Monday, November 2, 2009

Varieties of Religious Perspective

For anyone wandering in unwarned, this thread is an outgrowth of some comments over at another blog: Slacktivist. The idea was that the commenters there, if they were interested, could come here and talk a little about their background and religious views/beliefs/opinions.

This is not the sort of thing I usually put on this blog, so I'd like to put down some ground rules before we get started:

  1. This thread is for sharing your beliefs, views, and/or experiences. It is not for proselytizing, and it is not for debating the merits of those beliefs (your own or anyone else's). If you can't tell the difference, please don't post. I do not have active moderation enabled, but I will edit, disemvowel, or simply remove posts if it really becomes necessary.
  2. By the same token, if someone says something that you find offensive, please do not respond. Bring it to my attention, and I'll deal with it. (I don't really expect that to be necessary, but you never know.)
  3. This group has a wide variety of backgrounds and beliefs. Please remember that everyone posting here is doing so voluntarily, for our mutual education and enjoyment. Be friendly, and enjoy yourself.
  4. I have no idea whether this blog has length restrictions on comments, or what those restrictions might be. I therefore recommend that you compose your response elsewhere, and paste it in; that way, if it's too long, you can put the rest in a second comment. (Also, hopefully, you won't lose your work.)

So that's pretty much it. I'll start:

I post on Slacktivist as Michael Mock, just as I do here. If you go back far enough, I also used to post as Jack Grey, but that was years ago. I am, more or less, a militant agnostic with animist and pantheist tendencies.

I was raised Episcopalian (so I tend to expect church services to involve fancy clothes along with a lot of kneeling, standing, and sitting; to be fairly formal and ritualistic; and to involve a certain amount of incense). Unlike a lot of former Christians, I didn't ever really reject the church. I was a bit asocial as child, and church was just one of a long list of things that seemed very important to everyone else and didn't make much sense to me (c.f. team sports, cars, fashion). I didn't so much leave the Church, as wander off and never come back. I fiddled around with other belief systems for a while, and finally settled into my current agnosticism.

I don't really believe in G-d - at least, not as He is usually described - and I have some doubts about the historical existence of Jesus, but I don't really consider myself an Atheist, either. The reasons for that are a little complicated, but mainly come down to two points: I don't think the (non-)existence of G-d is a provable assertion, either way; and I am very aware that I look at the world in ways that are not strictly rational. (So who am I to throw stones?) Some examples...

  • There are places that are... alive... for me, in a way I find difficult to describe. Sacred, but not to any particular god; haunted, but in a good way. Hence the 'animist and pantheist tendencies' in my blurb.
  • Chi (or Ki or Qi) - the flow of energy through the body. I'm an amateur martial artist. I've actually felt this. I'm also pretty sure it doesn't exist, at least not in any empirically verifiable fashion. Nonetheless, it's a useful lense for looking at (this piece of) the world; it allows me learn and describe some subtleties of movement for which English lacks a good vocabulary.
  • The way my wife and I got together. It's the sort of scenario I could never include in a book; nobody would believe a coincidence that improbable. I detest words like "fate" or even "synchronicity", but quite frankly it's hard to look at the situation and not think that some sort of Higher Power was involved.

The other reason that I don't consider myself an Atheist is that I don't see the point in arguing about beliefs that I see as fundamentally harmless. I am aware that some people see religion as intrinsically harmful and repressive, but I tend to view it more like Art: it's just something that people do. Individuals will do it to a greater or lesser extent, and it may be used to promote either the nobler or the baser elements of human nature, but it's not particularly good or evil in itself.

Oddly, the one area where I really do have strong feelings has to do with what you can and cannot prove (or even reasonably assert); it makes me a little crazy when people start defending their beliefs (or attacking others) using logical fallacies, unsupported assertion, etc. etc. etc. This is why I classify myself as a 'militant' agnostic, and why I'm looking forward to seeing what Froborr does over at Fluffy Iguana Cookies.

That's pretty much it for me; anyone else want to play?


  1. I describe myself as a Jewish agnostic pantheist: The God I don't believe in is Jewish and is everywhere. I was raised as a Reform jew, but rejected Judaism before my Bar Mitzvah. I believe in a semi-Jungian "Spirit" (although I think a lot of the rest of Jung is bilge), an "energy" that unites us all, and connects us to nature.

    I'm more of what's known as an "Old School" agnostic/atheist: I don't care what others believe as long as they leave me out. My fiance is a Baptist -- I don't think that's the best fit for what she believes, but she's happy there, so I support her and even go to her church for support from time to time.

