Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Navel Gazing and Foot Fighting

This post by Tamar, the links there, and the discussion in the comments has been an amazing read. I thought to blog about it a little since I’m meming today (look! I’ve made up my own word), to come out of my own spiritual closet. And what a place the closet is, a place where I spend a lot of time contemplating, considering. The colors, the darkness, the quiet, and the light seeping in from a glittery window above the purple umbrella next to the board games, make a perfect place within which to navel-gaze.

Tamar quoted an e-mail to her that said, "As soon as I see the word ‘God’ in any news report, as in ‘my commitment before God to her was the day I bought that ring and put it on her finger, and I'm not backing down from that, Mason said,’ I go SOUTH!"

I understand the feeling and it’s borne out of recent American politics, from observing a growing desire of some people in these United States to blur the line of separation between state and religion. My problem is…what religion should take over?

This is where I stumble. I have no religion. My spiritual journey has been bumpy to say the least. For all the twists and turns (roller coaster like), the funny thing is that I’ve ended up in the same place I started. My journey has turned into a merry-go-round.

I was raised in a religious smorgasbord of a family. My father had been raised as an Orthodox Jew in Iraq, his family becoming conservative in Israel, eventually settling in the United States where my father abandoned all religious practice in favor of Zionism. "Judaism" to me had been all about Israeli politics, interrupted every so often by Hanukkah and Passover. My mother was raised Methodist, eventually choosing Catholicism as her base religion (the Mexican version, i.e. like my father, her focus was less on dogma and more on cultural practices) with a smattering of Wicca and other such spiritual diversions. My brother, sister and I floated along behind them, our religious beliefs shaped by theirs. On the sidelines, our extended family consisted of Mormons, Muslims, the occasional Buddhist, and a healthy variety of Christians.

My brother tends to atheism, my sister tends towards general spiritualism, and I’m the avowed agnostic, right where I started as a child.

My first major turn was during college when I joined the Hillel at USC, a great place – I made friends, I prayed on Friday nights, I learned songs, I learned about the faith, I hooked up with a boyfriend (well…duh!). I traveled along that route until law school where I turned once again into an agnostic, a questioner with no home.

I reached my second major turn when my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer...turning point isn't quite the word, "cataclysmic break-down of everything spiritual" is more like it. My father was devastated and his true atheism came out - he believed death sent him into a black hole of nothingness. All his science, all his brilliance, shattered with his impending death. It broke my heart in just as many millions of pieces to see the man who held up my world like Atlas…absolutely break. I became a "Christian" to heal him. I had prayer groups going, I read the New Testament, I talked to Christian friends, I prayed and prayed… Then he died. As did my Christianity. In the months following my father’s death, I explored feverishly the “afterlife.” I read every grieving book, every book that suggested there was life after death, in order to prove my father wrong. During that time, my sister and I began to notice that she dreamed what I saw during the day – so specific there was no way it was coincidence.

One evening, for example, I watched a movie called “Fearless” where a young mother lost her child in an airplane crash. The film focused on the mother holding tightly to her child as the plane landed – this was her torment as she thought she let go of her child, the child dying in the crash landing. I watched the film late at night. The next morning my sister called saying she had the strangest dream, so real. She dreamt she was holding onto my toddler (the only one I had at the time, she had none) at the edge a cliff, to prevent him from falling. Her main focus was holding onto him. Countless times followed. Even recently, my grandmother told me a cousin-in-law was ill with an eye condition that if not treated could lead to blindness – the family was worried. When I told my sister about the situation the next day, she told me she’d dreamt several times in the night about being blind. There was no way in our minds this could be coincidence, not at that level of specificity. For a while we “believed.” This was proof.

I slipped back a while later into agnosticism again. When my mother died several years later, I believed for a while in the spirituality of death…that there was definitely “something.” After months…I slipped and here is where I stay. An agnostic…ever questioning, ever disbelieving and believing…and never settling.

I reject fundamentalist Christianity and the like, I resent the shift of my country to the extreme right. I'm more open to Judaism, but I have trouble with the often-lesser role of women. Ultimately, I have trouble with the idea of "God" and the ensuing fantastical concepts that come out of a belief thereof. However, the idea that we live this life only is just as unfathomable to me. How do you explain human relationships? The concept of humor arising out of literal human ashes? The transcendence of the human condition is evident in photographs, their eyes telling you their story, carrying over from the years of the first photograph. What about our amazing ability to survive unbelievable odds...the fact that you drive in your car and glance at someone...and from many feet away, the two of you connect via your eyes, the windows to your soul...it's beyond evolution, beyond "survival of the fittest." I agree, “I think, therefore I am.” We people are evidence of the Divine.

But...what IS that? What does it mean? Where do we go? Why am I allowed to sense this? My sister dreams what I see – this is true.

The questions fascinate me. I don’t see an end to the Merry-go-round anytime soon. Or the navel-gazing. Or the foot-fighting.


Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

I think you're right - there's no end to it -- and I think this personal, intuitive approach toward finding (or losing) belief is at least as valid as -- probably more valid than -- the supposedly logical method of assembling and demolishing proofs.

In my own case, I grew up in an Eastern European Jewish family and community, but my family was atheistic, rationalistic, for generations back. The most radical thing any of us could have done was to declare religious belief. And over the years I have felt a strong connection between their irreligion and a generalized cynicism, pessimism, defeatism, depression, anomie, which has soured the lives of many very bright, decent relatives of mine. So here I am.

Tamar said...

