Tag Archive | Religion

Evil is Real

I hang out with a New-Agey group. They are wonderful. They are everything that many church people claim to be but often aren’t.

I read a lot of books on spirituality and Buddhism, in particular. If forced to choose a religion, I would choose Buddhism.

However, Buddhism sometimes seems as fantasy-based as the Veggie-Tales theology I ran into as a Protestant. The kind of theology that says that evil is simply the absence of good. And some of my New-Agey friends are into “non-duality,” which says that everything is actually one. Non-duality sounds fabulous. My problem with it is that it denies the realities of evil and separation.

The famous people that practice non-duality seem to live in caves and can devote themselves full-time to developing their spirituality. Must be nice. I often wonder what they would done in my position. They have someone picking up their slack in real life, whereas I am the one picking up the slack for Barry.

I have been reading a lot about kundalini energy lately. I believe that it is part of what I am experiencing physically and spiritually lately. The more I read about it, the more I realize how my life is not conducive to fully processing this energy. There are all sorts of physical effects that go with the physical transformation of this energy that would make me completely non-functional. I do not have the option of taking time off from caring for Barry so I can turn into a puddle of spiritual energy or deal with horrific physical symptoms that would render me useless. I’m really hoping to deal with this energy gradually, in a way where I can function like a normal human. I believe this is why the most spiritually advanced people are often men–they have someone taking care of the real world while they go on retreats or become temporary hermits.

Sometimes, I fantasize about what I will do when Barry is gone. I can devote more of my time to spiritual pursuits. Or maybe I will be too busy trying to pay Sallie Mae back.

It’s easy to believe in non-duality—until you find out that you’ve been lied to by the insurance company or had someone almost hit you when they pull in front of you in traffic. Sometimes others do not care about you, at best, or are actively trying to make sure your needs are not met. I will believe in non-duality when your eating lunch fills my stomach with food. Separation is real. This is where concepts like “justice” come into play. It’s funny how the people espousing non-duality are usually at the top of the food chain, asserting their authority in comfort.

I am done being a good, little victim. I will use whatever powers I deem necessary to get my needs met. I am not into trying to create adversarial relationships, but I am also not into pretending that I am not in one even as I am lied to. I’m interested in what works, not what sounds good. It’s part of why I stopped being a Christian. I am empowered, not meek and mild.

Missing Rituals, Healing, and Religion

Lately, I’ve been watching “19 Kids and Counting” and it has made me wistful. Normally, I think of the Duggars as freaks, bizarrely conservative and spreading the kind of religion I have barely escaped from. But Jill’s wedding got me thinking of what I have missed.
I remember being in my early twenties. I felt like I was thrown into the deep of a changing economy and expected to sink or swim. I almost didn’t invite my parents to my wedding because I was having issues with my dad. It was a civil ceremony. I cannot imagine my dad “giving me away.” I wasn’t his property to give away or withhold from anyone.
When asked at Jill’s wedding, “Who gives this woman away?” Jim Bob pipes up and says, “I do. Her mother and I do.” While sounding a tad medieval, it also symbolizes a release of his parental control. The torch is being consciously passed to the new generation.
Jill is not left wondering if she is an adult. She leaves the church a married woman and the entire church community acknowledges this new phase of her life.
My dad asked me after I got married, “How’s married life treating you?” My response? “Pretty much like ‘living-together life’.” I wasn’t trying to be snide; I just didn’t know what he was talking about. Was there supposed to be some sort of magical transformation?
Well, yeah, but I didn’t know that back then and would have had no idea of what it should have been or look like.
I was talking to my best friend the other day and told her that I suspected part of my wanting to move to Charlottesville, Virginia was because it is Virginia’s version of Ann Arbor: a college town filled with youthful, energetic people seeking new ideas and creative outlets (but not snow-bound!). I never lived on any campus while going to school. I was busy being married and a weekend stepmom, and trying to survive. I feel like I missed some stages of adulthood.
Can there be rites of passage without the inherently dysfunctional patriarchy and brain-sacrificing belief system? There need to be. I am understanding feminine spirituality more now, but find that some of it is just a reaction to the overly masculine spirituality so common in Christianity. It looks like the mirror-image of the problem, not a solution.
I am learning that participation makes things more real emotionally. I spent a few hours yesterday helping the Democrats. It felt so good to be helpful and contribute my time to being part of the solution instead of the problem. Most of our candidates didn’t win, but nothing substitutes for feeling like being a part of something positive bigger than oneself. I met a wide variety of fascinating people. I want this to continue.
All this makes me wonder how many problems people have are simply incomplete experiences. No one ever explains to the father of a new bride that his daughter will now start a new life outside of his control. A woman never grieves her sudden multiple losses and becomes a hoarder. A mother never gives up control of her son and becomes a meddling mother-in-law. These are simply a refusal to acknowledge that life has moved on, with or without us.
Problems do not get addressed and traumata accumulate.
I see our society spinning out of control. It has lost its spiritual rudder and it has not yet found a new, better way of handling the tough issues. Letting go of something dysfunctional is good, but not enough. We need alternatives. Going backwards is not an option. There is no putting the toothpaste back in the tube.
And I want to be part of the solution.

