Things Lost & Found: Part 1: Religion
One of the advantages of being in my early seventies and not senile or afflicted with anything that affects my brain, is that you can look back on all the years you spent and see what we have gained and what we have lost.
And somewhere in the middle of all that are the things that many of us have forgotten.
When I was younger I was a Catholic. I carried around an idea of Jesus, of God The Father and of the Holy Spirit. I saw the church as a place where you could go and be close to your god, and that closeness would be a comfort if you were upset.
I saw the confessionals as a big old washing machine for your soul, where the forgiveness of god would wash over you and clean your soul, so you could start the job of accumulating sins all over again.
I saw the ritual of the mass as a way to feel part of a larger group that I had things in common with. And it was a good thing. But in the Catholic Church, they have this thing called the Age Or Reason. This happens when you are 13 or 14 and you receive the sacrament of confirmation, as it was known.
The Age of Reason was aptly named, because it was around this time that I started to see through the whole idea of a church. This was stuff I kept mostly to myself because I didn’t have many friends who were thinking about the same things as I was. I knew this because when I brought it up with these people, I didn’t sense any real intellectual curiosity about it.
And so over the next year or so I drifted away. I graduated from the Catholic grade school I attended, and so there were no more nuns for teachers and priests who would show up for little talks. There was no more mass to attend. No more alter boy rituals to learn. No more confessions to cleanse my soul. No more prayers before bed.
For a long time this weighed heavy on my mind. Mainly because that Roman Catholic dogma and my mind were almost one and so it was quite difficult imagine myself as a true independent thinker.
In actuality it was my mother who helped me break away from the church and the grip it had on my mind. Because while I was growing further from the church, she was moving in the opposite direction. In retrospect, I believe she was radicalized and became a Catholic fundamentalist. And she was so fervent, over the years, about it that I actually became afraid to expose her to my children.
Where I ended up, because, through all of this, I never really lost my belief in God, was somewhere in between.
Over the years, and after studying philosophy in college, I realized that I was able to actually embrace the notion of an abstract god. And as I grew I came to see that everything this exists around and about us, that is not some man-made construct, is not only the work of God, but a part of God itself.
After I got comfortable with this belief system, I realized that preaching it in my writing was simply going to meet with a lot of resistance, either from those who formed their beliefs from religion, or for those who had no real belief at all. And I was OK with that.
But now I was on the outside looking in at religion and as an observer, I started to wonder about what made it so attractive to people, especially in North America, which is primarily Christian.
I identified a several reasons.
Faith. People have proven over the centuries that the need to have faith in something larger than one’s self is a good thing.
Fear. Because most religions are based on reward and punishment. Heaven and hell are big incentivizers.
Companionship. There is a substantial social side to religion, which the various churches all cultivate.
Comprehension. Religions tend to make the abstract more concrete and easier for people to get their heads around.
Goodness. Not so much these days, but more while I was growing up in the 50s and 60s people who were basically good tended to be more religious.
Guidance. Religion, apart from the spiritual dogma, provides a framework for good and evil, and this is very helpful in terms of getting people to understand those concepts.
The odd thing is that even with all of those reasons, all of that comfort, all of that companionship etc, the number of people who identify with religions has been in a steady decline over the last two decades.
This decline and movement away from organized religions may very well add strength to the non-religion or spiritualist movement, not unlike the vision of Henry David Thoreau, who wrote this:
“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings.”
This is not to say those who don’t subscribe to all of this all of this are a lower order of beings. But it’s interesting because even way back then, guys like Thoreau were asking a lot of questions like the ones I asked myself when I reached the Age of Reason, and decided that my belief in organized religion was something I had lost.
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1 year ago #5
#3 A lot of us have gone that route, Jerry. Maybe we should start a church LOL
Franci 🐝Eugenia Hoffman
1 year ago #4
Alan, I was also raised as a Christian Scientist. My experience was the same as yours to a T.
1 year ago #3
Jim, Yours is a road I have traveled.
I was reared in a house that was a religious marvel. My Mom was raised Catholic. She was excommunicated when she married my Dad, a Baptist. Mom's sister married a Jew. She, too, was excommunicated. So my folks decided that I would be allowed tochoose my own religion when I turned 15. So from the age of about 7 my attendance at religious services was rotated weekend by weekend from mass then the Baptist Church and then my Uncle's Temple.
I did choose when I hit 15. I became a Methodist. (that was where all the cool kids went) I still have a pin for 3 years of perfect attendance. But then I went away to college. The more my mind opened the less religious I became. And so it goes.
1 year ago #2
Thanks for the wonderful comment, Alan. I am totally at peace with my beliefs these days.
1 year ago #1
A very personal piece, Jim. Thanks for sharing.
Between your title and the copy I'm not sure whether what is lost is found again or lost irretrievably for you.
I was raised as a Christian Scientist, a religion of the Second Great Awakening, the nineteenth century Protestant revival, that produced some other new religions like the Shakers. Most people know Christian Science as a religion of faith healing, “Is it true you don't believe in doctors?” That is highlighted every now and then by a news story of an overly devout person who refuses medical treatment for themselves or a child, with tragic consequences. The healings, and there are healings, seldom make the news.
I no longer practice Christian Science, but its impact on my life includes a weird relationship with the medical profession. I am even more reticent to go to doctors than the average American male (and my one-time nuke med tech wife tells me that is saying something,) and when I finally get there, I expect miracles.
I have at times been quite cynical about religion. “I feel the same way about organized religion as I do about organized crime. When a crime is small, like stealing a loaf of bread, only intended to nourish an individual, I am ambivalent to it. But when you make a business out of it, mafia or global religious institution, something happens that leans dangerously toward evil.”
I do still believe in God, the power of positive intention, being kind, and caring for those less fortunate. Like Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson I am almost spiritual in my love of nature. I take great solace in the outdoors, a sunset or the rarer time I'm up for sunrise, views of oceans or mountains, the apple green of spring, red-orange-yellow of hardwood leaves in autumn, even the grey-whites and silvers of an icy blast of winter, (if I'm appropriately dressed). I have some envy for people of faith, for whom questioning has long passed, or never occurred to them. I also miss the community of a church, but not enough to give up an extra hour of Sunday sleep.
May we each and all find such peace.