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Tell me all your thoughts on God, 'cause I'd really like to meet her.

1- Yesterday morning, I was shaking my head, dismayed, at the Phelps family's (aka, Westboro Baptist Church) latest headlines. They are famous for (among other things) claiming that God is punishing the US for "harboring gays" by allowing US soldiers to die overseas and by sending Hurricane Katrina. They also protest at people's funerals and have a website called God Hates Fags.

2- Last night, I watched The X-Files: I Want to Believe, in which the parents of a young boy with a terminal disease told Scully that they wanted to discontinue treatment for their son and just "put our faith in God now." Even though Scully had a course of treatment (though, experimental) that could possibly help. Also, the main plot of the movie involved a former priest who was a convicted pedophile who keeps praying and praying for forgiveness and absolution, and who tries to help the investigations through his "psychic visions," which may be true or may just be his desperate attempt to get back in with God before he dies.

3- This morning, as with most Sundays, I drove Jolie to her grandma's house. The short drive takes us past St. John's Catholic Church, just down the street from our building, and as always, their parking lot is packed and the street is lined with cars and people trying to get in for the Sunday morning services. It is usually enough to slow traffic.

4- An hour or so ago, in the latest issue of Bitch magazine, there was a short piece on a survey set up online by two brothers of a famous pastor/author, in which thousands of (Christian) males of all ages sound off on what sort of clothing they find to be too inappropriate or sexually provocative, ranging from things like wearing a bikini in public to habitually allowing your bra straps to show. One man even said that wearing a tshirt under a spaghetti strap tank top is too provocative, because it makes (my emphasis) men start imagining what is being hidden under that tshirt. The implication, of course, is that women are responsible for men's urges, and it's our fault if they act like animals, because obviously they are not intelligent human beings who are capable of learning to control themselves.

So... I've had God on my mind a lot this weekend. And what I've come to realize is that I don't understand religion. I really don't.

I did not grow up with religion. I attended Christian school early on in my life, and attended a Catholic high school. My extended family is Buddhist - my grandparents regularly go to a temple, and the few funerals I've attended (knock on wood) have been in the Buddhist tradition. But when it came to day-to-day, week-to-week life, my parents chose not to raise us with religion. I think that maybe in fact they were against it, though they've never actually said that when we were younger - when my brother decided that he wanted to become a Christian a few years ago, they were really uncomfortable with the idea. And they are not happy with the fact that my MIL wants to have Jolie baptized.

When we were discussing a possible baptism, my mother said that she's never wanted to commit to a religion because there are too many bad people doing bad things in the name of God for her to want to apply the same label to herself. And I think I pretty much feel the same way. The bad connotations are too great. I can't just overlook them and only focus on the good - in fact, as much as I love and respect the people I care about who follow certain religions, I think there's something flawed about being able to "pick and choose" what aspects you endorse and which you don't. It reminds me of my junior or senior year of high school: my friends and I were at the mall during prom season, and one of my friends said, "Hey! This is what my dress looks like!!! Only it doesn't have this and that and it's a different color. But otherwise, that's totally my dress!" And one of my other friends said, "So, in other words....... it's NOT."

I understand the importance of spirituality. I understand the idea of cosmic forces governing the universe and the idea of fate or destiny. Obviously I understand the idea of morality. But I can't fathom living my life as a woman who came of age in the 21st century according to a book written thousands of years ago by a bunch of men from the other side of the world from me. To me, that's as crazy as believing in Zeus or Hades. (Actually, Greek and Roman mythology makes a lot more sense to me than Christianity does.) Obviously there are some good tidbits of wisdom in there, but there are a lot of parts in the Bible that have no place in my life, in ANYONE'S lives. We're not allowed to wear man-made materials? Well, I guess God will be smiting everyone who's ever knit with acrylic yarn.

