10/02/2006

My Omnibus Religion Post...

My Confirmation, 1986

I don’t usually do long posts, but this topic required one. As of late, I’ve been reading a lot of blog stuff regarding people’s religious beliefs. It’s always a fun topic. I decided it was time to write an all-encompassing summary of where I am in my spiritual journey and how I got here. You all will have to be the judges of whether you give a shit and whether I’ve got my head up my ass. Some of this may be repetitious, but I wanted everything neatly in one place, so bear with me.

The Early Years

I am of German/Scandinavian heritage, so naturally I was raised Lutheran, or to be more specific “Lutheran Church of America” or LCA, which eventually became the “Evangelical Lutheran Church of America” or ELCA. My mom was raised Lutheran and my dad was raised in the United Church of Christ. Both were actively involved in church life as youngsters.

Sunday mornings growing up, it was a given that we would be going to church (and picking up donuts on the way home). I went to Sunday School, sang in the Junior Choir, and was active in the different church youth groups. As I got older, I became more involved. I attended numerous leadership events and ran for various board positions. In high school, I was elected Vice President of the Lutheran Youth Organization for the entire Metropolitan Chicago Synod. For those unfamiliar, a synod is a governing body that makes decisions for churches within a defined geographic area. Each year around Christmas, my church would have “College Sunday”. All the college students that were home on break would be asked to help run the service - like read the lessons, usher, greet people, and provide music. Since I was recognized as the most involved young person at the time, I was asked to give the sermon. After I gave it, a number of the old “church ladies” came up to me and told me I should consider becoming a pastor. My regular readers are probably laughing their asses off right now at that prospect.

Here’s the thing. All the time growing up, deep down, I could never fully accept the things I was told to believe. My church involvement was based primarily on the fact that I didn’t want to disappoint my parents. The whole thing lacked logic to me. Don’t get me wrong, I made a lot of friends and generally liked the time I spent at church (except Sunday mornings), but ultimately I couldn’t buy into the whole “our god is right and the rest of ‘em ain’t” line of reasoning. By the time I was away at college, I had stopped attending.

Tough Things To Reconcile

Since that time, I have given a lot of thought to what it is that I believe. At this point, I guess I would consider myself agnostic, although I’d rather avoid labels. There are things that I believe that cannot be proven. My beliefs are based on a number of things: personal experiences, things I’ve read, gut instincts, etc. However, I’ll be the first to admit that I could be completely wrong. The truth is I don’t know. For instance, I think it is tough to explain complex feelings like love or fear as merely chemical reactions in the brain. I think there has to be more to it than that – something we may not be able to comprehend. I think there is a good chance that there is some sort of binding energy that governs the universe. I don’t believe in the notion of some gray-bearded old man up in heaven who has certain expectations of us or who needs to be worshipped. Again, I could be wrong. I do admit that I enjoy pondering these “big questions” and love to hear not just what other people believe, but why.

My problems with organized religion grew after college when I started to notice a lot of hypocrisy in terms of what was being preached and what was being practiced. Unlike other non-Christians, I actually have a rudimentary knowledge of what the bible says and what Jesus taught. If you look at the gospels, the closest thing in the bible to a contemporary account of the life of Jesus, there are a lot of radical things that are said. Things like loving your enemy more than your friends, giving away your wealth, turning the other cheek, not to mention the Beatitudes (blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth, etc.). If you think about it, if Jesus were to come back today, he’d be laughed at as some dirty hippy liberal with crazy ideas. At any rate, I became soured by the whole thing. For those of you reading this that are practicing Christians, I mean no offense. I have good friends and family members that are very religious and I respect their right to believe what they want. What I will not do is surrender my right to question their beliefs or even tease them (see website).

Where I’m At Now

Although I continually reassess my beliefs, I am very content with where I’m at right now. I have a personal set of “ethics” that works for me. In fact, as a philosopher, I think Jesus was pretty great. I like the idea of forgiveness and unconditional love. I just don’t think we need to make a choice and pick one savior or the other. I am the complete opposite of someone that is “born again”, and yet, I am not a total degenerate. I’m generally nice and care about creating a better world. I don’t think having religion is necessary in order to live a good life and I take offense when I hear people tell me it is. It implies a superiority – that I just don’t get it, that I’m missing something. How arrogant! The fact is, they can’t know for sure if they’re right either. At least I’m willing to admit it. I mean, how am I supposed to take seriously someone who, without knowing a thing about me, is sure I’m going to hell because of what I believe?

