An experiment in shame

When people praise me for my bravery in sharing so much about myself, I think it means they would be embarrassed to do the same. Ironically, I’m more like them than they know because I too withhold things that would embarrass me. And what sorts of things embarrass me? The ones I haven’t forgiven myself for. I’m going to experiment with sharing some of these things in the area of religion. I’ve chosen religion because I’ve long been bothered by the fact that I write about it a great deal, yet I’ve purposefully withheld some things that are important for a proper understanding of my journey. Such withholding constitutes lying, and I’m here to correct my error.

I’ve belonged to four churches. I was baptized into Central Church of Christ when I was twelve, which is about the customary age. What you do when you want to join the Church of Christ is to walk to the front when the invitational is sung and tell the preacher what you want. He then asks you in front of everyone if you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior; you say yes; and he baptizes you right then and there for fear you might go to hell if the ceremony is delayed and you die in the interim. The country church at which my best friend, Grady, and I spontaneously walked to the front one night during a revival didn’t have a baptistery, so we were taken to one in town.

My second church was The Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, which I started attending when I was eighteen. The Church of Christ was as plain as concrete, both in its looks and in the way the service was conducted. By contrast, the Episcopal Church was a veritable heaven of beauty and ritual. They still used the formal 1927 liturgy, and then there were all the decorative accouterments (the photo is of Redeemer Church the night Peggy and I were married in 1971).

I also adored the priest, Father Hale, although I didn’t realize how much I adored him until years later when I got a better handle on how rare good men are. He was so clumsy at conducting the ritual that I think he must have had a learning disability, but this failing seemed like nothing compared to his gentle, loving, unpretentious nature. He listened to me more intently than any man I had ever known.

When Father Hale moved away, the fact that I had no faith settled back upon me like an icy fog. It wasn’t long before I started attending American Atheist meetings 100 miles away in New Orleans, and I eventually became a non-resident editor for American Atheist Magazine. I knew several inspirational people in that organization, most notably Madalyn Murray O’Hair who was the most imposing person I’ve ever met. If she had possessed physical strength and ferocity to equal her mental strength and ferocity, she would have scared people off the sidewalk. She asked me to call her Grandma because she liked my writing. This was in the early or mid-eighties.

My next adventure in faith—or the lack thereof—started in 1988 at the First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis (you would be corrected if you called it a church). Its minister, Khoren Arisian, and most its large membership were atheistic, and I took to it like a duck to water. This was during my group marriage phase, so Vicki and I joined together in 1989 simply by walking into the business office one day and signing the registry. Peggy never had any interest in religion, atheism, or anything in-between, so she stayed home. If she and I hadn’t moved to Oregon when things with Vicki fell apart in 1990, who knows but what I would still be a Unitarian.

St. Jude’s Roman Catholic. This is the one that I most hate to tell you about. First, some background. Peggy and I went through years of hard times in the ‘90s, much of it due to me being in a state of deep anguish for reasons that I won’t go into. In my desperation, I attended an Episcopal Church for a few months, but I thought it seemed more like a social club than a place of worship. I then took a class called A Course in Miracles at a Unity Church (not to be confused with Unitarian). This was way out in woo-woo land, but I grabbed onto it like a life preserver for about six weeks, after which I realized that there was no way I could ever really force monistic idealism down my throat.

Then, I started thinking about all those Medieval Catholic statues, crucifixes, triptychs, and so forth at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. I had been blown away by their antiquity, their beauty, the talent that went into them, and the deep reverence I felt in their presence; I grieved that they were now 2,000 miles away. And so it was that I came to long for the art, tradition, architecture, and liturgy of Catholicism, this despite the fact that I despise almost everything else about the church. I soon signed up for confirmation classes at St. Mary’s, the oldest and largest Catholic Church in town. Doing this was an instance of magical thinking (more accurately, magical hoping) on my part, my hope being that the very act of becoming a Catholic would cause me to feel deeply connected to many things, for instance, the sense of oneness of which the mystics write, and to the ancient carvers and painters who created all that wonderful art. I believed that such a connection would heal me of my anguish.

Unfortunately, St. Mary’s was a conservative parish, and the priest who interviewed me quickly concluded that I was a poor candidate for Catholicism. No problem, I just drove across town to St. Jude’s, the most liberal Catholic church in the area, and the priest there was fine with me joining. I’ve since wondered if I might have been a tad less forthcoming with him than I was with the priest at St. Mary’s, but that was too long ago for me to even remember what we talked about. The class lasted for several months and climaxed in a confirmation ceremony. At the class’s outset, everyone was assigned a sponsor to meet with him or her once or twice a week until confirmation, and then to vouch for his or her worthiness to join at the start of the confirmation ceremony.

