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Religion & Philosophy
By ana (Tue May 04, 2010 at 01:29:15 PM EST) (all tags)
Some of you did, anyway.

So I think maybe I'm ready to write the What Religion Means To Me essay. We interrupt your usual Tuesday morning blather to accommodate this singular event.

If you haven't already, I suggest you have a look at What in the fuck, exactly, do you do? for another side of me.

I was raised in the Presbyterian church. My folks are not very expressive about important things, so I picked up what I could of the basic ideas from Sunday School classes and sermons and confirmation class.

In the 8th grade, this new kid, call him Juan, transferred to my school. He lived near the boundary, and there was some kind of trouble, which to this day I don't know details of. Perhaps he was being harrassed or something. He fit into the crowd I hung out with, and quickly moved up (past me) to the top 3 spots in the chess club. He was in my math classes; he played violin in the orchestra (I played French Horn in the band, with rehearsals with the orchestra 2 days a week or something). He figures in my spiritual development, but later.

The summer after 10th grade, I spent 8 weeks at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, studying math in an NSF-sponsored summer program. We had a lot of fun and we made some fast friendships. One I've kept in touch with ever since. There were chess nerds, including 3 who were pretty good (my roommate from the late-1970s had met one friend from that summer through the Iowa state chess federation). And there was a kid from Arizona, who thought deeply about stuff. It was kind of like the college dorm bull sessions, only with younger kids and less developed opinions.

Oh, and there were Mormon missionaries, who had interesting things to say, or so I thought at the time. And the Old Testament of the New English Bible came out that summer, so I bought a copy in hardback and started reading through it. I made it part way through Isaiah (starting at the beginning) before the summer expired.

Sometime that fall, in one of those intensely lonely times that I think only high school kids experience, Something Happened. It was a religious experience, and it was really hard to talk about because it was unlike anything else I've ever experienced.

I started going to the youth group at a church which was like 4 blocks from the high school, with Juan. They had a place we could hang out after school, and more organized activities (with guitars and songs and stuff... woo, y'know? It was 1970 in Boulder... heady times) on Sunday nights. A bunch of us from that group did a road trip to hear an evangelical singer dude named Bob Parrish sing in Denver. When he came to the point, so to speak, he asked who in the audience was a Christian, and I found, much to my surprise, that I was standing up. So that's what that Experience was about... Anyway, they gave me some words to use to understand where I'd been, what had happened.

Much later, I read William James' book Varieties of Religious Experience, and I think it's safe to say that people with arguably similar experiences interpret them in very different ways.

Anyway. Through the rest of high school and college, Juan and I spent many hours talking about stuff, much of it religious. I spent much of my spare time in the stacks at the university library, reading through the BX section, which in the Library of Congress system is the history of Catholic theology. I read fairly widely in the early Fathers (2nd century letters, in the tradition of the letters of Paul), and asked the wedge question: who decided, and how, what documents exactly belonged in the New Testament?

And having asked that question, which doesn't have a clear historical answer other than The Church, which understood itself to be Catholic, both in the sense of Universal, and in more modern senses of the threefold ministry of Bishops, ordained in succession right down from the Apostles themselves, Priests, and Deacons, with sacraments (which eventually came to number seven) and the creeds, and all the historical arguments over various heresies and doctrines. That's certainly what the Church was by the time of Constantine when it was made legal (and, unfortunately, compulsory) in the early 300s, as evidenced by the Council of Nicea (which gave us the Nicene Creed).

Anyway. Here I found my tribe. My soul is a liturgical one, and having words to say that mean what I wish I meant when I say them is an important tool for me. I understand that not everybody is put together that way, and many Christians are put off by liturgy and ritual. To them I say, there are many houses of worship... find one that fits your soul.

Some study of the various reformations and other bits of Renaissance spirituality led me to Anglicanism; Juan was (then) an Episcopalian, and that seemed to fit me as well as anything. I've often worshiped in Roman Catholic churches, and occasionally in Orthodox ones.

But all that leaves aside another aspect of my faith, which I'll call mystical or even ecstatic. There's a certain overwhelming Awe, over being connected, in a very personal and loving way, with the Creator and Redeemer of the world. It's one of those wordless parts of my being.

There's a devotional practice that's fairly common in Roman Catholic circles, of visiting the Blessed Sacrament. After Mass in RC and most Episcopal churches (also Orthodox, I think), a portion of the Sacrament is reserved, and placed in a locked box on the altar or off to one side. It's used to take communion to shut-ins. There's a Sanctuary Light (a candle, usually in a red glass cover) to indicate the Presence. While in college, I got into the habit of doing that. There was an RC church a block or two from the Episcopal Chaplain's house (with chapel in the basement), and I'd often spend an extra hour or so just being there, in the Presence of God, before going up to Mass at Father Dan's house.

I've considered vocation to the priesthood from time to time; I think realistically I'm not enough of a people person to be comfortable doing that. But it's not about being comfortable, but about serving the truth, sharing it with people who want to hear. I've also considered monastic vocations, but that's harder, in the Anglican communion. Not impossible, but, somehow, not entirely "real" (and I don't know what I mean by that).

Anyway. For me, being a Christian is a lot like being in love with God. Until it happens to you, you don't really understand what it's about, and it's easy to dismiss the whole thing as nonsense. Which it is, in some ways; love really doesn't make much sense.

