Wednesday Waffling:

I've decided that since I'm committed to posting every day this month, I should tackle a few posts I keep approaching and then backing away from, for various reasons. One reason is that I've been too mentally lazy to try to marshal my thoughts into a coherent post. The other reason is that these are issues about which, no matter how much I go over them, I can't come to a firm resolution.

Today I'm going to talk about my problem regarding religious people. This is separate from my problem about organized religion - I have more concrete reasons there, many of which are articulated brilliantly in God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens.

I read an essay once by a woman who was proudly, defiantly against all religion. She said something about not being sure that faith could move mountains, but it could certainly knock down buildings. I tend to think of religious faith as something like fire: used properly, fire can warm, fuel and cook - activities that sustain life. Used improperly, fire can raze and destroy. And you can't blame the fire - it's the people that decide how to use it. So religious faith in the hands of good people should be a positive thing. So religious people. On paper, I have no problem with them. I even admire them. But in real life? I'd like to be more precise, but the truth is, they tend to give me the heebie-jeebies. If I'm conversing with someone or interacting with someone on social media, and I suddenly realize they're religious, it generates an immediate knee-jerk negative response. Of course, there's a sliding scale of mentions or remarks, the mildest being "we can meet you after church" or "please pray for us at this difficult time" (barely an eyelash flicker) to "all praise belongs to Him" or "Don't thank me, it was all God", (squirmy discomfort, tingly elbows), to "we prayed on it" or "God told me to" (uncontrollable eye-roll, mild nausea).

Why is this? I do recognize that, in a large measure, it's not them, it's me. Why do I care if they feel free enough to refer to something important to them in casual conversation? Why does it make me cringe and debate lessening or cutting off all contact with them?

I don't really know.

I guess I sort of believe that faith should be a private thing, and that if you're secure in your faith, you shouldn't need to keep talking about it. I know this doesn't dovetail with the idea that, with some religions, a big part of the deal is proselytizing and converting other people. But since this is a part of religion I REALLY don't agree with, my feeling is that you have every right to follow the tenets of your faith as long as they don't hurt anyone else, but I don't need you peppering me with references to it. It sort of reminds me of Tom Cruise jumping on the couch yipping about Katie Holmes - if you really feel it, you don't need to be public about it.

Also, I find it sort of annoying when someone gets complimented or praised and says "oh, don't thank me, all the credit belongs to God" (I do have a facebook friend that does this very thing.) The corollary of this is "well, what can we do, it's all in God's hands". It's true that we can't control everything. But it seems silly and unfair to me to discount all human agency. If you worked hard for something and were successful, what kind of sense does it make to say all the praise should go to some amorphous being? Do you think you would have gotten the same result if you'd just sat at home and watched Oprah? I don't like the sense that people are just puppets with the shadowy Man in the Sky moving their little arms and legs around. I also don't like the implication that nothing we do has any effect if God decides to make things go a different way - why do anything, then?

As I feared, I don't feel like I'm getting my feeling across with any precision or coherence. I know I have friends who believe in God and I have no problem with that. And I don't want them to feel like they have to hide it from me either - that's not what I'm saying.

I was raised Catholic. I went to church faithfully the whole time I lived at home. I sang in the choir and was the organist for two years. We had a priest I really liked. He had wild reddish hair down to his shoulders and a skewed sense of humour. When he came to my school he was great with the kids. But he wasn't very good with adults and he acted very strangely sometimes. Once we got home after Saturday night mass and my mother realized she'd forgotten her purse. She called the rectory and my Dad went to pick up the purse, but the priest would only open the door a big enough crack to shove it out, then slammed the door. My father, who thinks organized religion is a total crock, was angry - he didn't see why that kind of behaviour should be allowable just because it was a priest. Shortly after I left home for University, the priest was arrested for abusing altar boys. I was upset about this, but sometimes I don't think I realized just how upset. I stopped going to church regularly (more due to courseload and heavy drinking than any philosophical decision), and the times when I tried to go to mass with my Mom on Christmas or Easter, I felt physically repulsed when I entered a church.