My sponsor was a man named Gary who had devoted years to the study of church history and theology. As did the priest at St. Mary’s, Gary quickly concluded that I wasn’t fit to be a Catholic, but he said he would continue as my sponsor if I was hell-bent on joining. Then, he looked me dead in the eye and warned that I would never be forgiven if I should join another church after converting to Catholicism. Because he didn’t respect me, Gary gave as little of himself to our relationship as he could without violating his conscience, and this discouraged me from volunteering information or even asking very many questions. As for the class itself, I enjoyed that very much.

I was horribly sick with a cold the night of Holy Saturday, 1999, when the class was to be confirmed, but the priest strongly encouraged me to attend, so I did, only to discover that a Catholic with a cold feels just as crummy as a non-Catholic with a cold. Aside from feeling a little disappointed (though not surprised) about that, I was so touched by the ceremony that I shed tears. This embarrassment occurred when the time came to baptize those who had never been baptized (my Church of Christ baptism was considered sufficient). One of the baptismal candidates was a fourteen-year-old girl whom I had known through the class. As she stood there in her new shoes and lovely white dress, I felt that I was looking upon the very essence of sweetness and innocence, and I wanted more than anything to protect it and was sick to the heart that I could not. I determinedly held myself together until the priest poured the Holy Water over her head, and then my tears flowed. After my confirmation, I attended mass no more than five times before I took my little crucifix off the wall and packed it away with my rosary. The first priest and Gary had been right.

Since then

I’ve gone to Sunday school from time to time at liberal churches, not because I had any thought of joining, but because I lack a permanent community in my life and because I enjoy studying at least parts of the Bible. Church is also the only place where anyone ever seems to discuss morality, and, aside from fraternities, it’s the only place a person can participate in a communal ritual. I might still attend an occasional Sunday School session if living with pain didn’t tire me so.

I remember desperately trying to sleep—in a recliner—on a particular night after the second of my three shoulder surgeries. I had been in significant pain for several years by then, and I had ice packs on both shoulders, a heating pad on my chest (to keep the ice packs from freezing me), and was loopy on narcotics. As I sat there, hour after weary hour, despondent and hurting too much to sleep (at least without taking so many drugs that I would have feared for my life), I began to wonder if it just might possibly make me feel even a little bit better to pray. I got to wondering this because I was becoming focused on suicide, and on that particular night, I had the urge to get out of my recliner and run head-long into the stone fireplace mantle. In my desperation, I finally started to pray, but I didn’t get far because I immediately felt completely asinine for betraying my intellectual and moral integrity yet again in a desperate attempt to attract the notice of a deity that I didn’t believe in and would have hated if I did.

Perhaps you’re wondering why, instead of joining churches, didn’t I join some other kind of religious group. Well, there was that Unitarian Society, but it’s true that I’ve put a lot of energy into Christianity. This was largely because it was almost certainly my forbearers’ faith (my white forbearers anyway—I’m ¼ Native American) for well over a thousand years, and some of them were even clergymen. I wanted to tap into feeling that I was a part of that history and community because I often feel crushed by the thought that I am but a dot in time and space, a dot that is completely cut off from every other dot, all of which are themselves cut off from one another. Sure, I checked out Baha’ism, Buddhism, Wiccanism, New Age Sufism, and lots more isms, but all I felt a familial connection to was Christianity and Native American spirituality, and I never could find much about the latter that interested me.

During those hard times of the ‘90s, I think I mostly wanted to believe that there exist these wonderful places where everyone really is loved and really is welcome. I knew that was hopelessly na├»ve, and I doubted that such an institution would welcome atheists if it did exist. But then what about John Spong, the atheist who became an Episcopal bishop? From the time I joined the Episcopal Church in the ‘70s, I had been astounded by its diversity of belief, and this was why, in the ‘90s, I considered returning. I thought it would be fairly easy to find a spot where I could sit comfortably under the Episcopal umbrella much as Jonah did under his vine.

