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?

On Bluster and Bubbles

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the bubbles we live in.  If we restrict our experiences, the narratives to which we are exposed, the people and ideas with which we might be confronted, then we can pretend that the world is simpler and more aligned with our preferences.

We can ignore the world beyond the bubble which we wish did not exist.

We can resist seeing the reality of problems or contradictory experiences which lie beyond our bubble and which might make us question our preferences.

But the worst thing that bubbles do is allow us to pretend that the entirety of the real world doesn’t truly exist.

The types of people we fear or despise?  We can erase them from our reality.  We can continue as if they are myths.  The situations in which our particular moral code fails to fit?  We can call them imaginary, allegorical.  We can pretend that they never arise.

In fact, isn’t this often what we do in our spiritual paths?  We construct a universe in which our beliefs make sense, and then push everything contradictory to it out of our bubble.  We decide that “those” people are delusional or misled or evil and that if they do “those” types of things then they’re malicious.  Actual people who have actual reasons for believing differently or acting differently don’t exist.  They’re not real.  There is only us and those who would be us if they weren’t trying to deny the reality of our universe.

So what happens when we step outside those bubbles and actually experience the life outside?  What happens when we acknowledge that our universe is a construct of our own, and one which doesn’t truly capture everyone’s existence?

What happens is that we have to confront the dissonance.  We have to process the contradictions.  We have to figure out the relationship between ourselves and the things we wished didn’t exist, because they actually do.

And that’s why we don’t like leaving our bubbles.  It’s easy to pretend that you can fight and vanquish an imaginary foe, but when you’re staring it in the eye it’s not so easy.  In fact, you may find it’s not what should happen.  You might end up having to defend yourself, or you might end up having to extend aid to a person you expected to hate.  But you probably won’t, then, have the luxury of standing aside and not engaging in some kind of interaction.  You can’t imagine it or pretend.  And it’s frightening to most of us.

But it’s necessary.

Nothing good comes of denying the entirety of reality in all it’s inconvenient glory.