April 10, 2010

I Haven't Lost it, I Just Never Had It In The First Place


This is a very long, very personal and opinionated post. If you're here for something short and lighthearted, click away. Otherwise, I'm glad to share with you and hear what you think. All the opinions and ideas put forward in this post are mine, and are not intended to offend or alienate anyone for what they choose to believe or not. If you have contrary opinions to anything I say, feel free to enter into a respectful, polite discussion with me and anyone else, but any unnecessarily rude, mean, or disrespectful comments will be deleted.

***

I guess I'm in a ponderous place these days. First talking about men's sexual identity in society, and now religion? This is new. Well, it's not that I never think about “deep” subjects, I just usually never really thought to hash them out in this space. But I realized that if someone who had never actually met me in real life judged me based only on my blog, they would have a very skewed idea of who I really was – they would know just the teacher, the traveler, the burgeoning amateur photographer/seamstress/cook/crafter etc. Based on my blog alone, you can't really get an idea of who I am, what and how I think about things, and how I see the world and what goes on in it.

Which is unusual, because people who know me in real life would probably say that the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of me is that I'm strongly opinionated (on the other hand, most people I know in real life have no idea that I take pictures/cook/sew!). But I'm also a people pleaser and very diplomatic (at least when other people have conflicts – I tend to not appreciate when people start to mediate me!), and I don't like to offend people. A little contradictory for someone who has strong opinions and likes to argue, but it makes sense if you're in my head. It's almost as if I've accidentally divided myself into two halves of my personality. Both are a real part of me, yet only one of them blogs, and they're starting to grow separately, something I'd like to remedy.

Don't worry, the cooking/sewing/photo posts won't disappear – after all that's what I like blogging about the most. But since this isn't exclusively a “crafty” blog, I'd like to add in a little bit about myself. I'd like you to be able to think of me and have an idea of what kind of perspective I have on a given issue. I'd like for more of my real personality to shine through.

Which gets me to my main point (man, do I know how to ramble!). Today I was looking through all the people that linked up to Lauren's Fill-In The Blank Friday and I noticed that tons of people, including Lauren herself, said “If you only know one thing about me it should be that I love Jesus,”or something along those lines. Now I know that a lot (maybe the majority) of bloggers have some sort of faith and often are unafraid to talk about it, and how much joy and tranquility it brings to their lives.

But what about non-believing bloggers? I've never read anyone proudly state “I don't love Jesus.”

Are agnostic/atheist bloggers afraid of offending people by saying that, personally, they don't believe? Are they afraid to lose readers who will judge them for not being religious? Are they generally uncomfortable about bringing up such a hot topic, and therefore just avoid it altogether?

Then today I was browsing through old unread posts in my Google Reader and I came across something on Apricot Tea that dealt with exactly this. Ev'Yan long wrote a long post explaining her personal journey with religion, which ultimately led to her becoming agnostic.

And I thought, Finally! Someone who wrote exactly what she thought about an issue most people skirt. It's something I've been thinking about for a long time, but that I never really thought to express on my blog - a place that I initially wanted to keep almost devoid of any potentially divisive subjects in order to keep it lighthearted and carefree. But after more than six months, I'm realizing that if I want this blog to truly reflect who I am, I can't keep doing that. Because merely avoiding these subjects is sort of contrary to who I am.

So welcome to my new blog, where I'm not just a burgeoning amateur photographer/seamstress/cook/crafter, but a public thought hasher as well!

Both my sets of grandparents were very religious Roman Catholics – both my grandfathers especially - to the point of forcefully imposing their beliefs on their children. My father's parents were very religious, but they were also very scientifically-minded people (he was a chemist and she was a math teacher). My father grew up as one of six siblings in post-WWII Italy, so life was a little chaotic, and so despite going to mass every week, it was probably difficult for my grandparents to identify which of their children truly believed, and which were just following the rules and going through the motions (in fact as adults, the split between believers and non-believers among my father and his siblings is about 50/50 – ranging from die-hard atheists to extremely observant Catholics). Taking after his father, my dad pursued his studies and a career in science, and I imagine that despite his family's general piousness, this passion for science, together with certain aspects of his personality, made religion, for him, just a sort of social construct other people followed, but which had no place in his particular life. He finished his first doctorate in Rome, and then left for the States to pursue his second (yes, he's a total egghead), abandoning the world of little Italian old ladies with their churches and rosaries for the decidedly secular world of 1970s Engineering faculties at various American universities.

