|Click on this link if you have no idea|
what this picture is about.
I just want to preface this post by saying that this isn't an April Fool's joke. This is a legitimate and 100% honest post.
So, being that it's now April, it's time for a new monthly theme. I decided that I would try to do a non-fiction theme every other month, just to keep things varied and interesting. I rarely see a lot of non-fiction reviews on other book blogs and thought that it would be fun to incorporate my love of non-fiction into my blog.
The theme this month is Religion, Faith, and Spirituality, a topic that is often the subject of debate, anger, war, etc. There's even a sort of social rule of thumb: the three things you shouldn't talk about are politics, money, and religion. Well, today (and for the rest of the month) I'm throwing that rule of thumb out the window and talking about religion. Today, in fact, I'll be talking about my own experiences with religion.
I always like to disclose information that might influence the way I review a book (see, for example, my rant yesterday about Abe Lincoln). I feel that it's important for me to discuss my religious background before diving headfirst into a month full of books about religion so that readers can understand my perspectives and my biases.
I grew up in a Protestant home. We went to a church that was conveniently located in our backyard. Literally. Every Sunday we would walk through the pastor's back lawn (he lived next door), cross the bridge over the tiny creek that separated our land from the church's land, and go through the parking lot to the front doors of the church. This went on until I was about ten or eleven. At that point in my life I was huge on religion. And I mean huge. I was in Youth Services every Sunday. Every summer I'd go to Vacation Bible School, every Christmas Eve I'd participate in our church's celebration. I even spent one summer at a Bible camp.
Things changed, however, in middle school. I stopped going to church and I really can't explain why. It was like I'd just gotten fed up with it. Of course, all preteens and teenagers have that rebellious streak in them but this streak would last. I started paying attention to the way that some Christians treated other people. I started to learn about how Christians had used the Bible to justify horrific things like slavery, oppression, and war. I started to think, what if all of this religion is just getting in the way of God?
My grandmother was kind of like that too. She didn't go to church and didn't believe that she had to in order to show her love for God. She believed that through private study, prayer, and living a good life she could just as easily be a good person and a good follower of Christ. She was never pushy about religion (although as I got older we would end up debating things like evolution and same-sex marriage just for fun) and she never thought that people who didn't go to church would go to Hell. She saw as well as I did that there were people who claimed they were Christian but who didn't have the actions to back that claim up.
I started to believe the way that she did for a while, continuing to keep an open mind about Christianity and not throwing it out the window completely. That changed when I was a freshman in high school. My family moved across town and my mother started going to a different church. My sister would tag along with her but I was still in that I-don't-want-to-go phase. She finally dragged me along one Sunday and it was almost as if that was the Sunday that I was supposed to go. It was that day that I heard a sermon that made me turn my back on Christianity forever.
It was a well-written sermon, I'll give it that. Clever. Contemporary. But it was the most despicable thing I had ever heard. It was called "The Devil's Toy Box" and it was about the different toys that Satan plays with. "Satan," the pastor said, "plays war but when he plays he uses real weapons and real people die. Satan also plays doctor, but instead of curing people, he creates new diseases with which to kill people."
|If Satan did have a toy box, I'm pretty sure it would|
have a serpent stuffed animal inside.
"Okay," I said to myself, sitting in the pew. "I'm with you so far. Sort of. I mean, how many wars were perpetrated by 'men of God?' It's not historically accurate to say that 'Satan made me do it' when you're talking about things like the Crusades." But then the pastor said something that made me want to stand up and walk right out of that church.
He said: "When Satan plays with Barbies he uses Ken and Ken."
I lost it. I really did. Silently, of course, because I didn't want to make a scene with all of those true believers around. I probably wouldn't have made it out of that church alive. But inside I was fuming. How dare he use religion as a way to spread hatred of homosexuality? War and disease are true evils in this world regardless of whether there's a god or not. They really do kill people. But gays and lesbians? They don't even belong in the same paragraph as nuclear weapons and smallpox.
I physically, emotionally, and spiritually left church that day. And I haven't looked back since. I don't regret it. I cannot in good conscience belong to a religion that supports the mistreatment of an entire segment of society. Besides, by that time I'd really stopped believing in God altogether.
