This post is reprinted from one of my previous blogging projects. Some recent events within my home inspired me to share it again here. While the ideas I discuss in it continue to evolve with experience and time, it is still very much in alignment with my current beliefs. I share it to inspire thoughtful contemplation. Enjoy!
I grew up in a home populated by people who felt like closeted agnostics. Being Southerners in United States, claiming belief in a Christian God was almost taken as a given, and my family was no different. However, the terms by which we defined our God always struck me as rather flexible. They came initially from the Bible; however, the Good Book was, for us, more fluid than fixed.
Specifically, I remember my Precious Moments Bible with lite pink paper, faintly perfumed pages and illustrations inspired by the distinctly wide-eyed Precious Moments figurines. I thought it was an exquisitely beautiful thing for a child to own. Even though I eventually recognized it as a marketing tool, I treasured it. Rather than striking me as abhorrent that a company would co-opt religion, I instead saw religion as the conscious creation of my culture and identified with it as such.
As I aged, my Bibles changed. One translation gave way to another until eventually I’d read a couple versions of the whole thing. I felt as though Christianity led me deeply within itself in order to lead me out again. My one take away was my general impression of the Gospels. In an essay I wrote a couple years back, I summarized it like this: Regardless of our origins or our future, we have God’s Holy Spirit inside us. Therefore, by knowing ourselves, we will always find God, whomever and whatever God may be.
I come down on the side of the scientists, and this revelation (made glaringly apparent to me as I’ve aged) makes me re-think my previous tendency to elevate spirituality above religion. To better understand what I mean, consider these explanations courtesy of Wikipedia:
A religion is an organized collection of beliefs, cultural systems, and world views that relate humanity to an order of existence. Many religions have narratives, symbols, and sacred histories that are intended to explain the meaning of life and/or to explain the origin of life or the Universe. From their beliefs about the cosmos and human nature, people derive morality, ethics, religious laws or a preferred lifestyle. According to some estimates, there are roughly 4,200 religions in the world.
There is no single, widely-agreed definition of spirituality.Social scientists have defined spirituality as the search for the sacred, for that which is set apart from the ordinary and worthy of veneration, “a transcendent dimension within human experience…discovered in moments in which the individual questions the meaning of personal existence and attempts to place the self within a broader ontological context.”
In other words, religion establishes a destination and provides a pathway for getting there. Spirituality says you will find the destination and pathway yourself.
In my youth, the latter “pathless path” seemed to be the superior option. While religions interested me, I worried about the dangers of “herd thinking” and was content to take ownership of my own beliefs. However, time has revealed that an “anything goes,” “be your own leader” approach can, in some individuals, give rise to a tremendous attitude of superiority and self righteousness trumping that of any thoughtless crowd. This considered, religion’s social nature may function to hold some congregation members in check from going rogue. After all, peer pressure can be positive too!
In any case, imagine if religion advocated for viewing life experience as a laboratory within which natural laws, moral tendencies and cultures are seen as a lens for understanding our place within the world not as the pinnacle of our existence in and of themselves. We could then stop using fixed notions of God to navigate life and begin navigating life as a means of encountering God.
Personally, nothing strikes me deeper than agnostic wonder. It is not based on the denial of anything but rather on the acceptance that, within reality as we believe we know it, there is always the potential for more.