Finding Your Way Without a Star

canstockphoto0108300We are a secular family, so every December, we wend our way through a minefield of holiday traditions. When you’re an adult, you have settled on a belief system that hopefully gets challenged and re-evaluated on a regular basis. One of the things that forces you to look things over again is having a child.

This is a particularly difficult subject to even write about, because I know it can be emotionally charged for many people. Please don’t try to convert me. I don’t operate that way and you shouldn’t tire yourself out.

My husband and I had our biannual heated discussion about religion yesterday. He was raised in a Lutheran Church with a sense of community and belonging. His experiences with God and organized religion were so inherently positive, that he doesn’t understand my disinterest and occasional hostility.

I was raised and baptized into the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. I attended church regularly until I was 13. There are evangelical and orthodox churches that are much more intense. The SDA rates about an 8, between churches you only attend on holidays and churches at which you make animal sacrifices. People are fierce about their beliefs and this is the point at which I depart. I don’t know the answers and I’m really comfortable with that. I don’t know if there is any god or twenty.

People of faith talk of being touched by the hand of God, but I’ve never felt that touch in organized religion. There are things in the world that make me feel that way – when I am outside, in nature, when I watch my husband and daughter play together or when I read or see astounding literature or art or music (the first note of a live music performance is rapturous).

As a child, I believed everything that I was taught at church, so hellfire and damnation were just around the corner waiting for me for the mildest infractions. We were once read a story in Bible study class to illustrate that the Sabbath is a holy day. A little girl went rollerskating on the Sabbath and she broke her leg. What kind of God does that? The church had movie night on Sundays. I saw the apocalyptic movie “A Thief in the Night”. For months after that, I expected to wake one morning to find my family gone and “666” burned on my forehead. I was 10 years old, two years older than my daughter is now.

I have a hard time with organized religion and man made ideas of God for a few reasons:

Chauvinism. This is where my husband and I part ways on a very intrinsic level. It’s taken me years to come into my own as a woman and to recognize that no one has the right to belittle or abuse me. I have a knee-jerk reaction about men telling me what to do. Most major religions have chauvinism built right into the system, from using texts that treat women as property, whores or virgins, to blocking them from being church leaders.

Born Sinners. Some religions purport the idea that children are born inherently flawed and in need of redemption. I find this disturbing, especially now that I’m a parent. I could never look into a baby’s eyes and see evil – although all that crying, spitting up and pooping reminds me of “The Exorcist”.

Hypocrisy. I’ve simply met too many people who have declared themselves, imposed themselves and announced themselves to be of a particular faith when they are the people I would least put my faith in. I feel the same way when people say “I’ll be honest with you” right before they lie or “I don’t want to hurt your feelings” right before they insult you.

Exclusivity. For many religions, proselytizing and spreading the word are a requirement. The inherent nature of telling people how wonderful your beliefs are, is that you are saying that you know the answer and anybody else is, well, not a member of the club.

Exceptionalism. I realize I’m being petty, but every time there is a disaster and people die, there are always people who say this to the news camera: “God was looking out for me.” In their relief that they survived, they express gratitude that God skipped everyone else to save just them. It defies logic.

I had a great exchange with S. Smith, the author of Seed Savers this week. It was regarding the knee-jerk reaction people have to religious references – a reaction of which I’m definitely guilty. My daughter just finished the first book in Ms. Smith’s series, called “Treasure”. The book was wonderful and the biblical references fitting, but I had to look beyond my own prejudices to see that. Wisdom can come from a variety of sources and I believe, for many people, organized religion and spiritual text serves a positive purpose.

I spent about five years of my adult life “church shopping”, trying to find a place where I felt comfortable, where I could find a spiritual home. It was me, not the churches. Much like the old Groucho Marx quote “I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept people like me as a member.” The bottom line is that I’m an introvert. Clubs, meetings, congregations, parties, riots – these cause me anxiety and do not keep me grounded in humbling and spiritual thoughts. Religious beliefs are personal, but so is one’s experience with organized religion.

How will this translate for my daughter? She knows a little about a lot of religions. We read and talk about religious and philosophical texts in our home. When she is curious enough, we will take her to a range of church services. She must know her choices to make choices, so my daughter will be raised with a weird hybrid of religion and nature and art. But she was born good and we’ll do our best to help her remain on that path.