I also reject the idea that I believe what I do out of convenience. Some suggest that I just haven’t given it enough thought – that I’m lazy. Plus, it gets me out of having to wake up early on Sunday. Again, this is completely condescending. Am I any lazier than someone who believes a certain way because their parents told them to? I don’t think so. It was a difficult thing to finally admit to myself and my family that I couldn’t call myself a Christian anymore, but it was the only way to be true to what I felt. There is so much more I could say on this subject, but I can hear you yawning, that is if you even made it this far. My main point, if there is one, is that we shouldn’t take something that we can never know the answer to so seriously. When we do, we become extremists, and that can be hazardous in the long run.

35 comments:

lulu said...

Weird. My mom is Lutheran and my Dad is a UCC minister. I was raised UCC, but went to a Lutheran college (St. Olaf) so we have had pretty similar experiences, and my religious views are pretty similar to yours.

I would go to church, if there was a UCC chuch I liked around here, because I like the message and the music, and the UCC is one of the few religions that doesn't do that whole "Our God is right and the rest of 'em ain't" thing. However, Sunday is the only day I really get to sleep and I firmly believe that God is everywhere.

I do think, however, that if I had kids, I would probably want them to go to church, not only because I would want them to learn a set of values that I agreed with (for the most part) but also because, as an English teacher, I know the value of having a working knowledge of the Bible. And yes, obviously I would instill a sense of values in them myself, but there is something to be said for community.

Anonymous said...

I was raised Catholic, but even as a child I could never get into what I call the "guy in the sky" version of spirituality. I almost never feel religious in a church, and I feel the most religious when I am outdoors -- I think because I believe everything in the natural world has a spirit of sorts.

I also believe it's the same spirit in everything, so I guess I'm with Lu on god being everywhere, although I'm not sure that's what she meant and I don't want to put words in her mouth.

You've done a much better job of articulating your beliefs than I can of mine.

Also, I know you're the king of documentary film recommendations, but have you seen One the Movie(www.onethemovie.org/film.html)? It's WAY cool. . .I may even show it to my students this year when we study religion.

Oh, and I read the whole post without even a teensy bit of skimming. I liked it.

Phil said...

Confirmed Catholic here. Nonpracticing with many of the same thoughts, feelings and experiences regarding his faith.

We are about to Baptism my son Patrick. I try to invest in the rituals themselves. What's being used, the histories or origins if I have to spend time in church. Or I attempt to better understand how this stuff motivates and moves people. I think a working knowledge of religion is important to understanding others.

I also get into my family coming together for any reason.

I fit wasn't for that I'd scrap the whole church thing.

Church sidenote. There is one republican who still believes in the seperation of Church and State. My Dad recently walked out of my Grandmother's birthday mass (she passed afew months ago) when the priest being discussing Iraq. He's a Baptist anyway.

Frank Sirmarco said...

Chris:

You look like Draco Malfoy in that picture! What Wizard School did you go to?

dirty said...

Chris...I went to catholic school. My parents were always overly involved with the church. My kids go to church with my mother in law. It's not that I don't want them to go but some of the things they preach get to me on a personal level that is starting to spill over into politics (something I know nothing about and never really want to know anything about).

I feel religious beliefs are fully personal and it lets off a cult like feel if you actually alter the way you feel about something just to please "the man in the sky"...ya know?

Chris said...

Lulu-Interesting. My question for you is, do you think going to church is the only way to give your future kids that sense of community? Does the "Jesus factor" have to be a part of it. I wonder.
Megan-I'm with you on the outdoors thing. Personally, I think way too much is spent on religious facilities and goes against what Jesus taught. I will look into that movie - never heard of it.
Phil-I am opposed to the idea of baptism at an early age, so I better keep my mouth shut.
Frank-Don't I look thrilled to be there?
Dirty-I'm curious why you send your kids with your mother-in-law?

dirty said...

