Sunday, September 14, 2008

After Fifty Years, What I Believe

As of today I have spent a half-century on this earth and during that time I have developed certain beliefs, based on what I have seen and experienced. I will now share those beliefs with you (whether you want me to or not).

BACKGROUND: I was born into a Catholic family and raised that way. We went to church on Sundays and Holy Days and and I also went to Catholic school through 8th grade. I didn't go to Catholic high school because it would have meant taking a bus to another city while the public high school was virtually right in my backyard. So I went to public high school instead. Still went to weekly and Holy Day mass with my family. For the most part though I, like many, took my religion for granted. I didn't think much about what it all meant. I recited the prayers and stuff pretty much mindlessly. During college, my church attendance became more random. If I was home for the weekend, I would go, so as not to disappoint my parents. If I was not home, I generally wouldn't. After college, my church attendance remained rather random. One day, two well-dressed young men with name tags knocked on my door and introduced me to the Mormon Church. They were good salesmen and I was an easy sell, so I decided to give it a try. I got baptized and went to church there...a bit more regularly than I had been. I lost my fiance over it and almost my parents too. I thought I agreed with most of their beliefs. I even married a Mormon woman. But eventually I couldn't take it any more. Three hours of church every Sunday plus all kinds of other meetings, conferences, etc, some in far-flung distant places was just too much. I couldn't and still can't afford to pay one-tenth of my income for tithing. I didn't have the time to say all the prayers and read scripture every day. And no coffee or alcohol? Come on! So I "fell away" or "went inactive" as they call it. This was a few years ago. So that leaves me now as what I will call a "religious floater". I generally don't go to church, although I do still enjoy a good Catholic Mass now and then.

THE EXISTENCE OF GOD: The foundation of all religions is a belief in something that cannot be proven. Namely that there is a being that created the universe and everything in it and that after we die we will live with this being in heaven (or not, depending on how we live our life here). I am not really sold on the existence of God to start with. Obviously it cannot be proven one way or another. My big problem is the idea that God is supposed to be perfect and that he loves everybody. If He is really perfect then how could he have created this earth and the rest of the universe, which are imperfect and filled with natural disasters, etc, and how could He have created us, who are also far from perfect. And if he really loves all of us, then why do some of have it so good and others have it so rotten? If I loved all my children I would make sure that they were all equally provided for and given the same opportunities. But that is not the case with the human population. So I have a problem with the God thing to start with. I suppose that it is possible that the imperfections of this universe and the people in it are actually part of an overall perfect plan that is so large that we simple cannot perceive it. That is probably what some ministers and others will say. And maybe it is so. But I haven't quite gotten to the point where I can grasp that yet. Sometimes I think God is like Santa or the Easter Bunny. Many children believe in these mythical, make-believe things, then find out eventually, to their great disappointment, that they do not exist. And yet I think there is a "spirit of Santa" a spirit of gift-giving at the holidays and other times. My wife and I both give each other gifts at Christmas labeled that they are from Santa even though be both know that there is really no such person. Our teenage kids think it is corny as all heck. So, too, perhaps, there is a "spirit of God" that helps many of us strive to be better people, whether or not God himself really exists.

RELIGION AND CHURCH: There is supposedly one God, so why so many different religions? The biggest problem is that many of them claim to be the "only true religion". The Catholics claim this. The Mormons claim this. Other churches and religions do as well. Obviously they can't all be true, although there might be some element of truth in many of them. If there is only one God, there can really only one true religion, and at this point I do not believe that there is any such thing on the face of the earth. I do believe that a religion or church is good for a person if it motivates them to be a better person, live a more Christ-like life, be more loving to their neighbors, etc. On the other hand, a religion or church that excludes anyone for any reason, or motivates people to kill or harm others, is not good. In my opinion, religion, right along with race and nationality, has been and continues to be one of the biggest causes of wars and conflicts in the history of our world. It has divided many more people than it has ever united. To this day it divides families to the point that parents disown children and wives divorce husbands.

PRAYER: Prayer is defined as "talking to God". I have tried this. Problem is, since I'm not sure that God exists, it is like having a one-sided phone conversation. I don't know that anyone is listening, so there isn't much of a point. Sometimes we are told to pray for faith, but this is a circular argument. If we don't have the faith that someone is listening to our prayers to start with, it is rather difficult to pray and ask that person we are not sure is there to give us more faith. In the Catholic church we did a lot of praying to different saints and to the Virgin Mary. I never really saw the point of that. Sure they were great people, but they're not God. Some people claim to have been miraculously healed as a result of prayer. I think these are cases of mind-over-matter. If you believe strongly enough that you can do something or can be healed, it just might happen. Besides the idea of a miracle implies the idea that something has gone wrong and God has to "fix" is, again bringing up the imperfection idea. And if God really is all-knowing and all that stuff, he already knows what we need and what we want, so why bother him with our incessant begging and whining?

So this is where I stand. I don't go to church regularly. I don't pray or read scriptures. I'm not sure whether or not God is there. Nonetheless I try to be "good" person. I try to treat others with the love, respect and dignity that they deserve, because they are human beings, and without regard to their race, nationality, religious beliefs, political affiliations, and so forth. I am not perfect at this by any means. I try to do what I can to make this world a better place for mayself and others. I believe that every human being has basic needs which include love and fair treatment by others as well as food and shelter. I may not be able to help much with the latter two, but certainly I can give love and respect to all, or at least I can try. if we could just all treat each person with the love and respect they deserve, what a great world this would be! And I don't believe that one necessarily has to go to church or any of that other stuff in order to be able to do that.

So Sayeth The Shack

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