Me and religion
I like religion. Furthermore, I am a believer in religious faith, specifically Christian religious faith. Maybe I don’t look like a very “religious” person. I do not, for example, attend church very often, and when I do it is to suit me and my schedule more than to suit the customs or beliefs of a faith community. Some might say that estrangement from the community or non-conformity with the shape of the community’s life automatically disqualifies my claim to religion which, by definition, must be practiced within a community, among a quorum of believers. Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as a religion of one, a personal religion. That has another name. It’s called a philosophy. But if anyone contends that I am actually not religious I would disagree. I am a very religious guy, especially by comparison with everyday people. I’m the sort of theologically articulate guy one ought to want to have in one’s congregation.
I was raised in the United Church of Canada, a predominantly Presbyterian Protestant congregation, and I have had a long academic interest in religion, the Bible, Scripture, history, theology and philosophy. (The two things are not connected, they are only an enumeration of elements of my personality.) It was my interests, combined, that led me in university first to Biblical Archaeology and, later, to the McMaster Divinity College in Hamilton, Ontario, where I took a Master’s Degree in Theological Studies. After that, my interests took me to Israel itself where I experienced the desert, the Jordan River, the Dead Sea, the Temple Mount, the Old City, the Rockefeller Museum, as well as archaeological digging and, briefly, life in a monastery. Other experiences, as well. Too many to recount here.
As an adult, however, I have drifted steadily away from the UCC of my upbringing. I am not nearly as hostile to the general idea of church as some of my brothers are, and I often attend it with my mother when I am home on holidays. But I have steadily grown benignly disinterested in it as I’ve aged, in tandem with what I consider the Church’s descent into insufferable silliness. Its custom of embracing and molding itself to an endless stream of currently popular issues in an attempt to grow its relevance among contemporary people rather turns me off. And I think it’s wrong. To me it looks like a steady growth away from meaningful traditional core values that still ought to be our foundation, and still have the capacity to be our foundation as Christians and the kernel of our identity. Of course I could be wrong, because that might be only how it looks. The first rebuttal is that the exploration of and expansion into contemporary issues are how one actively lives out one’s understanding of Christian incarnation and atonement, reconciliation and sanctification, justice, equality and love.
In any event, throughout my life I have been attracted, and I still am attracted to faiths and denominations that actively live by molding their lives with their faith, which is something the UCC has never impressed me with. Without necessarily agreeing with them, but greatly appreciating them I began my search in high school and university when I had a very strong leaning towards the Jehovah’s Witness church. (A girl was involved.) It was the JWs message and commitment that grabbed me, although their literature was and remains a big turn-off. (The girl grabbed me too, but …) After that, as I grew away from the UCC I grew towards high church Anglicanism and then Catholicism. No girls were involved. With them it was the history, the historical-based liturgy, the richness of their liturgy, and their more traditional theology.
Recently I’ve been investigating Orthodox Judaism. So much so that I have even purchased for myself a set of tefillin (phylacteries), a kippa (yarmulke), a menorah, a tallit (prayer shawl), a yad (a pointer used while reading scripture), and a Sidur (interlinear English-Hebrew weekday prayer book). Of course, I also have Protestant prayer books, Catholic missals, and approximately 400 Bibles in multiple editions and languages for use by multiple Christian denominations. I have more than one Book of Mormon (which I haven't read) and more than one Quran (which I've read three times). I have a couple sets of Catholic rosary beads, and I even have a Catholic prie dieu (a piece of furniture for individual kneeling and prayer, but the one I have also contains a fold-away confessional screen) because I think it’s neat. In my daily life here I carry Japanese Shinto good luck charms (“omamori”), Christian pocket totems, and both Buddhist and Catholic prayer beads. I also have more than one Tibetan Buddhist prayer wheel.
What do I do with all this stuff? Possessing Jewish tefillin, a prayer shawl and a menorah does not mean that I observe Chanukah and am starting to convert to Judaism. My feeling for Catholicism does not take me to Mass. (Not being baptized into the Catholic Church disqualifies me from receiving the sacraments.) I keep them like artefacts, or maybe like totems. They help keep my mind oriented towards the metaphysical and the history behind the objects and their traditions.
Certainty about anything, especially the future, is a sign of mental illness. And materialism - the philosophical assumption that reality is nothing but physical stuff - is more a prejudice rather than a fact.
My interest in religion does not mean that I reject anything of modern life; not like an old order Mennonite, a Hasidic Jew, or a Doukhobor. I’m a child of my time, so I believe in the Big Bang origin of the universe, the geologic age of the earth, the existence of dinosaurs, and the evolution of humanity through natural selection. I think sex is normal and healthy. I think homosexuality is well within the spectrum of normal sexuality. I like rock and roll music. I believe that the best education for a Christian is synonymous with the best education, period. I believe that certainty about anything, especially the future, is a sign of mental illness. And I believe that materialism - the philosophical assumption that reality is nothing but physical stuff - is more a prejudice rather than a fact.