There have been times in the last decade or so when I've looked into other religions. I've considered converting to Buddhism. I even went through the obligatory nature religions phase. But the truth is that for me, personally, religion leaves me feeling hollow. I can appreciate the beauty of a cathedral or a mosque or a temple but when I step inside it feels empty.
So why, in the name of everything holy, do I consider myself to be spiritual? Or, rather, how is it possible that I can call myself that? I don't really believe in a creator of any sort; in fact, I'm rather scientifically minded when it comes to things like that. Yet I cannot say for sure that there isn't some sort of higher power.
I like to say that if I were filling out a form of some sort and there was a choice marked "Apathetic" under Religion I'd put my check in that box. For all intents and purposes I consider myself to be Agnostic. It's the lazy man's religion. You can get out of bed in the morning and say "Maybe there's a god and maybe there isn't" and then move on with your day. Organized religions make me feel suffocated because they expect you to follow what they believe exactly.
I can't do that because I don't think that there is one right religion. In fact, I believe there are as many ways to approach whatever higher power there may be as there are stars in the universe. What you believe is right for you. It may not be right for the person sitting across from you or the family living next door. Who cares? What matters isn't that everyone believes the same thing. What matters is that everyone believes what they think is true and uses it as a way to better themselves and their community.
Because that, in a nutshell, is what I believe the true purpose of religion and faith are. Even people who don't believe in a higher power can live a purposeful and meaningful life through their beliefs. They know that you don't need to be good because a book tells you to be good; you need to be good because otherwise what's the point of life? Even the non-religious know that life on Earth is short. To be a horrible, miserable person is to waste that life. Committing crimes, lying, cheating, stealing: each of these things cheapens your experience of life.
I'm not saying that Christians and Jews and Pagans and Hindus are only good because of what a holy book says. Like the non-religious, they follow secular laws and common sense as well as what is laid out for them in their religious texts. But those who are religious tend to believe that being good is about the afterlife as well. They think about what will happen to them once they shed their mortal coil.
This is where there is a divergence of belief. The non-religious don't live their lives with the end in mind. They live for the present and the future here on Earth. Does that mean that if, by some chance, there is one true religion that they will burn in the fiery pits of torment? I don't believe so.
First of all, I tend to think that belief is a very powerful thing and that what you personally believe is what will happen. I believe there is a soul and if you are devout in your belief that if you live a good life you'll go to Heaven or Valhalla or the Summerlands or wherever your religion teaches you will go, your soul will go there. Secondly, even if I am wrong about my first point, if there is a person who has lived a good life, does that person have to suffer because they didn't believe in the right deity? If that was the case, then what's the point of being good?
Before this turns into a philosophical treatise, let me conclude by saying that I don't call the potential higher power "god". I like to refer to it as The Universe. This is mostly because I see that higher power as being a universal principle. Who's to say that every single god or goddess who has ever been worshiped on this planet has not been the same higher power? If there is something out there, how can we know what it is? How can we even fathom it or put a name on it? Isn't it more likely that we as human beings break this higher power up into deities because it is far easier for us to comprehend that feeling we get that there is someone or something bigger than us?
So why, if I'm an apathetic Agnostic, am I spending an entire month on the subject of faith? Because it intrigues me. I like learning about what other people believe. I think that a lot can be learned about people and culture by studying religion. That's why the books that I chose this month cover a variety of beliefs, including non-belief.
Some of the things that I say this month may offend you. Some of them might make you think. Others might be exactly what you believe. And that's the beauty of it. Religion is personal. Faith is ever-changing. Belief is what holds our values and morals in place. No two people are alike with respect to religion--even if they're sitting in the same pew or laying out prayer rugs right next to each other or sporting the same Darwin bumper sticker.
|Since when did Darwin become a trademark?|
I'm not quite sure that little TM should be there.
So, long story short: my name is Gabriel and I'm a godless heathen. But that doesn't mean that I won't respect you or your beliefs. It also doesn't mean that I'm looking to adopt them. I like my own beliefs just fine.
I'm really excited about the books I've chosen for this month and I hope that you guys are too. If you have anything to say about anything this month, don't hesitate to say it. The comments section is there for people to use as a platform for discussion and debate. Just please be respectful of each other and don't bash other religions.