Thursday, July 17, 2008

A Quick Summary of My Religious Development

I found this post a few days ago, and thought it was very funny.  I immediately sent it to a few other people who have a similar sense of humor to me, and also wanted to link to it right away.  But I then decided I should maybe do a more extensive post upon further reflection.


A few people in the company think of me as an atheist.  I have been accused at times of being slightly anti-Christian or intolerant of Christian views.  While I admit to being rather skeptical and cynical of many aspects of religion, I am not quite sure if I am a full-fledged atheist (even if I find humor in mocking zealous Christians).  When it comes straight down to it, I just don't think I care enough one way or the other.  I would describe myself as agnostic, but for me agnostic means someone who doesn't know if there is a god, but actually kind of wants to know the answer.  I feel like if I were truly agnostic, I would actually take an interest and read books on religious thought and so forth to educate myself and figure out what the answer really is.  I have no interest in even pursuing the subject and generally shrug my shoulders, or say, "I don't do religion."


I wasn't always like this.  I grew up in southern Germany, where almost everyone is Catholic, and religion was one of many other classes we had to take (in fifth grade, I would be taking Math, German, English, Music, Biology, Art, Religion, PE, Geology (or Geography), among many others; in sixth grade, history was added, and in seventh, Latin - I think I may have had as many as twelve to fourteen subjects at one time).  Religious instruction started in third grade to prepare us all for our First Communion.  Perhaps since it was part of school and I was an overzealous student, I got really into it.  I'd go to the Wednesday afternoon service and Sunday mornings, participated in a Bible group (which may or may not have been mandatory in preparation for First Communion) and always volunteered to participate in the service (which is actually how I lost my best friend since I went to church instead of a birthday party - the next day, my friend was barely talking to me and had replaced me with the birthday girl as his new friend).  The entire time we lived in Germany, my family never went to church regularly.  We'd usually show up to a service Christmas Eve, but my dad didn't want to go to a church service he didn't understand (the German Catholic Mass), and I don't think either of my parents had any interest in driving to base Sunday mornings.


Eventually, like almost every other German student I know, I lost interest.  Perhaps it would have just happened anyway, perhaps it was because I realized there wasn't really a place for me in the church.  When the religion class instructor asked if any of us would be interested in being "Ministranten" (or altar boys, though Ministrant doesn't actually imply the word boy in it), and I was told no because I was a girl even though I was the only one interested, I was rather unhappy, but also realized that I enjoyed sleeping in Sunday mornings and all this stuff just wasn't worth the trouble.


Even though religion was taught as part of the school curriculum, I never once had an issue with reconciling science and religion.  They were both separate but true.  As a result, when I moved to the States, and was learning about evolution, it seemed pretty evident to me that it was true.  It was science.  I didn't understand how it conflicted with religion.  Since some students told me they didn't believe in evolution because of religion, I came up with ways to argue that both could peacefully coexist ("we don't know what God's concept of time is - he says a day, that could be billions of years to us; he is all knowing so he intended for evolution to occur the way it did; he made the genes mutate but didn't actually build us from clay"). 


Equally, I didn't understand the sudden emphasis on saving one's self for marriage.  I'd never heard of that concept in Germany, and it wasn't because I was too young to be discussing sex.  I read German teen magazines, and those things used to have instructions on condoms, kissing, stories called "My First Time" etc.  It just wasn't an issue over there.  My parents, of course, had had "the talk" with me but they never said wait till marriage.  They said make sure it's love.  My 8th grade Health Teacher, who actually seemed rather liberal, progressive and hippy-like in many ways, had a guest speaker come talk to us about sex.  He explained to us that we were like roses and every time we had sex, we'd lose a petal until finally we'd be an ugly, empty shell of a flower.  I was thirteen, and I tuned the whole thing out (I had the rather unrealistic plan in my head at the time to get my first kiss at thirteen or fourteen, have a serious boyfriend at sixteen, lose my virginity at 17 after a year of dating, and then go to college - totally didn't happen that way; I ended being several years behind on everything except college).


America's interpretation of religion baffled me.  While in Seattle, my parents were friends with a family who are sort of related to us via in-laws, and they were much more religious than we were.  After eight years in Germany, my dad wanted to be a member of a church again, mainly I think for the social community, so we went to a few services with them on occasion, and I even volunteered at the youth bible group since I needed community service hours for Honors Society.  Still, religion tended to bore me, and it seemed much more conservative in the States.


Over the years, I became more disillusioned with the practice of religion in the United States.  While I know liberals who are religious and tolerant, so many of the people that we met who describe themselves as Christian are nice but very conservative and intolerant.  I hated how people used their religion to justify their narrow minded positions, especially since everyone just picks and chooses which Bible verses to follow.  This is wrong because Leviticus says so.  And yet they never bring up the many other things that the Bible deems as wrong that have since been accepted.  Nor do they discuss the conflicting verses.  "Don't marry your brother's wife, it's incest" vs. "marry your brother's widow and protect her."  I think maybe I take after my mom.  While she never went to church regularly, she thought of herself as somewhat religious.  However, she was critical of the church.  She felt the Catholic Church in our town in Germany took advantage of some of the older women that attended regularly.  Now, she is always critical of people that call themselves Christian whose actions speak otherwise.


When we discussed the Founding Fathers and some of their religious views, I thought there was a philosophy I could fall behind.  There was a Supreme Being, he created the universe, the Earth, whatever, and then he went away and let us do our own thing.  He really could care less what we do down here, who's sleeping with who etc.


I've noticed in the Army especially that people who are religious tend to be of the very conservative sort, as in they believe in creationism and think homosexuality is a sin.  Maybe it's just that those are the most vocal and noticeable.  I've actually become even less interested in religion during the deployment than before if that was even possible.  Before every mission, the chaplain comes down and prays with the troops that are about to go on the road.  I used to stay in the circle, respectfully, with my head bowed.  Now, I step to the back.  Maybe it's just me, but having a ritualistic prayer doesn't necessarily seem that sincere or spontaneous to me.  Shouldn't true faith be about spontaneity rather than simply routine?  So I step away for two reasons: I don't know what I believe, and I don't think that if I ever determine what I think that that would be a true expression of real faith for me.


While I probably am closer aligned to being an atheist at the moment than anything else, I don't necessarily have a problem with religion.  I have a problem with the interpretation of religion.  I have a problem with the way some people choose to practice their faith.  I have an issue with how some people use their faith to cast stones and judge others.  I dislike how some people use the Bible and other religious texts to justify their bigotry and ignorant, misguided beliefs.  And I know not everyone is like that.  But it scares me that this is who we see representing religion, that this is the side of the religion that seems to be gaining more and more power and getting more and more say in the world.  That's why I enjoy things that make fun of the overzealous religious who think that they are right and everyone else is wrong.  At least this way I know there is also a group of people out there that don't think that way and who also see the folly in some of the views of extreme religion, but Christianity in particular.

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