My mother's parents were very Catholic as well, but without scientific professions to straddle them between the faith and secularity. Both of them survived the concentrations camps during WWII (for “subversive revolutionary activity” in the French Resistance), which I imagine had a great deal to do with their faith. My grandfather was very imposing when it came to religion, forcing it on his children – my mother and her three siblings – to the point of driving them away from the very thing he sought to make them love. In fact as adults, none of mother's siblings is religious at all. My mother rebelled when she was sixteen, and subsequently refused to continue actively practicing her parents' faith. Needless to say, when she stopped going to Church, it didn't sit too well with my grandfather. When she was nineteen she abandoned her native France for the United States, and not too long afterward her little sisters joined her.

In part as a reaction to their parents' rigid faith, and in part because it was 1980s New England and old-world Catholicism wasn't huge in Cambridge, my parents raised my brother and me to be agnostic. They neither pushed religion upon us, nor did they condemn it. They wanted us to still have respect for people who chose to believe. A big part of our family's lack of religious observance stems from the fact that Roman Catholicism is a very organized, hierarchical faith. It doesn't really agree with letting you practice how you want, just as long as you have a good personal relationship with God (historically people have actually been martyred for trying to do that!). They really need you to need them, to come to church, to give them your money, etc. If my parents had both been raised American Protestant, or any religion which puts less emphasis on the motions rather than the sentiment behind being faithful , who knows, I might be one of those people talking about how much I love Jesus!

My brother and I were raised with a very scientific, historical view of the world – a world where the Big Bang and fossils were not just a theory, but a given. I didn't even hear about creationism or “intelligent design” as something you could actually learn about in school until I was well into middle school. But my personal choice to follow in my parents steps and lead a life almost completely free of any kind of religious association is mostly due to the fact that I have very little respect, if any, for organized, institutionalized religion. I'm not an atheist. I won't deny the fact that there is a greater power. But I won't necessarily accept it either. If one of my points of contention with religion is that fact that there's no proof, I can't very well deny the existence of anything greater than me with no proof of my own, can I?

That being said, I'm not a very spiritual person in general, even without ascribing to particular creed. I'm not positive there is or isn't a higher power, but I'm fairly certain there isn't. At least not anything I believe in. I do believe that there there is some sense and harmony to the world, and that we aren't just a bunch of masses of atoms moving forward in time. I think that there is something to humans beyond our skin and bones and muscles, but I'm not sure I would go as far as calling it an immortal spirit. That would assume I believe in some sort of eternal world for those spirits to live in, and I'm not sure that exists either. Although I'm almost certain there's no heaven or hell, at least in their Catholic biblical constructions.

Which makes me think of a joke.

A protestant man who hasn't been very diligent about keeping his faith dies and wakes up in the afterlife. He opens his eyes, and sees a door with a sign over it that says “HELL.” An elegant man in a suit standing outside the door greets him warmly, opens the door, and invites him in. The man hesitantly walks in, and on one side of the room sees what looks like a giant lounge with pleasant music playing, full of couches and tables occupied by dapper looking men drinking cocktails with beautiful women at their sides. On the other side of the room, through another doorway, he sees a horrible place, full of fire and and molten rocks, with men screaming and burning alive. “Welcome,” says the man in the suit. “Have a seat, grab a drink, meet a lady!” But the newly dead man keeps looking at the burning room, and can't really relax, afraid that any minute he'll be banished to burn there forever. “What's that place?” he asks the man in the suit, pointing at all the people burning alive and screaming. “Oh that,” answers the man in the suit, “yeah, don't worry about that! Come have a drink” A waiter with a tray comes up and hands him a cocktail, while the man in the suit tries to engage him in conversation. But the newly dead man interrupts him and says, “No, seriously. What is that place? Am I going to end up there? I am in hell, aren't I?” But the man in the suit just says, “No, really, don't worry about it. It doesn't concern you. Enjoy your drink!” So they start drinking, and then two beautiful women come up to them and start flirting. At this point the newly dead man can't take it anymore. He shouts, “What's going on?! I'm supposed to be in hell, but I'm drinking and getting chatted up by beautiful ladies! Is this some dirty trick? Are you going to make me think I have it good and then banish me to burn for eternity?” The man in the suit looks at him and says, “Fine, you really want to know? That's just Catholic hell!”