I don't usually do the 'what do YOU think' thing at the end of my posts, but I really struggle with this, and if anyone has any thoughts I'd really like to hear them.


Helen Abbott said…
Preach it, sister! Can't go into too much detail on my thoughts on this matter because (ahem) I'm supposed to be working, but I've had a similar move in fits & starts away from the church since spending 4 years at an evangelical Christian college in the US. My philosophy on religion has been fine-tuned beautifully by Doug Frank in his latest book, A Gentler God ( I studied with Doug for a semester in his beautifully wacky alternative Christian college in Oregon. I now understand why evangelical Christianity is so damaging, and that has given me a wonderful sense of freedom from it.
Nicole said…
I have always wanted to blog about this but was worried my grandma would somehow figure out that I had a blog and would read it and be devastated.

I agree with the principles of Christianity - peacefulness, charity, kindness, etc., but I do not believe in the divinity of Christ, which is, of course, the basic theme of Christianity. This despite the fact I was brought up Lutheran - go to church every Sunday, youth groups, confirmation, the whole thing. But I really think that if people embraced the "good stuff" out of all the major religions and just accepted that the world can run on good karma and positivity, then we would all be better off.

Also? I married a Catholic. My grandma was very disturbed by this.
Magpie said…
um, I'm a heathen pagan atheist. does that help?
Princess Sarah said…
Your post echoes my feelings so well! I become really uncomfortable when the "god" in people starts coming out. I was once training for a position at a new job where the woman who was helping me had mugs, lanyards and pads of paper stamped with the acronym "P.U.S.H." She was very excited to ask me if I knew what it meant. I did not. "Pray Until Something Happens" is what it stood for! I was horrified. So, we should try to change the world for the better? Just pray and hope it all works out? I heard a lot of my inner thoughts in your post today.
Mary Lynn said…
My mom would drive you crazy. I know this because my mom drives ME crazy. The older my mom gets the more she says religious statements of the sort you quote. The older I get, the more I lean towards Magpie's end of the religious spectrum.
Wrath Of Mom said…
Excellent post, Allison. As a fellow lapsed-Catholic, I love your fire analogy.
StephLove said…
Oh this is timely. Yesterday I was walking home from the library and went out of my way TWICE to avoid a stranger who came up to me and started talking about Jesus out of nowhere and a neighbor who is always trying to get me to go to her church.

This doesn't actually happen to me as much as you'd think from that coincidence, but it does make me twitchy if people I don't know or barely know try to recruit me.
Anonymous said…
its funny, driving by a big catholic cathedral this summer in our town, my sons says from the back seat, "there' a dragon that lives in that castle,". things that make you go hmmmm...
Ms. G said…
I think I understand what you're saying. I consider myself a 'faithful' person rather than a religious person. Though I did attend a Lutheran church regularly for many year for various reasons and left for various reasons. I try not to be 'preachy' Ever, but I do occasionally throw in thanks or credit to God simply because there are times I just feel it. (or even joke that I was dressed the day I had an accident because of God ; ) Though I consider myself to have strong faith, I also become annoyed when someone begins to proselytize but a casual mention doesn't bother me. I honestly could have a very long in depth conversation about this, it's the kind of thing my family discusses, and Not To Convert You ; )but I'll let it be. I'm a Christian and I know exactly how you feel.
rockygrace said…
I don't believe in God any more than I believe in Santa Claus. And honestly? I think a little less of people who DO believe in God, because, really? You really believe that fairy tale? Say hi to the Easter Bunny for me!

Yeah, I'm bad. Whatever.
The Host said…
I'm not religious. At all. My ability to relate to people of faith is directly related to where they rank faith for themselves. For example, if someone lists "Christ follower" as the first thing about themselves in a bio, or they find a way to bring up their faith into conversation within the first five minutes of meeting them, there's good odds this person and I aren't going to be friends.

