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Ramblings on religion - the funcrunch files

Feb. 27th, 2009 10:08 am Ramblings on religion

Short version: After 17 years of calling myself as a Buddhist, I am no longer using that label. I haven't replaced it with anything though. I still have Buddhist, pagan, and possibly Taoist inklings, and am an atheist by Judeo-Christian standards. But I do not follow or belong to any organized practice.

I grew up in a semi-Jewish household. I did not have a bat mitzvah or Jewish education, we did not belong to a temple, and did not attend services, even on the high holy days. Each year we had a Passover seder at my grandparents' (on my father's side), who also did not otherwise attend services or keep kosher. I got presents on Hanukkah, where the menorah was standing next to our Christmas tree. I believed in God because my mother did and taught me to say (non-denominational) prayers at night when I was young. When my grandmother (on my mother's side) stayed with us, I would see her kneeling by her bed each night saying her prayers. But neither she nor my mother considered themselves Christian or Jewish, specifically. When I asked my mother what religion she was, she would say "I would like to think I am a good person."

By the time I was old enough to think more for myself, around age 12, I learned of the term "agnostic", and decided that that fit. I felt no sense of a higher power in my life, but couldn't "prove" that there wasn't one. A few years later, age 16, I decided that I was really an atheist. I realized that God is made in man's image, and not the other way around. I was willing to believe there might be higher-evolved beings than humans in the universe, but not an all-powerful supreme being that created the world and cared about human existence. (I still feel this way.) I became more militantly atheist senior year of high school through sophomore year of college, when I discovered Ayn Rand and objectivism. I considered religion to be useless at best and outright destructive to humankind at worst.

Around senior year of college I discovered Buddhism. I was having a bit of an existential crisis and felt I needed to understand the meaning of life. I related strongly to the ideas that all things were interconnected, and all actions have consequences. I liked the idea of meditation rather than prayer and worship, and the idea that gods in Buddhism are essentially optional, depending on the local culture and tradition, so I could remain an atheist. In January 1992, just before I turned 22, I declared myself a Buddhist and also stopped eating meat. I became much more liberal politically, pacifist and concerned with animal welfare for the first time in my life. I felt really good about this change, for awhile.

A year or so later, when I moved to California, I started reading about paganism and neo-paganism, and became intrigued. I didn't feel a connection with the rituals, but I liked the idea of honoring the Earth, acknowledging feminine energy and power, and embracing alternative relationship structures. I found a local Church of All Worlds group and attended a couple of meetings. But I really didn't feel a connection with the people there. They didn't seem that interested in honoring the Earth. It felt more like a combination polyamory support group and speculative fiction book club. I moved on.

Over the years since then I made sporadic attempts at Buddhist meditation, made a number of pagan friends, and attended some pagan rituals. I still never felt a strong connection. I didn't feel comfortable calling myself a pagan, and I felt like I was a Buddhist in name only, seeing it more as an intellectual idea than anything else.

Recently, I had a revelation: the only thing I can count on in this crazy, unpredictable world is the sun. Sunrise, sunset. These happen every day, always have, always will, for the entire history of life on Earth. I tried to find some profound meaning in this revelation. Am I a pagan after all? Should I be worshiping the sun?

I realized: No. The sun doesn't care whether I worship it or not. It's going to keep doing its thing while we humans do our thing: having sex, driving cars, paying bills, buying digital watches. We can enjoy the sun, bask in the sun, sing praises to it, but it's all just for our own amusement, ultimately. The whole of Nature is so much greater than us, and ascribing human attributes to it for our own convenience diminishes rather than enhances its power, in my eyes.

Human words and ritual cannot capture the power of Being. Describe, yes. Appreciate, yes. Capture, no. Own, no.

Buddhist literature talks about breaking the cycle to achieve enlightenment. I don't want to break the cycle. I am the cycle. We are not masters of the Earth, we are a very part of its living body. Whether I become enlightened in my seven or eight or nine decades of life on Earth is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. That doesn't mean life is meaningless or purposeless - not at all. Life just - is.

So for now, I have no religion. But I will have a purpose. I just have to find it.

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Date:February 27th, 2009 06:54 pm (UTC)
Date:February 27th, 2009 07:25 pm (UTC)
Brilliant! Thanks for sharing.
Date:February 27th, 2009 08:07 pm (UTC)
but it's all just for our own amusement, ultimately.

I think that's true for anything we might choose to worship. It's not for the benefit of the worshipped, but for the worshipper.

If you haven't read it, I recommend The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are by Alan Watts. It was when I read that that I finally felt like I got what I was looking for, spiritually. I realized just how much of what we think of as the world and nature and everything are just abstractions, concepts, labels that we placed on things in order to make sense of it all. They have no inherent meaning. Then we try to build meaningful philosophies and religions on these things that don't really exist, creating all sorts of silly philosophical conundrums. As Watts puts it, "spuriously divide the world into two, forget that you've done it, and then ponder for centuries about how they get together." The big abstraction, the basis of all philosophy and religion, is the concept of self. Once I saw this for what it was, an abstraction we made up, my confusions about how my self fits into the greater whole simply vanished. However, that doesn't mean that I have my spiritual needs met. Just my metaphysical ones.
(no subject) - (Anonymous)
Date:February 28th, 2009 02:12 am (UTC)
Polyamory and sci-fi are great in and of themselves, but yeah, that's not what I came to explore paganism for...