Defying Societal Norms

They say there are three things that you shouldn’t talk about in “mixed” or “polite” company – sex, politics, and religion. So today I’m going to pitch all that out the window and discuss my religious beliefs with you, partially because I’m completely bereft of ideas for what to write about and partially because I wonder if there are others out there that have my particular brand of religion/spirituality.

First off, let me preface this by saying that I have walked a very long road to get to this point in my life. I’ve walked the path of a lot of faiths and denominations before arriving at the decisions that I have regarding religion. That speaks to my core belief that there’s something out there bigger than us – it’s just been a lifelong journey to recognize what that is.

When I was born, I was baptized at a Disciples of Christ church, though I never attended. My family wasn’t very religious, and so the only exposure to religion that I received was during the Sundays that I accompanied my grandmother to her Southern Baptist church. My family also wanted me to make my own decisions about religion when I was ready, and so I’d kind of wing it, sometimes doing Bible readings for the family at Christmas.

When I was 13 I had a paper route, and one of my subscribers was the rectory of the local Catholic Church. They had just build a stunning new chapel, and I was curious about it, so I told the priest that I was interested in learning more about Catholicism. He recommended that I join the order of the catechumens. Thanks to my lack of follow through at that point in my life, I never attended, but remained curious for some time about the ritualized services of the Catholics.

About the time I was 18 or so I had swung far and wide away from my Christian roots and was interested in becoming pagan. Again, a lack of organized classes deterred me from pursuing this any further than considerable curiosity.

By the time I was 20, about to turn 21, in fact, I was very empty and was searching for anything that would have me, and that’s when two Mormon missionaries came knocking on my door. I was curious, I was older, and so I did follow through to become baptized a second time into the Mormon church. A week later I was ordained into their lay ministry. My time with the Mormons came to a sudden and abrupt halt when I went to essentially confess to my bishop a struggle I was having and was told that part of my penance would be to forbid me from taking communion for six months. I thought it rather odd that at a time when I was reaching out to God for help with a struggle I was being prevented from communion, so I slipped away from the church not long after that meeting.

It wasn’t long afterward that I joined a multi-level marketing business which took over my entire life for several months. I changed my political beliefs to be more in line with what I was being taught, I changed the way I cut my hair, and of course I joined the church that everyone else had joined – a Pentecostal church that I never really understood, but went along with anyway, to the point of being baptized a third time. I was speaking in tongues, I was part of the musical worship team, I was going along with the crowd, until the crowd decided they didn’t want me to be part of their team anymore, and so in very short order my church, my second job, my circle of friends, and everything else that I’d taken up with in order to feel wanted disappeared, and I was starting over from square one.

From that point forward I was very cautious of any sort of religion, since I’d felt so burned and so gullible from the whole experience, so I went solo for a while and kind of ignored that urge that I felt deep inside, since it had gotten me hurt multiple times before.

It was during this time that I solidified my political and societal opinions, never again to waver from them, so any attempt to join a church would have to be a welcoming experience for anyone to match my liberal viewpoints. I found that several years later in a Presbyterian church. A friend of mine was the minister there, and I started attending just to have something to do, promising myself that I would take it VERY slowly and learn before jumping in with both feet. I don’t remember much of my experiences there, but they were good and I enjoyed the people that I was meeting with every Sunday. I also don’t remember why I stopped going, but I did, I don’t think for any real reason other than I just stopped.

My next foray into organized religion was in Illinois, when I started attending a Unitarian Universalist church there. This was by far my happiest experience in a church and I made plenty of friends and got very involved with the congregation. I was even working part-time in the church office. I dabbled with Buddhist meditation, I dabbled once more with paganism, and I generally loved the freedom that the church allowed its members to practice in their own personal experiences. We stopped attending church shortly before moving from the area – attending services would have meant an hour-plus one-way trip, and we just couldn’t justify the expense or the time commitment. And that was the last time that I associated with any one religion.

It was my experience with the UU church that finally solidified my religious beliefs. I came to recognize that I believe that no one religion was the true one; rather, that all religions spoke a part of the truth, and that the higher power that was at the head of one was actually at the head of all the others as well. Some religions recognize only one god, some worship thousands, but all of them are just manifestations of the same higher power in a manner that each civilization could understand and embrace. The basic tenet of almost every religion on the planet is very simple – treat others the way you yourself wish to be treated. And that’s a tenet that I can get behind.

I no longer believe that attending worship services is a necessary part of my religious beliefs, but I do believe in respecting the religious beliefs of others as being key to a good relationship with the divine. It’s part of that treating others the way you wish to be treated. I don’t get into arguments about which religion is right, because all of them are right in their own way.

Do I pray? In my own way. I ask that people who are suffering find solace and peace, I ask that those who are sick be healed. I believe in miracles because my very existence is a miracle, and so is everyone else’s existence. We are surrounded by miracles and they’re so commonplace that we don’t recognize a miracle unless it’s something truly magnificent, without explanation or basis in known fact. I believe that science and religion are intertwined, and that our understanding of the world and the universe helps us to understand the divine. Do I believe in life after death? I honestly don’t have an opinion, mostly because that’s not anything that we’re meant to know in these meatbags that we walk around in. I think that if there is something after death, living a good life here on Earth will reflect in what happens to you after you die. But I’m not going to fret over my eternal soul. I believe that I’m doing what’s right for me.

Are these beliefs right for you? Maybe – maybe not. The important thing is that they’re right for me, and that I’m happy and content with my beliefs. Are they subject to change? Certainly, as I learn more about religions the world over I gain knowledge about my own beliefs. Will I ever participate in organized religion again? I might perhaps rejoin a UU church at some point if I find myself in need of fellowship, but for now that’s not an urge that I experience.

So there’s my personal take on spirituality. If it fits with any known religion I haven’t found it, and I’m not really looking to see if it does. In this aspect of my life, at least, I’m happy being me just as I am.

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