Monday, November 02, 2009

deep thoughts

i saw an interesting discussion on the program univers on DR2 on the subject of people who are combining christianity and buddhism. there was a clip from the dalai lama's last visit to denmark, where he was saying that it's best for us to hold on to our religious background from the standpoint that our culture and sense of ourselves are so grounded in it. they talked to a woman whose home was filled with buddhas and jesus and mary icons side by side and who seemed like a peaceful, grounded, serene person. frankly, we could use some peaceful grounded serenity around here.

i've already been mulling over the whole religion question for awhile now, since spud wrote her god post. when she wrote that it occurred to me that you could be raised a church-goer without necessarily being raised religious. or at least you definitely can if you were raised presbyterian, as i was. we went to church every sunday, mostly because mom is the choir director and she had to be there. we tended to drop it over the summer, as we were showing horses every weekend and weren't home. mom's choir took a break over the summer as well. it's just how it was. dad went regularly only during april when he was an usher. mostly because church tended to interfere with football on sundays and being able to see the start of the games.

church served, in my view, a largely social function. i loved to dress up and we dressed up for church. i remember one year where it was my goal not to wear the same dress twice. and as i recall, i succeeded. we had a big fellowship hall at our church and the kids were actually able to do quite a lot of rambunctious running around. we had a wednesday youth group that took a yearly ski trip and it's where i learned to ski. but again, i remember it mostly as social and not as religious per se.

the little town of 1300 people where i grew up had no less than 12 churches. so on the surface it would look pretty religious. some were tiny little splinter churches that had broken off one of the others when something or other didn't function socially or they didn't like the minister. but again, it was a question of social relations more than doctrine. at christmastime and around the 4th of july, there are always community church services, where all of the congregations come together for community services, leaving aside whether they're bible beaters, catholics, dutch reformed or calm, understated lutherans or presbyterians. that was a good occasion for socializing.

i experienced some of the other churches, going with friends or a boyfriend, so i got a taste of some of the more fringe movements, where the preacher was a bit more aggressive in asking people to be born again and such. i never really got that, thinking i'd done quite ok being born the first time, thank you very much.

my sister and i weren't baptized as babies because our parents thought (at least at the time) that we should choose that for ourselves and know what it was we were getting into. i so love and respect that thought. and as a result, sabin's not baptized either. here in denmark, around 15, kids go to confirmation classes and they choose whether to confirm their baptism. if sabin chooses to go through that, she will also have to be baptized at that time. but at least it will be her choice.

the religion subject also came up of late because sabin has chosen to attend something called mini-konfirmand. the danish church, which is lutheran and a state church, is struggling in the face of irrelevance. people use the church for the big three - birth, marriage, death - but generally there aren't many who regularly attend sunday services. there is a very dynamic, lively woman minister at the local church and she's simply awesome with the kids, so sabin loves her wednesday mini-konfirmand sessions. they play games, build a few bible stories in lego and spend time in beautiful surroundings full of designer furniture and lamps (since it's a state church and the danish state is apparently keeping its assets in arne jacobsen chairs and PH lamps).  her best friends are there and she has a ball. so again, it's serving a social function.

one wednesday a month, they have "god & spaghetti" where you go as a family at 5:30, have a quick 20 minute service in the church itself (which is a lovely old building), christina, the cool minister, dresses up and pops out of a giant bible and tells some or other bible story and then we go over and eat spaghetti or lasagna and salad and socialize with the other kids and parents. and i hate to keep repeating myself, but again, it's largely a social thing.

but all of this undoubtedly proves what the dalai lama said about our religion being rooted in our culture. in that little town where i grew up, it would have been hard to be a member of the society without identifying with one of the churches in town, because it served such a social function. and i'm sure people there wouldn't like to look closely at it, but the various denominations had a definite class designation and hierarchy in the scheme of the social structure of the town as well.

so where does this leave me? especially when i'm in need of some peaceful grounded serenity? which is, admittedly, sometimes lacking in my otherwise extremely secular world view. i think that's the appeal of buddhism for people raised in western christianity. it's something you can do on your own, meditating on a pillow in your own home. it fits our individualistic view and can give us the space we need for quiet contemplation. i wish the program on DR would have gone a bit more in that direction. the woman with buddhas and icons nearly touched on it, but didn't quite. but the program did provoke me to think more about it, so i guess that's the best you can ask from quality television. i hope they do something about the old viking religions, i'd like to know more about those.


