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Saturday, February 28, 2009

on religion

Our Lady of Peace. Carved from marble brought from some far off land, she stands @ the site of the Dunvegan Trading Post on the banks of the Peace River in northern Alberta. i love statuary, and marble is beautiful all on its own, without human intervention. so last spring i asked her to pose for me, and she graciously consented.

i'm not a particularly religious person. spiritual, i think, but organized religions have had their way with me and left me a skeptic. as a single mum i was frequently 'taken on' in the way well-meaning Christians 'take on' a fundraiser for the hungry or a mitten knitting blitz for the homeless. people become projects, and it's impersonal, demeaning and humiliating. there were some who sincerely cared about my kids and me; those few i still count among my dearest friends, but most were more religious than caring, and we didn't find much common ground.

so, though i believe with all my heart in the mission of Habitat For Humanity, the fact that it's essentially a faith based organization was cause for some apprehension. there is, indeed, some of that 'people as projects' orientation there, by affluent Christians who have ulterior motives for being connected, but i find it far less rampant in HFH than in the general churchy population. and the ReStore folks are even less so. they're with the ReStore because they genuinely endeavor to live in a way that reflects a faith and a lifestyle that respect all human beings and the planet we inhabit together. my kind of folks.

in the pre-move prep phase, as word gets round that i'm leaving, things i've loaned out (and forgotten about) are returning. one is a book by Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy author, Douglas Adams, that i'd loaned to a very special teen student when he mentioned his interest in the author and his works. it's called, Last Chance to See - about endangered species, written about this very serious issue in Adams' quirky, self-deprecating, thoughtful style. i highly recommend it. ...and a bit from it prompted this post. he and his accompanying expert, Mark, find themselves on a plane to Zaire with a flock of missionaries. here's what he says about them, and about religion in general. as their plane takes off:

".... i then became rather tense myself as the plane started to taxi out to the runway, because the preflight talk from our pilot included a description of our route, an explanation of the safety features of the aircraft, and also a short prayer. i wasn't so much disturbed by the 'O Lord we thank thee for the blessing of this day', but 'We commend our lives into Thy hands, O Lord' is frankly not the thing you want to hear from a pilot as his hand is reaching for the throttle.

..... i don't like the idea of missionaries. in fact the whole business fills me with fear and alarm. i don't believe in God, or at least not in the one we've invented for ourselves in England to fulfill our peculiarly English needs, and certainly not in the ones they've invented in America who supply their servants with toupees, television stations and, most importantly, toll-free telephone numbers."

i haven't quite sorted out what i do believe yet, but i'm very sure of what i don't. every time i see a magnificent church building, i'm, i confess, impressed, because i do appreciate architecture and beauty, but my next thought is often, "the cost of that could have fed, clothed, and housed a lot of deserving kids." and, like Albert Schweitzer, i believe we are our brothers' keepers. the affluence and decadence we're surrounded by, when there are hungry and homeless people who have done harm to no one, is a blot on our society, and on our humanity.

the argument that one person can't make a difference is a self deceiving lie. everything we do, no matter how small, has an impact, and makes ripples that have impact. we need to give careful thought to every facet of our lives - what we model for and teach our children; the kinds of homes we choose to live in; the kinds of foods we choose to eat, and where they come from; consumer choices about who we buy from, what we buy, and why we buy it; the way we treat our neighbors and our communities, near and far. each facet has an impact. our circle of influence may appear to us to be small. we may never see the cumulative effects our small acts of responsible stewardship and kindness have. this doesn't mitigate the importance of doing them.


susan said...

With each one of your posts I feel that much closer to you even though we'll likely never meet in person. I certainly feel the same way about organized religion and have done since I was a child. My mother stopped attending services (CofE) other than weddings and funerals after the Bishop of St. Alban's refused to Christen me in the Cathedral itself and insisted on the Lady Chapel instead. What silliness, eh? My parents were neither rich nor royal but he had promised her before my birth and she never forgave the Church for his small betrayal of trust. On the other hand, I was expected to attend Sunday school and eventually be confirmed. It never happened. I was barred from the local Sunday school for asking difficult questions and making the other children laugh but, afraid to tell my mother, I'd lie on the grass by the graves looking through the leaves of the trees. I'd often just let go and feel myself flying.. not really, perhaps, but close enough to feel tremendous joy. When late autumn arrived in Ontario I had to tell my parents about the situation and they never insisted I go back.

The memory of those mornings was what fueled my interest in spirituality and eventually, the meditation practices I still follow. There's definitely Something but riding on a crowded bus won't get you to the ultimate destination. You have to walk the path and sometimes just sit for as long as it takes to remember who you really are.