  2. I'm a polytheistic neo-Pagan following a Romuvan (endemic Baltic) tradition, which is more pragmatic/everyday than religious. Philosophically, I'd be a secular humanist for the most part except that it's too-human-centered, and I'm also an animist. (I was raised Roman Catholic, so to me "religious" is something you do with a lot of fanfare. My everyday spiritual practice is much more grounded, with no bells and whistles.)

    Spouse was raised Southern Baptist, but has meandered away from Christianity in all but name. Maybe an agnostic at heart.

    Michael, your teaser about how you and your wife met sounds intriguing. Have you mentioned it elsewhere (in your archives)? Or could you be persuaded to share more info?

  3. Well, I'll be glad to contribute, though I'm pretty sure that everyone at Slacktivist knows what I believe. I just think this is a nice idea.

    Anyways, I'm a Christian Neo-Platonist whose theology centers around the Prologue to the Gospel of John, and I consider "story" to be the ultimate sacrament and the highest form of worship. I attend Episcopal church services because the liturgy appeals to me aesthetically and that denomination is the natural home for anyone who really really wants to be Roman Catholic and just can't bring herself to do it.

    Second the interest in your story, Michael.

  4. (This is Jon/Jon Maki)
    I go with agnostic rather than atheist, simply because I can't definitively say that there is no God, though really for me it's a matter of not only not knowing, but not particularly caring, either.
    If there is a God, He/She/It doesn't really play any noticeable role in my daily life.
    Maybe this would be different if I met whatever God may exist halfway through study, prayer, and meditation, or some other method, and then the scales would fall from my eyes, etc., but I just don't feel the need for a God, personal or otherwise, or see the evidence of one existing.
    I do make frequent reference to "The Universe," but that's mostly for rhetorical/comic purposes ("The Universe screwed me over again."), but I don't actually believe that The Universe, or any higher power, is actively taking a role in shaping my life.
    Well, most of the time I don't actually believe that, but there are some instances...
    Of course, even then, if I did believe, I'd have no choice but to conclude that The Universe either doesn't much care for me and enjoys playing pranks on me, does like me and doesn't know how to express it (kind of like a young boy being mean to a girl that he likes), or it's trying to tell me something but is going about it in completely the wrong way if it expects me to pay attention.

  5. Oh, and because my comment wasn't long enough...
    I was raised Lutheran (ELCA), but my family wasn't particularly devout. We went to church regularly when I was very young, then less so as I got older (my parents didn't like our pastor; it's a long story), and then started going again when I was thirteen or so (and we got a new, nicer pastor).
    I was actually about halfway through Confirmation when I came to the conclusion that there probably is no God(s), but I finished up with the Confirmation anyway, since I'd gotten that far.

  6. I'm an atheist reform Jew, so I'll tackle that description in two parts.

    I'm in atheist, in that I have not encountered and cannot imagine a truly transcendent, personal God that I could both believe in and worship. In other words, though I don't assert that I've certainly disproven all gods, I can't envision an entity that I would pray to. Perhaps that's more about my understanding of worship, than anything else. But my everyday life is entirely unaffected by the divine, or transcendent, or anything else. I've had an experience or two I could describe as spiritual, but I find them indicative of the greatness of life in general, rather than any particular new entity outside of me.

    I was raised reform Jewish, and the moral teachings of that tradition have stuck with me. It's an inextricable part of my moral frame, and a community to which I'm proud to belong. So that stays.

    And that's me, more or less.

  7. I'm a christian pacifist in a catholic country (Colombia), but my family is somewhat evangelical. My mother is very evangelical (bible-believing, pre-trib dispensationalist) but with very few (if there are) attitudes typical of evangelical conservatives in northamerica. My father is more humanistic (yet christian), and his 60's-70's leftism is still important for him. He is also very respectful for catholicism (much more than you could expect from evangelicals), and like me, he is not inerrantist (I am biologist, and don't have any problem with evolution).

    Ps: I hardly ever post in slacktivist, where my nick is mountainguy

  8. Okay, for those who were interested in the story of How I Got Together With My Wife (alluded to, above), I have now posted a follow-up with the story. Pardon the length.

    I'm really enjoying reading these, so far; and I don't think it really matters if you're a regular poster or more of a lurker.

  9. Izzy here.

    Non-fluffy (or at least working hard to be so) pagan, heavily influenced by Eastern religions like Taoism and Hinduism: I don't believe in a personal God nearly so much as I do a sort of benign universal (or trans-universal) consciousness, outside space and time, which we join with after we die. Possibly some reincarnation before or after, possibly not.

    I'm also interested in magical and occult practice. This is *largely* as a psychological tool and a resource for writing, but I've had a few odd experiences there, and I've also had a few moments of sensing...something transcendent.

