(song lyric from Nick Cave's "Little Empty Boat")
Religion has always been a subject that fascinated me. As a young child, I often wondered why Mom, my brother, and I would head off to Sunday School while Dad stayed home. My Mom would make excuses like, "Oh he reads the Bible when he works on the railroad" but that, obviously was a lie. It turns out that my Dad wasn't religious at all. Didn't see the point in going to church, or the need to even discuss God.
He wasn't the kind of guy who poured his heart out, and there were many subjects that I was never able to sit down and pick his mind before he died two years ago on March 5th.
So actions spelled out how he felt. And I'll never forget sitting in his hospital room, awaiting his final surgery to remove the tumors from his brain, as the Hospital Ministry enters the room, and he just tells them, "Thanks, but no thanks."
That pretty much ended my feeling of, "I wonder what Dad believes?" He might have believed in God, but it wasn't in the sense of needing someone else to pray for him...even as he lay dying.
My Mother on the other hand, believed in God something fierce. So much so, that when she got diagnosed with breast cancer, she began reading the Bible again. Feeling as though she was being punished for not being a good enough Christian. And when the cancer came back a year later, this time in the breast the doctors hadn't removed...she prayed harder. Felt like it was God testing her. Even as the tumors entered her brain, and she was given "months" to live, she never gave up faith that somehow, God would make things better.
...and in a way, he did. In that she went out gracefully. My Dad, he pretty much gave up on life once the tumors came back and were deeper and bigger than originally dealt with. However, my Mom used her belief that it was "In God's Hands" to allow her to never fear the ultimate end...because for her, it was simply a beginning.
Which brings me to my feelings towards religion. It's ultimately about what makes you feel good. If it brings you happiness and a sense of purpose, then fine, be one with God. But once you use your faith to impose other people's lives, or feel as though you somehow know the "Truth" while those around you don't...that's when you've lost me. No one knows what happens when we die. Not the Pope, not the Dalai Lama...no one.
Thus, less and less Americans are believing in organized religion. The number of "No Religion" has grown rapidly over the past 18 years...while all the other faiths have fallen or stayed the same.
Look at that...15% of people now say they do not follow any sort of religion. Not that they're Atheists, mind you, (Lord knows, I'm not certain enough to be THAT arrogant!) just that they don't go to church or follow a certain organized religion.
That's almost as much as Baptists. And they're SECOND behind Catholics.
To me, this is great news. Of course, there are those who feel that without religion, we're all going to Hell in a handbasket...but I disagree. I think it's about time that we realize that while a lot of the stories in the Bible are good for teaching us right and wrong...they're not facts. They're not a blueprint for how you must live your life...or else.
And listen, I send my kid to a Methodist daycare. For one, it's (pardon the pun) a hell of a lot cheaper than most day cares, and two, I also teach him about Santa and soon enough the Tooth Fairy. Should I be so "realistic" with him that I take out all the magic in life? If it makes him behave better thinking that "God is watching you" then so be it. When he gets older, he can make the judgment if he wants to keep on believing that or not.
I'll leave this long, rambling post with the most awesome view of religion that I've ever had the privilege of hearing. It's from my Mythology class in high school, (fuck you, I'm a nerd, so what) and it seriously is perfect for understanding the role religion should have in our lives.
Examining all the religions throughout time, from people who worshiped pharaohs, to those who figured Zeus was the way to believe...one thing became clear. How could ANY of this be real? You get the sense that because Man has always had self-awareness that one day he will die, he always had to create stories dealing with "what then?" So much of what's in the Bible was taken from religions before them, and those borrowed from before them and so on and so forth...
So the best way to look at religion is like the way you look at going to the movies. You have three options.
#1. Choose to believe everything you're about to see on the screen is real. All of it. The guns, the aliens, the scary killer hiding in the closet...and you'll probably give yourself a heart attack by worrying about it constantly. And once it's all over, you'll have missed the point of why you went to the movie to begin with...to enjoy it.
#2. Choose to believe that it's all fake. Those are nothing more than mere actors on the screen. Those aliens are CGI and the blood and death is all make-believe. You once again would miss the point of the movie and enjoy nothing.
#3. Or you could view a movie like most of us tend to. You know in the back of your mind that it's nothing more than actors and CGI and make-believe, but you allow yourself to get lost in the story, get goosebumps at the awesome musical cues, and leave the theater with a smile on your face.
Isn't that the best way to go through life? Not getting caught up in the small details, or worrying about things we'll never be able to understand...and simply live for today? That's how I try and live my life and to the rest of you 15%er's, I salute you.