Religionship

WIN_20180128_14_58_10_Pro (2) Last month, relationships were a hot topic on Love over Religion.  I examined Humanism as it relates to Christianity and was provided some wonderful insights by my readers. (Thank you!) I also discussed the very peculiar relationship of Jesus and his followers which, per the Bible, is one of betrothment. We even drew some comparisons between religion and romance gone wrong.

With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, I thought it would be fitting to dive a bit deeper into this topic of relationships. As I planned today’s post, it dawned on me that there was a very prominent relationship I haven’t discussed at all on my blog. The realization hit me like a ton of bricks. Or maybe it was more like a pile of feathers. I’m not hurt anyway, in case you were concerned. But thank you, if you were. (I digress. And I blame the wine.) At any rate, it is my relationship with religion itself. Religion, which has spanned most of my life and changed the course of it, time and time again. My original love-hate relationship.

I have seen enough and experienced enough to shout from the hills that I reject faith in any religion. At the same time, I have spent my life on a relentless search for spiritual truth, living in temporary, even pleasant captivity of one religion or another. I have been drawn into its web of stunning art and architecture, the haunting melodies of classical choirs, or Contemporary Christian pop that oozes with superficially positive messages, oblivious to its own dark undertones.

I am more of a hippie than a scientist. Before I am an atheist, I am a die-hard dreamer. I am spiritually wired to the core. Some of my all-time favorite lyrics come from the song  “Dear Believer,” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros.

Paradise has its hunter. Call me wise, call me fool. I don’t mind chasing thunder, because reaching for heaven is what I’m on Earth to do.

When I take heaven out of its Biblically literal sense, (the kitschy Christians-only club, with more bling than Snoop Dogg) I can relate to these lyrics. I am here to reach for heaven, if heaven means experiencing radical love for others, myself, and the Earth we share, living to the fullest, and being at peace with the choices I have made. I suppose this could be considered some form of spirituality, constantly reaching towards a utopian vision that lies just beyond the current, tangible reality.

On the other hand, when taken as literal truths, the teachings of religion can make my skin crawl. I have read stories of women who allowed themselves to die, leaving a husband and children to grow up and grow old without them, because they were taught in church that it was a sin to opt for their own life over the life of a fetus. I have spoken to young people who subsist in a state of oppression, depression, and desperation due to the religious climate in their home, or in their nation. (In fact, I’ll be interviewing one of these young ladies on my blog, later this month.) When I overhear four-year-old children on the bus telling their friends they are going to die and be punished if they don’t believe in Jesus, in those moments, I do hate religion. I hate it and love those oppressed by it, with a passion and fervor that demands these weekly blog posts, no matter how exhausted I may find myself on a Friday night.

Then I remember visiting Buddhist temples while I was in college. I can still smell the earthy incense, taste the vegetarian banquet afterwards. I recall peering into windows of cathedrals, on every vacation I’ve ever taken, to catch sight of the dreamy spill of color from their stained-glass windows. And there are hopes yet unfilled, all which embrace and encompass religion, a journey to India to see the statues of Shiva, or the Leshan Giant Buddha of China, or St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin.

This is when I love religion, when it is myth as it should be. When it is a collection of stories as exhilarating as the Iliad and the Odyssey, as enigmatic as the pharaohs of Ancient Egypt, as entertaining as the racy soap operas of the Greek Gods. If I don’t allow it to speak to me on a personal level, if I engage only in the art, the music, the architecture, the shared human experience of awe and wonder, religion is boss–that mystical story of the Star of Bethlehem, the psychedelic ponderings in Ezekiel and Revelation, the poetry of the Book of Job, dark and seeping with mythical creatures and beautiful angst.

I am reading God, by Reza Aslan, and enjoying it immensely. I am going on a pilgrimage through time, to the very roots of our beliefs in spirituality and the afterlife. The book exposes the evolution of “God,” as we relate to the concept today. As I “travel” through each time period, I google images of the caves, the temples, the gods. I am able, thousands of years later, to partake in this sense of excitement, this longing for the unknown, the unattainable, the unexplainable. I can fully grasp why early humans were compelled to create astonishing feats of architecture, for no purpose other than to honor imaginary beings. And then, when I really try, I can even understand some of the senseless sacrifices made by humans still today, in the name of this mysterious thing called religion.

