A lot of things have changed in my life in the last couple of years: my parents both died within 8 months of each other, leaving me, their only child, the sole heir and an orphan; not long after I settled their estate, which wasn't large, by any means, I left my job and started freelancing again, and began making artists books and writing again in earnest; I moved to a new, larger apartment; I made some new friends and reconnected with some old ones. In a week or so, I turn 48. I'm still single and childless, a state I'm perfectly happy with, but which seems to bother the culture I live in a lot—especially the religious culture I grew up in.
That was another thing that changed too: my religious affiliation. I finally realized, after years of trying hard to be who I was "supposed" to be according to the religious subculture I grew up in, that I couldn't do it any more. No matter how hard I tried, I was not the person who was going to be acceptable to this group of people. Not because I violated their moral code, not because I didn't follow the requirements, but simply because I wasn't like them. That zeal for this particular religion was never in my heart. It doesn't work for me, and I can't make it, no matter how hard I try. I'm not and never have been a joiner of groups because I dislike the herd mentality and the pressure to conform that they all exert. I have a tendency to ask uncomfortable questions, and badger people for the answers before I commit to something. I balk at letting other people define me, and the older I get, the more that is true. We all become more ourselves with age. Leaving my childhood faith, quietly and without fanfare, is part of me becoming more myself, since it could not accept me the way I am.
I'll be the first to admit that the misogyny rampant in organized religions—Christianity, Buddhism, and Islam inclusive—had a fair amount to do with my decision. My own studies in feminism and church history have led me to believe that women were systematically cut out of their roles in the early Christian church, and like women throughout history, left out of both its past and present, too. This, despite the assurance in Genesis that men AND women are made in God's image. But like all male-dominated areas, men in organized religions most often see women's differences as inferiority, not simply unlikeness. I'd had enough of that, too. I know God does not see any of his creation as inferior to other parts of it, and neither do His greatest followers.
So what's with the patriarchal pronoun? When English develops a usable, non-silly sounding ungendered pronoun, I'll hop right on that. So far, I find none of them satisfying. But the God I believe in is neither male nor female, but all-encompassing of all creation.
My studies in science were another grating edge of conflict between me and my religion. Unlike a lot of Christians, I grew up not just reading the Bible, but actually studying it. I continued that study in college from different points of view: as literature, as history, as a collection of texts by various authors, translated, edited and revised numerous times. I had always known it as a moral guidebook and answer to the question of why things are the way they are. What I discovered is that it didn't have all the answers, and that it wasn't quite all that I'd thought it was. There are places where it should probably be read as metaphor, allegory, or theoretical example, not in a literal way. It's that literal reading I can't reconcile with the facts of science. Evolution was a big sticking point. As a process, it's going on all around us constantly, most obviously in the evolution of drug-resistant bacteria. Where did all those hominid fossils come from and what are they, if not ancestors and relatives of humans?
See what I mean about asking uncomfortable questions?
This is not to say that I've replaced faith in God with faith in Science; I don't think it has all the answers, either, and would be better off if its practitioners would stop acting as though they do. But so would the representatives of faith. Though we know something of what the evolutionary tree looks like, in its multifarious branches, the fundamental questions of how life arose, indeed how the universe arose, are still unanswered. I'm not sure science will ever answer them. I'm not sure science knows the right questions to ask.
So what do I believe in now? I'm not sure. I think the Bible can be an excellent moral guidebook and explanation for why life is so often fucked up: because we do it to ourselves. I think I'm probably a dyed-in-the-wool monotheist; I do believe in something beyond material nature itself. What that is, I don't yet know. Hence this blog.
This blog. I was over at my friend Roz's house the other night, gabbing with her and Eva. Roz grew up Roman Catholic, Eva Jewish. Eva still goes to synagogue on the high holidays but practices a more ecumenical sort of faith, as does Roz. In fact, an awful lot of my friends are pretty ecumenical and varied in their professed faiths: Buddhists, Christians, Pagans, Wiccans and several self-defined versions of spirituality in between (Roz tells me she actually professes to be Christian, C&E: Christmas and Easter). I'd been inactive in my church for a long time and every now and then they'd check to see what I was calling myself these days. When I finally made the break, I don't think any of them were surprised, but they've been very supportive. Roz, in fact, said, "You know, you should chronicle your search. Write about it." And though we're both writers and writing instructors, it had never even crossed my mind to do so.
I have other blogs: one for my fan writing (which I'm not going to link to), one for book arts, and for a while I was blogging about the perfidious Bush administration. I also posted my 9/11 journals, and add to them once a year on the anniversary, or when something relevant strikes me. I think it never occurred to me to write about this journey because it wasn't relevant to anything else I write about and it seemed like a very private thing. But I spent a good deal of my life proselytizing in public, so how private, really is my faith? Well, that's a question, too, and maybe it should be explored.
I've kept journals for years, but the blog has taken their place in many ways. I think it might be time to keep a journal just for me again, not as a marketing tool, or a way of publicizing my writing, though it will probably do that, but as a way to work out what's going on in my head with this particular issue. It's a complex one and sorting through it is going to take some time and make some interesting reading, I think. I've moved a few older posts over from my other blog just to get some content in here, and because they're really more relevant to this blog than the other.
It's going to be an interesting journey. Come along if you like. I'll be writing about science, philosophy, religion, morality, spirituality, dogma, karma, doctrine, history and more, probably. Comments (but not flames or conversion attempts) welcome.
Oh, and the name of this blog? That comes from a kind of pivotal poem I wrote a while back:
I was ten, twelve,
in the subtle manifestations of evil
children and the faithful
hold true and hold to.
Two disciples, we
walked fearlessly into a field,
my mother and I, to preach
to the old man dowsing there,
protected by youth and belief.
It was midsummer in a rolling meadow,
sun high and hot for up north,
in a rank of sandy hills
punctuated with artesian springs.
Tall grass whished against
our bare knees and skirt hems, buzzing
with cicadas and ‘hoppers, all creation
busy, even the water
flowing somewhere below us.
I don’t remember what we said,
confronted with such superstition
—only the object:
the thick and quivering end
of the y-forked branch
in the old man’s hands,
the smell of sap still on it,
and his smile when he said
“touch it,” amazement
in his own voice. I did.
It dipped and bucked
hard though he held it loosely,
something more inexplicable in it
than thirst or the Devil.
As we turned our backs to him,
walking away, I wondered:
Is it the rod that seeks the water
or the water that draws the rod?
Years later, I recognize in that question
the crumbling of foundations
undermined by reaching water below
and the vibrating bow of wood above.
Since then, I’ve done
my own divining:
hands held out trembling
like that young sapling,
heartwood calling to deep waters, or
water to wood, whichever it is,
but finding only
an answering stillness.
Water finds its own level
unless the rock is struck.
© Lee Kottner 2003