However, one of my best friends is still a practising Catholic and we manage to get along just fine. Because while her faith shapes her judgment, it does not define who she is. And she probably feels the way about my atheism. Or at least she's polite enough not to say otherwise...

ps, found you through the NaBloPoMo blogroll. Nice to "meet" you!
Betsy B. Honest said…
Yup. I feel kind of guilty that I can't be more open minded about religion -- if I find out somebody is religious I always think, "What a shame."

On the other hand, I'm kind of pissed about all the abuse and genocide unleashed upon the multitudes on God's behalf. And I think I should be pissed. I think any decent person should be.

Hitchen's best argument, I think, is that religion is ammoral -- i.e. you can be very religious and yet rape children, therefore, being very religious is independant of morality.

For me my big falling out with the church had a lot to do with feminism. I was a very devout catholic and a terribly chaste teenager but couldn't really stomach all the patriarchy and sexism. I wanted to be an alter-girl but our "Father" would have nothing to do with girls. There was only one boy in our congregation of alter-boy age and he was a slut. I'd hear about all his exploits in the girl's washroom during the week and then see him decked out in robes on Sunday (with his high-tops sticking out from underneath) and it really disturbed me that the important thing in the eyes of the church was his gender and not his chastity and spiritual devoutness.

There's just so much hypocrisy and righteousness inherent in religion. It can be used to justify any kind of abuse, neglect, violence and power-mongering.

And I simply don't need it to be a good person and to live a good life. Religion is ammoral but I am not. I am a deeply moral person and for that reason I am offended by religion.
Denise Nielsen said…
Two things: one - the start of your post truly resonated with me...I too have all these bloggy ideas I'd like to tackle but am too tired/overwhelmed/busy/lazy to do justice it's kinda nice to know I'm not alone there.

And two - you've hit the nail on the head with this post, so now all I have to do is link to this and say "what she said." Back to being lazy, lol.
Patti said…
Well said. I'm a recovering Catholic as well. My fall from religion didn't have much to do with the Church itself and more about life.

Platitudes drive me nuts and so many people, especially the religious spout them.

Shit happens and people like to find reasons to explain it. The religious explanations around this make me INSANE. It's not about finding reasons, it's about finding meaning, but to do that you need to THINK FOR YOURSELF.

While I'm non-relgious, I try not to be an atheist fundamentalist. So many atheists can be such assholes about it and I try not to be.
Shan said…
Here's the thing... I go to church, just about every Sunday. My kids sing in the choir. My husband is on the board. We're active in our church community. Now that's a lot for me to admit, typically I keep that kind of information close to my chest because I don't want to be judged.

I'm not going to attempt to convert anybody and I'm not the chick to discuss the bible with. I consider myself a believing non-believer. Does that make any sense. You see I enjoy going to church, but there is a lot I don't know about. For me going to church gives me an hour where I'm quiet and lets me focus on the person I'd like to be. It reminds me to be kind, charitable, and empathetic among other things.

I don't like to be painted with the religious brush because I wouldn't call myself that. I could never hold my own in a religious debate or even a religion based conversation. I'm not judging anybody, I'm very much a live and let live kind of person. To be honest I get a bit squirmy with statements like "all praise belongs to Him" too. That's not me, but I know some out there will assume that it is and it's something I struggle with.
Well...this is like the fifth post of yours that I've commented on in a row but I kind of don't know what to say. Religion is so ginormous that I kind of need to be In The Mood to chat about it. More often than not it makes me tired.

I went to church today. I quite enjoyed it. Sometimes I don't, but today was a good sermon on how words impact those who hear them and what it means to have a reaction. I like those kind of thoughtful sermons. I don't like sermons preaching hate and homophobia and women being lesser than men. Those are the kind of sermons where I stand up and walk out. Thankfully, I hear those very rarely now.

I dunno. I go to church. I'm not going to convert you though so we should be safe to share a room in NYC. ;)
PS. I went to Catholic school, though I now attend a Baptist Church...though I dance in the church even when I shouldn't. I am not the perfect Christian. I have SO MANY issues with different doctrine that it could take forever to talk about. So I won't.

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