 

46 thoughts on “Religionship

  1. I envision this too: “constantly reaching towards a utopian vision that lies just beyond the current, tangible reality.” Which includes a beautiful, healthy, flourishing flora & fauna to bask in! I really want to read that book now. It sounds fascinating! Thanks for sharing 😊! 💕🌻~Anne

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    1. I’m still in the middle of it, and can’t wait to read more. I highly recommend it, and I assume each reader can find their own takeaways from what they read. I was surprised by a lot of what I read, so it’s not rudimentary in any way, but written in clear, engaging language that makes for a smooth, enjoyable read.

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    1. Yes. And I have a love-hate relationship with that, as well. It does bother me when I drive through impoverished towns with tiny, crumbling homes that always (magically, haha) have a snazzy, ritzy church in their center. But when I think of the ways money, power, and prestige have served to both create and preserve history, I have mixed feelings. I’m always sorry for the oppressed, but but also happy for the rich diversity in human history, the folklore, the traditions, and the glorious art commissioned by those entities. Spirituality and religion have a vast influence, the Michaelangelo’s Sistine Chapel celing to the colorful Day of the Dead skulls at Mexican street fairs. I can’t imagine the world without retrospective myth, though I can imagine it without active religion, as my classy T-shirt suggests. 😉

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      1. I visited the church at Natà, Panama. The oldest operating church in the americas. Surrounded by the slums of catholic influence, this church was built in 1522. They’ve had over 500 years of dominant influence and everything around it is a dump. That’s the best they can do? Lol. It not funny but it is.

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      2. Mass poverty vs ritzy church is not the most useful perspective, IMO. I don’t think a community would be less poor if it didn’t build a church. While I have never been religious, communities need, well, community, and the social, collective enterprise of building a church is a good thing. That this effort is co-opted by religions for oppressive purposes is, of course, bad, but I think even the people living in shanties around Notre Dame as it went up felt they were getting something of value for their meager contributions. Every good thing can be perverted, but people coming together on community projects is valuable in itself.

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      3. Religious entities are notorious for swooping in and taking advantage of impoverished areas. I don’t think the church goes up as a community effort. but it is ultimately paid for by the community. Churches are like chain restaurants, in that regard. A big old Starbucks doesn’t benefit the pocketbooks or the morale of a small community. It probably drove two or three locally owned coffee houses into financial ruin. It was built with “Starbucks funds,” but will continue to leech money from the community it was built in. Otherwise it would not have been constructed. Likewise a big, glamorous church probably just replaced two or three dying ones in a poor community. The funds of churchgoers are then directed into furthering the new church growth, improving the new church structures, etc. Lower-income populations often suffer from a lack of resources, especially when it comes to education. Historically, religious sects have grown by moving into poor areas and taking advantage of people who don’t have access to knowledge that might challenge the authority of the church. To your statement “I don’t think a community would be less poor if it didn’t build a church,” I can only say that the church’s income ultimately comes from the people it recruits into its fold. The glamour that you see inside and outside of the church is being paid for by the community. I would certainly disagree with your statement and add that they are proportionally poorer for every dollar that the church is richer. But I thank you for your comment and your perspective! 🙂

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      4. Ah, I was replying in the context of the art and music, etc. More cathedral than local Baptist ministry. Either are in a sense an extraction of wealth from a community, and both are part of a system of oppression, but the first does offer some beautiful architecture to the ages. I am no fan of Baptist culture, but I do note that in much of the US not being a member of any religious sect cuts one off from ‘community pretty effectively. There is not much in the way of secular, non-commercial space for community these days, a fact which I think goes a long way to explaining the attraction organized religion continues to have.