Sometimes we get to wave to one another while passing :-)

gfid said...

su - children are very spiritual creatures. it's a pity adults spend so much time trying to teach them our ways, and so little learning from them. i love teaching kids to play the violin ...i can almost see one of your beautiful line drawings alongside your comment here.... the child on the grass, as seen through the tangle of leaves overhead.... steeple of a church in the background, with children lined up like die-cut paper dolls inside....

i sometimes wonder about blog friendships - about the personalities and the lives behind the posts. some are clearly friends in the finite world, others manage to form very real friendships through the power of words and images. when someone comments on my beautiful mermaid painted silk scarf, i tell them it was given me by my blog-friend, Susan. older folk think it very odd that i call someone i'll probably never meet in person my friend. younger ones 'get' it right away, and grin. i'm waving back :0)

susan said...

Nice :-)

You know with all I wrote this afternoon I forgot to tell you Jer and I met Douglas Adams at a book signing for 'Last Chance To See' (somewhat poignantly named under the circumstances). Along with our copy we brought him copies of 'David Copperfield' and 'Huckleberry Finn' to sign with the inscription 'Don't Panic'. It was nice to provide a laugh for someone who'd given us so much laughter.

Arthur: If I asked you where the hell we were, would I regret it?
Ford: We're safe.
Arthur: Oh good.
Ford: We're in a small galley cabin in one of the spaceships of the Vogon Constructor Fleet.
Arthur: Ah, this is obviously some strange use of the word safe that I wasn't previously aware of.

There are time when I wonder if we aren't in the path of the Vogon Destructor Fleet.

granny p said...

ust picked up on your life changes GF. Exciting - and brave....Hadn't read the Douglas Adams piece before and didn't he get it right. Which someone would pick up the ReStore idea in the UK - it's brilliant. No hope of anything like that in Spain though Lanzarote locals very good at recycling stuff to protect their crops. Watched a programme last night about a couple who built their house out of old car tyres. If you go into Channel4/Grand Designs site you should find it. There's something for your store..

Gary said...

Very interesting blog gfid - lots to re-visit. I'm with you on religion and perhaps a little more in the "we'd be better off without it entirely and can find our moral compass and other good behaviours just fine without superstitious beliefs, thank you."

I loved Douglas Adam's Last Chance to See.

lindsaylobe said...

Hi grannyf
Early science was once considered philosophy and it is only of recent times the 2 are separated. I think this has led to confusion as philosophy marches along to the tune of “logic” struggling valiantly to stay in tune with the pace of scientific discovery often at odds with the previous conventional wisdom. Nor have management theories and the social sciences kept up, to the extent, I believe, that if the latest science discoveries were better understood in the wider community, it would lead to better informed and more compassionate policies for society.

The philosophy of religion similarly underpins religion and the early scientists invariably were grounded in religion.

It is no co-incidence the first book of the bible, Genesis starts out with a story about the creation of the cosmos. The lines speak to us more about the authors than anything else; our cosmic origins mattered so enormously to the ancients that they began with the story of the creation of the cosmos.

Many of great philosophers such as St Thomas Aquinas pose arguments then that are still relevant to day about the great metaphysical questions – about our existence within the cosmos.

Primary candidates of universal interest must also be Galileo who began his life in a monastery and Newton who took a 7-year fellowship with Trinity College in 1667 and was the first of the great Scientists to show the laws of science are indeed universal laws that affect everything.

For Newton and many of his contemporaries the role of God was thought in terms of an architect of it all. Newton even went on to say God was a "hands on” architect who might interfere from "time to time", and so our knowledge and ideas continue.

To day Astrophycist Jesuit George Coyne who has been Director of the Vatican Observatory since 1978 explores these ideas for the universe in a different way: A theologian already poses the concept of god’s continuous creation with which to explore the implications of modern science for religious belief.

God is working with the universe, the universe has a certain vitality of its own like a child does, it has the ability to respond to words of endearment and encouragement.

He also rejects the notions of an omnipotent and omniscient God.
The universe is not god and it cannot exist independently of God. Neither pantheism nor naturalism is true. But ,if we confront what we know of our origins scientifically with religious faith in God the Creator –if, that is , we take the results of modern science seriously –it is difficult to believe that God is omnipotent and omniscient in the sense of many of the scholastic philosophers. For the believer, science tells us of a god who must be very much different from a god as seen by them.

Best wishes

gfid said...

su - "I wonder if we aren't in the path of the Vogon Destructor Fleet." ... or maybe we ARE the Vogon Destructor Fleet. the 'family of man' is a pretty dysfunctional unit. ...lucky you, having met Douglas Adams. i love his writing style... wonder what else he'd have come up with, given the time.

pen - there are some habitat for humanity affiliates in UK, so a ReStore could spring up yet. wasn't able to see the shows, but found info and photos. very cool! i love the adobe look of buildings made this way. we're considering straw bale construction for one of our future builds. similar building style, similar finished look.