Speaking of hell, Ev'Yan wraps up her post with this quote:

I know that a perfect God wouldn’t create imperfect human beings just so that he can condemn us to Hell for being imperfect.” And says, “If that's how God operates, then I want nothing to do with him.”

I wholeheartedly agree. A perfect God would never purposely create imperfect life just to torture it for eternity. So logically the generally accepted Christian God, who does exactly this, is imperfect for doing so. But then why believe in an imperfect God? 

Why would I want to have faith – which, by definition, means to believe without proof - in a God that not only created people that have forever committed unbelievable acts of violence towards one another, but then actually punishes them for doing so?

I believe that too much of what goes on this this world is too senseless for it to be orchestrated by some higher power that should be revered, loved, and feared by all. Who knows, humanity, the course of world history, and our fates may all very well be in the hands of some greater being, I can't categorically deny that. But given the horrible, atrocious, unforgivable things that people have been doing to each other since the beginning of time - and will continue to do to each other until we exterminate ourselves – I will never consider that greater being worth of my worship and love.

Don't get me wrong, all of the horrible things people do to each other aren't any more justifiable just because I believe they aren't “puppeteered” by a greater being. But it makes more sense, to me at least, if we can attribute all of humanity's contradictions and imperfections – the fact that we are capable of such burning hate and violence, while also capable of such all-encompassing love, kindness, and empathy – to the fact that we are all exactly that: human. We are animals, albeit incredibly developed ones (although we tend to not like that label) and we are fallible. Often too much so.

Most of my recalcitrance towards religion comes from the fact that religion itself is the very source of so much of the deplorable violence that has been committed throughout history. At least arrogant, organized religion; you don't see a lot of Taoists going on crusades and jihads.

My number one personal philosophy in life is “live and let live.” And every murder ever committed in the name of God or religion - as well as every effort to control what people can do to their own bodies, whom they can spend their lives with, and which ideas they should and shouldn't support - goes completely against that philosophy.

So I guess, in long-awaited conclusion to an unnecessarily long post, my real problem with religion is actually with people. I have no personal beef with God, himself, seeing as I can't empirically prove or disprove his existence. And I don't have any problem with Jesus, either – I appreciate most of the values he preached. Yet my belief in science (something that is empirically provable) sorts of precludes Jesus' whole fantastical element – the walking on water, the water into wine, and the resurrection stuff - and don't even get me started on the immaculate conception! (Although if there's one person I can minimally get on board with in Catholicism, it's the Virgin Mary).

My problem - which ultimately is the basis for my being unable to believe in the faith my grandparents would have loved so much to see me follow - is with the arbitrary and discriminatory rules that Catholic dogma dictates should be followed blindly and without question, and everything horrible that has ever been done in the name of religion, or against people of another faith.

That being said, I absolutely don't condemn anyone for choosing to believe what they want – condemning people for not agreeing with me would violate my personal philosophy. But I make an obvious exception for those whose beliefs push them to the point of inflicting harm, or even death, on innocent people. 


Those people I condemn with all the fury I can muster.

As long as you aren't in the habit of harming people in the name of your God, you and I will get along just fine.




18 comments:

-city-love- said...

I think the lines “I know that a perfect God wouldn’t create imperfect human beings just so that he can condemn us to Hell for being imperfect.”

And says, “If that's how God operates, then I want nothing to do with him.” were very well said. I was raised Catholic, went to a Catholic high school and elementary school, although my parents never went to church or prayed or anything like that, but in high school I just stopped believing. I'm not sure what it was. I'm not ashamed of it, I just don't talk about it on my blog. I'm not sure why people feel the need to feel 'sorry' for those who don't believe or try to convince them otherwise...

Whitney said...

