Have you seen the latest viral video? Jefferson Bethke rhymes his way through four minutes, explaining why he hates religion but loves Jesus. It’s interesting, for sure. Check it out and share your thoughts. I’ve got mine… to follow shortly.
First a few disclaimers: I’m not trying to get you to love or not love Jesus. That is not my concern. It’s your business. And I’m definitely not trying to convert you to a particular religion. That’s not my place.
Jefferson Bethke has Jesus, not religion. And I respect that. I have faith, but not religion. I was raised Catholic and much of that is my “culture” but it does not define fully what I believe, who I am or how I operate in my life. Bethke seems to take Jesus a little more seriously, and I think he wants me to as well. It is unlikely, but I appreciate the well-intentioned directive on his part, and I wish him well on his journey.
I get why religion matters to people. I believe the sense of community, and the rituals within religious practice, is what draws many people to a religion. The podcast The Moth featured this week (02/06/2012) a story of a Judy Gold’s departure and return to Judaism. The rituals of Judaism that Gold so despised as a youth became years later a welcome aspect of her life. I believe this is the story for many, and I am happy for these people. I would lie if I said the rituals of Catholic mass still to this day provide some comfort.
When I was a kid, the church was a huge part of my life. The kids in CCD (Sunday school) teased me by calling me “Bible girl.” We went to midnight Christmas mass, we prayed the rosary, we did confession, we said bedtime prayers, we wore the ashes on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday, we gave up something for Lent, ate fish on Fridays. My mom played the organ too – to this day I still know the words to the hymnals by heart and could recite most of the mass to you as well. I didn’t just have religion back then, I had spirituality as well. Church was the stable part of my life – consistent, dependable. It helped me feel safe. It was my community. But my spirituality was how I lived my life. How I learned from my mistakes.
When I was fourteen, I realized people often went to church out of tradition, for comfort, for appearances, or as “fire insurance” (avoiding the whole burning in hell thing by going to church regularly and paying a tithe). Most people used faith to tell them what to do, but many didn’t question why they were doing it. They didn’t have a dialogue with others about these perspectives. Religion was a prescription and they took the pill, no questions asked. But even worse, many didn’t follow their church’s teachings in their every day life, yet they felt compelled to condemn others for a difference in belief or practice. I found this offensive to my idea of faith. I was taught to question my beliefs, my perceptions. I was taught to introspect, to consider how others might feel as a result of my actions or beliefs, not to condemn others blindly for our differences. I grew through dialogue, not by instruction. It became apparent to me that those within my church, and the church itself, did not satisfy the way I lived my faith. So I left my church. I left behind all religion. But not my spirituality.
When people believe their religion should be everyone’s, it creates huge problems.
We see it throughout the world. In the news I hear constantly about religion in the US being “oppressed” by liberals, yet these same faith systems want to legislate their moral code into the law books. Doesn’t this oppress those of us who choose no religion? Certainly. Religious freedom cannot be only for those who believe their religion is the one true way. It must be for all – including those without religion, including those whose beliefs conflict with yours.
The actions by religious groups to legislate their beliefs on marriage and contraception into law specifically create in me a feeling of oppression – and frustration, since a majority of men and women of all religious groups utilize contraception. If they didn’t, what explains families only having one to four children? No contraception would yield families of ten or more. I would rather religions police their own devotees who do not follow their dogma, rather than enforce it upon an entire country filled with religions not their own. The same for gay rights and marriage. Many religious groups want to deny gay and lesbians the same federal rights that heterosexual people have. Aren’t the religious supposed to put themselves in others’ shoes? If they did, would they want to be denied the right of seeing their loved ones who were dying in the hospital based on what they do in their bedroom? Probably not. If marriage were only for one man and one woman with a goal of procreation, as the pro-Prop 8 spokespeople claim, then why are heterosexuals who cannot conceive are allowed to marry? Their assertion implies only fertile men and women should be granted the institution of marriage. This assertion implies my marriage is invalid, as we may not have kids. Furthermore, if the sanctity of marriage is so important, why are they not pursuing a law to deny divorces and re-marriage? This would doubly render my parent’s marriages invalid, though they very much love their spouses and are happier now as divorced/remarried persons than ever as a married pair.
I would ask, then, what is the true motivation to legislate on religious perspective? Is it fear? Self-righteousness? Is it a lack of understanding and acceptance of others? Is it a lack of self-knowledge? What drives a person to designate millions of people to a life of oppression for not fitting into a set of religious standards?
Asking what is the motivation could be where to start a dialogue.
Creating a feeling of open, accepting discourse without the goal of conversion can bring others more readily to an understanding of different ideas (but it only works when all sides are open to new perspectives).
Would then people understand that everyone just wants to live a fulfilled life on their own terms, not as second-class citizens, but autonomous independent people?
And let’s be honest here: I want people to see my way of things, just like everyone else (go figure). But I know I can’t expect people to see it my way. I can hope. I can hope for a willingness to coexist with one another as diverse beings and celebrate these differences rather than homogenize them. I can hope other people share this conviction with me.