After returning from the Tellus Science Museum with my parents and children, I head to the bookstore and begin eavesdropping on some kids talking rather loudly at the table beside me. One is doing Christian Cool—all James Dean swagger but without the whiff of drugs, sex or secular rock n' roll & without any awareness of the irony. It has to be a difficult act to maintain, grounded in repression. I'm heartened that the other two at the table don't exactly seem to be picking up what he's putting down—especially the young woman. She commands the conversation with real grace, holding space for friendship with both an open mind and reality checks. I see the same abilities in my daughter, and I am grateful these women seem more skilled than my peers at holding their own without burning bridges to the ground.
On religion, I have a few observations:
- Those with the most prominently stated faith in God often have the least faith in themselves. Personally, I have compassion for this feeling but anger for those who propagate it. There is no sin in being human. Demanding people believe in their inherent “evilness” or “failure” for the purpose of giving all over to a more “perfect” God may seem kind but ultimately is an act of cruelty which robs us the gift of forgiving, understanding and embracing our authentic selves with gratitude for life, in all its wonder and pain.
- When it comes to pious leaders, however, many define God in terms far broader than their parishioners. Talk to them long enough, and they seem to be spiritually agnostic people who choose to experience life through a religious mythos, while recognizing that this is genuinely one of many viable paths. I have compassion for them too, but I do question why so few share this truth with those they guide.
- Finally, there are people who consciously use religion for the purpose of manipulating others—to gain wealth, territory or psychological control. I wish I could say these few give a bad name to religion. However, they are not a handful who taint what could otherwise be sacred. They are instead parents of the movement to remove individuals from their personal relationship with divinity by mandating organizational control of a holy union.
As someone who came of age within religion and then rather nonchalantly outgrew it, a pillar of my approach to piety is to trust that wise people will ultimately find their own way through it. However, that approach felt safer when my country's leadership felt more secure. There is supposed to be separation between church and state in the USA. However, now, just past the turn of the 21st century, moderate church leaders helped pave the way to the election of Donald Trump—a controversial real estate and entertainment mogul known for objectifying women; promoting racist agenda; and removing or blocking industrial regulations intended to protect people and the planet. As president, he is an unqualified disgrace.
Critical thinking and a deeper respect for our inherent humanity may have saved us from him. Unfortunately, neither critical thinking nor respect for our inherent humanity jive well with religion. As a result, not only did many religious leaders make the major mistake of directly endorsing Donald Trump, they also made the mistake of thwarting the type of intellectual development which would encourage citizens to critically evaluate his platform.
I support an individual's freedom to know and experience divinity through religion. I recognize that it brings many daily comfort and a sincere sense of long-term security which sometimes is actually what inspires them to be their best selves. I want people to experience comfort, security and motivation to do their sincere best. I also recognize that, historically, religion strips people of their autonomy and their agency. Like drugs, it can be used responsibly as a tool for exploring life and one's individual role within it; however, mandating that it be the tool by which all people understand life and themselves is a dangerous act of oppression. In the aftermath of the Donald's election, especially here in America's Deep South, I am on high alert for signs that religion may be further overstepping its bounds.
I am also looking to everyone for common ground now. At the table beside me today, the young people were discussing tattoos, books, Kung Fu Panda, travel, nature hikes and their parents' stories. These are windows through which we can connect with each other—the art we enjoy, the spaces where we feel whole, the histories we share. I take heart in this. As long as we ultimately desire a world to grow up in together, we will evolve—moving slowly toward a more sustainable existence.
Will we actually make it there—to that point where our destructive tendencies no longer outpace our ability to live in harmony with nature and each other, as proactive members of a web of life rather than as a dominating force? Perhaps not. But trying will mean peeling back so many layers of repression that, even if our species ceases to exist, perhaps our souls will finally be free. Maybe that's the point.
The young woman from the bookstore today did not introduce herself to me directly, but she returned her chair to my table, looked directly at me and wished me a good night as she left the book store. I thanked her and wished her the same. Then I reflected on all I had heard, and I wrote this with hope that it will bring something positive to those who find it.
Humanity is young.
We are destroying our Earth and each other.
We are still capable of changing this.
Money is a tool which can be used responsibly, or abused maliciously, to influence the evolution of individuals and society, until capitalism ends, as one day it will.
Our personal stories, rituals, mythologies and moralities matter. But what defines us as individuals is not the same as what defines us as a whole.
Race, gender and nationality matter to the degree that they shape the stories, rituals, myths and laws which define, confine and direct us.
We must pay attention to what we create, as well as to what we protect—when it comes to personal and cultural legacies, both new and old.