Hi Julia,

I subbed to your blog a few weeks ago after finding it through fill in the blanks and I have to say, I noticed the same thing as you. I try and make it to most of the blogs that answer and a lot of them had that.

I'm not religious personally. My family was very against religion while I was growing up and then around the time I turned 19, my parents started going to church and became heavily involved in it. By that time, I was too old and too jaded to go along with them.

I don't blog about my faith (or lack of, for the reason you said, I just feel uncomfortable when I now that a huge percentage of bloggers out there are deeply religious. I don't try to hide who I am or pretend that I'm something I'm not, I just hate the kind of conversations that usually come when talking about religious and I know that if I said something that someone disagreed with and they decided to pick a fight through the comment section, it would stress me out beyond belief. I like my little corner of the internet to remain as drama free as possible :)

Anyways, Thanks for writing this, I really enjoyed reading it and I'm going to pass it on to a few of my other friends if you don't mind.

Take Care,
Whitney

Margarita said...

I was raised roman catholic and then kinda lost it, not really caring too much to get it back. I'm not really teaching my daughter about it, and when the boyfriend says we should it seems kind of ridiculous.

I'm not a non-believer either tho. I'm in a confused place where I plead ignorance. Ignorance is bliss. It's not something that's on my mind really.

But a very well spoken post :)

No One Reads The Copy said...

Love, love, love this post.

I try not to offend people because people are super sensitive, especially about religion. I once made one little Jesus joke and people sort of freaked...

Good for you for being honest.

Amy --- Just A Titch said...

My story is almost identical to Ev'Yan's --- sometimes I miss the simplicity of feeling like prayers worked or mattered. It gives an odd sense of control, if that makes sense. Still, there's so much I DON'T miss that I doubt I'll ever go back.

Alyssa said...

This is a brilliant post. I have noticed as of late a lot of "i love god/jesus" and wondered why there was never anything stating the opposite.

I dont really hold a strong opinion on religion, its never been a huge part of my life to actually spend time thinking about it and making decisions on what i believe.

Huge kudos to you for talking out on a topic that really is ignored or hidden most of the time.

I look forward to more of your posts like this!

Julia said...

Thanks for all your kinds words :) I've responded to your individually.

P.s. sorry for all the typos! I was re-reading the post now, and man did I make a lot of mistakes! :)

Keenie Beanie said...

I think this is a great post - very thoughtful and thought provoking. You summarized perfectly how I feel about religion and "God," should He exist. I've never really thought about alienating readers who love Jesus with all their hearts, and haven't really blogged much about religion because, simply, it doesn't have much of an impact in my life after I abandoned the strict but only "going through the motions" religion of my childhood.

My cousin, sprung from the same set of deeply religious grandparents as me, has put "evangelical atheist" as his religion on facebook. I smile whenever I think of that dichotomy... atheists and agnostics rarely pontificate on their beliefs, or lack thereof, let alone try to convert others through evangelism about it. I struggle with the lack of respect that certain (only certain, not all) religious people feel is appropriate as they thump their bibles.

Anyway - thanks for posting this.

Best,
Krys
http://keeniebeanie.blogspot.com/

Kait said...

Oh man.

I was raised atheist in super-Catholic Quincy, and at the age of seven all of my classmates were like "You're not having a first communion? YOU'RE GOING TO HELL!!!!" and I was like "Wait wha what's hell!?"

I was really wary of super religious people for a while. That's changed--I'm less uncomfortable than I once was, because I have some really good friends who are really religious, but super cool with different beliefs. But..before that, it was a pretty long road.

Anyway, the point is, this was a great post. I saw myself in a lot of what you wrote, and that's cool.

Allison said...

I think Catholicism has ruined Jesus for a lot of people! I'm a non-denominational Christian and it took me 7 years to fully accept my faith. It's still a struggle, for many of the reasons you and others point out.

But I will say, and it's taken so long to figure this out, that God did not create people in order to torture them. The idea behind the Garden of Eden is that it was perfect. He created people, and wanted us to love Him and He loves us. But He doesn't want us to be mindless robots who just "follow" God and that's it. I mean, could you imagine being married to someone and love Him because you had no choice? How terrible would that be! So God gave us FREEDOM to choose Him. and unfortuantely, many people do not choose to love Him. You have the choice to love God back just as He loves you. And when you reject His love and His gift of redemption because you aren't perfect - He knows that and doesn't expect you to be perfect.