Bonnie Zieman, M.Ed. said...

I think one reason Buddhism can co-exist so easily with other religions is that it is more of a way of being than a religion with a god that demands worship, obedience and doles out rewards or punishments. Buddhism is actually a very sophisticated psychology and fits with people's yearnings to live life more skillfully.

Sandra said...

I think the social function is the primary reason most people attend church, or synagogue. It is a way to tie yourself into the community. I don't know if you would find peace in the old Norse gods!

This is a thought provoking post.

Meg said...

This one's tough! I didn't came from a religious family and no influence as well though occassinally we go to church not so often. It is only in my college days that I so encounter and embrace spiritually. And now, I'm pursuing my being a born-again christian and find joy in ministry work.

I also came through a lot of questions before, then and now.. And also been observant to many churches and people. I agree with you in many points. The social functions and different personalities that make up the church. It can't be denied that it is a mixture of good and bad. But it is important that we know our own stand and have a personal relationship with God. There were many times that some people and their actions, traditions and culture make us stumble. I just ask for wisdom and pray that I'll find peace in everything and everyone and within me.

Friend, I'm thinking over multiple religion. Somehow, I'm kind of hesitant of such, but I might can't explain why...

Meg said...
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Meg said...
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d smith kaich jones said...

Ditto what Bonnie said. Buddhism isn't really a religion. That said, a friend once said to me that we should have a personal God from all the major religions. I've never gone quite that far, but there is a milagro-studded cross over my bed, an antique Indian Buddha traveling shine in the hall, which includes Hindu Gods, and I keep a white Ganesh near my desk. I am looking for a large Ganesh to place near the front door.

You find it where you find it. I haven't set foot in a church for years. My favorite prayer is East Indian, though I don't know which religion. The lines I love the most? Thou art everywhere but I worship thee here. My Cherokee grandmother would so understand that.

Good luck with the search.


Suecae Sounds said...

Very interesting post. There are more traditionally religiously inclined Buddhists as there are more psychological and philosophically oriented strands. I see nothing wrong with universalism and cross-influences when it comes to religion. There are incredible similarities, which could inspire us.

I am about to buy Karen Armstrong's book A case for God. She believes; and I think I am in agreement, that the purpose of religion is to make us more compassionate. That religion is religious practice, rituals and a social dimension fist and foremost, and to a lesser degree a set of dogmas.

And that this is something which has been forgotten by some religious advocates. Some are more willing to see their churches as political projects where they compete for the souls of people. A very immature position in my humble opinion.

Thanks for sharing,

Char said...

I like the recommendation to read "a case for God". Now I will say my piece as I usually do not really discuss religion on blogs just because there are some people that cannot discuss things like this rationally. But, I like your brain so I know you can. (If that made any sense at all)

I don't know that religion will be anything other than a social event or a way for each culture to make sense of what they do not understand. I agree that Buddha serves the same purpose as his teachings try to take the suffering that we deal with and allow us to have some understanding of those sufferings. It's why a lot of people have problems with Christians because they either see the Christian God as either the punisher or the benevolent.

I think all humans that reason and wonder, try to make sense of it all. It's our nature - our curiosity, I think anyway.

As for me - I do believe in God. There are just too many unexplained things for me not to - and, honestly, it was a great comfort going through my parents death. I can't find the quote but basically I think it's wiser to live as if there is a God and be surprised than to live as there is no God and be surprised.

An Open Heart said...

Deep thoughts....seriously. I love this post....I have Buddhas, Marys, angels and other religious icons mixed together. AFter my spiritual quest this summer I realized that religion is not FAITH. Once you discern that you have faith in something greater than yourself, be it, God, the Universe, Krishna or the Goddess, you can cultivate your own doctrine. I also agree with the social aspect of church, people want to belong to something, be a part of something greater than themselves. But, for me, I like the solitary aspect of meditation and introspective contemplation.

