Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Everything That Rises Must Converge

Besides our mutual adoration of Radiohead, the painted houses in Burano and marshmallow Peeps, Ken and I have something fundamental in common: both of our mothers were raised Catholic. But once they were adults and had children, our moms felt the doctrine of Catholicism was too rigid to pass on. And they both decided to let their kids follow unmitigated paths to spirituality.

My extended family includes the faiths of Catholicism, Judaism, Buddhism & Christianity. So growing up with multi-religious and multi-cultural influences proved wonderfully eye-opening. Because I respected and loved all of my family, it made perfect sense to me that multiple belief systems could co-exist and that all could be "right". But this exposure complicated matters of making my own choice.

I'll be the first to admit that finding your own belief system is a lonely road to traverse. I liken it to walking down a dark road in the desert at night with stars on all sides. There is a feeling of immenseness and smallness all at once. It is the never ending journey of asking why and having to answer the questions yourself. It's difficult and I can see why alot of people by the sheer weight of the questions would relent to a belief system with a safety net. Faith provides answers where there are gaps. And there are many gaps.

I certainly "tried on" organized religion when attending various church functions with friends in middle school & high school. At first, people at these events pounced on me when I mentioned I didn't have a religious affiliation. Believers (whom I now call "Churchies") can get downright scary when they want to convert you. So I eventually took to saying I was a Buddhist and they backed off.

I guess this is a bit glib, but I liken "organized" Christianity to clothes shopping. I found it always a bit short in the sleeves and too tight around the neck. It's not that the Churchies weren't well-meaning. I just didn't know why something supposedly so "right" was such a hard sell. This discouraged me and I abandoned trying to find enlightenment in a "pre-packaged" form once and for all.

As a result, my belief system pulls from the fundamentals of connectedness (read: "The Golden Rule") and realizing that doing harm to others or the environment is effectively doing harm to myself and all that I love. So the more positive contributions I can make, the better this world can be. But I have no interest in dogma and rhetoric that rolls out from interpretations of interpretations. And I certainly would never say there is only one true way. Because a reality structured with only one path to enlightenment would profoundly disappoint me. It's far too limiting.

So this past Easter Sunday, Ken and I were having lunch and reading an article in Newsweek called The God Debate. This insightful discussion pitted the faith-based certainty of a pastor against the incredulous clarity of an atheist. Rarely do you see such a bold and honest engagement in our tumultuous and polarizing times.

Of course, I can't help but comment on two ideas from the pastor that sparked some eye-rolls:

1. "Altruism comes out of knowing there is more then this life..." Rick Warren, pastor. So I read this as: Christian charity, selflessness, generosity and giving spring from the desire to get into heaven. There would not be any other reason to help people otherwise. I call this the "Ticket to Ride" aspect of faith and I've always detested it's use to threaten people to believe and act.

2. "I'm betting my life that Jesus is not a liar. When we die, if he's [Sam Harris, atheist] right, I've lost nothing. If I'm right, he's lost everything." Rick Warren, pastor. What bothers me the most about "Ticket to Ride" is that believing is like an insurance policy, as opposed to something that truly moves you and infuses your being with a conviction of what is right. I'm a big advocate for taking responsibility for one's actions and "owning" them. Statements like this reveal that organized religion is "worn" instead of "woven" into one's being. And that is not true spirituality, that is social & moral control.

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