On staying religious.

After 5 hours of studying anatomy, I need to take a break or I'm going to be worthless for my 4 hour class. Blah. The remedy, I hope, is more extrapolation on my last post which might represent the beginning of a new chapter for this blog.

Blogging for me seems terribly narcissistic, because I write almost exclusively about my own thoughts with the expectation that you'll read and comment (and, of course, recognize my brilliance). While it's true that a part of me knows that the process is helpful to some people who read this, it's true that I continue to blog, in large part, because I'm selfish, and readers'/friends' feedback always gives me a better perspective on things and helps to correct my mistakes and refine my rough arguments. It's a journal that's smart and gives me good feedback. In the case of my most recent post, I had many very gracious responses, but two in particular resonated and got me thinking in new (and I think fruitful) directions. One was a short comment from my friend Ryan on Facebook which said that my most recent post "doesnt come off as a critique of religion to me. You seem to be a religious enthusiast and critic without practicing anything in particular right now. Kind of like someone who played the violin but now just appreciates and knows about good music, with the possibility of picking up a violin (or some other instrument) in the future."

The second response is more in depth, and I'll get to it in a future post, but I think Ryan is pretty much exactly right. I feel like, for the second time in my life, I'm quitting a religion (Evangelical Christianity was the first, this time, liberal/emergent Christianity). In the first instance that involved changing beliefs but maintaining a similar set of practices. In the second instance, it involves maintaining my set of beliefs, but changing my set of practices. In both cases, aspects of my religiosity were replaced while the fact of my religious-ness has continued on unabated. My problem now is that I don't know what it means to be religious when you're someone like me - uncomfortable with the traditional organized religious options within the tradition that has shaped my beliefs and cultural sensibilities, and not really interested in diving into another tradition.

Ryan's right - I love organized religion at an academic and personal level, and I think 'being religious' in a lot of ways is the same thing as being a healthy, balanced human being. There's no other human construction that ties together culture, art, tradition, story, belief, morality, ritual, community, purpose, and even more in such an elegant way. Religion is the word for what ties all of those aspects of life together, actually, and I would say that without a religious sense life is disjointed.

And so, I wish there was a religion that fit. I want my life to be tied together and I want to maintain my religious sensibility.

A huge part of my issues are about belief (which I'll go into depth about on my next post). What I believe makes me uncomfortable in most religious contexts, for better or worse. But a huge part of it is about my diversity of experience. I don't know if any particular organized religion is capable of encompassing a diversity of ideas, experiences and practices. They all end up representing a particular culture, belief set, race, or whatever. The ones that try to embrace diversity can't, really, because 'embracing diversity' is itself a cultural value that alienates practitioners from other cultural streams.

Sidetrack: I think that's at least a part of why Western Culture has become 'a-religious' (notice me cleverly projecting my own experience onto the whole of Western Culture). With exposure to other religions and cultural streams, the majority of people respect the beauty of a diversity of expressions, and are ultimately compelled to avoid commitment to any one stream. The traditional religions are too specific and limited to hold many peoples' experience in a globalized world. And so, I think most people express their 'religiousness' and tie their world together in a way that doesn't look like traditional organized religion. Once one becomes a liberal Western thinker, it becomes almost painful to try to practice a traditional religion. (Which is also why the Conservative groups that have the most success guard practitioners against the ideas and experiences that lead one to become a liberal Western thinker).

In any case, the fact is that as far as I can tell there isn't anything identified as a religion that works for most people in the Western world. It could well be that structured religion isn't compatible with life as I know it.

And it could be that my attachment to 'being religious' will fade with time as have so many other things I've been enthusiastic about at various stages of life (legos, video games, racquetball, processed snack cakes...). It might not matter to me 10 years from now that I'm not a practitioner of an organized religion. Right now though I'm not quite ready to give up on the idea of myself as a religious person, even if I don't have a particular religious package that I want to pack my existence into. That doesn't mean I'm shopping for a church to join, but it does mean that I'm interested in the unique contribution that religiosity might still make in life when one rejects one set of structured religious practices. If nothing else I'll keep the blog alive to consider those kinds of things.


Unknown said…
Wow, that's brilliant!

I couldn't resist. :)

Seriously, I really appreciate your ability and willingness to articulate the challenges I wrestle with about religion.

There is something important about the community expression of faith, but it does seem like we have to choose between honest community expression and honest personal expression and no matter which choice is made, a certain dishonesty about the other is necessarily involved. The "right" answer must be something else entirely.

I watch your posts eagerly, hoping you find it so I can know what it is, too.

Peace be with you, Friend!