The Appeal of Religions.

I am not an atheist. I like people to know that about me. I also like people to understand that I don’t attend church on a regular basis. Despite being baptized as an Episcopalian, I do not consider myself one. In fact I am not a follower of any religion or church on a regular basis. Of the religions I know about and have studied, none of them provide enough dogma agreeable to my conscience to warrant my membership, though some are closer than others.

That being said, there are aspects of myself that admire aspects of certain religions and sects of religions, both in dogma and in practice. I will leave the more complicated matter of dogma to another time, and mention here today some of the more practical aspects of various religions which appeal to me. (Naturally there will be some overlap between practices and precepts, so bear with me.)

The Roman Catholic Church

The Roman Catholic Church is masterful at ceremonial formality. (I know this, for not only have I observed and studied their ways much of my life, but I have many Catholic friends and I even attended a private Catholic high school.) I don’t like to be confined to rules much of the time, but the predictable, solemn, somewhat cold but unquestionably introspective nature of the Roman Catholic Mass, (and its nearly identical cousin, the Episcopalian service) appeals to both my love of orderliness and to my introverted nature. Naturally many Catholics are extroverted, but to me the core of the Roman Catholic service allows for an individual to remain alone in a room with 100 other people. (Or alone with Christ, as it were.) That I can get into.

Also, setting aside the sometimes nefarious purposes for which it has been put utilized, I have to admire the organizational structure of “The Church”. Ordered hierarchies wherein everyone from the old parish priest up to the Cardinals knows who to answer to and what their specific responsibilities are. When motivated, this command structure can mobilize efforts of charity unlike most other institutions in the world, I dare say.

Then there is the exquisite art and architecture.

-The Evangelical Christians

I realize this grouping is broad, and contains more than one denomination. It is a type as opposed to a sect. There can be Evangelical Baptists, Evangelical Lutherans, and so forth. Yet when I use the term, I feel safe in assuming most of you will know the type of experience I refer to.

There is much for me to dislike about this demographic, (which is why I am mostly leaving dogma out of this post.) But for lack of a better phrase, they know how to “party”.

The Evangelical sects are social entities, there can be no doubt. Their places of worship usually contain basketball courts, ball fields, stages. Not that they make use of each of these amenities every time they gather to worship, but they make use of them as part of an active engagement within their congregation that usually isn’t matched by other domination within Christianity. An energetic interaction. Their way of doing things is extroverted, though of course their are introverted Evangelicals as well.

Plus, their music. Music is a part of almost all worship, but for them it often goes beyond a few hymns and chants. Electric guitars. Harmonicas. Foot stomping acoustic goodness. All are often part of the Evangelical gathering, and that alone appeals to me energetic nature.

The Buddhists

The blessed, wonderful quiet that is Buddhism! I kid somewhat because of course there are chants and such within the various schools of Buddhism. And any given Buddhist can of course be loud. Yet let’s be honest-practically speaking don’t “quiet” and “Buddhist” often go together in our minds? Whereas some are challenged to put their money where their mouth is, Buddhists aren’t attached to the use of either money, or their mouths. They just…are.

Practicing Buddhists are so expertly in tune with the “right now” I can’t help but admire them with those parts of my soul that long to slow down, and just exist, without thoughts of the future or the past.

The Hindus

I have heard it said before that there are more ways to practice Hinduism than there are Hindus in the world to practice it. Whether or not that is true, one of the admirable qualities of this faith is its big tent quality. In essence all that is, the divine and the moral, the living and the “dead”, are in some ways equal with the Source. Yet many Hindus worship and honor specific incarnations, avatars, or aspects of this “Oneness”. In short, everything is one, and any given one is everything.

This appeals to my often paradoxical nature. My mind and spirit are often filled with dichotomies and contradictions.

In addition, I admire how Hinduism, far from rejecting and admonishing the sensual and even sexual in life, embraces such things as a part of life. I feel Western culture is far too prudish and puritan in such matters, and to be both religious and sensual is to some impossible. To me, it is not.

-The Jewish

If Hinduism represents the metaphorical beating heart of world religious presence, Judaism represents its curious mind. Not that one need be Jewish to be intellectual anymore than one need by Hindu to be sensual, but I have always found the Jewish as a whole to be a people proud of their dedication to reason and thought. Again some feel reason must be abandoned in order to have faith, but most who practice Judaism seem to regard the intellect and faith as comrades, not antagonists to one another.