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      5. I absolutely agree. It is one of the things I wish I were in position to change, at least in some small way, right here in my town. The UU churches provide this, on some level. The Humanist Association does as well, but there’s nothing close to me. I long for a community of free thinkers, philosophers, and people who want to enact positive change in our community and the world, but without the necessary addition of religious doctrine. Thanks again for your comments!

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      6. It’s funny you say that, because I considered that and did some research on it. It is something I may do in the future. There is a monthly cost to start it up, and I’m not in an area where it will likely take off. Plus, I have so many commitments this year that I can’t justify heading up a meeting of any size. I do moderate a virtual (but local) scientific pantheist group, and we may plan some random meetups as time goes on. Thanks for the tip!

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  2. Hi Danica,

    During your tenure as a Christian, did you encounter the passage in the Bible (2 Timothy 3) where it speaks about people having a kind of godliness but denying its power? I know you don’t believe that nonsense anymore. But do you think there might be something to the idea of fake godliness? Who would those people be that referenced a powerless religion? What would that look like?

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    1. There are countless “threats” like this throughout the Bible, both OT and NT. Anyone with “knowledge” or anyone educated, anyone who questions, or tries different religions is viewed as a threat to authority. Ultimately it’s a political thing. I would not voluntarily choose to be part of a machine that denies me the ability to examine outside evidence and reach a knowledgable conclusion. If you continue on, 2Tim 10 -17, it becomes quite clear that this statement is a threat against engaging your reason, and a plea for blind faith. No, I don’t believe in the nonsense, but I also don’t read these threats and feel “scared” into thinking it just might be true. I’m sorry for those who do.

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      1. “Anyone with “knowledge” or anyone educated, anyone who questions, or tries different religions is viewed as a threat to authority.”

        Right. I’m asking what those ‘different religions’ would be. What does fake religion look like?

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      2. A theme I’m seeing more and more is Christians opposing religion but a desire to follow Jesus. In that respect it seems difficult. Who learns about Jesus without religion first? Then they fight their way out of the church and come to peace as a lone follower of Christ. That same enlightenment can happen having never set foot in a church or believing in gods

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      3. All religions are based in falsities, but it doesn’t mean they’re “fake.” They are all worldviews that people have held and based their actions on, causing them to have a concrete effect on society (like art, tradition, food choices, architectural design.) People throughout history have believed in various religions, just as you believe in yours, wholeheartedly and without question. It doesn’t mean that any religion is based on emperical truth. They are all myth. I can watch the Die Hard movies without believing that the events in them actually happened. I can read the story of Noah’s Ark and, if I engage my logic for even a second, I will realize that it is folklore or myth. Not a true event. We know that the stories in the Old Testament don’t line up with historical fact,. But people believed in them because they did not have the knowledge, at the time, to think otherwise. This became more threatening as access to knowledge increased. It became a mission of the early church to “warn believers” against exploring any information that might contradict with their faith. The Bible passage you provided is an excellent example of those threats.

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  3. “People throughout history have believed in various religions, just as you believe in yours, wholeheartedly and without question. It doesn’t mean that any religion is based on emperical truth. They are all myth.”

    You should be careful about saying all religion is myth.
    You should be equally careful about insisting on “empirical truth” to validate religious beliefs.
    We all hold certain beliefs that we don’t consider to be myth yet we can’t supply empirical proof for them.

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    1. Which religion is not myth? Here is the definition of myth, from the dictionary, for reference. Please tell me which religion doesn’t meet this definition: A traditional story, especially one concerning the early history of a people or explaining some natural or social phenomenon, and typically involving supernatural beings or events.

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      1. The whole world is kooky, myself as well. In kookiness, there is a certain joy. 🙂 We’ll inevitably have differing opinions on countless things, as all humans do. But when done respectfully, these differences are what make us rich and complex. I do thank you for your contributions to this conversation. Life would be boring if we all believed the same things.

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      2. But when done respectfully, these differences are what make us rich and complex. […] Life would be boring if we all believed the same things.