I too grew up in a Jewish home that was as atheist as could be. In addition, we were ruled by my brother, a true Marxist. So in one sense it was atheism and in the other - dogma and religious marxist fervor. Tight rules and conditions. A purist approach. Like Richard, rebellion in our family might be to believe in God. I explored God through Yoga, Buddhism, Christianity and Unitarian Universalism for many years. I practised Judaism traditionally and culturally when I lived in Israel so that my son would have some roots.

In 1992 I found feminism for the first time in my life and my life changed, slowly, dramatically since then. And so I am on the merry-go-round too, Adriana and not necessarily needing proof - going with my guts. My guts tells me lately to hold still with the confusion, mystery and just let it be ... and that's where I am right here, right now ...

Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

There's no better place than "to hold still with the confusion, mystery and just let it be."

Johnny said...

I have found that people who were exposed to 'many' religious beliefs or raised by parents who had no 'firm' beliefs have a difficult time choosing a god to believe in or believe in nothing strongly. It reminds me of the scripture:

Eph 4:14 "That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive."

What is it about Christianity exactly that you reject? Or Judaism for that matter? My parents were both firmly atheists yet I heard the gospel and believed. Why do you think some hear and believe and others question? Please don't say lack of intelligence. lol

newspell said...

oh sweetie. i too battle the same demons, no pun intended. you know i was raised, literally, looking up at the pulpit. my first breath, a prayer sucked in from my mother's mouth. i've always questioned. always. not just christianity, but all religions. i questioned why must preachers talk through a loudspeaker when there are only 30 people sitting quietly in the congregation? why did God choose to make himself known to every generation except the last couple of thousand? why is it that the bible is God's word when man wrote it? Why is church soooooooo boring?

but as quickly as i am to throw Jesus under the bus, i'm praying to him for my children's safety.

my opinion today is... i don't freaking have a clue. i'm hodge-podge. i'm calico. i'm lost. i'm found. my spirit floats while i'm grounded.

honestly, in the end, i think we'll all be wrong. a "sixth sense" kind of ending that you couldn't see during, but it makes sense after.

(i've been busy... i've read every post though.)

Adriana Bliss said...

Thank you Richard and Tamar for sharing your own religious backgrounds - definitely adds another layer to the religious question.

Rick, firstly, I'm happy to see you here as always. Don't ever feel you "have" to comment! I'm just happy to know you're reading. I remember your background which is actually similar to my husband's background (in the sense of strictness, he was raised Baptist). He's ventured far away from the church, hurt in some ways, disappointed, disillusioned. Thanks for your input, beautifully told as always.

Johnny, my rejection of fundamental Christianity is multi-layered, perhaps better spoken about in the form of an e-mail. But know there isn't a lack of respect on my part (here's the part where I say, some of my best friends are Christians - lol). A pastor friend of ours officiated my wedding, my sister's and brother's weddings, as well as my mother's funeral and a memorial for my father. This man is Presbyterian, who once headed a church, who no longer does. I hold him in the highest regard. His views are beautiful, uplifting, and above all, leave nobody out. He judges nobody, he's a wonderful, scholarly, Christian man. But, but...unfortunately, he's only one in a million. So here I sit still on my merry-go-round of analysis.

As to your question about why some believe and others do not? Who's to say? I suspect it's a combination of personal experience, right-brain/left-brain workings, agenda, breadth of education, degree of exposure to the world (which can lead you in both directions, to and fro), biology, genetics, mental well-being, and personality. One of my biggest arguments was with one of my oldest friend's husband, a rigid, fundamental Christian. He informed me that sadly, yes, Jeffrey Dalmer would go to heaven and my father wouldn't. Which to me was absurd. I explained to him that "his" God made my father who he was, "his" God carved out a path from Iraq to the United States for him, and therein made him into a person who would always reject Jesus. So...how was it that God would punish him for failing to take a step made inherently impossible? As a mother, I compare it to punishing a blond-haired child for not being dark-haired.

Ahhh...it's late, I'm...babbling. Thanks everyone for peeking into my blog.

Lori said...

Here's a nice, light subject, ay? LOL! Well...as always, your thoughts are beautifully expressed and thought-provoking. But it's late, and I don't think I have the stamina to get really into this. But your post reminded me of the questions I get from my husband---he's agnostic leaning towards atheist. So I always get the 'well, why' questions in regards to Christianity---which I always try to answer to the best of my ability but usually end up just saying, 'I don't friggin' know.' A Bible scholar I'm not...my memories of religion class and catechism are getting fuzzier by the day. I don't even think I could call myself a non-practicing Catholic anymore, I'm beyond that. I'm just one of the many miscellaneous Christians out there...still in Jesus' ballpark, but sitting way, way up in the nosebleed seats, y'know?

I used to be really into being Catholic. I grew up in it...when I was a kid I didn't always like it, but by the time I got to high school, I found a lot of comfort in it. And then I hit the fork in the road when I got married...I found myself at an impasse with the Catholic faith and I ended up leaving it behind. I felt very sad when that happened, but as the years have gone on I'm more convinced that I did the right thing.

There are those who would say (and have said) that I'm gonna be in big trouble...y'know, taking the bus south when the poop hits the fan. But I don't buy that. I still have my faith, my own relationship with God, and most importantly, my belief that it's HOW you live your life that matters. Not what church you did or didn't attend, so y'know...the nosebleed seats work just fine for me. I think it's a better view, actually. LOL!

Adriana Bliss said...

Lori! I'm always so happy to see your posts. :) Yeah...it's funny, you're sort of in the role of my husband. He hit a fork in the road when he married me...although, more likely, he had already chosen a path. Marrying me was just the closer.

I think your way is best - religion is personal, it's fluid, adjusting sometimes with the inevitable variables of life. Even the most devout and strict individuals can shift in their feelings.

As a note, my mother always believed Hell existed, right here on Earth. I think there's a lot to that.