So, perhaps inspired by an impending Pagan holiday and a recent blog post about the modern culture of casual dress in church, I decided to write about something I’ve been avoiding because I have so few religious friends – my own religious beliefs, and how they are changing and how I am challenging them. As I was writing, all I could think was “This is so self-serving and narcissistic – who wants to read about the fact that I attend a Catholic church but want to be Jewish and am a practicing Pagan?” It sort of goes back to my “Judge and Let Judge” piece, but I have this fear of coming off as… the best way to describe it is “different”, but not in a good way. I have this fear of being seen as different because I am a religious woman. I’m reminded of a quote from Mayim Bialik while she was describing her friend Allison Josephs of “Jew in the City” fame. It’s a simple quote, but I feel that it is very profound:
“She’s extremely intelligent and I think she’s not what a lot of people think a religious woman is…”
There’s that word. Intelligence. I don’t want to be seen as less intelligent, or less of a feminist, or less of a gay rights activist, just because I’m religious. It’s hard to describe the words or phrases or triggers that a stereotypically religious person has that indicate that they are those things – less intelligent, less of a feminist, or less of a (or not at all a) gay rights activist. And when it comes to religion, the word “intelligence” is extremely charged, because of course there are scientists and atheists who offer that there is no proof of a higher being and therefore religious people are automatically less intelligent for considering it. Technically the main point of my blog is to simply keep my family and friends, who are scattered all over the US and some even in different countries, updated on my life. But I also find myself often hopping up on a soapbox to prove a point. My point here is not to prove that there is a higher being or that you should follow or ascribe to x, y, z, but rather my point is that, yes, you can be both religious and rational; yes, you can have a spiritual awakening and not change radically but rather have that spirituality be a complement to what you already were.
The fear is pretty heavy here, because I don’t want to talk about my religious beliefs while projecting myself as “stereotypically religious” or giving my atheist friends a headache. And the thing is, I know exactly the reaction my atheist friends could have to this given situation, because I’ve had that reaction myself. I was talking to a friend recently who had “found God”, and I honestly was worried about this person. Their newfound beliefs were pretty radically different from anything they had expressed before, and there was that major indicator that something had gone awry: this person was marginally less accepting of the queer community, in the sort of “the Bible says but it also says I’m not supposed to judge/love the sinner not the sin/I love you but…” way. I remember when talking to former coworkers about the fact that I started attending services at a local Catholic church that I stressed that I had not “found God”, that this was not a new or startling thing or “reawakening”; I simply wanted to be a part of a community and get out of the house, something that can be very difficult to do when you collect disability (and are therefore poor) and everyone thinks you’re a loser. That’s certainly one of the benefits of operating under a religious modus – they may hate you for being gay, but they’ll never judge you for being in need. So the question I’m positing to myself is, “How can I talk about religion without letting it overwhelm my core value system?”
I’ve talked a little bit about my “core value system”, if you will, here on my blog. In my “Manifesto of Intrinsic Human Worth”, I touched on the fact that I think every person has inherent goodness and intrinsic worth (call me a sap, an optimist, or perhaps just stupid). In “Ethical Consumerism as a Resolution“, I mentioned that I think that the dollar is a powerful tool in supporting my core values. I’ve talked about my views on abortion and that if you’re “pro-life” (or rather, “anti-abortion” or “pro-birth”), you need to put up or shut up. I think hitting kids is always wrong. I think love is about being there for someone and aspiring to contribute to their emotional, mental, and spiritual growth, and not about butterflies. I think atheists have just as much of a capability of being good people as religious people do. I think that people who are religious are all worshiping the same deity, one who appreciates and encourages diversity, and thus presents itself in many different forms (I’m a bit of a henotheist; what can I say?). I think that said deity is very accepting of gay and trans* people. And while we’re on that boat, I think that gay and trans* people deserve equal rights. Especially trans* people. And I think that reparative therapy is a dangerous crock of shit. I think that we need to stop the damaging aspects of rape culture and I think that we need to change the minds of men and have society say it’s OK for men to be feminine in order to best represent feminism and gender equality. I think animals deserve rights. I value intelligence and think it is as much about life experience as it is about books. I think ideas are better than beliefs because you can change an idea. And these things are not going to change because I’ve adopted certain religious practices or choose to discuss them. And if they do change because of religion, that is a warning sign and someone should slap me. My faith complements me, but it does not define me or overwhelm me. And that’s the way it should be.