Chris...I was raised Roman catholic; my husband Byzintine (however you spell it). I stopped going to church after I moved out because it was too "organized" for me...I believe in some of the things the catholic faith puts out there but not in others (very personal to me things that could start a debate). Religion is a fight in my house...one is right...the other is wrong...one is weird...the other is not. He was raised one way and I another so you get used to that and you stick by it no matter how much you agree with. I just stay out of it. Partly I am too lazy to drag my ass to church every Sunday but then again, I don't believe you have to attend a mass every week to have beliefs (make sense?). It makes her happy to take them and I can't sit through that mass (it is very weird to me). The catholic church wouldn't let my children be baptized Roman catholic because their father is Byzintine...A whole web of rules and mess...well, now that I have posted in your comments...carry on.

Anonymous said...

No chance of offense here. I consider Baptism one of the more absurd rituals. You are tell me my newborn child aready has a sin on their soul? That hell or purugtory await them if they aren't baptsied? Come on.

vikkitikkitavi said...

I don't think emotions like love and fear are so tough to explain. Specialization is a wonderful thing. It enables survival.

Human physiology and the complexity of nature is more awesome than any religion could ever aspire to be.

Chris said...

Vikki-I am intrigued when you say that emotions aren't so tough to explain. Could you? I'd like to hear more. The complexity of human physiology and nature is awesome, I agree, but it's human consciousness and the disparaties from person to person that leads me to start considering the possible presence of something more than just atom A and atom B either repelling or merging.

Anonymous said...

Are we the only animals that feel these emotions? I doubt it.

Do these emotions help us survive as a species? Yes.

Are we the only animals that are self aware? I doubt it?

Are we the only animals with disparities between them? No.

lulu said...

I don't know where else you find a sense of community that is values-driven. I suppose you go do scouting or something, but that is single-sex and divided by age. Church is the only place I can think of where children are exposed to so many people, except school, and at school the majority of the influence is other kids.

I totally buy into that "it takes a village" idea about raising kids, and I think that one of the reasons we seem to have a lot more problems with kids now is that they don't think that they need to listen to adults. When I was a kid (God I sound old) and an adult, any adult, told me do do something, I listened, now kids are likely to say "You're not my mother" or something similar.

Plus, based on my experiences as a teacher, the kids who go to church and talk about youth group and nicer, better behaved kids. Obviously a total generalization, but I think there is some truth to it.

Anonymous said...

Chris, Do I get bonus points for recommending a movie you've never heard of? You should definitely check it out, especially if you can watch it in the comfort of your own home and not on the floor of some hippie holistic healing center. It's really a pretty amazing exploration of religious beliefs.

Lu, I think community is lacking all around. I never felt much of a sense of community in the church we went to as kids. . .we went to church and then went to Krispy Kreme for donuts and then went home and played baseball. I think there was more community at Krispy Kreme (plus REALLY good donuts) and on the baseball field than there was at church. But maybe that was just my church.

I don't think I'd take my kids to church. I might take them to a bunch of different churches to expose them to other ideas, but I can't imagine what church's values I'd feel comfortable transmitting to my kids part and parcel. Maybe a Unitarian church. . .I don't know.

And my experience as a teacher suggests that the serious church-going kids are the kids who don't think there's any need to consider anything beyond what they already believe. But I live in Baptist country and not Lutheran country.

Vikki, I think the complexity of nature and the underlying order of the cosmos is precisely what makes me feel religious. And precisely why I do my worshiping outside or vs. in a church.

lulu said...

Oh but I never said *serious* church going kids, did I? I'm talking the kids who go to church on Sunday and go to youth group because their parents want them to, and what the hell, the kids there are pretty cool.

Religious extremists of all kinds scare me.

If you actually did want to check out a church sometime, try a UCC one, they're the church that ran those "we accept everybody" ads a while back.

Anonymous said...

Did they have one implying "everyone" means gay people too? I remember talking about that with my gov't students.

And Chris, you do know What the Bleep, right?

Chris said...

