Wednesday, October 27, 2004

The Religious Rant

"I seize upon these generic names like essay or opera in despair as I'm sinking under the waves of possible naming for any event that I come up with. I really don't know what to call anything. And if I can ever get some generic name that seems close enough that nobody will laugh out loud, I clamp on it."

- Anne Carson
People in my family have interesting theological history.

I was raised Unitarian Universalist, which means I grew up studying everyone else's religion and my job was to figure out what I believed. That was a very hard job. The study was much more enjoyable.

My maternal grandmother belonged to the Finish Swedish Lutheran church. My great grandfather was one of the founders of the church. She was very upset that my mom wasn't religious. She thought it was the death of her husband, my grandfather, that caused my mom to lose her faith. My mom tells me she had already seen the hypocrisy in people at church before she went through confirmation. They gave lipservice to kindness and charity every Sunday and then said horrible things about people behind their backs and behaved dreadfully during the week.

My paternal grandmother belonged to the most conservative Presbyterian church she could find. I always thought she perceived God exactly as he appeared in the Sistine Chapel. He was an old man with white hair. Definitely male. Definitely old. When my grandfather died she said the best part of her was gone. Her head. The thinking part of her.

Now she won't disagree with anything my father says because he sounds like her late husband. She used to give me bibles on every religious holiday. At first I liked it because they were part of my study. Then I started to feel like she was pressuring me to be her.

I made sure when I got married that we included a prayer in the service so she would feel like it was a real service. It started out, "We pray..." so it could be inclusive. After the service she said how much she liked the prayer.

We pray.

Her husband didn't share her faith. They never talked about religion. According to my dad, his father believed that god was made up of the souls of people. There was a little god in all of us. So maybe I take after him, as I'm discovering my Quaker leanings.

I don't know what my dad believes. He believes in singing at church. He believes in "what will the neighbors think." He believes in covert actions and the importance of keeping up appearances. He believes in the coercive power of tears.

My mom is probably not necessarily non-theist.

My brother in high school said of his friend, incredulously, "He really believes that god stuff."

Both of my brothers went to youth group at the Unitarian church where my parents belonged. I was the churched accompanist. I was clinically depressed, unable to practice the piano, and often stumbled over very simple hymns. That they didn't fire me was a testament to the kindness of the music committee.

None of us can talk about god, really.

It's part of what doesn't feel like home in the Unitarian church for me anymore. There's a level of spritualism or something that's missing. Too often the sermons feel like college lectures. My brain gets a lot out of it, but I need to find a way to feed the soul. A way to talk about god that doesn't make my flesh crawl.

I used to call myself Christian, but it didn't fit most peoples' definition since it incorporated the teachings of Jesus, but not his divinity. So then I called myself an atheist. Which made them tell me I'd burn in hell. I switched to calling myself Unitarian. Which meant either people would assume I was Christian or that I would burn in hell or both. Now I'll try on the Quaker mantle. My beliefs haven't changed much through all these incarnations. I just struggle to find a community that shares more in common with me. A label that fits.

And if I can ever get some generic name that seems close enough that nobody will laugh out loud, I clamp on it.

"Most people think the beloved is beautiful in order to fall in love with them, and I want to know what that force is in human life, an interaction. Because it appallingly isn't identifiable with truth in lots of examples one could think of, and yet we keep following it as if it were. It seems impossible not to."

Okay. I'm going to say a list of words and you respond however you want.


Is best.