However, there is one way in which I differ dramatically from every Christian in the world—even the atheistic ones—and it is that Christians respect the person and message of Jesus (not that they agree about who he was or what he meant to communicate), whereas I view Jesus as delusional, bigoted, hypocritical, conceited, contradictory, judgmental, bad-tempered, nasty to his family, a purveyor of bad ideas, quite possibly fictional, and so on. This means that I wouldn’t be fully accepted—or fully accepting, for that matter—in a church presided over by the most non-dogmatic atheistic Christian in the world. The Bible is simply too divisive even among those who don’t take it literally. In my relationship with religion, I spent a lot of time determinedly trying to ride a horse that was clearly dead. My attempts to be a Christian after any fashion were doomed by my twelfth year to be disheartening and self-destructive. I sought comfort at the cost of integrity and didn’t get it anyway.

You trash him now, but what would you do if God suddenly started talking to you from your monitor?

If he didn’t resort to the cheap trick he played on Job (scaring him half out of his wits) I would say, “Hello, God.” Then, I would ask which God he was unless, of course, he had his name on his shirt above the little alligator. If he said, “I am Jehovah, the God of the Bible,” I would say: [After much thought, I’m going to delete what I wrote here because leaving it would offend people for no good reason that I can see.] Afterwards, I would stop smoking pot and consult a psychiatrist.


So, how did my experiment with sharing something shameful go? Writing helped me to better understand why I behaved as I did, and, although I still consider it regrettable, I’m less ashamed of it. I doubt that there are many who, if under sufficient stress, wouldn’t violate their integrity, but it’s not useful to hold onto mortification, and it’s probably not even justified. In my case, a scary religion got me early and held me tight, so given the kind of person I am, it’s unreasonable to expect that my escape would be a straight path. I think it might even represent the biggest battle of my life.

44 comments:

Elisabeth said...

Reading this, Snow, I'm not sure whether your shame is about the sheer number of religions to which you once adhered or whether it's to do with the speed with which you gave them up, like a fickle lover. Or is it more to do with infidelity to yourself, to your integrity, as you say?

My father, as far as I know, belonged to five different religions. He, too, converted to Catholicism as an adult but again, as far as I know, it was essentially in order to marry my mother, a devout Catholic.

Needless to say, I was brought up a Catholic but I dropped it as an eighteen year old and have not looked back since. However, there was one day in my late thirties, when faced with the most profound of disappointments, I went into the back of Our Lady of Victories near where I live and longed to feel the same sense of comfort I once felt as a small child in the body of a Catholic church, but I could not feel it.

Thanks for a profound and thoughtful post, Snow. I hope you've finally now shed your shame.

kj said...

i don't get the shame part, snow. you sought and you tried and you concluded. i see that as an open mind and a seeker of something or nothing or either or both.

i've studied a course in miracles and i was brought up catholic. the place i've felt quite at home is the unitarian church, especially the one in little provincetown, where religion matters much less than community.

i don't go to church very often, and i tend to think of capital God or lower case god as dwelling within me as me, within you as you. i know there is a spiritual force in the universe and i know miracles exist. that is where my faith and comfort reside.

ii don't get the shame but if writing this post has made you feel better, i'm glad.


kj

Snowbrush said...

"I'm not sure whether your shame is about the sheer number of religions to which you once adhered or whether it's to do with the speed with which you gave them up, like a fickle lover. Or is it more to do with infidelity to yourself, to your integrity, as you say?"

Elisabeth, I made some changes which I hope will make this clear because I see that I did write as if there was a particular incident that I was ashamed of when it was really a pattern of feeling that I failed myself by not having the courage to consistently live by that which I considered to be true, namely that all religions are fanciful.

"i don't get the shame part, snow."

KJ, I don't know. Maybe I could have made it clearer; I'll have to work on that, but think of it this way. If you knew someone who was a arch conservative one year, an arch liberal the next year, a fascist the year after that, then a Communist, and so on, how could you take anything that such a person said, in regard to their beliefs, seriously?

That corgi :) said...

I get what you feel shame about (read your post and your comment to comments). I respect your thoughts and your beliefs; won't try to change them in any way. But I did want to say how you view Jesus and how I view Jesus are two different ways and the Jesus I know is nothing like the Jesus you perceive. And that's okay too because we can have differing opinions and respect each other's thoughts, beliefs, faith, lack of faith etc and still be friends :)

betty

SQT said...

I'm a new follower to the blog- and I have to say, I find your posts fascinating.

I, like the others, don't see anything shameful here. You might feel that your seeking of knowledge, or comfort, or peace, or whatever... reflects on you poorly, but I don't think it does. Also, I haven't gone through the radical kind of changes you have- my process is much slower.

