Tuesday, January 7, 2014

My Doubt Started Thanks to the Greek Gods

I got some helpful feedback on my Facebook page about my questions in the last post, thank you all who responded.  I think the questions will stay questions that follow me as I journey on in my interactions with the world, and that it is OK to stay in the questions.  For now, I'll just meander on in the blog, and see what happens.  

One of the topics I was thinking of dedicating this blog to is my interest in faith and religion.  I'm not so keen on the word spirituality, mostly because I find it to be a nebulous term that doesn't work for me.  When it comes to world views, I don't like nebulous.  Really, though, most of us prefer the concrete, the binary, the non-gray, and I recognize the trap this kind of thinking ensnares us in no matter what subject we're investigating.  My discomfort with the idea spirituality must be my paradoxical need to hold on to outmoded ideas as I work through new ones. 

That disinterest in nebulousness is what kept me away from anything to do with religion or faith for a long time.  Even as I became more accepting of multiplicity and fluidity and the unknowable in many other areas of my life and my perception of the world, I still expected religion and faith to be clear, solid, binary, and totalizing.  I'm guessing that is a tall order even for G-d/a higher power/the laws of physics and nature/the petri dish we're swimming in to deliver.

However, I started to find myself cultivating relationships with people who were observers of religion, more specifically, Christianity, the religion I was born into.  I had long been a believer of that liberal conviction that anyone who was a dedicated Christian was an anti-queer, close-minded, right wing fundamentalist know-nothing.  I thought that any Christian who didn't claim that queers were against the bible and going to hell were just trying to obfuscate the 'facts' of Christianity because they were trying to change the rules to fit their own beliefs, instead of G-d's 'actual' rules.  I was nothing if not dogmatic when it came to my rejection of Christianity, a counter-move of mine to pretend I rejected Christianity before it had a chance of rejecting me.  My stuck out tongue to the big guy upstairs, if you will.

In most things, I seek out wisps and puffs of judgement and brew it up into my complete rejection from individuals and institutions and groups.  It has taken me until just recently to recognize that this is something I do, instead of something done to me.  It is a feeling like old skin, and so comfortable in its deflection of most forms of connectivity.  I must stress that this animating principle did not come from out of the abyss, but by focusing on the times I was rejected, and using my sensitivity to the signs of rejection to suss them out in situations either devoid of such rejection, or so insignificant to expend brain activity on, I missed out many of the moments of inclusion, of welcome, of recognition that we were the same tangled mess of DNA and neurons.

Being an individual with this predisposition, I forgot to look and see how almost all of what Christianity does say, particularly what Christ says, does welcome me.  But, did I want to be welcomed by Christianity, or any other religion?  For a long time, the answer was "No, not really."  By this time I was partnered with someone who had spirituality at the center of their life, and so I was content to be supportive without being connected to the religious traditions of my partner.  Since there were aspects of religion I had always liked, mostly that of art and music, as well as an admiration for those who were able to be selfless enough to embody a lot of the altruistic beliefs of religions both 'Western' and 'Eastern,' it wasn't that difficult to start to be inside religion without feeling part of it.

I've identified as an agnostic for a very long time, somewhere between 15-20 years I think.  This is how I identified over my life span: 0-12 Christian, 12-ish to early to mid twenties, atheist, since then, agnostic.  I continue to identify as an agnostic, and expect that not to change.  I think it is the most tenable position I can take as someone who strives to be open-minded.  Agnosticism is often portrayed as the laziest, cop-out-iest position one can take on the matter of faith; you either have it or you don't.  This belief annoys me, because it fails to recognize that I'm not trying to evade the question when I say "well, I don't know," I'm saying instead "the cosmos is such a wondrous, awesome, miraculous place, and nobody has enough knowledge to know with certainty how it all came together, so why not stay open to possibility, especially when there are so many competing ideas for the hows and whys of the universe."  It is a position that continues to ask, to study, to observe, and to contemplate, all activities that keep one mindful and engaged in 'the big question' of our existence and the world around us.

Very recently I've begun to see that being a part of religion and being an agnostic aren't positions that cancel each other out.  I'd long read of priests and other religious leaders who have discussed their own struggles with faith, but dismissed the idea that one could permanently be in a state of unknowing and still consider themselves completely a member of their faith.  I also was well aware that faith itself is a state often described as "a belief held while acknowledging that belief's lack of proof, but still holding that belief as true."  Isn't agnosticism then a variation of faith, a belief that there is no proof for, but a hope that there is some truth (or truths) out there that explains it all?  To quote Special Agent Scully questioningly quoting Special Agent Mulder, "I want to believe."  

Since July, I've been attending church regularly.  Not the denomination I grew up in, but one not too far removed.  This denomination is one of the two my partner follows (being a child of an interfaith household perhaps predispositions folks at an early age to be open to the 'yes, and' or 'yes, also'), and it allows me to have my cake and eat it too, in that it has a lot of the old timey ritual and history and art and music I like with the new timey progressive acceptance of queers and women and other religious practices I need.  It fascinates me that some of the older denominations established in the US are among the most progressive.  We shudder mock-dramatically about how repressive and strict and cold those Puritans were, but many of the churches they founded today have an entirely different bent.

I'm also attending because it is my history, after all, this Christian monotheistic faith, and while I don't think Christianity is better or more right than most other religious beliefs, it is like coming back to myself to attend a Christian church, to claim my right to be part of a faith that my ancestors believed.  I've heard Buddhism described as a practice, and not a religion, and I think I'm approaching Christianity in the same way right now.  There is much to learn, and I'm looking forward to that.

Thus, while there is more to add and probably more to come, this is a good stopping point for my religious musings.  I appreciate you coming along.  I worry my discussion of Christian denomination here is still setting up a binary of good Christian denominations/bad Christian denominations, and I apologize if that is so, as this is not my intent.  Oh, the title refers to the fact that learning there were earlier religions before my own that people now dismissed as myths allowed me to think about other ways of being for first time as it related to religion, and one of the first times I thought about alternate ways of being in general.


  1. I appreciate your musings. I am myself in a place with religion where I often feel wary of Christianity, and separate the world into "good Christians" and "bad Christians" and I'm not sure exactly how I feel about it all.

  2. Thank you for your reply, Amanda. It is really hard in the US not to fall into that kind of thinking, and I find it is incredibly difficult to let go of it completely, which is why I work at it still.

  3. I'm probably a religious nut by most people's standards. For what it's worth, this nut thinks you're on the right track. Religion *is* a practice. And if you find a practice that is beneficial to you, go with it. Faith is often the result of action, in my experience. I think there's room in the church for questioners and seekers.

  4. I am still figuring out the practice part, so that is very helpful advice, Princess Aletha. In general, I think in many things it is far better to be questioning and seeking than being sure about everything.