Saturday, January 31, 2009

I read an article awhile back about a theory advanced by some prominent sociologist about why people are attracted to fundamentalist religions. His theory is that people are drawn to conservative religions because of the value of the goods and services offered. Fundamentalist religions tend to create close-knit communities where people provide services for each other: covered dishes when someone is sick, help with childcare, I don't know what all else. It's been several months since I read it.

My first thought was that the guy was nuts. Did he even talk to anyone, a single person, and ask them why they go to church? Because my guess is that if you surveyed 100 Evangelicals and asked them that question, less than five of them would mention some service that the church provides. And I'm only saying that many because there are always outliers. Really, I can't imagine anyone would say that. "Oh, yes, I go to church so that when my wife is sick someone will bring me a tuna casserole." Right.
But, on second thought, it does make a kind of sense. If you're an atheist, on the outside (so to speak) looking at the fundamentalist phenomenon, and you've never had any kind of spiritual experience, of course you would look for some kind of answer that makes sense to you. And to someone who doesn't have a spiritual bent, an exchange of goods and services makes more sense than anything else.
Oh, there are so many different directions to go with this, it's hard to know where to start. I'm tempted to get off on the tangent about how people are wired, how some people have a spiritual bent and others don't. But I guess I'll stick with what I was intending to write about when I sat down.
It seems to have not occurred to this guy that someone might go to church because that feeling of connecting with something larger than yourself can be so sublime as to be practically addictive. Or because the lessons learned at church are in many ways the basic lessons of becoming fully human, i.e., a sort of self-improvement program--learning to become more loving, more joyful, more peaceful (and yes, those are the first three fruits of the Holy Spirit, not being anti-choice, anti-gay, and Republican, as some would have you believe)(see Galatians 5:22). And that's not even counting reasons like habit, comfort, honoring your cultural heritage, seeing your friends, and "forsaking not the gathering of yourselves together." None of which has a thing to do with ham loaf or lasagna. Sheesh.

So, it occurred to me that a slanted way of getting at the same question might be to ask, what do I miss about being an Evangelical? maybe that would be a backward way of asking the same thing, if that makes any sense. I've typed plenty about what I don't miss, about what infuriates me and makes me so, so entirely happy that I've left that way of thinking behind. But I don't think I've said much about what I miss. And there is a surprising amount (surprising to me, anyway). There are moments when I'm with my family (practically all of whom are still dedicated Evangelicals) when I'm overcome with sadness about what I've lost.

(more to come, have to go to my son's basketball game)

Monday, January 12, 2009

(continued from previous post) besides feeling the admittedly non-specific feeling of "real," I was also experiencing gratitude, the feeling of being grateful to be alive, grateful to be able to experience the moment.  An interesting thought, yes?  Being grateful implies a benefactor, usually.  Which is not precisely the right word, but you catch my meaning, I hope.  I can accept gratitude without a benefactor, I think; as a state of mind, like feeling content or bored or proud.  After all, you can feel proud of someone when you have absolutely no claim to have helped with whatever is making you proud of them, so why can't you feel grateful to be alive without having anyone to be grateful to?  But still, gratitude of the other sort, the sort that definitely feels a sense of connection to the source of life, is more what I was feeling at that particular moment.  Does the existence of the feeling have any validity as proof of the source?  Maybe not for anybody besides the person feeling it, but it means something to me, anyway.

and after that grammatical and logical tangle, I'm signing off.


Friday, January 09, 2009

Earlier this week I was on the treadmill and I reached the end of the audiobook I'd been listening to before I'd gone the requisite amount of time, so I just switched my ipod to music and put it on shuffle play. There's all sorts of music on there: Dave Matthews, Led Zeppelin, Cat Stevens, Brent Lewis, Matchbox Twenty, MIA and Imogene Heap (my daughter's influence), Soulja Boy and Skillet (my son's influence), and even Toby Mac, who is an evangelical Christian hiphop artist (not kidding)(actually, I love his music). So at some point a Toby Mac song comes up and one of his backup singers has a spoken bit at the beginning in which he says "I'm trying to reach a place that's real and true and eternal," and I thought to myself, "Aren't we all?" I mean, isn't that it? for all of us who are interested in digging beneath the surface, trying to find some sort of connections or meaning or whatever. The names we attach to it, the ideas we use to explain it, are all window dressing, if you ask me.

Then this afternoon, I had one of those moments, which I don't have very often, where it's just you and reality, staring you in the face, and everything else falls away. It was all in my head, there wasn't any amazing thing happening-- I was chopping up stuff to put in the crock pot to make stew, of all things-- and suddenly it occurred to me, what difference does it make right this minute if I believe in God or not? and I know there are people on either side of the issue who would very passionately argue that it does matter, vitally--how utterly important it is to have the correct theology about God so you can be Right and/or Saved, or how important it is to be rational and not delude ourselves with feel-good ideas of order in the universe, or however else they might want to argue. But I have to say, in that particular moment, I couldn't think of any reason why it would make a difference to believe one way or the other. It was enough to be standing there in my kitchen with the winter sun streaming through the window, feeling real.

no great insights here, just passing along what happened. it's always a work in progress.


Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Books I read or re-read in 2008 that were worth reading (in the order that I read them):

John Adams - David McCullough
Persepolis - Marjane Sartrapi
Holy Cow - Sarah MacDonald
To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
Leaving Church - Barbara Taylor
This Book will Save Your Life - A.M. Homes
The Satanic Verses - Salman Rushdie
Stranger Things Happen - Link
a couple by Christopher Moore
Agnes and the Hitman - Crusie/Mayer

Kids/Young Adult
Rick Riordan's Lightning Thief series
The Pinhoe Egg by Diana Wynne Jones
The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

A bit shorter than last year's list. I almost didn't type it up when I was just thinking back over the year, but when I actually got around to pulling out the back page of the calendar where I keep the list, I remembered these. You'll have to go back to the posts about trashy novels to see the ones I read during that phase :-). Thanks to the anonymous poster for recommending Jennifer Crusie, who was perfect for the beach vacation we went on at the end of the year.