By what process do we make most important decisions? How do most of us select a religion or denomination to follow?
What do Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodox, and Evangelical Christianity have in common? With each other, about as much as they share with Judaism or Islam, and little more than those last two have in common with each other.
Within and between many religious or Christian groups the divisions are astounding, even to a cynical skeptic like me. They’ve pretty much all killed one another in the name of the god they claim to believe in. The god who knows and is responsible for everything, including them.
One thing they do share is the opinion that all atheists are immoral, criminal crackpots and meanies. Most recently I’ve been accosted for not thinking like a true American. Wowzer. Me?
Six of seven sacraments, a Boy Scout, several US Department of Defense careers (two honorably in uniform), Christian education and Bible Study teacher, Parish Council President; a father, and grandfather to about a dozen; and some right-wing crack-pot thinks it’s his job to enlighten me!?
Buddhism is a religious exception. There may be others. Many followers of this path are not a good fit as I define a religion (you need a god). I see Buddhism as more of a philosophical tradition. However, much of that philosophy and tradition can be woven with other religious beliefs. While Buddhists don’t believe in any gods, there are things that can help (or hinder) such people toward enlightenment. Meanwhile, back at the Reality Ranch…
The rest of us, mostly Christians in America, have several methods for choosing a tribe or religion to follow.
- We’re born or adopted into it by our parents or guardians.
- We convert into it for any number of reasons.
- We are forced into it in various ways.
- For community and social reasons. Like, we want a church home for our family, and we find something that seems to work okay.
- We discover it through careful analytical thought and examination of all religious beliefs, practices, philosophies, dogma, and whatever else belongs to the trappings of a religion. (Yeah, right.)
My wife, Yolonda, and her three siblings were raised in The Church of Christ. They grew up in Texas. The entire family of kids moved on to other Christian denominations in adulthood because of their displeasure with the denomination of their parents.
Yolonda converted into the Catholic Church about twenty years ago (I was born Catholic), at least in part because I was giving the denomination a final attempt.
One day she said to me, “What I like about being Catholic is that you can be a normal human being and still go to Heaven.” If you know much about the Church of Christ, you know why she said that. Her decision to join me in that, and our eventual decision to leave it twelve years later, is another story. But we gave the faith lots of pray, pay, and obey for as long as we could.
While I piddled with eastern religion and philosophies prior to the making one last run at the faith of my birth, neither of us ever took any path other than Christian and Catholic, until we both gave that up.
Looking back. the religious trek in our long marriage may seem chaotic, but that is what real searching looks like in hindsight. It’s called street cred. You must jump into the pool to feel the water. It is kind of like watching a pinball bounce around inside the machine. It seems chaotic, but the player knows what he or she is doing until the ball passes the flippers and is lost. To the ball, it is all random.
I was not born into atheism. I cannot name one atheist person I knew prior to age 21. Even after that, I’m not 100% sure I knew any names until I staked my claim. Atheism was never suggested to me as an option, nor was I forced into it. I resisted for socio-cultural reasons even as I slowly and continually moved toward it. There was no community satisfaction or social attraction similar to having a church home to being atheist.
If anything, it was the opposite as I noticed a few folks moving away from me socially. However, I did get to hear other friends confess their somewhat closeted atheism to me later. That still happens, although seldom.
I simply decided that I do not believe any god exists (as in is real), and I should be true to myself (see #5 above).
This is from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, not the Bible, where Polonius says to Laertes, “This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.” I enthusiastically, atheistically, and poetically agree.