Lulu- I love it when people get into discussions like this! Thanks! Like I said, my church experiences were positive for the most part. I do think it's sad that in order to find the "community" you talk about, you must subscribe to a certain set of beliefs or at least fake it like I did. When I was in church, any adult interaction I had was not unlike what I had in school - a teacher/student relationship. Another question- I take it from your comments that you currently don't go to church. How do your parents feel about that?

Megan- Thanks for your comments. You do get bonus points! I checked the website and the movie looks like it's right up my alley. Unfortunately, it's not available on Netflix. Yes, I have seen "What The Bleep". Another cool, trippy movie I like is "Waking Life". There is a lot of complex thought packed into a cool looking animated film. Done by Richard Linklater of "Dazed & Confused" fame.

lulu said...

I think the key is finding a church that has a set of beliefs you buy into, obviously if you are an atheist that won't work, but there are chuches that don't do that "our way is the only way" thing.

And yes, the UCC is the church that did the gay-friendly ads a few years ago. The UCC church in my neighborhood has a lot of gay marriage ceremonies. Not legal binding, obviously.

Frank Sirmarco said...

So what you're saying is that one, small, tiny atom in my fingernail could be one, small, tiny universe?

This is too much!

Can I buy some pot from you?

vikkitikkitavi said...

Chris, I'm sure you're familiar with Jared Diamond. You should read The Third Chimpanzee, which deals with human evolution and the role that emotions played in that process.

And I'm not trying to pick on Lulu, who clearly has her head screwed on right on this issue, but I just have to say that I really have to fight my anger when I read statements like "I don't know where else you find a sense of community that is values-driven," referring to church.

People who feel that way would do well, I think, to seriously and deeply examine why. Because I think that would tell them a lot about what their values are and what it is they really want for their children. And in the process of examining those ideas, they might feel that some of them have changed.

I'm not saying that church can't play a healthy and important part in a person's life. But to ascribe to any church the role of instilling "values" in your life or your children's is to miss a lot of what is going on all around you, and to run the risk of narrowing the experiences and viewpoints of yourself and your family.

lulu said...

V (your name is far too long to type out) Where then do you suggest that people find a community? I am certainly not suggesting that church stand in for parental guidence, I am saying that outside of church I don't think it is possible to find a group that has a common set of values, and that children need to have the values that their parents find important reenforced.

The key is picking the church wisely. I keep talking about the UCC, mostly because that is the church I grew up in, but also because as an adult I find that their social values mesh with my own.

vikkitikkitavi said...

Lulu, I can't know what your values are, and I'm sure it's a way complicated thing for you to explain in this forum, but you seem to be indicating that it's important to you that your children hear people talk about religion in a way that reinforces how you define a Christian universe. That's fine, but if you examine what is being said in the Bible that you agree with; what it is about Christianity as a belief system that makes it the right choice for you, then wouldn't it be a great thing for you, and for your children, to see and participate in those values in action, and not just being talked about? If you're all about Jesus and if-a-man-asks-for-your-coat-give-him-your-cloak-as-well, then wouldn't it be a fine thing for you all to spend that Sunday morning, or any time at all, helping those that need your coat?

I'm not trying to shame you by suggesting that your life is inadequately unselfless, I'm just saying that values in action beats values talked about from a pulpit any day.

One of the big reasons that children begin to ignore the teachings of their parents, I feel, is that they get the idea that those teachings are hollow. And all too often, those children are dead right.

Lulu, you sound like a good person, and someone who is determined to do the right thing. I'm sure you'll figure out the way that is right for you.

Big Orange said...

I especially like the way you subtly urge us all to support empty paras! Love it!

meanwhile, I've done my 12 God Talk Wednesdays and hereby pass the baton over to you to start YOUR weekly bloggin' on all things Goddish. meanwhile, I've gotta reread this when I've got mo' time and NOT gotta headache: I KNOW I'm missing a lot in there.

RandyLuvsPaiste said...

Chris- (and Lulu)
My experiences growing up in rural Pennsyltuckey were remarkabley similar, and with a very similar outcome, but I proudly label myself an athiest. I love how freaked out people get. They can't handle it. They also think it means they can be rude about my spiritual beliefs.

lulu said...

V-I don't really believe in a "Christian Universe" and I don't think I ever said anything that would imply that I did.