< Burn, baby, burn | Life is a tragedy for those who feel, and a comedy for those who think >
Well, you asked for it... | 14 comments (14 topical, 0 hidden)
Thanks. by ambrosen (4.00 / 1) #1 Tue May 04, 2010 at 01:42:28 PM EST
That said quite a lot of things I wanted to hear.

religious traditions by aphrael (4.00 / 2) #2 Tue May 04, 2010 at 02:45:41 PM EST
There are dueling tendencies in religious life, from what I can see: the mystic tendency, the love of God (and of life) which suffuses the soul and opens the door of the heart ot the beauty of the world, and the legalistic tendency, the tendency to believe that one's life must be constrained by rules laid down by God, and that those who are not so constrained should be (or are somehow lesser, immoral, because they are not).

As a child, I could see only the legalistic tendency; it is the most visible part of Christianity in our culture, to an outsider.

It's a tendency I have despised all of my life, a tradition which does not speak to me and which seems to me to be utterly evil: a sacrificing of the souls, both of the practicioner and of those around him, on the altar of rules; a desperate attempt to deny the holy in each of us, to restrict it and confine it and lock it into a form which can be regulated and understood.

It took an amazing amount of time for me to see the beauty which lurks at the heart of even the legalistic religious tradition.
If television is a babysitter, the internet is a drunk librarian who won't shut up.

For me, at least... by ana (2.00 / 0) #3 Tue May 04, 2010 at 03:03:38 PM EST
the wild, chaotic aspect is important. Though the two are not unrelated; note the Hasidim in Judaism are very orthodox, but also ecstatic about their observances.

"And this ... is a piece of Synergy." --Kellnerin

[ Parent ]
Read something on that the other day by Scrymarch (2.00 / 0) #13 Thu May 06, 2010 at 02:00:31 AM EST
In a book review:

Iyengar began her scholarly exploration of choice with an undergraduate research project. She suspected that religiously observant people who obey lots of behavioral restrictions would feel unable to control their own lives and thus pessimistic. To test this hypothesis, she interviewed more than 600 people from nine different religions, ranging from fundamentalists to liberals. She surveyed their religious beliefs and practices, asked questions to test optimism and had them fill out a mental health questionnaire. What she found surprised her.

“Members of more fundamentalist ­­faiths experienced greater hope, were more optimistic when faced with adversity and were less likely to be depressed than their counterparts,” she writes. “Indeed, the people most susceptible to pessimism and depression were the Unitarians, especially those who were atheists. The presence of so many rules didn’t debilitate people; instead, it seemed to empower them. Many of their choices were taken away, and yet they experienced a sense of control over their lives.”

In retrospect, the result seems obvious. Even many atheists would agree that believing that God cares about you or that your life is part of a cosmic plan can be a powerful source of hope (or, to put it pejoratively, a crutch). Meaning is as important as choice. Besides, Iyengar conducted her survey in the United States, where people are free to switch religions and often do. If keeping kosher or refraining from alcohol makes you feel constrained and helpless, you can abandon those strictures. The only people left in the restrictive groups are those who value the rules. In a modern, liberal society, religious observance does not “take away” choice. It is a choice.

Iambic Web Certified

[ Parent ]
there's an amazingly powerful feeling by aphrael (2.00 / 0) #14 Thu May 06, 2010 at 10:43:29 AM EST
which is generated by knowing that you have the power to control yourself.
If television is a babysitter, the internet is a drunk librarian who won't shut up.
[ Parent ]
Excellent. by wiredog (4.00 / 1) #4 Tue May 04, 2010 at 03:46:06 PM EST

Earth First!
(We can strip mine the rest later.)

the idea of succession by sasquatchan (2.00 / 0) #5 Tue May 04, 2010 at 03:46:52 PM EST
still intrigues me.. Still can't fit it into my beliefs as relevant.

Nor accurate/truthful, but that's a different story..

(Comment Deleted) by xth (4.00 / 1) #6 Tue May 04, 2010 at 07:05:59 PM EST

This comment has been deleted by xth

[ Parent ]
I liked the Cathars' take on that by gpig (2.00 / 0) #7 Tue May 04, 2010 at 10:50:43 PM EST
They believed in a blessing called the 'consolamentum', which could be passed from any believer to another. If this blessing was received by someone who was 'pure' they would break the cycle of reincarnation and ascend to heaven. (They believed that hell was actually the material world, that is, we are all already in it). They also believed that this blessing was passed down from Jesus via Mary Magdalene.

Unsurprisingly the Roman Catholic church hated the Cathars with a passion, and suppressed them brutally.
(,   ,') -- eep

[ Parent ]
(Comment Deleted) by xth (4.00 / 1) #8 Wed May 05, 2010 at 07:17:14 AM EST

This comment has been deleted by xth

[ Parent ]
Um by gpig (2.00 / 0) #10 Wed May 05, 2010 at 10:28:18 AM EST
Good thing I'm not a Protestant then -- nothing for you to take issue with :)
(,   ,') -- eep
[ Parent ]
(Comment Deleted) by xth (2.00 / 0) #11 Wed May 05, 2010 at 10:33:11 AM EST

This comment has been deleted by xth

[ Parent ]
.... although by gpig (4.00 / 1) #12 Wed May 05, 2010 at 10:33:56 AM EST
.... you have given me an idea.

I may have to make a t-shirt with the text "Remember Béziers!" (and possibly on the back "Cathar per totjorn").
(,   ,') -- eep

[ Parent ]
thank you. by clock (4.00 / 1) #9 Wed May 05, 2010 at 09:09:34 AM EST
well said.

I agree with clock entirely --Kellnerin

Well, you asked for it... | 14 comments (14 topical, 0 hidden)