Monday, October 24, 2005

Religious Right? ...

Ethan over at TheVisionThing.com wrote a post recently about a whiteboard at his office that had been filled with Bible verses. He took objection to it - actually, what he wrote was, "I have a huge problem with this" - and I found myself nodding my head in agreement.

My mother ends all of her exchanges with "God's blessings," on the phone, in person, whatever. She doesn't say "Goodbye" or "It was good to talk to you" or "Have a nice day." "God's blessings" is her sign-off.

I mentioned this to her the other day, that she has no way of knowing the beliefs of the people she's talking to, and maybe it's not appropriate to insert religion into a conversation.

"You'd be surprised how many people say 'thank you,' " she said.

"I'm sure many do," I said. "But you might be offending other people, too."

Mom is not a zealot. She doesn't walk around asking people, "Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal savior?" I've been asked that question by complete strangers, and it always skeeves me out.

I'm all for people having their religions. What I am not all for is people feeling the need to assert their beliefs on others.

Mom and I got into a big discussion about this one night recently.

I don't follow an organized religion. I think they're hypocritical. They purport to be so loving and inclusionary, but in fact, they're completely exclusionary. The underlying message is, "Unless you believe what we believe, you're wrong."

Mom takes umbrage with this assertion.

"How about those missions, back in the 1700s?" I ask. "The indigenous people seemed to be getting along just fine until it was decided that they needed to become part of the church." And then all hell broke loose.

And speaking of hell, I'm sure those who have found Jesus would argue that that's right where I'm headed.

I don't think so. I don't believe I can be damned to a place - literal or figurative - I don't believe exists.

If you're wondering, yes, I've been baptized and confirmed. Lutheran. My mom grew up Serbian Orthodox and my father grew up Catholic, and when they got married, the didn't want to pick one or the other's religion, so they compromised on Lutheranism, which frankly, I think is a rather milquetoast religion. At least when you go to a Catholic or Orthodox service, you know you're in church. The services assail the senses. So I've been confirmed, and taken my vows or pledges or whatever they are, but it's a bit like choosing a major in college: You haven't really lived yet. You're too young to really understand what you're choosing. You're choosing it because it's expected of you, not because you really understand what you're commiting to.

When I was younger and used to spend my summers in Door County, I'd go to church on Saturday afternoons with my friend Michele (so she didn't have to go alone, and so she could "get it over with," which to this day is how I hear most people talk about church, like it's this distateful weekly obligation), and I could pronounce the Catholic mass as well as I could recite the Lutheran service. I realized early on that it was all rote. I wondered if the people were really thinking about what they were saying, or if the words fell from their lips simply because they'd been saying them, dutifully, week in and week out, their entire lives.

My mom is very involved in her church. She's on altar guild and sets up communion and tends to the linens for the altar and takes great pride in it. She says she's honored to do it, and I like that for her, that she has something in her life, a ritual, that means so much to her. She's on several boards. She greets on Sunday mornings, almost every week, partly because she likes to, and partly because the church can't get anyone else to sign up to do it.

Which is more of what I'm talking about when I bring up "duty": Many people go to church out of a sense of obligation, going through the motions, saying the same things at the same times, but when it comes to being involved, to helping out, they're nowhere to be seen. They come, they do their duty to spare their soul from eternal damnation (or so they think) and then they're gone, to brunch, to the game, to the mall, to their lives.

Of course, much of my attitude can be traced back to my childhood. I remember clearly one Sunday morning when I didn't want to go to church. My father crouched down in front of me while I sat in the powder room, pouting, and said, "Is it too much to ask to give one hour a week to God?" Hypocrisy, start your engine. My father? Asking that question? The man who would sleep in church, or hold his hymnal upside down and who never sang a hymn anyway?

He went to church for the same reason I did: because it was expected of him, not because he wanted to be there. Eventually, mom gave up. She didn't insist we go to church, and she didn't go for a long time, either. She got back into church when I was in college, when she had a close call with an 18-wheeler pushing her car down an expressway. Staring at the grill of the truck in her driver-side window and wondering if she was going to die made her find her way back to her God.

Dad joined the church with her, though he almost never goes. He's started to recently, partly because he doesn't work on Sunday anymore and he doesn't have an excuse to stay home, even though the early service would have fit his schedule. But he prefered to read the paper. And partly because he's getting older. And though he says he doesn't believe in life after death, I think a small part of him figures he better get in good with God, just in case.

As for me, I consider myself a very spiritual person, just not in religious ways.

So the Religious Right might be experiencing some sort of renaissance in this country these days, and that's fine. Just so long as it doesn't insert itself into places where religion doesn't belong.

You know what I mean.

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