As far as walking the walk instead of just talking the talk, one of the reasons I like the church that I was raised in, the UCC, is because it is very politically and socially active. Not only is it inclusive as I mentioned earlier, but the denomiation as a whole has a long history of social justice, starting with the Abolitionist movement and ranging from organizing many of the voter registrations in the South during the civil rights movement, to sponsoring Laotion refuges in the 1980s to being actively anti-war right now.

You are not trying to shame me by saying that my life is inadequately unselfless? I teach high school in a low-income urban school, the majority of my time is spend advocating for my students. I know all about values in action.

What I find funny is that you read the word "church" and the word "values" together and you automatically make assumptions about me.

lulu said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Chris said...

I wasn't sure if I should, but since this is my blog and I feel like I should at least pretend that I'm moderating discussions here, I want to thank people for their thoughtful comments. The problem I find with communicating this way is that things can get "lost in translation" when thoughts aren't delivered in person. You often miss things like nuance, sarcasm, and probing questions can be mistaken for personal affronts (not saying that any of that took place here). Vikki and Lulu, you are two bloggers I have come to admire and, based on what I've read, you share similar outlooks on many things. For me, the thing that is important to remember when it comes to things like religion/spirituality is that, ultimately, none of us knows anything for certain. By the way, Lulu, as a Chicagoan I am going to make a personal pitch for my friend's Italian restaurant on Superior and Orleans. If you are ever in the mood for a new place, give it a try. Mention "Monkey Balls" to either Guido or GianCarlo and you'll be treated like a queen.

lulu said...

What's the name of the restaurant?

Chris said...

Oops! Club Lago. SE corner.

lulu said...

cool. I have a friend coming in from MPLS and we are looking for someplace interesting to go for dinner.

Chris said...

It's not fancy by any means, but the food is good and it is old-school Italian. Plus, the owners can't stand Dubya. If you go, look closely to see one of my carved fish.

vikkitikkitavi said...

Lulu: UCC stands for United Church of Christ, does it not? So forgive me for thinking that your belief system is a Christian one. Clearly you take extreme offense at the term "Christian universe," where no offense was meant. We all define the universe through our belief systems, yes? So I really don't understand what is so upsetting.

And as for the rest of what I said, you asked me, pointedly, what I would suggest you do, and then when I suggest something, you go off on me for making assumptions about you, even though I thought I was pretty clear about not knowing enough about your values to propose anything other than a hypothetical. I also meant, sincerely, that I was not suggesting anything about the level of selflessness in your life, and yet you choose to defend yourself against a charge I did not make.

I make it a rule never to argue with people who are so defensive that they cannot listen clearly. I'm sorry that I've angered you. I never meant to do that. But I'm done.

lulu said...

V- I don't think I am particularly defensive, and I am certainly not angry. I find this an interesting conversation, however, if you don't want to be having it, that is fine with me.

To your comments--Of course we define the universe through our belief systems, however to me the term "Christian Universe" implies that I view the universe as inherently Christian, which I don't . I was raised in the Christian tradition, tht doesn't mean that I view it as being the only right one.

As for me going off on you, I felt that you were going off on me when you made the comment about not suggesting that my life was inadequately unselfless because it sounded sarcastic to me; perhaps as Chris said, it is hard to have a conversation like this without the immediacy of face to face conversation. In any case, I am sorry that we seem to have misudnerstood each other.


lauren

Anonymous said...

A refreshing post, Chris. I've never blogged, but I've been thinking of starting one just to express my views on religion, knowledge, truth, and related subjects. I hope you dont mind if I add in length to your blog. I've some similar views and some that are contrary, but I find an open mind very refreshing, I feel it's the heart and soul of wisdom.

We are taught many things as we grow from childhood. Yet much of our learning is from the silent examples around us ~ between the lines of what we are specifically taught is the lesson that once taught something we then "know" something. Yet we don't learn to define the concept of knowledge itself. Does real knowledge include a sense of certainty? I believe that it does in the ultimate sense. And is certainty something we can measure by degrees, or is it an all-or-nothing type of thing, like being pregnant? For me it is all or nothing: a proposition is either true in the fullest possible sense, beyond arguability, or it contains some potential falsehood, and therefore isn't knowledge but a belief. Knowledge is immutable - what we can "know" should never be changeable, or we didn't really know it.

