Welcome to the Real World

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been part of a handful of spiritual paths over the years.  I was raised in an evangelical Protestant family, became Catholic after graduating college, began studying Wicca and neopaganism a few years after that, then became something of an atheistic pagan.  I think religions and spiritual paths, much like jobs, are left out of dissatisfaction.  Very rarely are people lured away.

As a boss, I know that for the most part employees quit when they reach a point where the negatives of a job outweigh the positives.  If they’re out searching for new jobs, they’ve already decided to leave.  And very rarely do new jobs pop up that are so enticing that satisfies employees are willing to take a chance on a job change.

Similarly, I’ve known a lot of people who leave churches and religions because they reach a point where the questions and disagreements and discomfort outweigh the benefits of staying.  If they’re actively searching for a new church home, they’ve already decided to leave the previous one.  Very rarely do new spiritual paths lure committed and faithful people away from a spiritual path they find to be fulfilling and true.

I left the familiar Protestant faith I was raised in not because the Catholic Church was offering me a better deal, but because I realized that, without my family there to provide me special opportunities and incentive to participate, I had no personal desire to continue attending that kind of church.  It didn’t fit me.  That church was centered on the idea that it was our responsibility to center our lives entirely on god, to throw ourselves into church activities and seek to convert others.  Even then, I felt it was irresponsible and counterproductive to push a faith on others, if not dangerous.  That faith did not paint a realistic picture of what I thought it should mean to be a Christian.

I left Catholicism not because paganism looked so much better, but because I stopped feeling that I was getting anything out of my church experience.  I’d lost interest in going to Mass because I didn’t come away feeling like I’d really benefited from it.  I disagreed with too much of the Church’s doctrines and felt that it did not paint a realistic picture of how humans should be treated and respected.

I stopped studying traditional neopagan spirituality because I started feeling rather silly pretending to call upon deities and beings I didn’t thing really existed.  I didn’t feel that it painted a realistic picture of the workings of the universe and the relationship between humans and the planet.

And I think I’m pretty normal in that regard.  People leave religions when they start questioning too much.  They leave when their perception of reality stands at odds with the teachings and dogmas they’re being asked to embrace.  And this is important right now because there are so many people leaving organized religion these days.  Whether you think that is a good thing or a bad thing, it’s very clearly a sign that religious teachings as they stand are not proving to be accurate when measured against the experience of current reality.

If religion fails to speak to reality, what good is it?

Maybe Sunday School Would Be Better If It Were Actually School

I see a lot of stuff posted on social media about what’s wrong with the doctrines or teachings of various religions and how those tenets contribute to the harmful actions of their followers.  But there is very little thought given after that to what religions should be teaching through their doctrines.  

Many religions teach hate, often wrapped in words which try to masquerade as love.  So how would a religion actually teach love?  How can a religion teach its followers to love unconditionally?  

Many religions teach cultural division, especially an “us versus them” approach to people outside the faith.  So how would a religion actually teach that its doctrines are important but do not set followers apart from everyone else?  How can a religion encourage its followers on a beneficial path without teaching them to look down on other paths?

At the root of the issue, I think, is that many religions teach that humanity is flawed and damaged and horrible, that without something to pull us up and save us we would be doomed.  So how would a religion actually teach the innate value of humanity?  

The answer is that it can, easily, but then it won’t fit the mold of religion.  The West, especially, has become very attached to the beliefs which tell us that we can be elevated and saved and redeemed through religion, and maybe it’s because our culture teaches us to feel worthless and not good enough.  

I think what we need is a religious tradition which teaches us that our basic humanity is beautiful and powerful and that a great deal is gained by efforts to hone ourselves, not change what we are.