Kink and religion (IV): What are your current thoughts about religion?
What are your current thoughts about religion?
My current state could probably best be described as agnostic. I don’t really believe in God anymore, but neither can I prove the non-existence of God. I don’t attend church anymore; however, last year I would go to a Unitarian Universalist meeting most Sundays and I enjoyed that. It’s kind of an all-inclusive spiritual community type of thing. I found comfort in it. It’s nice to have a group of people of all different ages that care about you and keep you thinking about how you can contribute to the world and the lives of others.
I haven’t found a Unitarian Universalist group in my new place. It was still a bit too spiritually oriented. I like to work mostly with facts these days, and I’m learning that facts can be beautiful too. I appreciate Buddhist teachings and meditate when I’m having some difficulties in life. Being able to identify what is causing suffering in your life and how to end that suffering is a vital skill. The ten commandments have been replaced with the question, ‘How can I cause the least amount of suffering for myself and those around me in the long run?’
I still have some sore spots with regards to Christianity. For years it made me feel like I couldn’t be myself and be a faithful servant to my creator. That’s incredibly difficult. I recognize that Christianity has useful moral lessons embedded in the New Testament. When I was in my liberal Christianity phase I used to harp on the way that Jesus criticized the Pharisees, the sect that emphasized Jewish law, and that current fundamentalist Christians have a lot in common with this group. However, the more educated I became, the more it didn’t make sense to cling to my faith. I realized how much I’d been indoctrinated, how I’d been taught to shut off my brain and repeat a spoon-fed argument that I had learned. I could still give them to you if asked.
If there is a loving God, then I’m sure he still loves me too. If there isn’t a God, which I find much more likely, then we should all live our lives the best we can – treating ourselves and others with dignity, respect, and kindness.
What are your current thoughts about religion?
I am currently a member of the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Newark (NJ). I began looking around several years ago for a spiritual home, and found a church that was “open and affirming” (meaning that they accept openly gay people for full inclusion). The Episcopal Church was the first mainstream Christian denomination to ordain a female priest and the first to ordain an openly gay Bishop.
The Episcopal Church stresses the blessing of diversity, and I believe this would also extend to BDSM relationships. If I am how God made me (or how my experiences made me); and if God is kind and loving; then why would he not want me to be in a fulfilling relationship? The over-riding message of the New Testament is “Love one another as I have loved you.” How could a God of love look at a relationship between loving adults and not see it as a good thing?
There is no official church policy on BDSM relationships…as far as I know. But the Anglican communion stresses the triad of scripture, church history, and personal experience and understanding as a guide towards following God’s direction. In short, God gave us a brain and intends for us to use it. If the legalistic dogma of five thousand years ago does not work for today’s world, it is okay to say so and act accordingly (so…we no longer tell women they must sit outside of town when menstruating, for example). So we, as believers and members of the church, are completely attuned with the teachings of our church when we question existing dogma and force it to evolve to fit an ever-changing world.
I do not believe in an interventionary God…that is, I don’t believe that God intervenes in the events of history. I don’t know why he doesn’t – there’s enough reason to destroy us all for our contribution to general oppression and destruction of the earth – but I’m thankful that I continue to exist. But there have been a few times in my life when I have felt connected to the universe beyond the simple five senses that guide my day. Some simply feel this is understanding a sense of one’s self in the universe…but to me, it is a touch of the Divine.
Religion, in general, has caused much pain and suffering, and it is the chief apparent motivation for too much of the world’s strife. I stress the word “apparent” because, even if all religion were snuffed from the earth, we would still fight amongst ourselves. Religion serves, too often, as a veneer over our baser selves and allows a broad justification for all manner of oppression. But religion also motivated Ghandi and Mother Theresa and Martin Luther King, Jr. Like all belief systems, it can be horribly twisted. And, like all belief systems, once someone believes, it can be used to lead them around by the nose to do things they would otherwise find horrible. But it isn’t as if bare political ideologies are any better.
The problem with religion is that it binds people’s minds to believe there is only one right way. I think that is mentally and spiritually lazy, though. It is a paradox of my belief that one must be tolerant of everything save intolerance. I may disagree with a person’s beliefs, but I will defend to my death their right to cling to that belief…so long as that belief is not teaching hatred and violence towards others. I think that the current resurgence of uber-conservative religions worldwide stems from a common thread of religious ignorance. Most people who thump the bible, for instance, have never read it.
I could easily extend this discussion to include political philosophies and ideologies, as well. In the end, religion is simply a method for practicing an ideology…so it is really the same discussion anyway. I get frustrated when I hear people say that religion should not be discussed in the public sphere – of course it should! It should be subjected to the same level of debate as any other idea. But we will never get people to be honest about their actions if we tell them they cannot share the beliefs that are the roots of those actions.
What are your current thoughts about religion?
I’ve tried atheism; it doesn’t work for me. I researched a variety of approaches before ending up where I am now. My family belongs to a nearby non-denominational church that is very active in supporting the local community (food bank, free clinic, work projects). It is important to me that our church be more focused on social justice than pressuring people to comply with social norms and my personal beliefs fall somewhere in the area of liberal Christian theology.
Regarding more general thoughts on religion… You can choose anyone from the “Religious Right” as an example of what I believe is wrong with contemporary American Christianity, but they are not the whole story. In his book The Cube and the Cathedral; Europe, America, and Politics without God, author George Weigel argues that Christianity has been and continues to be primarily a force for good in the world. It is very popular today to condemn any and all faith out of hand and Christianity specifically but I believe that ignores some invaluable contributions. I think religion, as with politics, is merely another realm in which the beauty and ugliness of the human creature plays out. Humanity manages to be vicious even without theology to blame.
People using religion to control or justify hate is a real hot button for me, so I attend a church where the focus is on loving and helping others. There is some evidence that this participation in church is good for my health and my community. We all have to figure out what works for us, and this is what works for me.
Religion is an interesting word. You can actually take spirituality right out of the definition…Mirriam-Webster does. Their definition that I identify with is this:
A cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith.
This leads to dogma which can be defined as:
something held as an established opinion; especially a definite authoritative tenet.
When you couple these two you get all sorts of interesting things.
You can have a liberal political dogma. “Government programs will save us all and if you disagree you are amoral.”
You can have a conservative political dogma. “Cut programs, especially for the poor, and cut taxes, especially for the rich.”
You can have an ultra-conservative political and religious dogma. “Praise Jesus and pass the ammo.”
Then you can have religious dogma. Just take a look at Ireland for a good example of Christian dogma/religion. Look at Iraq and the Sunni and Shiite for some good Muslim dogma/religion.
Everything I just mentioned is held is a religion, most people equate religion with God but you don’t need God for religion. Since most people equate God, religion and church, let’s deal with that particular case. If you take away the “Religion” of the Church and re-read the new testament with an eye toward what Jesus and his followers did.
They healed the sick, fed the hungry, and met the needs of the people around them. They served and gave of themselves.
I guess I am saying that I think most Religion is a crock for like-minded people to circle the wagons and try to keep anyone that is different out unless those different people try really hard to be like them.
So for me the question, What Would Jesus Do is not one to be mocked. What would he do? He’d volunteer at the AIDS hospice with compassion not condemnation. He would share his meal with the homeless person. That’s what religion should be.