Great post.....The God question, ever ringing....


Mari Mansourian said...

wow.. a very thought provoking post and the comments were very interesting too. i too don't like talking about religion with most people.. i think it's too personal, and some people like pushing their beliefs on others.
I'm with shannon on this one, i have a problem with religion itself and churches all together.. yes they are a socializing place and where people can feel like they belong. but.. it is not where one needs to be to talk to God, or whatever higher power you believe in. i thing the higher power is all around us, always.. and as long as you have peace within yourself you don't need to seek out others with the same beliefs to gather and pray with. that higher power... is always listening... and talking... we just need to talk back and listen..
that's my two cents worth.
thanks j :)

spudballoo said...

Well yes. Absolutely. Amen to that!

Gorgeous photo, I love love love it x

Eliane Zimmermann said...

great post! we haven't baptized our two sons either so they can decide themselves. the older one (16) almost did it a few years ago. but then it was the beginning of those hard-to-believe-paedophile-discoveries among the irish church men and soon after having chosen his god-parents he decided not to go that path. and he feels good about it now. the little one (now 10) is quite ambiguous. he wants to be part of all those social events being the most important getting sweets and presents on many occasions but at the same time realizing that most church goes aren't really honest and convinced about what they do. funny enough half an hour from here inmidst of very rural and religious ireland there is one of the most gorgeous buddhist retreats where people from all over the world come to including the Dalai Lama. and catholics meditate along buddhists and everything is really very peaceful and devoted. their hospice is open for every confession. that's what i love about (tibetan) buddhism: they try to respect all other beliefs.

f8hasit said...

I'm right there with you on your views about religion. I'm not fond or organized religion, but the lessons about humanity that most teach are beneficial.

Thanks for your post. Intriguing. And great food for thought.

Barb said...

The whole God and religion thing has been a challenge for us as a family lately. We were one denomination growing up, changed when we got married, then changed back after 20 years. The kids hate sunday school and church. We feel like hypocrites making them go ('cause we hate it too!). It's hard. Thanks for a great post!

will said...

If it were possible to create a human culture that didn't have religion it would be necessary to invent religion simply because of comprehension issues.

Seems humans get desperate with the unknown ... while also saying human sensory limitation is some kind of benchmark for understanding. Or that understanding something is possible within human context.

paris parfait said...

As you know, I grew up in a small Southern town were religion played a big role. We were Presbyterian, after an unhappy bout as a small child at a Southern Baptist Church (hellfire and brimstone minister, always shouting). I still have my membership in that church, but I admire the Buddhist philosophy and read a lot about it. I have both Christian and Buddist religious icons in my home (I collect them).

Religion should always be a deeply personal choice of the individual, not one that is dictated by a government or a group of people.
I am deeply disturbed by the role right-wing Christian groups are playing in politics in the US. They have virtually hijacked the Republican party, making it nearly unrecognisable. They're also trying to suppress various freedoms and I find their extremist -and often very un-Christian-like - behaviour seriously disturbing. It seems they're trying to ignite some sort of firestorm of "us vs. them." The problem with that is many of these people are intolerant bigots who have never traveled and have no real grasp of the way the rest of the world lives. Yet, they're trying to force their views on everyone else. And they haven't a clue about anything (other than finding people willing to fund their activities).

Of course the US Constitution calls for the separation of church and state. Yet these right-wingers are trying to force the state to adhere to their limitations. This isn't religlious freedom or tolerance; it's fascism. I blame Rupert Murdoch and talk radio and the air play given to stupid, vapid, former drug-addicted thugs like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck and anti-immigrant nuts like Lou Dobbs et al... These people are helping drive the right-wingers and their cultural wars into the mainstream. Deeply worrying and upsetting. And nothing religious about their behaviour!

Sorry to go on; guess the elections yesterday and the right-winger success struck a nerve.