    None of these beliefs really influence what I do in my non-spiritual life, though: I get my morals mostly from the way stuff I do affects the world and particularly the people I care about.

  10. In my family we *rarely* attended church.

    As an adult in my 30s (during the 1990s) I came across some difficult times (emotionally). I also had always felt I was pretty ignorant about religion and wanted to understand better the reasons behind all of the problems in the middle east in general. So, I decided to just read the Bible. I approached it like any regular book, and read it pretty much cover to cover (OK, I skimmed through a bunch of the "Aaron begat so and so, and so and so begat whosewatis....")

    Predictably, I became pretty interested in theology and Christianity and joined a Catholic church, was taking some basic catechism classes. Even though I really kind of thought that the Catholic church had a lot of things about it that were suspect - so do all the other denominations. For example, I am not fond of what the Catholic Church has to say about gay people (since I am gay, it does kinda hit close to home). AFAICT - gays really weren't any different than straight people in God's eye, because hardly anyone (and perhaps literally noone - with the possible exception of Jesus himself - depending of course on if you believe in his divinity) has ever lived a life where they had no mortal sins when it comes to sexuality.

    I base that on a few things, one is where Jesus says (Matthew 5:28) "But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart" and that really kinda makes me think that even just a quick fantasy about someone is on par with adultery. And if that's the case, then people who harp on what the Bible has to say about gays really need to put that above quote through the same lens and then just shut up.

    Additionally, if a man were to go and "sow his wild oats" so to speak then he's not in a very different position than a homosexual. Because unless you get married to a virgin of the opposite sex while you yourself are still a virgin, and remain monogamous - even in your fantasy life - till death do you part, then you're an adulterer, according to the Bible.

    Anyway, I'm getting off topic. Over the next several years I kept studying various religions, traditions, "spiritual teachings", humanism, etc. and I am no longer very confident that Christianity has all that much going for it. I'm still working through some things, but I've come to believe that some of us are reincarnated, which is apparently "off limits" for a Christian to believe. Although I believe in a "Hell" of sorts - I don't exactly think it's a literal place where you spend eternity being burned.

    Also, after Fred wrote about the "Conservative Bible Project" I looked at their website and they seem to think (and apparently there are a lot of people who agree - both liberal and conservative) that the story of the woman accused of adultery who is brought before Jesus and Jesus says that the one without sin can throw the first stone is a story that was probably added by someone after the fact. Basically, they say that therefore there are people who over the years have rewritten and / or added parts to the scriptures and so now I don't even know if much of the "condemnation" parts of the Bible haven't been added by those that are "holier than thou".

    Anyway, what I'm trying to get to is that my mind is still open. I wonder about the purpose of organized religions. It seems like their goal, their purpose is to divide humanity, provide excuses for war, and hand power and money over to the Churches. I no longer have a lot of faith in those institutions. But nor have I figured out a suitable replacement for my own spiritual pursuits.

  11. I'll do my best to articulate my beliefs as brielfy as possible:

    I was more or less raised Quaker, and I still consider myself part of the Religious Society of Friends even though I don't really attend meeting. This is because religion for me is intensely personal, rather than the communal activity that it is for many others.

    A lot of my religious ideas were shaped during college, where I majored in religious studies with an emphasis on world religions.

    A particular idea that I found and agreed with is what I call "metatheism," essentially the idea that what we call "God" is a human construct that can only partially approach the trancendant reality. I encountered this idea in certain strains of Hinduism and Judaism, but especially in the "God beyond God" writings of Paul Tillich.

    What this means for me as a Christian is that I reject inerrancy altogether, as well as any claim to having Absolute Truth. The Bible, like all religion, is a human construction resulting from our attempts to understand the Divine. We're all fumbling in the dark, but I think that those fumblings are very, very important.

    As for my ideas about God, I believe that God both encompasses and trancends the physical universe. So every subatomic particle of existence is God made manifest, and the Quaker "light of God within us" is not limited to humanity, but to everything in existence.

    Because of this idea, two more works that greatly infleunced me were Gene Outka's [i]Agape: An Ethical Analysis[/i] and Rosemary Radford Ruether's [i]Sexism and God-Talk[/i]. I can't recommend these books highly enough.

    Basically, my religious thinking and ideas have resulted in me being a pacifist, egalitarian feminist, progressive with a committment to social and environmental justice.

  12. Oh this is too fun! But I'm at work and I'm supposed to be working (plus I actually am, for once, yay me.) I will post later...

  13. Please do. I'm very much enjoying the responses so far, and I'd love to see more of them.


Feel free to leave comments; it lets me know that people are actually reading my blog. Interesting tangents and topic drift just add flavor. Linking to your own stuff is fine, as long as it's at least loosely relevant. Be civil, and have fun!