Intellectual Independence

“When we participate in social metaphysics, we sacrifice our own intellectual independence. You said that “As a species, our mind is the tool of survival. When we choose to avoid intellectual independence, our policy is one of self-abdication.” That was so poignantly said.

If we don’t think for ourselves, we create a void. We have to be guided by something. If we don’t think for ourselves, basically two options are left. One, we live off the beliefs or thinking of somebody else, and two, we are run by our feelings or emotions. People do a mixture of both, more often than not. This is why it is so important for parents to teach and encourage thinking in young people. One of the great disgraces of our school system is that clear thinking is not taught from an early age. Nobody should graduate from high school without being trained to understand logical fallacies.” The Path of Self-Reliance, An Interview with Nathaniel Branden by Mary Nurrie Stearns http://www.personaltransformation.com/pdfs/Issue22.pdf#page=19

 

“Social metaphysics” is a great term. It clearly communicates the gist of religion: spirituality requiring other people’s approval.

Parents and teachers need to teach children how to think, not what to think. Being told what to think is “indoctrination,” fine for joining a cult, but not so great for creating a functional adult.

Self-abdication is always a temptation, one I have personally fallen into repeatedly to my great chagrin. My life would be falling apart on some level and, lo and behold, I would find a conservative religion to join. I lean toward the personally conservative because my brothers had drug and alcohol issues. For example, I came extraordinarily close to becoming a Mormon. Instead, I became a conservative Protestant. Then, I became Greek Orthodox.

Part of me has always been desperate for a mentor, some form of guidance. Growing up, I felt my family was out of control. I knew there had to be a better way. People in my family never seemed to connect the dots when it came to their actions and the consequences they experienced. I remember one brother saying, “The boss doesn’t like me.” I was like, “Duh. You think, maybe, just maybe, it could have something to do with the fact that you show up late all the time and sometimes are high when you do?” But speaking out in my family was “inappropriate” somehow. Being stoned? Boys will be boys. Speaking up? I should really know better. Needless to say, there wasn’t ever anyone in my family (then or now) that I look up to and admire. I love my parents. They are good people. Salt of the earth. Just not that bright in some ways. They think I’m a genius. I am not a genius. I just think things through.

To me, the ultimate evangelization is when you look at someone’s life and say to yourself, “Wow. That’s what I want to be like. What do I have to do to be like them? Sign me up!”

My challenge at this stage of my life is that I am beyond most people’s intellectual level. I have an MBA. For someone to be past my level would require a doctorate. School has sharpened my thinking, making mindless obedience a thing of the past. I now know how to think. I am so alone.

Regression and Religion

I’ve been debating doing this particular post because it will sound like an accusation to some people, and it is not meant that way. It is about my personal experience and my wondering how applicable my experience is to others.

