Wicca enforces certain stereotypes. The earth is feminine, soft and giving. Hunting is male and dominant. Wicca focuses on two gods, feminine and masculine (as do Kabbalism, Gnosticism, et al), and their characteristics are all of the stereotypical ideas of male and feminine - both the light and dark sides. I think Wicca reflects the time of its founding (mid-20th century) too much.

I see a lot of personal usefulness in the metaphors of religion, but I don't currently practice anything. As I said, it's that casual attitude. I may think of Demeter, but I don't pray to her as an entity apart from myself.

Has my feminism impacted my religious beliefs (or lack thereof, rather)? Not so much. I think it's interesting that I'll accept the label of feminist with an awareness of mistakes feminism has made, but I'm not as willing to tolerate mistakes from a religion. In many ways, my political convictions serve some of the functions of religion, too - they help me in making choices about my life at times, they create a social network of people who share my beliefs, they provide structure.

I don't, however, think that feminism and religion are in any way counter to each other. Or rather - they don't need to be. As I said, there is a tendency for the big three [I do realize they're not even the 3 most widely practiced religions, but that doesn't change their influence.] to through a little state in with your church, and that often leads to counter- or even anti-feminist messages. Ideally, though, church is both spiritual and social, and is perfectly capable of supporting equality.

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