I grew up in a non-practicing Catholic family. My mother was very bitter with the church after being treated poorly for leaving an abusive marriage. One priest refused to give her communion after that. But another, much kinder, priest intervened and made sure she was brought back in properly- but her feelings about the church were never the same and the church was very distant to us ever since then.

The issue of faith comes up now as my husband and I realize we need to give a framework to our kids. We're only knowledgeable and comfortable with the Catholic church, but don't agree with the entire church doctrine. We probably won't do anything more drastic than take them to church once in a while, to make sure they know what it is, and do our best to make sure they have a good grounding in morality through us. Larger issues of belief in the church and god are things I'm still working through myself- and I don't feel ready to pass that on to my kids yet.

PhilipH said...

No Shame, no gain.
You've been through the mills of the various churches and the mill of pain. You have won the battle of religion; victory over pain is yet to come?

rhymeswithplague said...

At the risk of sounding like a naive fool, I just want to say this:

Only Jesus can heal your anguish.

Not the Jesus you describe ("delusional, bigoted, hypocritical, conceited, contradictory, judgmental, bad-tempered, nasty to his family, a purveyor of bad ideas, quite possibly fictional, and so on) but the real Jesus, the One who believes in you even though you don't believe in Him.

I don't know why He hasn't done it already, but all your experiences, the good ones and the bad one, are leading you to put your faith in Him.

It's not about churches.

Marion said...

I see this as a tale of your spiritual journey throughout your life and nothing to be ashamed of. Why should a person's faith make them ashamed?

We've been to way more churches than you and no longer attend church, but I do pray every day and read my Bible. My husband and I both have experienced miraculous healings, but I'm not going into all that...but it's a vital part of who I am and what I believe.

The Jesus I know is nothing like the one you speak of. But I respect your right to your opinion and I respect and love you as a fellow human being just trying to make sense of this crazy life we all live. Great post, Snow, and quite insightful. xoxo

yoborobo said...

You're trying to find answers. I see that as something to be admired. I'm not the exact same person I was when I was 20, or 30, etc. Life shapes you. (And sometimes it kicks the stuffing out of you.)

Charles Gramlich said...

Over the last few years I've been working on a book about science and faith. It's helped me clarify my thinking, although the whole subject of religion and spiritualism is just a great knot of contradictions with me. I guess I'm trying to discover what I believe, or don't believe, and it seems to be taking a long time

Beau's Mom said...

As I've said before: religion is merely a search for relief from pain. Physical or emotional. Or, at best, a platitude to embroider and hang above the mantle.

Some people gain relief by believing promises unkept and awaiting the time they will be fulfilled. Then waiting for the time their death will be gloriously rewarded for all eternity.

I hate to 'one up' you, but I belonged to a few more religions that you during my time, and even attended theologian seminary (which was the death knell for any chance of ever believing anything 'written' and passed down through centuries of idiocy, witch hunts and superstitions).

We want, hope, need and wish for 'more than this'.

We search, try to believe, and put more work into it than the average "take it on faith" person and we suffer for feeling we've failed.

We play the hand we're dealt and each of us try to survive and continue the best we can.

You have. You will. And you've got me standing beside you giving you a noogie on your head.

And that's about all there is.

Rita said...

So I take it your shame is in trying to believe in various religions which, deep down, you think are all a lot of wishful thinking and false beliefs. No shame in searching and testing. You found what works for you and that's all that counts. :)

Sightings said...

A thoughtful recording of your journey. I wish I was as self-aware as you are. My own story is much shorter: Brought up Catholic; stopped being Catholic at age 16; married a non-practicing Episcopalian; we never talked about religion much because we both agreed . . . who knows? A lot of people claim they know. But nobody knows.

Snowbrush said...

"I respect your thoughts and your beliefs; won't try to change them in any way."

I know. You're remarkable that way. I don't think many believers know people like myself, so I'm sure I shock them terribly sometimes, yet you for some reason signed on as a follower and have read pretty much every post uncomplainingly. I'm really quite amazed.

"how you view Jesus and how I view Jesus are two different ways and the Jesus I know is nothing like the Jesus you perceive."

I could quote chapter and verse, but it probably wouldn't make any difference given that you're a person of faith. I've found that faith and reason are like oil and water, so there's not much place to go with discussing differences, that is aside from knowing what the differences actually are.

"At the risk of sounding like a naive fool, I just want to say this: Only Jesus can heal your anguish."

