Challenge Day 19: What do you think of religion? Or what do you think of politics?
I’ve been looking forward to this challenge since I cheated yesterday and peeked down the list. Religion is – after all – one of my very favourite topics. If you were to be granted unlimited access to the mountain of writing I’ve stacked up over the past two decades, you’d find that religion – in some form or another – is featured (or at least underlying) in a good 70% (or more) of it.
Now, before I get going on one of my customary rambles, I feel the need to point out that my opinions in this matter are just that; my opinions. I do not claim to have all the answers – or even a few of them – and I am not so vain as to believe that my way of thought is the only way of thought. I’d also like to point out that while I always welcome discussion and even debate, I extend absolutely zero invitation to preaching; I respect your beliefs, please respect mine. Now that that’s out of the way…
I did not grow up in a religious environment. Those relatives I do have that are religious generally did not socialize much with the larger part of my clan that is – for lack of a better description – a collection of heathens and blasphemers. Because of this, I had very little exposure to the concept of faith in my early years.
When I was about 6, I attended church (with friends of my grandparents) for the first and only time. I found the entire experience to be both fascinating and more than a little confusing. It was fascinating, you see, because it was this whole new side of life that I’d been previously ignorant to. There we were (my little sister and I) all dressed up in our finest duds and marching off to a Sunday sermon with borrowed bibles clutched tightly in our little hands. It was all so exciting – rather like that first time you glimpse something naughty on a movie screen and realize, ‘hey! There’s something going on here that I never even considered before!’ The experience made me feel all worldly and sophisticated. It made me feel as though my mind had been cracked open, and that I was on the verge of understanding every damn thing in the universe. Oh, if only it were that simple.
I remember that there was singing before the sermon began; everyone stood and sang together from these little hymnal books that had been tucked into the compartments on the backside of each pew; and that part was amazing! Afterwards everyone sat and the sermon began. I can’t recall what religion my grandparent’s friends were, and I can’t remember if it was a priest a preacher or a pastor that stood up at the head of the church to speak, but what I do remember is that the man had this amazingly booming voice that commanded all eyes to remain fixated on him and him alone. I also remember being completely enthralled by this man and the words he spoke, even if I didn’t really understand what he was saying. I remember being completely bewildered from about five minutes into the sermon until the very end, but I left that church with a remarkable new interest; faith… or rather, an intense curiosity about faith.
From that day on, I began praying on a regular basis. I did this in complete secrecy; for fear of being mocked; and I wasn’t really clear how the whole thing was supposed to work, so I basically began with, ‘Dear God,’ and then began to ramble out every wish and hope I could imagine; not entirely different from how I used to babble out my wish lists to mall Santas at Christmas time. It was all quite sweet in retrospect – the innocence of a child desperate to believe that someone was watching over her, that someone cared and would look out for her well being. By the time I was nine, however, I’d begun to think that if there was someone up there, he really wasn’t all that interested in me or my childish prayers – maybe I was doing something wrong.
My dog (and best friend) Charlie – a shepherd – had an altercation with a small brown bear that summer that I was nine. I was down on the coast visiting my father at the time. Charlie’s injuries – while not fatal – caused serious complications with his kidneys and he’d had to be put down. When they told me this, I cried for days on end. I became a despondent, blabbering, inconsolable mess, as I’m sure any child is apt to become when they lose their best friend. Afterwards – for whatever reason – I began praying to Charlie instead of God and this felt a lot more natural. After all, I’d been sharing my secrets with Charlie since I’d learned to talk, and he’d always listened to me. That was a very long time ago, but these days when I ‘pray’ (I’ll explain this in a bit) I still occasionally begin with, ‘Dear Charlie…’
By the dawn of adolescence I’d already begun devouring books by King, Koontz, Barker and the like. These novels opened me up to a lot of new ideas on the whole matter of religion and helped to turn my previous interest into a full-blown obsession. Throughout my teens I would spend countless hours researching religion and searching for faith. I stuck my toes in such pools as Christianity, Buddhism, Islam and Judaism and when I found those waters too tepid for my liking, I explored some of the less accepted faiths like Paganism and Wicca. Eventually my undying curiosity even led me to explore the concepts behind Satanism; something I believe to be very misunderstood – just look up the eleven commandments of Satanism if you’re even remotely curious as to why.