That's it.... It's all on you. God will never force you to do something that you don't want to do but at the same time, you have to realize the consequences.

God doesn't punish people for being mean to people. The simple of not accepting Jesus's gift of the resurrection is what separates us from Him. Our "acts" don't mean anything. Doing "good work" doesn't bring us closer to Jesus and doing "bad work" doesn't separate us. We're separated without Jesus... it's actually really simple when you think about it.

I don't preach on my blog, but I'm happy to answer anyone's questions. Feel free to email me at amblass@gmail.com.

Cheers,
Allison

Julia said...

I have replied to you all individually, but I thought I would post my reply to Allison here as well:

Thanks for your comment! I can definitely understand non-denominational Christianity a lot more than I can traditional Roman Catholicism and other less dogmatic denominations. I understand what you're saying, and I'm glad you finally were able to find the way to your beliefs that worked for you.

Personally, I don't think I'll ever be able to "find" my faith, mostly because I'm not really looking for it. I'm satisfied with the way I understand things as I know them, and I'm very comfortable with my world/spiritual view. A lot of people struggle with their faith because they aren't really sure about how they feel and they have conflicting ideas tugging at them from within. I'm sure enough with myself and my inner personal peace to be happy with the way I believe things to be.

But, like I can't promise you there is no God, I can't promise you I'll always think of things this way. Many people, when growing older and increasingly faced with the idea of their own mortality, turn to a more spiritual side of themselves they never really sought in their youth. i may very well end up like that, although I'm almost certain I will never follow the standard religious procedures and practices of any particular faith, mostly because of my issues with religious institutions and their (what I believe to be a mostly negative) non-spiritual role in the contemporary world, and in history.

thanks again for your comment, i really do appreciate every point of view!

my name is lauren. said...

julia,

even though we may have different opinions on the topic of faith, i am glad that you posted this. i had never really thought about what it might feel like to be an agnostic or atheist reading blogs where people speak about their faith.

i know what you mean about people ruining faith. there have been some atrocious things done in the name of faith....WWII is a prime example. but even on a smaller scale, people have been alienated and made to feel worthless over differences in faith.

i grew up in a baptist church where it was very strict and you followed "the rules" just for the sake of following them. it didn't really matter if you knew why or not.

over the years though i've come to realize that i just need to focus on my personal relationship with jesus and loving other people and that's it. it's not my job to convert people using scare tactics, or judge them about their lifestyles. it's funny to me that people focus so much on all the little minutae of religion and fail to remember the greatest commandments: 1. love God with all your heart. 2. love your neighbor as yourself.

anyway, i'm glad you shared.

Stephany said...

While I don't personally believe the same way you believe and it does hurt my heart to know you feel this way (I have to be honest here and say that because if I truly believe in what I believe, I want others to believe the same way! It's not about being close-minded but about this joy I experience in God and the knowledge that there *is* a Heaven and a Hell. I can't be PC about that.).

I also believe people are entitled to their own beliefs. I'm not one to force my beliefs on anyone. The only way to get people to know God through me is to show God through me. Jesus came to Earth and gave a message of love. He didn't preach to the rich but He reached out to the ones who needed it the most.

For me, it's less about religion and more about the fact that God wants to have a personal relationship with me. He created me, He died for me, and all I have to do is rejoice in Him to receive eternity?

It's what I've grown up believing but my faith has changed over the years. It's grown stronger, but I've been very skeptical about a lot of things involving my religion.

Thanks for this honest post.

Suz said...

I'm glad you shared this. The first time I ever broached religion on my blog, I was terrified. I hate that it is such a divisive topic!

Here are my thoughts:

1- I think "religion" is going through the motions. Following the "rules" etc. Loving Jesus is something totally different. It's about a personal relationship with Him and being overwhelming grateful for the gift He gave us.

2-“I know that a perfect God wouldn’t create imperfect human beings just so that he can condemn us to Hell for being imperfect.”


