What is God? What is life? Why are we here, on this planet, at this time? What does it mean to be human? Is there accountability in this life or the next? How do I connect with the divine? What is religion and will it help me do so? These are a few of the questions I have thought about over the years. I have always felt a spiritual connection to the universe and for much of my life have grappled with the age old questions that inspired religions. Now I have a curious child who is beginning to ask the big questions and I am trying to figure out how best to teach him.
My Religion Story
I was raised in a secular household that focused on the complexity of big questions rather than any specific answer. It was full of love, support and exploration, and I would not change my childhood for any other. I had a wonderful childhood. My parents’ religious upbringing were Catholic, Presbyterian, and Mormon. My extended family on both sides were deeply religious, good people, but I often didn’t know how to talk to them, as there was a part of their life that made no sense to me.
At some point around 5th or 6th grade, I realized that I just knew that there did indeed exist a divine force. I began searching for answers in the various religions and spiritual traditions that I had available to me. At the time I happened to live on a street with at least ten different churches. I began attending services at the various options to see what fit. My clearest memories are of the Catholic Church, the ritual satisfied some part of what I was looking for and I went back many times. I never reached out for more instruction; at that time it was enough for me to be there.
My parents were incredibly supportive through all this experimentation on my part. In junior high I started attending an evangelical big box church because a friend had invited me. I didn’t get much spiritually from the experience even though most of the people were very earnest. Unfortunately they were trying to teach us a very prescribed version of the truth with no subtlety or room for hard questions. That just didn’t work for me and I couldn’t respect the idea that there was only one right answer and that this church, or any church, had the One True Way. I felt like I was being told not to think.
At that church I experienced for the first time the hypocrisy and theatre that can be involved in religion. I looked up once when we were all supposed to have our heads bowed in prayer while the pastor asked for people to raise their hands if they had opened their hearts to Jesus that day. He acknowledged several, and yet no one in the congregation had a raised hand. I completely stopped taking it seriously after that, but I had a lot of fun socially, really enjoyed the pageantry and singing for the holiday programs, and learned to ski.
Throughout high school and college I continued to try to find a religious community that supported intellectual thought in addition to the social support and spiritual experiences. I tried Baha’i, nearly every stripe of Christianity, Buddhism, and got seriously into Wicca for several years. I read books, oh so many books. I joined online forums and real life communities.
Some churches that were accepting of differences had no real direction, and others that seemed to have clear ideas were often so intolerant as to be intolerable. Wicca helped me find that connection to the divine for a long time, but it seemed that most people were there because they had had horrible experiences with the more traditional churches and were essentially on the rebound. I wanted a community of people moving toward something rather than away.
My last year or so of University I joined a Catholic RCIA program on campus and experienced for the first time an environment that inspired deeply intellectual and passionate discussions about religion and spirituality. My RCIA instructor was writing a book on ethics for engineers and we would talk for hours about the whys behind the catechism, the nature of good and evil, God and the church. I was hooked, then later baptized and confirmed into the Catholic church and haven’t really regretted it in the intervening years.
After moving to a much more conservative area after college I lost the intellectualism and philosophical stimulation. I have not had anyone to really talk with about religion since. There were bible study groups, but they were only interested in getting the ‘right’ answer. No one wanted to think about it much and resented my attempts. I still consider myself Catholic, but am not active as I once was.
My husband is a cradle Catholic who has been disillusioned by local church politics and we eventually had a son. Now my son is of an age to ask questions about God and where people go when they die and I am struggling to answer him.
I still hold onto the conviction that grew inside me when I was a girl that there is a force, another dimension, God, gods, an Over Soul, something bigger and connected to the universe that we humans can tap into sometimes. The Jesus story was a key part of my original conversion, but most of the time does not resonate with me much. Is there really a Heaven, a Hell, Purgatory, reincarnation, etc.? I don’t know and frankly don’t find that question very compelling anymore. I am much more interested in how to make a real connection with the divine from here on Earth, in this life. These days I get most of that connection through the rituals of yoga, although the Mass does still speak to me.
Religion and Parenting
My son is asking questions that I don’t know how to answer about religion. Part of me wants him to find his own answers, as I did. Another part of me wants to share with him the sense of connection that I have found in religion. The ritual of the Mass takes me to that space, and yet, some of the values taught in church are not what I want him to learn.
This is my real struggle and I have answered his questions as best I could, though I find myself saying a whole lot of “I don’t know, what do you think?” The problem with that is that he does not have the tools to make informed, thought out, deep, decisions. How is it possible to give him those tools without pushing an answer on him? If I take him to church it is like I telling him that this is what he should believe. If I do not, am I not doing the same thing in the other direction?
I would like to invite a respectful conversation. I am hoping to find interesting people with differing views who can have a really deep conversation without judgment or rancor. Especially these days with so much division in the world. This is my story, what are your thoughts?