Friday, April 01, 2005

I was going to simply delete this out of existence, but several good friends have encouraged me to keep it around.

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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 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?
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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. I have to say that I'm a lucky man to run with a crowd of such intensely thoughtful people.

7 comments:

Tiffany 1:36 PM, April 01, 2005  

A person’s moral compass does form whether their parents make them attend church, talk down religion, or are indifferent to it. Everyone has their own journey to what they believe. Just as you chose to leave the Southern Baptist Church, your son may choose to join a church at some point in his life. Being taught to think, to be tolerant if not appreciative of people differences and to be comfortable in their own skin - that can help develop a good moral compass.

Maggie 4:14 PM, April 01, 2005  

Thanks for not deleting this Hayden- it mirrored my own thinking on the subject and it's always good to know that there are decent, considerate, thinking folks out there who share your thoughts.

It always seemed to me that religion was just an excuse for folks to justify their morals- that and people can be awful lazy, so a ready-made set of morals (thought-free) can be enticing to lots of folks.

Greg T. 9:53 PM, April 02, 2005  

I've tried a Unitarian church, I've tried a Christian one, I've tried a Buddhist one. All of them suffered from aesthetic weakness and spiritual lethargy, and none provided the kind of inner peace I regularly get from reflection, meditation, conversation and creativity.

Organized religion is often little more than a crutch for people who enjoy being generally sociable.

I've never enjoyed being generally sociable -- just specifically so, within certain defined parameters -- and so church is not for me.

Miles 10:10 PM, April 02, 2005  

I'm just a passerby, but wanted to suggest your son will come to embody the morals you teach him, regardless of yours or his faith. I was raised atheist, but my parents have a very strong system of values, it's just not particular to any organized church, and I myself would come to be a Christian later in life. Good luck finding a place you belong, perhaps it does not have to be a religious community if you still have faith in your heart.

Hayden Childs 11:08 AM, April 04, 2005  

I just want to thank y'all for your thoughtful comments. This is obviously going to be something of a struggle over the coming years, but maybe the struggle is the point.

Joe 7:11 PM, April 11, 2005  

Excellent post, Hayden. It should definitely not be deleted.

I'll try to say more later, but as I'm in a bit of a rush I will simply make a suggestion for your reading list apropos of the post in general and specifically of your comment that "maybe the struggle is the point": The Myth of Sisyphus. The absurd, he says, is the confrontation of our unquenchable human desire for unity and order, for things to "make sense," and the irreducible chaos and messiness of the world. Making a leap of faith to believe in God (or Communism or the free market or any other Rosetta stone that will unlock the universe's mysteries), he argues, is giving in to that desire for order. Camus understands the appeal very well, but he vows to keep up his absurd fight -- that is, to try see the big picture in all its messiness without either despairing because of it or convincing himself that he can get rid of the messiness. In terms of morality I will use our great contemporary existentialist's (Mr. Minear) formulation of it: "If there is no great glorious end to all this, if nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do. Because that's all there is... I wanna help because - I don't think people should suffer, as they do. Because, if there is no bigger meaning, then the smallest act of kindness - is the greatest thing in the world."

Hayden Childs 11:32 AM, April 12, 2005  

It's been years since I read The Myth of Sisyphus, but I probably should do so again. The neopragmatic take on ethics is that our responsibility to future generations has trumped any need to fall back on religious reasons to live a good life. However, I want to compartmentalize the practical ethics of everyday life from my sense of metaphysical Other.

By the by, are you ever going to update that blog of yours?

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