And “If that's how God operates, then I want nothing to do with him.”

God didn't create imperfect human beings just so he can condem them. He gave us an out. And it's free. All we have to do is believe and accept it. But for some reason that is very difficult for us to admit because it goes against our ego and sense of self-suffeciency.

3- People who use violence in the name of religion I just don't get. I think they have to have the message confused. I don't think I know of anywhere during Jesus' life where he used violence. And isn't the whole point of Christianity to become more Christ like?

4- It's impossible to force your faith on anyone. The only reason I may want share my faith is because I care about people and I think the reaon some Christians have such an urgency about it is because we believe if you do not accept Christ's gift of the cross, you will go to hell. How can we believe that and not try to share what we believe to be the truth if we really care about people? It is like a matter of life and death, so that may be where the urgency comes from. That being said, no one can "save" anyone else. You can't force it on someone, all you can do is share what you believe to be true and leave the rest up to God.

Ok sorry, I know that is a lot. I just hate being lumped into a group that you have to remember is still not perfect. Even though we are saved, we are still imperfect humans who do imperfect things. So, I just wanted to share some of my thoughts on the topic.

But you should never be afraid to share your beliefs on religion. Great post!

Maureen said...

Hey, I have been thinking about this post for a few days now, and I know it's an old post at this point, but I just figured I'd comment.

I'm a Catholic, and only really recently have I become comfortable admitting that to others besides my inner circle.
The truth is, it is hard to be young and Catholic. I live in Portland which is a very liberal city, and Catholics are (sometimes understandably, sometimes not) lumped as close-minded, ignorant, conservative, and dogmatic. Add priest scandal, the pope, politics, etc and you've got quite a situation.

I spent a lot of my post-college adult life attending church semi-regularly, and not really necessarily believing any of it. In the last year or so, I've really grown in my faith, and now I am going to church not because anyone is telling me to, but because I like it. And I'm becoming a better person, not because I am told to by my church, but because being a good, responsible person is simply the right way to live.

I don't preach about my religion. But recently I have accepted that I can talk about being Catholic and not be embarrassed by that. If the liberal people in Portland can discuss openly their politics and belief structure, then I can too, even if sometimes it is different. I don't preach because it's just not my style. I much prefer to (try to!) live a good life and be a shining example in the world. I also volunteer at organizations that are important to me, such as a clinic for pregnant women, and a home for people to die naturally and in peace.

I completely understand that you aren't religious, and that you're not lacking for that either. I have two lifelong best friends, one is Jewish, one is non-religious and I am Catholic. We love each other anyway, and we all live good and responsible lives even if we're dictated by different values. I was not a tiny bit offended by your post, but I just wanted to share that there are many ways to be a Christian, and while Catholicism gets a bad rap (again, I understand why sometimes), I hope it's not perpetually lumped in a group with archaic and faulty values. Like I said, I've only recently begun talking about my religion openly, but I hope that more young Catholics will do the same so that we can, maybe in a small way, change people's perspectives of our religion.

Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

Nina said...

Hey Julia!

I liked this post as it is a side of you that I haven't been able to see too much of as when we were in school together we were less mature. I just wanted to say that I agree with you wholeheartedly and my main issue is that I don't like to argue about religion because it is one of the only conversations that has an indefinite end.

As we cannot know whether there is or there isn't a higher power, arguing about it can create a rift between individuals who may not have disagreed otherwise. I prefer to discuss the issues behind faith rather than faith itself. I realize that faith is very important for many individuals and I would never wish to take that away from them, but I am more of a Golden Rule follower. Anyway, keep up the good work!

Mrs. Dontje said...

julia, i just found your blog and you are a breath of fresh air! i (admittedly) skimmed your post and comments but hope to look things over more thoroughly later.

on another note, i lived in madrid for three months in 2007. you truly live in one of the greatest cities in the world!!

Kelly L said...

I tend to feel sort of the same way - it's not so much religion itself I have a problem with... it's the people. I've seen so much hatred and intolerance and judgment from people who supposedly belong to a faith that preaches love and acceptance... I just don't understand. And maybe I've got more soul-searching to do, anyway, to figure out what I believe, but the people... the people aren't helping.