I came away from each examination just as thirsty for faith and understanding as when I went in. While it was answers that I sought, time and time again I walked away with even more questions. I found that every religion I explored seemed to be teeming with contradictions and I grew ever more frustrated. In my early 20’s (since I’d yet to find faith) I started considering myself an atheist, but eventually I began to consider myself as more of an agnostic. I changed my self-classification in this matter when I became aware of certain discrepancies in my own pattern of belief. As time goes on, my feelings and opinions continue to mutate and adapt, but my passion for the subject remains strong.
Though this is a very easy topic for me to discuss, I’m beginning to realize that it is not an easy subject to properly address in totality within a reasonable amount of time, therefore I am going to simplify a few points in my belief structure before wrapping this up.
– I am not religious, though I do consider myself to be a somewhat spiritual.
– I am in a constant state of personal evolution and therefore acknowledge that I have yet to finish exploring the concept of faith.
– I have experienced certain oddities in the world (things some might consider ‘miracles’) that have left me more than a little confused about the existence of higher (or at least ‘other’) beings.
– I personally believe that the bible is not to be trusted. As I mentioned yesterday, it has undergone too many translations by the imperfect hands of man to be even considered as absolute in its original meaning. Also there are far too many contradictions for my liking, and all too often it disagrees too strongly with hard scientific fact. Furthermore, there are tales throughout the bible that appear to have been borrowed from other (older) sources; for an example of what I mean, all one needs to do is read the Epic of Gilgamesh or look to the creation stories in Greek Mythology.
– I believe that organized religion is both a necessity, and a very dangerous institution. It is a necessity (I believe) because there are a great many people on this planet that would be lost without it; some people are utterly dependant upon their faith. It is dangerous because it can encourage close-minded belief and behaviour; how many people have been slaughtered across the ages in the name of religion?
– My opinions on the matter of faith are not built on blind speculation; I have taken the time to read (even research aspects of) a fair amount of religious scripture, including (but not limited to) the New and Old Testaments, the Book of Mormon, the Tibetan Book of the Dead (only in part) and the Quran.
– As a point of interest (even though it doesn’t really enter into this conversation) I am very fascinated in the beliefs (and histories) of the ancient civilizations; Mayan, Egyptian, Greek Sumerian etc; and have spent a lot of time trying to draw parallels between the beliefs of these cultures and popular (modern) faiths.
– I have read a selection of books by Eric Von Danikien and have acknowledged a great many of his points to be extremely worthy of deep consideration. This does not mean that I subscribe to the ancient alien theories, but that I have considered (am still considering) the validity in them.
– I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; I adhere to the philosophy that we are all – each and every single one of us – the centers of our own very individual universes. I believe that within our private cosmos we are our own gods and that we create our own variations of heaven and/or hell with our actions. This is less about religion and more about philosophy, but I do find (for me at least) those distinctions get a little blurry from time to time.
– While I don’t believe in (physical) Heaven, Hell, God or Lucifer, I acknowledge a lingering spark of doubt in my certainty that these things do not exist, and an enduring ember of hope that maybe – just maybe – everything I think I believe is wrong.
I mentioned a little earlier that I still occasionally pray – even though I have no faith in a higher being – and promised that I’d explain this. It’s not something that a lot of people know about me (in fact I’ve only previously told one other person), and it’s not something I entirely understand, but every now and then I catch myself mid prayer. I’ll see something particularly disturbing in the news and then realize I’m silently sending off a little plea in the name of the victim(s) involved, or something in my life will become complicated – an illness of a loved one or the like – and I’ll find myself making a similar entreaty. More often then not, these ‘prayers’ begin with either, ‘Dear Charlie…’ or ‘Dear Grandpa…’ (my favourite grandparent passed just 3 years after my childhood pet) but sometimes I have no idea at all who I think I’m praying to. I find this to be an incredibly curious thing about myself, and hope that one day I come to understand it.
Now I would love to go on and on about this topic; there is so much here to explore in depth and (as I already mentioned) this is one of my favourite subjects; however, I can tell by the length of this piece so far that I am nearing the 2000 word mark already which means I’m at risk of losing your attention if I haven’t already. Perhaps we can explore smaller aspects of this at a later date, but for now, I think I’ve managed to address the prompt adequately enough.
P.S.: I have a bit of poetry currently trying to write itself in my mind in relation to this theme (and loosely based on a true story) and so I’ll now attempt to give the idea proper attention. If it turns out even remotely decent, I’ll share it with you soon.