Thursday, May 14, 2015

My Relationship With Religion

When I was a child, my visualization of God was that of an old man with a long beard who resided in heaven.  He took on human emotions: He was generally kind and benevolent, but could become angry and punishing.  He pulled levers and turned knobs to control the weather.  He also looked down on mankind with a watchful eye to determine who would and would not make it through the pearly gates. 

By adolescence, my beliefs remained relatively unchanged, however my image of God matured and became more abstract.  He lost His human characteristics, no longer pulling levers and turning knobs, and became Spirit.  At the time, I had very little understanding of Spirit beyond what I was able to glean from church teachings: God as Spirit was all powerful, but mysterious.  Spirit, in fact, has been mysterious to me much of my adult life, as I have struggled to define and understand my concept of Divinity.  (The Catholic Church, and I assume most Protestant denominations, define Deity as the Holy Trinity, of which Spirit is one of Three Persons comprising one Being.  However, I did not learn this until much later in life.  Here, I am using Spirit to mean God.)   

I was raised in a North Dayton Jewish neighborhood and observed the rich traditions of the Jewish faith through my friendships.  I came to understand that Jews attend church services, weddings, funerals and the like, just as Protestants do.  More importantly, I came to realize that the Jewish faith served all of the same needs as my Christian religion, even absent a belief in the human manifestation of God.  Judaism helped me learn, even as a young boy, that no one religion is better or more right than any other.  Judaism also likely played a role in my decision to convert to Catholicism much later in life.  I admire the ritualistic practices of both religions and Catholic ritual played a significant role in my spiritual practices, especially during the nineties while living in Louisville.

College also played a role in the development of my beliefs.  As a curious sociology student, I learned about many cultures and cut through the superficial differences to discover that religion is present in virtually all societies and that the practices of each serve the same basic psychological and social human needs.  It was also in college that I came to appreciate the genesis of various religions and the passing of dogma down through the generations of believers.  Through my studies, I learned that religion is man-made, created to serve societal needs and desires.    

Catholics, of course, make the sign of the cross before and/or after prayer.  I remember studying the Trinity in my adult confirmation class years ago.  I thought then, and believe now, that it is great fodder for theological debate, but far too complex for my simple mind.  While I enjoy the idea of the Trinity and the practice of signing, I have never considered the doctrine to represent literal truth, meaning divinely inspired.  I do believe in the historical Jesus and in the historical accuracy of parts of the Gospels.  For example, I have read that most modern religious scholars consider the circumstances surrounding His baptism and crucifixion to be historical facts.  Much of the rest of the recorded life and ministry of Jesus is up for grabs, accepted or rejected based on faith.  This has never been a concern to me; I have never considered it important to accept religious teaching as being factually correct.

I am surrounded by vast numbers of people here in the South who believe the Bible represents absolute truth, the literal Word of God.  This literal interpretation can border on the insane, especially when it comes to educating our children.  There are many who favor teaching Creationism in lieu of actual science and who object to the teaching of critical thinking.  The controversy over critical thinking stumped me until I learned religious conservatives fear that the development of critical thinking skills in children will lead to a breakdown of parental authority.  Go figure.  These things, of course, represent only the dark side of religion.  I am well aware that the practice of religion has many virtues and is very important to a vast majority of folks here and almost everywhere. 

I do enjoy religious practice, probably for the same reasons as the religious faithful.  The difference, I think, is my ability to separate the spiritual from the dogmatic aspects of religion.  While I find the Catholic mass spiritually enlightening, Catholic doctrine dealing with such matters as birth control, abortion and homosexuality is abhorrent, and I believe, immoral.  Like other denominations, Catholicism is practiced more conservatively in the South than in the northern states.  In a former northern church my wife and I attended, there was much less emphasis given to negative Catholic values.  

I have a curiosity about the Unitarian Universalist Church (UU).  Unitarian Universalism is a liberal religion with little dogma.  The Church has no one doctrine of belief; instead, members share seven common ethical values.  The Church advocates for social justice and human rights, and welcomes everyone, including those who retain a strong connection with another tradition.  There are those who self-identify as Jew UU, Pagan UU, Buddhist UU and Humanist UU, among others.  Many of my Pagan friends in Florida attend the UU Church.  I have not as yet received this calling, but if this comes to pass, I will become a Pagan UU.    

Atheism is definitely not for me; my true nature is spiritual and it would be impossible for me to reject theistic belief.  Nonetheless, my association with polyamory has given me some insight into atheism.  Most polyamorists are either Pagans or atheists, with the latter representing the majority.  I have attended workshops and heard talks about skepticism and atheism.  I lack an in-depth understanding of these subjects, but agree with some of the objectives of the atheist movement.  Most especially, I would welcome a secular society free of religious-based politics.  It is my belief that religion needs to be completely divorced from politics.  For example, the Georgia legislature recently passed long overdue legislation legalizing the use of medical marijuana, providing the only available relief to children suffering from severe seizure disorders.  Regardless of the known efficacy of medical marijuana and the resultant humane treatment of children, a great deal of misguided opposition, much of it religious based, had to be overcome.  And, of course, the same could be said about marriage equality.

My connection with the Universe is at the core of my spirituality today.  I believe in a holistic view of the Universe, the Universe as Source and the energy connecting us to the Universe and to each other.  We are all energy and we all One.  I am most spiritual at the Pagan festivals I attend semi-annually in Florida, especially during sacred sexuality rituals.
  (Imagine how much better the world would be if mainstream religions enjoyed such a healthy relationship with sex?)  These beautiful rituals raise energy levels and send intentions out to a receptive Universe.  They are a time for love and peace, a time when people love people, a time for joyful reverence and a time for sexual pleasure.  It is my time, a time when I am one with the Universe, one with those I share the experience, and most importantly, one with myself.