I know you want what's best for me, and I never imagine you to be a "naive fool." However, from my point of view, such often-expressed sentiments do seem formulaic and therefore trite. (No doubt a Moslem would say the same about Mohammed, so why should I prefer your "faith" to his?) Speaking of formulaic, do you ever consider the possibility that the main "gift" of Protestantism was simply to replace the legalism of works with the legalism of faith? I've really wondered about how you see this because you do place such emphasis upon faith (although I don't know what the word means to you, and there really are various interpretations).

"The issue of faith comes up now as my husband and I realize we need to give a framework to our kids."

I've known atheists who grew up in atheistic homes and never went to church, and I can't see how they're any worse for it. On the other hand, I know a lot of people who grew up in religious homes, and hate Christianity with a passion because of their experiences with religion. I know I would love to go back and swap my religious upbringing for a secular one.

"I see this as a tale of your spiritual journey throughout your life and nothing to be ashamed of."

Yes, that's true, and I appreciate it that you're one of the ones to say it because you're a Christian. Some people would consider striving over issues pertaining to God to imply a striving with God in the manner of Jacob and the angel. Well, it is a striving with one's concept of God, certainly, and for that reason it carries the aura of a quest. Of course, I generally avoid using the word spiritual to describe myself because what I would mean spiritual with a small s, as opposed to Spiritual with a big S.

The Blog Fodder said...

You have had a long journey, Snowbrush, and it isn't over yet. Where it will take you, no one knows, nor what you will learn on the way or find at the end. Thanks for taking us along on part of it.

kylie said...

i fail to see where you lost integrity, snow.
we all have to adjust our thinking according to our level of enlightenment or whats happening for us and you have been doing that.

Snowbrush said...

"i fail to see where you lost integrity, snow."

My first two commenters said as much, so I rewrote the introductory paragraph and some other things as well, so I'm at a loss at the moment as to how to make myself understood. For me to turn to God is to lose integrity because I neither believe in the existence of the supernatural nor do I respect any version of the supernatural that I know of. Therefore, to have gone back to church in the '90s after having renounced religion years earlier, only to then leave church and renounce religion again was desperate and dishonorable. I can understand why I behaved as I did, and I have compassion for myself. I'm also aware that a little flakiness regarding religion is hardly up there with molesting babies as bad things go, but I'm still not proud of it. Jesus said (and I paraphrase): He who puts his hand to the plow, and then turns back is not fit for the kingdom of God. A person's spirituality (or his lack thereof) is a serious matter, and not something to be picked up and cast off again with every change in the wind.

kylie said...

yea, i've read this post several times and with it's variations. i understand. what i mean is that you are being a bit hard on yourself. only the stupid can't change their minds.or experiment, or whatever you call your pathway.

The Elephant's Child said...

No shame. Points on a journey. I think you would have had more to be ashamed about if you had simply stopped questioning.
Hugs from afar.

All Consuming said...

Much like Marion, I too read nothing that would indicate the need for shame, you walked the path you walked. It's not an easy thing for anyone to do and the struggles you've had with your faith and lack of it are who you are. You've turned out well, though I appreciate it's up to you to feel ashamed about what you do, no-one can take that away apart from yourself. I feel I'm not getting my point over here. As far as your bravery goes "I think it means they would be embarrassed to do the same." whilst this is true, a huge amount of the bravery, for me, comes from your pushing through the pain to write it all. It's something I find very hard to do indeed so I admire you for that because your blog genuinely helps so many of us out here. xxx

rhymeswithplague said...

You didn't paraphrase Jesus, you quoted him exactly (though in English).

Regarding "replacing the legalism of works with the legalism of faith," I prefer to think of these metaphors: coming out of darkness into His marvelous light, and leaving the prison-house and being set free.

Snowbrush said...

Noogies to you too, Dana,

Thank you, Child, Michelle, and others who are apparently easier on me than I am on myself about all this. You make me glad I wrote about it.

Regarding "replacing the legalism of works with the legalism of faith," I prefer to think of these metaphors: coming out of darkness into His marvelous light..."

I guess the point--from 1500 years after Christ, when Luther finally figured out how to interpret the gospel correctly--was to take something that no one could do terribly well and replace it with something that everyone and his cat could do splendidly with no work involved. Of course, my experience was that faith made Christianity completely inaccessible, and no "gift" of it was ever forthcoming even if I prayed my ears off.

Mim said...

I don't think it's shameful to keep looking and trying things on. So what if you're Catholic one year and Unitarian the next - I think it's better to do that than stick to something that has lost meaning to you.

I still think you should add a Jewish phase. At the right temple, with the right rabbi - you might even like it

Heidrun Khokhar said...