Consider the Talmud, one of the most important texts in that religion. It is a collection of rabbinic discussions about Jewish ethics, history, philosophy, customs, and so forth. The key word here being discussions. Conclusions are reached in the Talmud, but dissenting viewpoints are included within the text. A codified debate, highly revered to this day lies at the center of Judaism. It’s marvelous. (No surprise then that this faith appeals to my intellectual nature.)

-The Muslims

Much like the Jewish, Muslims at their nature are also quite intellectual. Muhammad commanded Muslims always to “seek knowledge.” And indeed, only the word “God” appears in the Koran more often than the word “knowledge.”

Their contributions to art and literature over the centuries have been invaluable. Their commitment to charity and personal hospitality is a trait I wish more people shared.

Yet in these days, I think what I admire most about Muslims is a certain degree of bravery in the face of adversity. To call oneself a Muslim, at least in the West, and know how many people make a  living convincing others that you and your family are plotting to blow something up. I can’t imagine living with that every day in the post 9/11 era.

-The Pagans

Like “Evangelicals” the term “Pagan” is a general term that covers all kinds of different religious and spiritual practices. There’s Wicca, other Earth-based faiths, the various forms of ancient Reconstructionism. Yet one thing many of them have in a common is a satisfaction with worshiping alone.

“Solitary” is a designation many pagans use in fact. They study, worship, build altars, write prayers, and meditate mostly on their own. This of course is not limited to the pagan religions, and there are plenty of communal pagan activities. Again, the terms are broad. Yet a willingness to be totally private and alone with one’s divinities is a common trait among practitioners of many pagan faiths, and my desire to be away from other people meshes will with such a dedication to and comfort with solitude.

Most pagans in my experience are quite tolerant of the outcast, the forgotten, and the alternative lifestyles, as well.

***

Most religions, or sects within a religion have deep, complicated histories and count diverse people among their follwers. No one set of characteristics can be stamped upon them 100% of the time. Yet in my heart, based on my experiences and studies, I feel that these broad statements are fair. I hope they cause no offense.

What do you think of these religions? Are you a member of any of them?



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5 Comments

  1. I’ve always loved learning about the various world religions, though I’ve never felt driven to commit myself to any of them. I self-identify as spiritual… not religious. Too much evil has been done in the name of religion for me to be comfortable with it, so I try to just be a good person.

    My background? I was raised Roman Catholic, though I jumped ship soon after I hit college. Years later, I tried out the Unitarian Universalist church (I thought I would love it because of its inherent humanism, and its nondenominationalism), but I found myself adrift. I was so used to the rigid structure of the Catholic mass. I couldn’t help asking myself: Why am I here? What do these people believe?

    Now, since getting into yoga, I’ve been learning a lot about Hinduism and Buddhism, and aspects of both do appeal to me. But in exploring different religions, I’m not really looking for faith. I’m looking for community.

    • I sympathize with the social/community part as well, though I have a spiritual component to that too. I am started to feel that any worship experience to which I am tuned is going to be a solitary one, however.

      I too tried the Unitarians, but it almost seemed as though they were holed up against something, as opposed to gathering in favor OF something. At least the congregation near here. It was very “us vs. them” and I don’t like that kind of elitism from anybody.

  2. I was baptized in the Charismatic Episcopal Church many years ago, but I no longer consider myself a follower of that religion. I don’t think I really did even as I was baptized. It see it now as a misguided decision based more on a teenage need to belong and feel a part of something, and not so much to do with god or the divine. The first time I met my now-husband’s parents, we went to Mass and I think I shocked them all by not only knowing most of the responses (since as you mentioned, the Catholic and Episcopal services are very close), but also walking up to the front and taking Communion. Now the only church services I attend are funerals, and I don’t take communion when I go.

    I suppose I’d consider myself agnostic, if anything. Not quite atheist, but not exactly a theist either. Religion is fascinating. There is no one religion that has ever called to me so fully that I’ve felt the need to commit my life to it. I doubt there ever will be, but I’m okay with that.

  3. “There is no one religion that has ever called to me so fully that I’ve felt the need to commit my life to it. I doubt there ever will be, but I’m okay with that.”

    That sums up much of how I feel as well.

  4. Erik Anderson

    I wouldn’t exactly say that Catholic Mass is about being alone in a group of 100. It’s more like that we are in Communion with each other and very glad to be together, but that we don’t need to interact in order to to appreciate each other. It’s enough that we know that everyone there is united to one purpose and praying for each other. Going to a Mass with low attendance feels really lonely, but I also don’t like recent additions to the Mass that require me to directly interact with others.

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