Religion and I have not had a good relationship the last couple of years. I don't talk about it much, because it might hurt people. And also because it's still complex, for me. I haven't given up on it, but it got removed as my M.O.
I have respect for religion. Enormous respect. The desire to be something more than just a finite animal, the quest for beauty and truth, the mindfulness. And in this case of Christianity, which I was brought up in - the nature of love, especially in regards to sacrifice.
The way religion can be used to hurt others doesn't trouble me in the sense that I find it more bothersome that religion can be used to oppress people than other ways humans find to oppress each other. The ideas of any given religion will never be totally "as one" in that they will be fully synthesized/realized in any one person or organization, and even if they were, the practices would have problems. So I can't damn religion, and I don't want to. Religion is the little girl with the little curl: when it is good, it is very very good, and when it is bad, it is horrible.
I'm pretty sure that's the #1 reason why my knee-jerk reaction to it, even now, is to keep it at arm's length. I don't feel that the religion I was brought up in betrayed me, but I think some of the interpretation of it did. Seriously. Personhood is a complex tapestry, so I don't want to get all binary on stuff, but I think boundaries are a very good thing - and there you have it. The essential betrayal is that evangelical Christianity didn't teach me how to say NO.
If greater love hath no one than this, that a person gives his or her life for a friend, then why couldn't it apply to self-love? If you love something fiercely you protect it. I was at Salvation Army the other day and I automatically pulled out my earbuds to listen to my own music, before I was even inside, because I can't stand the Christian music they play. It's a cocktail for mental illness. The major lesson of "comtemporary Christian music": you suck and aren't worthy of God's love, but you're so, so grateful for it anyway. Next lesson: you must always be thinking about how you are feeling about your relationship with God, and if it's not up to snuff, then you're doing something wrong. But because of that first lesson, you are always probably doing something wrong, because you suck. You think I'm oversimplifying? Well, here's an appeal to ethos: I was super, mega hardcore about Christianity for a long, long time. I was self-steeped in theology. So I'm completely comfortable with this interpretation.
I was moving fully into a more progressive understanding of Christianity even before I crashed and burned with it, though. Couldn't get into the hellfire-and-damnation thing anymore. Couldn't get into the oppression towards women and the LGTBQ community, either. It didn't jibe with my understanding, hard-won, of what the canonical Bible was really saying, to me. It was saying Take care of each other. It was saying Do not judge. It was saying that Love triumphs over everything. It was saying that Inspiration does not equal calcification. So I ditched the fundamentalism-influenced creed of that particular branch of Christianity, including the statement that the Bible is infallible and essentially perfect. Including the statement that some of us will rot in hell. (Emphasis mine.)
It's not like this was comfortable and freeing - I understand the narrative power of good vs. evil, and to remove the hell factor meant to take the spine out of that faith practice. If there isn't a bad ending for some, why bother? That is one argument I grappled with - I also was confronted with the one that asks how can morality be upheld, then? If there aren't consequences? But to me, that's not the argument. It's a different argument. I stopped subscribing to evangelical theology but it didn't remove any power, actually, from Christianity - it just shifted it elsewhere. To change the focus of it from salvation as get-out-of-jail-free card to practicing humanism made, and makes, far more sense to me. I remember the anti-humanism argument being in some text I read in high school or college. I don't remember its particulars, really, but I suspect it had/has something to do with morality, once again. That we can't be complex moral beings without absolutes. I actually agree. But my absolute is about community, which includes myself. The problem with fundamentalism and its offshoots is that it gets hung up on how well you maintain morality. It is the focus. And the more that is the focus, the more oppressive the legalistic scaffolding gets. Calcified. Simplified. There's no room to move, and little air to breathe.
Jesus was hardcore, and he was no fool. He was also extremely thoughtful and understanding. Jesus works, for me, because he turned the natural order on its head - that is, the ways in which humans behave much like the rest of the animal kingdom. He taught, lived, and died a radical way of living. Even if he was just a man, he is no less radical to me. The way he treated others. The way he spent time with them. The way he did so many things I'm not going to enumerate here, except for this one major thing: he called himself the son of man, he taught that loving God was the greatest commandment, and the next, to love others as ourselves, which includes loving ourselves. What this means to me, how I interpret this not only as it is but also from a lot of the other stuff I've read, is that this religion teaches that God is in us.
That's a big deal. Even theoretically.
The locus of power, the energy source, determines everything that comes from it. And the nitpicking about righteousness that stems from depravity theology - that "bit" about how we all suck - stems from a source of power I want nothing to do with. I've spent an enormous amount of my life self-flagellating and wondering if I was good enough, if I was getting my "faith" right, if I was doing right by it. It was a waste of time. I'm good enough. You're good enough. Now go and take care of people, dammit.
My heart was a wide-open space before I took some hits and hit on myself, which led to my total faith crisis. I've learned, since then, how to still let it be open - just not all the time. I've learned that Christ did not mean I, or anyone else, should put up with mistreatment just because he taught, in one instance, to turn the other cheek. Turning the other cheek is a choice in a situation, not blueprint to a way of life. Sacrifice is thoughtful, calculated, intense - and should be practiced with full self-understanding, not in fear.
A lot of the acute wretchedness of that time has passed, though I am not the same and I will always ache for lost things. And I've discovered, along the way and also in definite moments of understanding, that everything I valued before, still holds true. What if there isn't a God? I still believe in compassion, utterly. I still believe in taking care of those who are without - and that itself can be a complex, revelatory thing. I still believe in the power of sacrifice and not letting primalism or hedonism, etc., take the reigns in everything. I still believe in trying to honor my word and practice character, even though I have miserably failed to do this in many ways. I still believe in joy. I still look for truth and beauty. I've found hope, again. That maybe this isn't all there is - but even so, I still have religion, I guess. It seems. It is.
I'm still in-process. There is a fierceness that underlies all of this - I have no problem with living with anger. It is often dormant but it will now fly up to block the hand that intentionally or unintentionally will try to hit either side of my face, so to speak. It protects loss and pain that I can't communicate but still live with. Note: it protects. That's one of the characteristics of love - see Corinthians (and don't either wholly accept or negate everything Paul says, he was definitely flawed - but I love the love passage. I just do.). If I had understood that to truly love myself was to protect myself, I think I could've been a better person, could've done better by people, could've done better to myself. I'm not saying that I regret my life. I regret causing pain. That's about it. But I mourn loss. I'm writing this because of that. Losses and also the loss of faith - but also, how I've sort of regained it. I can't write about it simply, or easily. It is still messy and difficult. I miss having a sure-fire, direct source of comfort.
And I realize it's risky to broadcast such things to the world, in case anyone stumbles across them and maybe holds something back from me that I would like to have or need to have, or in case I hurt someone, or misrepresent myself, etc. Let me be clear. I am a humanist. Period. I will never use my morphing religious thoughts to oppress anyone. And I don't want to pigeonhole myself, so I would prefer others not do that, either, if it makes something positive into a negative.
But I do think true religion is a good thing. So after all of what I've just said, and revisiting my first paragraph, I do realize that it is still my M.O. - it's just different, now. That's ok. I'll take it.