About 25 years ago, I became Protestant. It was after an extremely emotional experience. I was in boot camp on bivouac and at an emotional low. (I have depressive tendencies that I believe I inherited from my maternal grandmother.) I felt abandoned and emotionally cried out, “If you exist, God, I really need help now.” Then, someone helped me and I took it as a divine sign. Given my atheism as a teenager, this was huge. I started going to extremely conservative Protestant churches.

In 2000, it emotionally hit me that Barry was really going to get Huntington’s disease. I had known it intellectually, but being forced to decide whether or not to get long-term-care insurance made it real. I didn’t sleep or eat right for about 3 months. I was in anguish. I knew I had to start working to help support us and to provide experience for a real career for after Barry’s eventual demise. When I talked to my fellow church members, I could tell they felt bad, but their pat answers for my profound problems did not help.  I went to the local Christian bookstore. Their fare was insipid and superficial. I don’t go there anymore. I needed depth. I went to Barnes and Noble all the time, looking for guidance and support. Buddhist literature was somewhat helpful and I picked up some Pema Chodron books I still keep to this day.

Then I found Christ the Eternal Tao, by Hieromonk Damascene. I was astounded. It had the depth of the depth of Taoism and showed how Christianity went from Greece to Russia to China to America. To America? Yes, the Russian Orthodox went to Alaska and St. John Maximovitch went from Shanghai to San Francisco. The book filled in blanks of church history that my Protestant churches had no clue of. I was fascinated, and still am to some degree, by the various interconnections and weird disputes history has created among Eastern churches.

So I attended the local Greek Orthodox church. It involved all five senses. I was emotionally overwhelmed. The icons, incense, and chanting mesmerized me. I was chrismated in spring 2003. I felt like I was home. I devoured Orthodox literature and even ran the bookstore for a couple years. I took three years of Greek lessons. And I regressed badly. For a few years, I was in thrall to the church, the priest, everything. I didn’t question squat. I went from being a semi-adult to the maturity of maybe a twelve year old. To this day, I am deeply embarrassed when I see just how far I regressed.

What slowly soured me was the complete disconnect between words and actions. The members were the most politically correct people I have ever encountered. The priest there is a linguistic genius but has no listening skills. They all said the right things…and did whatever they wanted: spent parish money they didn’t have any realistic probability of obtaining, played politics instead of stewarding the parish, treated newcomers (not just me) like crap, and were the local Greek country club. To this day, I still think Orthodoxy has the best, most comprehensive and holistic theology of all the churches. Its vision is the sanctification of everything. Orthodoxy has the best words. Alexander Schmemann is an amazing writer.

However, it shares all the same weaknesses of all churches. Its emphasis on words and not actions evaporates any potential credibility, even if the words are exactly what you need to hear most desperately. In 2008, Barry got cancer and I saw firsthand how narcissistic the church truly is. It was all about them wanting my help. Never mind that I assumed I would be shortly widowed. It was all about them. Words are not magical; they are not even meaningful unless backed up by action. Magical thinking is a thought process that toddlers share. Also, the unchanging dogma created a mausoleum of faith. These people are seriously stuck in the past. I have many stories to share about that.

I am not trying to trash these people. A few have been genuinely kind to me. As a convert, I saw other converts who also regressed. That breaks my heart and makes me feel that there is something to this regression thing that is not necessarily specific to me and my emotional traumata. Many of the people there are just glad to be someplace “safe” to be around for themselves and their children, but safe from what? The expectation and responsibility to think for oneself? The needs of the economically hurting community all around them? People of other faiths?

Meanwhile, the local economy was tanking. I am talking about Michigan in the late 00s. My neighborhood is not the best and people were fleeing. Many lost their houses for $200-$300 in late taxes. What does my church do? Try to sell baklava to the poor as a fundraiser so the church can redo the parking lot. It was like living in Watts and going to church in Beverly Hills. The disconnect was emotionally numbing. Church members truly did not seem to see how their actions affected anyone else, ever. My Protestant friends were not always the brightest, but they were creative in trying to find practical ways of helping those in need. I am so ashamed for that Orthodox church because they still don’t get it.