gar- it does seem sometimes that 'religion' has caused more harm than good in our wobbly little world, but the good is worth noticing.... Mother Theresa comes to mind, and a few others who humbly lived their faith, and didn't insist that others believe as they did. ....years ago i had an audio cassette book-on-tape thing of Douglas Adams reading Last Chance to See. i think i wore it out. and my youngest kids, then in elementary school, loved it too.

lindsay l - it evolves with humanity, doesn't it, this favorite pastime of human beans, of grappling with questions and issues bigger than ourselves? we want so badly to KNOW, so sometimes we make it up and pretend our fabrications are truth. we don't like the physical limitations that being who and what we are put on us. we can't fly, so we invent things that will take us flying. can store and process only a very finite amount of info, so we devise things to store and remember and sort info for us. we have pretty unremarkable plumage, so we construct elaborate artificial skins for ourselves. and in doing all this we alter and contaminate the homes of creatures who, unlike us, are quite happy in their skins, and demand very little in the way of maintenance. while the grey matter between our ears struggles to understand itself, but has trouble just accepting itself! i think it was a sad day when science and philosophy parted ways. as we're finding out, now that they're strangers, there is no purely physical science. consequences, compassion and responsibility have to be factored into the formula for the experiment to be a success. perhaps that's what religion tries to do before dogma takes control.

jozien said...

Hi, i came to you as the crow (or raven) flies.
Wonderful (post) conversation!
ps. -30C here.

lindsaylobe said...

Yes well said – religion for me always comes back to the idea of gifts. The fact life is a gift and as humans we have additionally been gifted with some understanding of that life, helps us realize how precious it is, to show reverence for all life. Hence there is no room for arrogance or plunder or superiority since we essentially are a refection of our developed gifts (our charismas) already bequeathed to us within our genes, the nurturing from childhood and our environmental interaction- with what has been already given to us. It is the recognition of gifts within us all that give us our varying spiritual dimensions or our religiosity and that sense of wonderment, to recognize our gifts in such a way that will add to the natural vitality of our life (as you have done with your new direction) regardless of our own (the disabilities we all suffer one way or another) or the world’s s actual physical condition. The interpretation of charisma (origin from the Greek χάρισμα (kharisma), “gift” or “divine favor,” from kharizesthai, “to favor,” from kharis, “favor”) is commonly attributed to as the rare trait found in certain human personalities with particular reference to extreme charm and a ‘magnetic’ personality and/or appearance along with innate and powerfully sophisticated personal communicability and persuasiveness. This narrow unhelpful interpretation belies the existential state of our being and the undeniable expressions in all of us to discover our own uniqueness in thoughts and actions at one tine or another- to discover our charisma and use them for the benefit of others. This is religion as was intended in Christs example - the sharing of gifts which we still attempt today in christen and other faith communities - but alas it doesn't always come out that way ! .

Best wishes

gfid said...

joz - welcome! of course it's cold there; my son just went home to Dawson City!!

lindsay l - yes, charisma as a gift, .... i love the concept that it's a received thing, none of this 'self-made man/woman' stuff. we have to do the work to develop what we're given, but we can't take credit for the raw material we start with. it just blows the lid off my head how much stuff is inside, yours, dear friend.

clairesgarden said...

I have no particular views on organised religion other than its not for me.
I have a firm belief in what you give comes back to you eventually so I try to keep my attitude good.
and I have been helped by christians, in respect to them I try never to use 'Christ' or 'God' as swear words which many people do here. it made them cringe and offended them deeply.

gfid said...

claire - there's much to be said, i think, for a life well lived, and no harm done. blogging has kept me from forgetting that the environmental and spiritual squalor i'm surrounded by in a northern oil town isn't practiced everywhere. that there are people all over the world who don't demand that others believe as they do, but practice integrity and kindness without the need for any fear of hellfire and damnation.

Seraphine said...

thats a beautiful post, gfid. especially about us being facets, and everything we do 'ripples' and affects everything else.

gfid said...

hi Sera, nice to see you. well, i guess i got up on my soap box a bit. i've just quit my job with an evil oil company, and it's loosened my lips about things i previously kept to myself. maybe it's not a good idea to encourage me.

Utah Savage said...

This is a beautiful piece-- both in content and the writing. I tried with all my might to find a religion I could call home. I found none. And in my searching I tried to understand my friends faith. I can't. So it is this life and non other that matters to me.

Susan is a good friend and I feel happy to be in her company anywhere in the world. That I meet her in your back yard does not surprise me at all.

I would love to work on a habitat for humanity project. I might learn how to do something worthwhile and meaningful but know that I would feel I had made a difference to someone.

gfid said...

savage- i love to write, so it's always gratifying when someone likes what i've had to say.... from you, that's high praise... thanks very much. yes, the whole churchy thing..... mutter, mutter..... but there are some bright sparks, if we look for them. there's probably a HFH affiliate near you, if you'd like to get involved. you can do anything from pound nails, to feeding volunteers. and you meet the nicest people.

Anonymous said...

I love it ! Very creative ! That's actually really cool Thanks.