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October 23, 2005

Spirituality

Lately I've been having quite a few discussions about spirituality and religion. For me, religion and spirituality became an ever-evolving thing once I was old enough to be aware of it.

I was brought up Catholic. My family went to church every Sunday, I went to CCD classes, the whole nine yards. EVERYONE in my immediate family is Catholic (and if they're not, I don't know anyone who has ever stated so). When I was little, I tried to do my best to be a good Catholic, I prayed every night before bed, I said grace before meals, I tried to give up things during lent, etc. I even prayed a bit during the day. Of course, a lot of this "prayer" was that of a selfish child, but I thought I was making a good effort.


 

My spirituality has evolved ever since Catholic high school, where I first learned about all (well, some anyway) of the intricacies of Catholic beliefs. I had a few experiences that really made me doubt this "ever-loving God" who was supposedly protecting me. Catholic dogma directly conflicted with feminism, which had become a huge part of my personality after many of these not so positive experiences. Trusting God and letting Him do all the driving was a total crock of shit in my book at that time, it had gotten me nowhere good, and I began to explore other religious options.

I had friends who were Unitarian-Universalists and I attended a service at their church and found it to be much more accepting of diversity, homosexuality, and differences in opinion/beliefs. They had a female minister as well as a male minister, and different people took turns doing the sermon each week. They embraced music and poetry and art as positive expressions of creativity. The community accepted me. My parents were still forcing me to attend Catholic mass every week, but when we got home from mass, I would rush out to meet my friends for the Unitarian-Universalist service.


 

Meanwhile, I was in confirmation classes for the Catholic church. I hated them, plain and simple, and spent most of the time I was there doodling in my notebook and doing the bare minimum to get through it. I even approached my mother at one point and told her that I didn't think I believed in all of that, that I wasn't sure I wanted to be a Catholic. Mom told me to get confirmed anyway and I could figure it all out afterwards. Obviously that was very frustrating, and since my entire family is Catholic (there are three priests in my family), I felt like I had no choice but to continue with confirmation.

When I was 15, I signed the members' book at the Unitarian church. I knew I didn't want to be Catholic at that point, but a couple of months later, I was also confirmed in the Catholic church. That was not a happy day for me, but it appeased my parents and my priest relatives and made things much easier for them. Of course they didn't want to believe that their daughter was a heathen, they'd be bad Catholic parents.


 

The things I really believed in at that time were reincarnation and fate and I felt I could believe those things and still maintain a religion and have a church community as a Unitarian. I kept having strong reactions to different authors and the best way I could interpret that was I was those people in another life (I now realize how silly that is :D). I used to have a theory about reincarnation, that since energy can neither be created nor destroyed, and our souls are made of energy and thus can never really die, that the soul will continue to live on in other ways after the death of the body. Kind of makes sense right? But at the same time, I now see that part of my choosing to believe in reincarnation was a direct rebellion against Catholocism, I wanted to believe something that was decidedly anti-Catholic, something that my parents couldn't argue about it having no place in their dogma, since there were parts of Catholocism I still had no problem with, like do unto others and love thy neighbor.

During college, I became much more self-reliant and started to re-assess my beliefs again. I decided reincarnation was silly and I felt that fate was a cop-out, you really control your own destiny and it didn't make sense to me to even believe that there's something that's destined to happen, because you have choice. Fate was just a different way of leaning back and letting someone else do the driving, but it was an easy transition for me from Catholocism. And I realized my belief in reincarnation was much more egocentric than anything else. Just because you relate to someone's writing doesn't mean you WERE them in another life. This is obvious to most people but I was a bit of a romantic in high school, keep in mind. :D


 

I'm not sure when exactly I realized I was an atheist, but honestly, that part of it wasn't a choice at all, it was a realization. I think in my youth I had believed in God. But somewhere between then and college, that belief went away. In being an independent person and learning about science, the solar system, etc, it just became clear to me that God is not real (to me). And I have never had an experience that would prove to me otherwise. I've dropped any sort of theory about how to live my life. I feel like some people need structure and direction in their spirituality, and for those people, religion is a good option. But for me, I feel that all of my strength comes from within (not to say that people with religion don't have inner strength, but I think they choose to gain strength from a god as well), and I would rather go it alone I guess. I want to be a good person because I AM a good person, not because there's some sort of motivating factor (like religion or heaven).

I COULD choose to believe in a god (and sometimes I almost do out of habit just because of my Catholic upbringing), but I do not because of various experiences I've had, science, etc. I think to an extent, my choice about not having a religion, about being an athiest, is about having a clean slate to work with, I want to build my spirituality from the ground up instead of having it handed to me. It bothers me that so many people are born into a religion and just willingly accept it without:
a) learning about it at all or
b) exploring other options that may be more suitable for them.


 

The funny thing about being a recovering Catholic though, is that every now and then when I'm in a bind, I find myself wishing for some sort of guidance from a god or higher being, and then having to stop and remind myself, "wait a sec, I don't believe in that." I think a lot of that is just my being extroverted though, needing to get things out, talk to someone about them, in order to process them. And when there's no one around and I'm stressed out, I lapse into the same prayer mode I'd be in when I would pray at night before bed as a child, or when I was losing an Uno game. When I'm relaxed, I don't lapse back into those habits, I'll write in a journal or email (or blog, but not as often) to sort through a problem.

The environmental side of me sometimes wonders about a Mother Nature type of higher power, but generally I like to think in terms of energy (still haven't completely given up on that)- that there is a shared energy in all living things and human beings. But I don't see that as a higher power, more like an equal power, an energy that connects all living things and the earth, makes us all equal. That belief is more based in science than spirituality though, so to me it's entirely different from a god. But in the same sense, I think that kind of energy could be interpreted by religious people as a god.

The main conclusion I've come to recently is that it's all the same really. I don't think anyone can deny that there is a connection between all of us and the earth. And if you want to call it God or Yaweh or Allah or energy or science or air or water or whatever, that's fine. Some people need religion to explain it. Some need science. However you come to that conclusion ultimately doesn't matter, it's the fact that you came to that conclusion at all.


 

I'm curious about how everyone else arrived at their spirituality. How do you feel about being born into a religion? The Catholic church has started to baptize, give first communion, and confirm children all at the time of baptism- how do you feel about that? Do you think it's better as a parent to not teach any sort of religion, and instead allow the child to figure out what they believe later on in life? Do you wish I would go back to the funny posts (or are my silly comics enough)? :D


 

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