Going to church, having statues stare at me, hearing folks whisper around the place was creepy. As I got older I went to different Sunday schools at various churches because I was told to go. But I never felt that I was where I belonged.
One summer I studied world religions and two weeks before the course ended my brother was killed. A truck hit him on his motorcycle at the age of 30. Witnesses said the truck driver was acting odd. My bro had always said he would die at that age. And I had had a premonition of how he'd die, a motorcycle accident but at the time he didn't even own one.
I think that I ought to explore ancestor worship. Those who lived before us must have some connection to us. We share a common DNA.

Snowbrush said...

"Those who lived before us must have some connection to us."

I would like to think it, but I don't see how it's possible. Other than Peggy, I think my father's mother (the one from whom I get most of Native American blood) might have been the person who loved me most, and I would like to think she's still with me, but I can't find reason for it. I also had a bloggy friend who died in November. Her name was Nollyposh, and she promised to remain beside those she loved, but I see nothing to indicate that she succeeded. As with Christianity, I think such beliefs have to be accepted despite the lack of evidence, and this makes them into wishful thinking.

SQT said...

"I've known atheists who grew up in atheistic homes and never went to church, and I can't see how they're any worse for it. On the other hand, I know a lot of people who grew up in religious homes, and hate Christianity with a passion because of their experiences with religion. I know I would love to go back and swap my religious upbringing for a secular one."

I've known the flip side of this- people brought up atheist who turn to religion as they get older. I think we all have a journey we need to go on at some point. The need to question what we were raised with. When I say I want to present a framework to my kids regarding religion, I mean that I want them to be familiar with the concept of religion and god and how it fits in with our society, but give them the freedom to explore it individually- or not- as they get older.

Snowbrush said...

"I've known the flip side of this- people brought up atheist who turn to religion as they get older."

I believe you, of course, but I haven't, and I've known some awfully old atheists. Of course, most of those atheists felt strongly enough about supporting the rights of atheists that they joined groups that were formed for that purpose. Unfortunately, most atheists never join such groups, so I know little about them. I have noticed that very few religious people lose their religion after middle age, and I think the same is probably true in the other direction for atheists. People either work such things out in their minds, or they give up on working them out and don't think about them very often. Whatever the case, they don't tend to change camps, generally speaking.

Phoenix said...

I'm quoting you back to yourself, Snow: "I failed myself by not having the courage to consistently live by that which I considered to be true, namely that all religions are fanciful."

Neither humanity, nor organized religion, has much consistency. Consistency belongs to science more than anything else, I believe, and even then it can surprise us.

If we are to be ashamed of ourselves for lacking consistency, not a man, woman, or child could judge you, for it's something we all do.

It's in the trying - whether it was your trying to be consistent with religious beliefs, or trying to be consistent in your belief that you don't need religion - that defines who we are. And as life is rarely consistent, our needs will change and flex and contradict accordingly.

You're human. Congratulations :)

Holly Dare said...

Snow, it seems to me you are often seeking a closeness with mankind more than a deity....

I stopped seeking formal religion around age 16 when I saw the hypocrisy in it. While I do have a strong belief in the afterlife... I've had too many odd experiences not to, religion is a failing of man in my book.

-------------
On a funny note, while visiting with my sister recently she said something that made me think of you. She had unexpectedly come out of a coma and was saying the weirdest things. "Is this Burger King?" "This car doesn't move very fast!" At some point she started to realize how very sick she had been and the implication of removing her from chemo. She looked at me and asked, "Do you believe that if you follow the 12 commandments, you will get in to heaven?"

I answered, "I hear you can disregard two of 'em and they'll still let you in."

Snowbrush said...

“It’s in the trying...that defines who we are.”

When the first few people responded to this post with a tolerance that I hadn’t given myself, I was so confounded that I had trouble taking them seriously. I’ve since moved on to being amazed. I appear to be alone in thinking that more is needed here than simply trying, that indeed, it reflects badly upon a person when he fails. Even if his ideals are lousy, he is obliged to live by them if he is to fully respect himself.

Yet, you are 100% correct in observing that my ideals have certainly been too high for me to abide by at times. Worse than that, on some of those occasions, “too high” wasn’t high at all because I made an informed judgment that the pleasure I would gain would so outweigh the guilt that I would suffer, that quickly took an exuberant leap into wrong-doing. Now, I sometimes wish I had behaved worse than I did because sensuality is slowly losing its allure in my life, far too soon after I first felt it.