I've become aware of the degrees of certainty we tend to utilize to express our beliefs, or perhaps more accurately the strength of passion we feel regarding our beliefs. I think we have a strong sense of cetainty regarding only two things: each of us "KNOWS" what we think and feel. If I'm feeling happy, sad, angry, etc, if someone proposes the idea that I am mistaken, that I am really feeling something else, most would agree that this is simply not worthy of a response. Likewise with my thoughts and opinions: If someone suggests that I think differently about something than I express, well, who knows me better than me? Only an omniscient God, if there is such a thing.

For me this defines the maximum degree of possible certainty of any knowledge, or at least the best I can attain. The only things we can truely "know" in this sense are those which are ultimately true, beyond not just a reasonable doubt, but ANY doubt - beyond the ability to argue. Everything else in my head/mind/heart/soul(?) is simply part of a set of beliefs.

Many Christians claim to 'know" there is a God, that they are going to heaven, etc.
Where in the Bible does God tell us to "know" anything in this certain sense? Doesn't the Bible teach instead to have faith, to believe? Having true knowledge, or even claiming to know something, denies and cancels any possibilty of faith and belief; they become redundant and pointless.

Lefty

Anonymous said...

From Lefty, Pt 2
I count myself a Christian, though in humor my small circle of friends call ourselves part of the Christian Left... As opposed to the typical "Christian Right" behavior that is so condemning of other views, so politically focused, so... self-RIGHT-ous! Whatever we call ourselves (I think all open minds hate labels), my circle of friends see all kinds of hypocracy in the status quo beliefs and behavior of most of organised Christianity. Many Christians have expressed they are worried about my soul when I say I'm not sure there's a God or that I'm going to Heaven; so I point out that the Bible says we should fret about nothing and trust God, and I point out that they are trying to get me to accept beliefs that they themselves dont truely believe. If they dont have faith in their religion, why are they preaching it to me?

I've had to "unlearned" so much in my time! Anyone who doesn't grasp the uncertainty built into the fabric of reality should study quantum physics, the science of the very small.The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, quantum sliperiness, and unpredictable, truely random events- this is what our organised, beautiful world is made of. Nothing we percieve is real, it's just a perception relative to our size. if it were possible to shrink oneself down to the size of an electron, we would be forced to realize that everything we thought we knew was real wasn't, in any certain sense.

Knowing almost nothing with a sense of certainty is scary at first. But it directs us to realize that mankind has managed to survive, both in mass and as individuals, in the face of such uncertainty, for tens of thousands of years. While our ancestors certainly believed they knew things, did they really? And did false beliefs provide anything good, beyond the false sense of comfort against the unknown? And how much have our false beliefs held us back throughout evolution and history?
If there is a God in the all powerful sense, he designing us with the option to do what is not in our best interest, giving us the oportunity to learn about our choices and grow beyond our created selves. The idea of this God becoming one us, then accepting the consequences for HIS aforementioned choice by dying to fulfill the natural consequence of our poor choices - I find this to be the greatest definition of unconditional love I can imagine or grasp.
We can let go of our false security-blanket of "knowledge" only by accepting that we have the right to go after whatever we want - to be assertive - without reason or knowledge, but just because it "feels right". We've been trained to care too much what others think; to believe we need to behave in a manor that aligns with other peoples reasoning. Horse-doodoo! we only need to care a little: just enough to keep those we want around us happy to be around us! The rest can can be unhappy with me all they like, lol.

I prefer to believe in a personal and self-aware type of Creator. If we stop questioning His Wisdom and Glory, perhaps we'll realize the world really is a perfect place - I say this because I accept that it wasnt meant to be perfect the way we tend to imagine it should be.

BTW, I suspect Jesus WAS viewed as the equivalent of a dirty hippie
liberal with crazy ideas.
May whatever you believe work well for you!
Lefty

Anonymous said...

PS
Just realizing the potential truth of my last comment- I beleive Jesus tore at the heart of the status quo religion of His day- and they killed him for it.

L