        Hahaha… “when done respectfully…” I do hope this style of exchange improves greatly, but there are those that refuse to budge and will go to the grave with their mythical traditions and want to take as many with them as possible. 😉 Life would indeed be extremely boring if we were all single-minded robots — “Danger Will Robinson! Danger!” 😁

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      3. Oh John … you’re in rare form as usual.

        Danica wrote: It doesn’t mean that any religion is based on emperical truth. They are all myth. Notice that last word? Maybe you should go back to bed and try again in a few hours.

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  4. Using that definition for religion then you are correct. Every religion is mythical.

    Obviously you don’t hold with this assertion, and this is the reason you became and are still a Christian.

    It would be reasonable to assert that criteria for belief – the evidence – would likely be similar or even the same for all those who convert to Christianity, or become Born-Again.

    As you seem to visit here regularly, and also on the blogs of other deconverts – it would be reasonable to state that you question the motivation of every person who deconverts.

    You must therefore, believe that the evidence which convinced you to convert was, if not empirical, was at least sound enough to dispel any doubts you may have had, and thus you fully committed to Christianity.

    What was that evidence that convinced you, JB?

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      1. One of the first chapters is dedicated to the caves, (not sure if the same ones, though. He talks about the Volp caves.) I found that chapter particularly intriguing as it dealt with God in a more natural form, all-encompassing, almost pantheistic. I have heard about the ending of the book but am not there yet. 🙂

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      2. There is a beauty in pantheism and gaianism. Altamira and Lascaux however point to animism, and it predated the anthropomorphic religions by many, many, many tens of thousands of years… and for a very good reason. Those apex predators (seemingly) moved without fear, and that was something our great grandfathers of antiquity (who were prey animals) must have lusted after. Immunity. Our grandfather’s had something however that the great beasts did not possess; an emerging imaginative mind capable of creative invention, and just as soon as they could, they used that big brain to steal the thing they craved: animal spirits, and through that, the ballsiness of bears and tigers and eagles. Those caves in southern France are dedicated to just.

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      3. Oh, yes! There was quite a bit about animism. I also found that fascinating, being more of a natural pantheistic take, a harmony with animals and earth. Could be I read too much into it, but it seemed to me like we kind of lost our way, and are slowly approaching a time when the god concept will again encompass animals, nature, Earth, the universe, etc.

        The point you just made applies throughout the book, how our concept of god has changed according to where we are at in our human history. I.e., before there were rulers, gods represented nature (the sun, the wind). As nations formed and the concept of human rule began, we added faces and traits to those gods that reflected our reality of the time. I don’t want to give away too many spoilers, but it’s an interesting look at the history of religion, without condemning or applauding it necessarily.

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      4. how our concept of god has changed according to where we are at in our human history

        Bingo. Since Kenneth Arnold’s famed 1947 spotting of “flying disks” over the Cascade Mountains, every new religion since has been a UFO religion, where wise aliens have replaced the supernatural (family head) gods of old. Every single one. Raëlism, the Cosmic Circle of Fellowship, Ground Crew Project, Armageddon Time Ark Base Operation, Planetary Activation Organisation, Ashtar Galactic Command, Chen Tao, Scientology, Star Light Fellowship, Unarius, Universe People, Guardian Activation International, and the Aetherius Society to name just a few… all reflect our time.

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    1. Thank you! And yes, I think you will enjoy his book. You have a broad knowledge base of the history of religion, so some of it may not be new material for you. However, I’m finding that the flow of the book to be very engaging, especially the way the god concept evolves according to major turning points in history. 🙂

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  5. I can relate to the allure of religious art that persists through time and space. My great-grandfather built a country church in rural Wisconsin that still holds services. It’s a pretty beautiful structure, with wooden statues that enthralled me. I’ve also been to cathedrals which are centuries old, and medieval chapels (when I lived in West Germany in my youth). All of those magnificent things are awe-inspiring, inspired themselves by ideals which commanded their creation.

    But bones can be buried, and blood can get washed away. They don’t get a monument. It’s probably just as well, because it would be equally as terrifying as the art is beautiful.

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