Friday, April 01, 2005

I wrote this yesterday and was going to simply delete it out of existence, but several good friends have encouraged me to keep it around and even post it here. I'm a little embarrassed by it, but that didn't stop me from putting it on my personal blog, too.

I was thinking about my problem with religion this morning, mainly because I think I'd like to feel hope for the human race in a spiritual, personal way. I'd like to be able to say that I belong to some group of people who think like I do and have it mean something. But I don't know that it does. I feel that leaving the Southern Baptist Church was one of the most profound things I've done in my life short of being a father. However, I've retained a sharp moral compass that may be at odds with the positions of the church, but that I learned from the church and that guides me to be the man I am. If my son has no similar religious instruction, will he never learn to develop that compass?

But so much of the Christianity I've been exposed to is about negation of life. The Southern Baptists I'm most familiar with say no to science, no to a just welfare state, no to mercy, no to sexual desire, no to valuing healthy lives when those who live those lives are criminals or of different religions, no to allowing people the privacy to make difficult decisions about fetuses and mentally damaged love ones, and no to minds that question any of the above. This, surely, isn't what religion should mean to people. What sort of good God would have people prioritize their lives in such a way?

And these people -- I know I'm talking about strawpeople to some extent, but almost all of my cousins would tell you that they believe all of the above with all of their hearts, as well as the following --these people would tell you in a heartbeat that a) they are happy and b) they are 100% confident that their positions are right.

I should mention that I treasure my doubt. To my thinking, the ability to doubt and critique, by which I mean the ability to reason, is the most profound and important skill that human beings have developed since we became the only monkeys to have pleasurable, non-procreative sex. I think that the greatest, most profound people of faith in recent history, such as Reinhold Niebuhr, Martin Buber, Soren Kierkegaard, are those who have doubted their faith, and I believe that most theologians and even marginally self-aware men of God would concede that point to me. But so many Christian churches, even the ones where I think people agree with me politically, have this prevailing belief that God is the answer. What if God is the question? Is there a church for that? From my understanding of modern Judaism, questioning what Judaism means and what it means to be a Jew is an important aspect of being a rabbi, if not being a Jew. Is there a similar group for goys?

I also suffer from a somewhat paradoxical unwillingness to belong, a lack of fellowship, if you will. For instance, I find the local Unitarian church saccharine to the point of uncomfortability. I've felt the same in liberal Christian churches and in Westernized Buddhist temples. I want to feel kinship with my fellow man, but I'm terrified and a little nauseated by false connections. This may be overly psychological, but my time in the Southern Baptist church has left me convinced that those people are faking their happiness and couldn't give less of a shit if I feel welcome in their congregation. I'm not a person, I'm a warm tithing body.

So, I want religion with doubt, fellowship without fellowship rites, a great big yes to life and my personal ethics without sickening cheerleaderish fake emotion, and to tell you the truth, I like to sleep in on Sundays. Anyone have a clue?

My friends have been very encouraging, discussing options such as the Society of Friends or pointing out that they grew finely tuned moral compasses without the unwelcome touch of the church. Some have mentioned how certain churches have touched their lives and how they've found the best way to deal with complicated issues in religion is to be open and honest with their kids. Most, if not all, of those friends are fellow-posters here, so perhaps I should let people talk for themselves instead of paraphrasing.


Blogger Adam Lipscomb said...

Might I recommend the Do-Right Synagogue? My dad could hook you up with a membership.

All you gotta do is do right, he says.

Church is a verb.

April 01, 2005 3:10 PM  
Blogger JBJ said...

Austin ought to have a great alt-country house of worship. The Townes Van Zandt Universal Church of the Sacred Tequila Hangover, or something.

April 02, 2005 10:21 AM  
Blogger JBJ said...

Hey, man, I heard a sermon this morning on the Doubting Thomas story. The preacher pretty much gave the thumbs-up to doubt. So come be a Presbyterian, we're all the time doubtin' stuff.

She (the preacher) also reminded me of the fact that Presbyterians recite a creed every Sunday: this is what we believe:... Nobody beats you over the head with it, but it's there. One distinctive thing about the United Church of Christ (UCC) is that it is non-creedal; they don't expect you to pledge allegiance to their theology.

April 03, 2005 10:44 PM  

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