"But everyone KNOWS those aren't the parts we're supposed to follow, Thu." Really? How do you know? Because everyone came to a consensus that they wanted to wear acrylic and eat shellfish, Bible be damned? I don't understand why people can arbitrarily choose to ignore those instructions at their convenience, but they can cling so stubbornly to, say, the idea that homosexuality is evil. Or that women need to be subservient to their men and that they shouldn't be allowed to use birth control. Honestly, I have never understood the concept of religion as a giant Vegas buffet where you can fill your plate with whatever you want.

Labels exist. Stereotypes exist. I'm a woman, which means that I am going to be labeled as contentious, catty, obsessed with my appearance, and constantly insecure. I'm Asian, which means that I will be labeled as bad at driving, eating weird-smelling food, and being really good at math. I have an English degree from a liberal arts college. I knit. I do roller derby. Every choice I make about what I do comes with both negative and positive connotations, but I have to accept and acknowledge them all. I can't claim a label for myself and then turn my back on everyone else who also uses that label. They're all part and parcel of the whole damn puzzle. So that's one thing I don't understand about religion - how you can call yourself such-and-such, but choose to ignore all these other aspects of it. Doesn't that just make you... NOT?

On my Facebook profile, I had "atheist" listed for a long time, but then I finally changed it because I don't think it is a precise enough description of what I believe. "Agnostic" isn't exactly right either. I DON'T believe in God, but more specifically, I don't believe in God-the-way-the-books-tell-it. I believe that God (which may be male or female or both or neither, which may not even be called God-with-a-capital-G, but god-with-a-lowercase-g, or neither of those two), along with the devil, exists in all people and all things. That it can't be described, not in thousands and thousands of pages of writing, that there just aren't words, and that if you can find words to define it, then maybe you're not quite getting it right - kind of like trying to define love or beauty. Or trying to summarize Mike Leigh's movie Naked to someone who's never seen it before.

You know, as a joke, I changed my FB profile to say "My own. Personal. Jesus." (a reference to Depeche Mode), but the more I think about it, the more I'm realizing that it is true. It's my own personal god, my own personal religion, and it's the only one I can live with, because it means that the only person's actions or decisions that I have to answer to or justify are my own. I can't detach from myself the way other people might detach from, say, Reverend Fred Phelps, and say that that's not who I am, because I am me, and I have to be able to look myself in the mirror every day and be able to sleep at night. The only person acting in my name will be me.

So I will continue not being able to understand organized religion. I will continue not to understand when I watch people closing their eyes and raising their arms to the sky while listening to a televangelist. I will continue not to understand why people keep trying to give things up for Lent even though they've tried to give it up the last few years in a row and it's never stuck. It's never going to make sense to me, but I will be secure in the fact that really, it doesn't have to, because I've got my own little-g to be concerned about.

Comments

  1. You know, the last two paragraphs of this post basically sum up my own belief. I am nowhere near the typical, orthodox Christian. I don't go to church - in fact, I'm quite against it for the most part. I don't answer to anybody but myself and the "God" that I believe in. Which I have no doubt has many differences from the "God" that Christians and Catholics believe in or the "God" that's in the Bible.

    I think the difference in where you and I stand is just a matter of faith versus logic. Logically, I pretty much agree with everything you said. However, I believe in having faith, and the good that can do for you. The God I believe in is the one who has all my morals and more - when I choose to sin, I answer not only to myself, but to Him and the people I've hurt by it.

    It's really hard to explain my real stance in religion. I call myself Christian because Christianity really has a wide net. I am definitely not a part of any specific denomination. Jennifer, having grown up as a Roman Catholic, had very different views prior to meeting me, and the two of us getting to know each other in that sense has definitely been a learning, growing journey.

    I think when it gets to the bottom line, it doesn't matter to either of us who or what you believe in, or why you believe in it. What matters is being a good person. All the basic traits of being a decent human being, I think all of us can agree on, no matter who you choose to keep yourself in check.

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