I sometimes wonder if Peggy and I might not have done better to marry later than ages 20 (her) and 22 because all of those old people (now dead) who used to warn me that life would “go by fast” seriously understated the case by not including infinite repetitions of the word “very” between “by” and “fast.”

As to your sentiment that, “It’s in the trying...that defines who we are,” I would beg to add, “And it’s also in the not trying terribly hard.”

“I stopped seeking formal religion around age 16 when I saw the hypocrisy in it.”

It is partly because of this hypocrisy that I would be horribly embarrassed to be religious even if I believed in it. The name Jesus has been used to justify atrocities far too long by far too many Christians to represent anything but evil. I had just as soon bow before a swastika. As white Southerners prior to integration didn’t understand how deep the anger of blacks went, so it is that Christians have no idea how foul their Dear Lord Jesus is to millions of us. As I see him, his dominant face is best represented by the Republican Party, a group that, overall, would like nothing better than to stomp all over everyone who disagreed with them, and they would do "in the name of God and Country."

CreekHiker / HollysFolly said...

Snow, I feel that trying is the most noble thing... even if it leads to failure. I have failed at many things but those failures have always lead me to something better and with greater knowledge and understanding than I had before I "tried." It's when we do nothing that we fail completely.

But there is nothing wrong in seeking... knowledge, friendship, understanding, companionship etc.

You are clearly a seeker Snow. I think that's wonderful.

Ed Pilolla said...

snow, i love you. you are a breath of fresh air. you have guts. the bottom line is you are so tolerant. this is real unity. people proclaim to follow jesus and support war. seriously! they claim to support jesus and support economic measures that harm people on the lowest rung of the economic ladder. these people are ignorant, harmful followers, and they are the reason i am no longer part of the catholic church or any organized religion. people use jesus to justify their own wealth accumulation. honestly, i think jesus is meaningless because everyone has their version. historical bottom line: he was murdered by the authorities for the crime of insurrection. and the people were silent about it or supported his death, just as they would today. jesus showed how diseased this violent culture is. but that is lost in history. jesus is a cartoon figure today.

i think your beauty is your insatiable desire to discover and hold religious people to reasonably high standards, which people unfailingly fail to meet.

there was one sentence in here that really brought it home for me. this line makes me want to follow you as a spiritual leader, because this is what really matters and you nailed it: 'i mostly wanted to believe that there exist these wonderful places where everyone really is loved and really is welcome.'

sign me up. if that's not what it's all about, then what?

Kendal said...

It's not embarrassing to share your journey no matter how it went. As much as it pained my parents who were Atheist, they went with the traditional Catholic wedding, having all of us but the youngest baptized. It's hard for children to go against parents. After Mom was killed Dad forbid any bibles in the house or church goings, but he did consent me going to a bible camp as he didn't think much could happen in a week. I returned from camp after Mom's death I was given a signed bible by one of the counselors. It's not surprising that being in so much pain and all the acceptance and much needed attention that I got,that I could be swayed into really believing. Not to mention 12 years of being influenced at that was pretty much a christian school. It took me until my early 30's and a lot of educating myself that I now believe there is no God. Evolution and facts are very compelling.

My sister tells me if so many believe how can it not be. Power, and people in power go to great lengths to get you to believe in whatever they want. Propaganda, hunger and the horrors of war followed by missionaries also compelling. Come on, only 2,000 years God decides we have free will but sends a son to prove that you really don't if you want to go to heaven. The earth is about 4 1/2 billion years old. Why would a God wait so long to make human's.

Catholics (I'm going with this one because it's what I am most familiar with) pick and choose what they want to follow. Example in the Times there was a guy who said he is not giving up his beloved traditions of eating hot-dogs on opening baseball day. It was Good Friday and he didn't think God was going to keep him out of heaven because he ate meat on a sacred holiday. Yet a good many religious people like him want to deny me a right to marry my partner. Religious people tend to pick and choose. I know I'm rambling now, but your blog topic brought this stuff up.

I'm much more accepting of people that believe then I used to be. How can I ask for acceptance if I can't give it. Live and let live, morals were not born out of religion. It's about knowing right from wrong, and it's our wiring of the brain that makes us do good or bad. I don't want anyone to lose their rights as much as I want those to stop trying to keep my LGBT community from having ours.

Myrna R. said...

I appreciate your honesty and perhaps I didn't understand, but I don't think you have any cause for shame. I think so many of us are "undefined" in the religious arena. What I was sort of surprised to learn is how deeply you have searched for something, how passionately you believe or disbelieve.

