Trying to figure out where to begin....
The first things that come to mind have to do with:
Faith as encounter with God, not with rules and ethics. Hammurabi and Confucious instituted the foundations of ethical codes -- religion is for something else entirely.
Religion as God's gift of companionship to us, not our invention or creation.
The Catholic church as a vast storehouse and living constituency of art, literature, music, imagination.
The Christian church as the foundational impetus for the civil rights movement, and as the place in which many of us found and continue to find support for our convictions about peace and about the rights of women and gays.
Your criticisms are largely and painfully valid. But a spiritual quest is a gift from God, not a diving platform constructed of rules and dogma.
Second, what you write reminds me of conversations with my adult children and causes me to agree with you on on thing: the influence of the media. My children tend to see the church as a homophobic, war-mongering, rigid, ossified institution inhabited by the political right. I look at them in disbelief and say, "But you know ME! And you know lots of other people engaged with faith, committed to religious institutions, acting in the public arena out of religious conviction. They clearly see us as a lunatic fringe and believe that the real religious America is something I would argue is a media caricature.
I had a feeling my previous post just might wring a comment (or two!) from Robin. She’s been SO busy with her internship and other projects this summer, we haven’t heard a lot from her…but any time I parade my agnosticism around, Robin is sure to have wise words from an opposite viewpoint.
So, of course, I would like to continue the conversation.
Robin’s first comment emanates from her own experience with spirituality and religion. She drew completely opposite conclusions from her spiritual youth than I did from mine. Ultimately, she has gathered up the pieces of her uniquely ecumenical life and made a decision to enter the ministry. She believes in religion. And not just in a "I’m a believer so I’m going to heaven and everyone else will suffer eternal hellfire" way. Robin’s walk has given her deep convictions about Christian spirituality and the expressions thereof.
Do I think she’s misguided, duped, full of crap? Do I think she’s wasting her time investing so much of herself into something in which I do not believe? Absolutely not. A spiritual walk is a deeply personal thing. Each person must follow her own convictions, whatever they may be. Though I understand and honor this, it’s also the thing that opens wide the door for my agnosticism. It’s the very fact that each individual must craft her own perception of and relationship to the spiritual that causes me to reject religion.
First of all, it’s obvious that humans beings have so little factual information (if indeed such information exists…) about the spiritual realm and our relationship to it that we must each, in the end, construct our beliefs out of our own personal experience. If this is the case, how presumptuous it has been of us to concoct these elaborate belief systems, each of which seems to have as a central part of its doctrine that its adherents need to go out into the world and make disciples. It’s not enough that one person finds his way…he has to make sure other people find his way, too. I suppose it could be argued that when someone discovers something they feel is THE Way, they want to share it with everyone. But I don’t believe the bloodthirsty way in which we have historically chosen to "share" our faith with each other has at its core the other guy’s best interests. Any inspiration the ancients felt to magnanimously share the good news was quickly corrupted by other, less attractive human tendencies—like greed, covetousness and the lust for power.
Take an inherently flawed human being, give him the conviction that he has been anointed by the Creator of the Universe, that his every thought or desire emanates from that omnipotent source, and give him the personal charisma to charm the skin off a snake, and you have a recipe for disaster. How many of these disasters has the human race had to suffer through over the course of history? How much hideous damage have they wrought?
Still, I must concede that not everything related to religion is poisonous. Of course there have been those souls whose devotion to the Almighty and things of the spirit combined with genuine compassion for humanity have left a legacy of progress toward true spiritual discovery. Those anointed lives are woven in and out of the fabric of our religions. Modern seekers who discover and follow these paths are blessed indeed. I don’t think they have all the answers either; I’m not convinced they even know the questions. But if their personal spiritual walks ultimately bring them peace, and make them a blessing rather than a curse to others, they can die happy.
I’m also afraid I’ll have to argue the "media caricature" point. Robin believes that the current perception of religion has been created by the media. But I’d like to point out that the Religious Right has intentionally and very purposefully used the media to advance its agenda. If "religion" is all over the media, it was put there on purpose by people who believed it would givethem some kind of advantage, some kind of leg up on the competition (whoever that is…) It is the nature of the bombastic Religious Right to make use of such a tool. On the other hand, it is not natural for contemplative, steadfastly devotional and compassionate typesto blow their own horns with the kind of audacity employed by the Religious Right. Which, in my opinion, is what has led to the image problem the Christian Church—and the Muslim and Jewish faiths, for that matter—is facing today.
I’ve used up all my time for today…as usual, I have too much to do and not enough time to do it in. If there’s anyone else who would like to contribute to this discussion, feel free…