Lately I have been spending a lot of time thinking about individual religions and why I’m not sure just one is good enough for me anymore. What I mean by that is not that no religion is good enough for me; what I mean is that I don’t know anymore that we should box ourselves into this church or that church, into this “denomination” or that without thinking dailyabout what we could learn from another order of our identified faith, or perhaps another sort of faith entirely.
I honestly cannot remember what first got me thinking about this; it’s something I’ve thought about for a long time, at least since middle school when I first started asking myself questions about God- “Where did God go wrong? What are God’s mistakes? Who is this God person anyway?”* … Really though, my point is that when I finally started wondering why all of these other people went to church, or to youth group, or to temple, or to whatever they called their religious gatherings, and I didn’t, I also wondered why everyone stopped at just one. How did they decide? Who decides whether I should be spending my Sundays at church, or my Saturdays at a synagogue, or my Wednesdays at Bible study, or the month of Ramadan fasting? Of course, I think that my early teenage mind didn’t know a lot of details, so I doubt it sounded nearly so…rambling. Anyway.
My family is not inherently religious; my mother was raised Baptist and frankly didn’t enjoy it much, so it wasn’t really passed on to me and my brother. As far as I know my dad was not raised with much religion, or really much aversion to it, so he never influenced us much either way, which was fine. That was how I saw it. “Well, I don’t have religious faith I suppose, and that’s fine I guess…” when I look back at how my brain worked and how I saw things when I was agnostic, a lot of it comes out in those sorts of vague statements of apathy and indecision (although that is a topic for another day).
Without a basic understanding of church or a way to learn more about it, I spent a lot of middle school reading about things like shamanism, mysticism and Wicca. While I admit that the secret desire to move things with my mind was never far from my subconscious, what really interested me was the way that these practices all relied on paying attention to everything around you, learning from everything you could, and seeing some sort of inherent worth in everything… At least, the less crazy brand of what I was reading; the books that ‘taught’ me how to be a modern witch and astral project were admittedly less enlightening. I never got into actually practicing these things, though; partly because I was still pretty apathetic about the concept of “belief”, partly because a few of my closer religious friends told me it was bad, stupid, or generally wrong of me to be interested in that kind of “stuff”. I guess, prior to age 15, I still had some feeling of not wanting to offend people indirectly. I grew out of it pretty much as soon as I entered high school, though (thankfully).
I had a lot friends in school who were “Christian”, or I suppose they were. They went to the churches and youth activities that their parents prescribed and they did so dutifully, many of them. But they had no clear opinions on faith, as far as I could see, beyond what they were told by their pastor or parent or what they thought the Bible said. One of my other closest friends in high school was Jewish. Although she didn’t really live an observant life, I still found her family’s acts of Judaism, as I guess I saw them, to be exotic and fascinating. At least, they were more so than what I had seen of churches up to that point. I was even lucky enough to be included in a few of her family’s holiday gatherings, including two passover meals and part of a Yom Kippur service. To this day, her mother’s vegetarian matzo ball soup is probably one of the tastiest things I have ever eaten, and finding the hidden matzah in her living room is a high point in my accomplishments.
I’ll admit that I toyed with the thought of Judaism, although I still never really took any steps to pursue it beyond returning to the religious/occult section of the library, reading a little about it, and forgetting it. I just didn’t want it enough, I decided, and I also didn’t think I was capable of being a good Jew, just like I didn’t really think I could be a good druid, or Wiccan, or Christian, or anything else. I decided once again that religion seemed cool, but it wasn’t for me. Was it for anyone?
People who know my story know that what followed was college; to lots of new types of people and Christians; to actually reading and falling in love with the Bible, old testament and new; to wishing I had majored in Religion by the end; and eventually coming here, to my second year working as a teaching missionary abroad. But those details are not what I want to ask about today.
What I want to ask about, as I introduced earlier, is what can we learn from different faiths, or at least people of different faiths? What can a Christian learn from a devout Muslim? What can a Hindu learn from a Rabbi? What can someone without a clear faith learn from any of these people, or the texts that they follow to practice their faiths? I don’t have an answer to these questions yet, but I think several faiths in the world right now are dealing with similar problems within their practice, and I think we all need to acknowledge it. People are losing a sense of basic decorum, from what I can see. What is modesty, and what is excessive stricture? What is faith, and what is extremism? I’m not trying to sound deep, I’m really wondering.
As always, my big question is, Who Decided? or better, Who Decides? People tend to act like social rules are set in stone, which of course they aren’t. Society is always evolving, and the problem when most people are uninterested in looking at things in a new way is that society then evolves to fit the ideas of the few who are interested; and those few people are not always in the majority or thinking about what is good for most others ( or even any others).
A couple of recent blog posts I’ve read have influenced these ideas, one responding to specific events and one responding to a more general attitude. I encourage you to look at them. The first, written by a rabbi in Israel, talks about the issue of modesty in modern times. While he is talking about Judaism, I feel like this is a problem everywhere, in all religions. Either people are encouraged to be extremely modest, on penalty of seeming like total sinners, or they’re encouraged to let loose all rules in the name of “empowerment”; and while for women it’s often provocative clothing, I think for men it’s casual clothing, and I think both are a problem in both extremes. This rabbi’s comments on why rules exist in religions, and what the real point of them is, are what I think are the best takeaway message in this. The second post, called “Blessed are the Uncool“, is written by a young Christian woman. She makes some good points about our obsession with flashiness in churches, and with trying to attract the best people instead of, well, all people. I saw this a lot as a kid, but I think it applies to any religion; if you really feel the faith you practice, it should be good enough by itself. Fancy buildings and expensive technical tie-ins or events should not be necessary for getting the basic message across; neither should extreme dress codes or colour rules.
While I don’t expect a lot of people to be floating around here ready with answers (especially considering the consistency of my posting of late), I hope to write about this again when I’ve had some more time to think and read about it…and perhaps I will engage some thoughts in someone, somewhere. Until then, peace to you, whatever you consider yourself to be.