Snow, I divert here to thank you for your words of condolence. And I want you to know you influenced how I conducted the services for my mother. People of different faiths attended as well as some atheists. Though I honored my mother's faith - Catholic, I made an effort to be as inclusive as possible in attempts to make everyone feel comfortable. I remembered one of your posts where you expressed discomfort attending a religious funeral service. Thanks for that.

C Woods said...

I have a friend who, like you, has joined a number of different churches/religions: Protestant, Catholic, New Age, crystals, Reki, a non-denominational mega-church, Evolutionary Christianity. Yet, once I saw her photo online as a member of a secular Meetup group. I'm not sure what she believes, but I don't think she does either. Basically, I'm convinced she is seeking something outside of herself that she needs to find within herself. Does that sound like it might be true of you, too?

Deb said...

Not meaning to sound redundant since it's been said, but there is absolutely no shame found on this post. I find you to be a seeker of the truth --- more active than any clergy, more sincere in your paths and that's what makes you faithful. You went through a lot and you were and are persistent in seeking answers. Once we start "knowing everything" and stop learning, we never get ahead. Kudos to you. Thank you for sharing yourself with us...

kj said...

Hey snow, where you been?

Everything okay?

xoxo
kj

Snowbrush said...

"I'm convinced she is seeking something outside of herself that she needs to find within herself. Does that sound like it might be true of you, too?"

Well, religion is based upon seeking divine comfort, guidance, security, etc., so, yes, it's all about looking outside oneself, but not for that which one would do better to seek within, but for that which doesn't exist. Religion promises much, but delivers nothing beyond what you are able to persuade yourself you are getting from it, and the resultant feeling of having been "had" is partly behind the anger that so many of us feel toward religion. You are one of those lucky atheists who seem to have largely escaped all this. Perhaps, it would help you to understand my experiences if you think of religion as something akin to an addiction. You can't understand its allure, whereas I can't understand the allure of, for example, alcoholism. Yet, I don't judge those who have a problem with alcohol, although I do judge how they handle the problem. In the case of religion, I've dealt pretty well some of the time and pretty lousy some of the time. Also remember that there's an element of brainwashing that accompanies religion and, in my case, goes back to my earliest memories. The people it hurts most are often the ones who take it the most seriously.

"My sister tells me if so many believe how can it not be."

So if most people believe the earth is flat, then it's flat; but if most people believe its round, then it's round? Sure makes truth easy to determine. Just stick out a spit-moistened finger and see which way the wind is carrying you.

Ed, what a delight you are. Thank you.

And my thanks to you too, Deb, as well as to others I might not have singled out (I can't remember all of my replies to your responses). I didn't expect much understanding regarding this post, yet what I've gotten in some cases goes beyond understanding and actually applauds the fact that, through it all, I have remained a tenacious seeker of truth. Truly, that is an accurate way of looking at my behavior, and I am convinced that my readers are right in that I'm being too hard upon myself.

Snowbrush said...

"Hey snow, where you been? Everything okay?"

I'm doing well. Peggy's away in Seattle for something like her 20th annual "Girls' Weekend Out" with her friends, Elaine and Shirley, and I'm enjoying my "alone time" with Brewsky and Bonnie. I also went for my annual physical, and my PSA (a prostate test) is haywire, but I'm fine otherwise (as far as new problems), and I don't put much stock in PSA tests anyway. I'm supposed to take antibiotics for two weeks and then have the test redone.

rhymeswithplague said...

Hi, Snow. I'm commenting for two reasons:

1. To bring the total number of comments on this post to 40.

2. To point you to my post today.

rhymeswithplague said...

Hi, Snow.

I'm commenting for two reasons:

1. To bring the number of comments on this post to 40.

2. To point you to my post today.

Snowbrush said...

"I'm commenting...To bring the number of comments on this post to 40."

Ha, ha, ha. You hit the button twice and screamed right past 40!

Stafford Ray said...

Great post Snow.
Steven Weinberg said it in a nutshell: "Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it, you'd have good people doing good things and evil people doing bad things, but for good people to do bad things, it takes religion."
Can't improve on that!
Well, maybe Richard Dawkins was a little more succinct, but in doing so left out the bit about human dignity which I am sure is important to you.

Lee Johnson said...

It seems to me that fear and guilt are two of the most powerful tools used by religion. To be shameful of your religious seeking is itself a most religious of reactions. I do not think there is anything shameful about seeking knowledge or experience.

Stafford - That Weinberg quote is one of my favorites, mostly because it is so true in my own experience.