A month ago, I had commencement for my MBA. Now I have the ability to work anywhere. I feel confident in my ability to support myself. I feel like an adult. I no longer feel that they have anything whatsoever to offer me, spiritually, emotionally, or otherwise.

I still wonder what would have happened had people, especially the priest, had been more supportive and caring. However, I am ultimately grateful to them, especially the priest, because they forced me to let go of them and everything they represent. It was horrendously painful at the time, but I am free now. The church and Jesus didn’t set me free. All they gave me were dogmatic bondage and emotional regression. As an adult, I learned that it is ultimately your responsibility to set yourself free. This is the only real truth that sets one free.  It is part of being a grown-up.

I may never again join another organized religion, but if I do, it will be an adult choice, not the desperate decision of an emotional child wanting to be taken care of.

Better Than

Religion has provided many opportunities for me to see how most people desperately need to feel superior to others, based on reality or not. Sometimes, it is actually funny.

Church made the problem clearest. As a Protestant, every denomination has its own take on scripture. Some emphasize some parts more than others; some are more literal than others. The differences can be very deep. Or a congregation can split over stupid crap because someone felt disrespected. I’ve seen that, too. When I joined the Greek Orthodox Church, I knew that the Orthodox churches were uniform in doctrine. If that didn’t spell equality, I didn’t know what did. No, the Orthodox churches are divided ethnically and by jurisdiction. Greeks feel superior to Russians, who feel superior to Ukrainian, etc. It seems that humans have a need to feel superior to each other, even if they have to make something up! Even with complete doctrinal harmony, people gave each other attitude problems.

Then there are my family’s odd values. When I was in my early 20s, one of my cousins in southern Ohio had a baby. The fact that the child was born out-of-wedlock did not seem to faze anyone, but the fact that the child was half black was scandalous. It made (and still makes) no sense to me, especially since the black grandmother seemed to help out a lot. Morality? Who cares? Racial purity, now there’s a big deal. I started walking away from my family’s values at that point. When Bush I was running again in 1992 on a “family values” platform, I thought he had lost his mind. I definitely didn’t want my family’s values used as a template for society. Whose family values? I hoped to God that he wasn’t talking about mine.

This was on my dad’s hillbilly side of the family. My dad’s dad moved to Michigan, like everyone else, for the factory work. My dad was born in a log cabin in Kentucky. My dad’s mom’s maiden name was Gollihue, very Irish. Call it hillbilly, redneck, or white trash. It’s really all the same to me. When there was slavery, the English owned plantations and slaves. They had money. Other English-speakers (the Welsh, Scottish, and Irish) from the British Isles came over and had little, if any, money. They brought their own hooch recipes, for Irish or Scotch whiskey. They were the type to own a slave or two, if they were doing well, and to work out in the field with the slave(s). My dad’s mom would say, if something were really easy, “We’re in high cotton now!” Only someone who had stooped to pick cotton would say that. We felt superior to blacks picking in the same cotton field, why and how exactly? It makes no sense to this Michiganian daughter-of-a-truck-driver.

My mom’s side of the family had farmers on her mother’s side and Polish people from her dad. There are a lot of Polish people in Michigan and even a part of Detroit that was filled with them at one time: Hamtramck. Remember Pollack jokes? They really upset my grandfather. It turned out that both of my grandfathers worked at the same factory: Motor Wheel.

There’s not a lot of education on either side of my family. I was able to get tax credits every year of school because I was the first in my family to get the amount of education I did. To be honest, the bar was set low; I would have had to limbo under it. I am the most educated person in my family of Pollacks and hillbillies. I don’t see that as a huge accomplishment. Getting my MBA makes me proud, but basically because I did it while dealing with a sick husband.

When I move South, I will bring my equality-minded ideas with me. I am not in a position to look down my nose on anyone.