I unhooked the leash from my mouth yesterday and ran with it.
And it felt GOOD!
Today's unleashing will feel even better. It's about religion. And the lack thereof. I won't deny it - I'm a secular thinker. I embrace many different theories on how we came to be here, but I hold them ever so briefly, and let them fall by the wayside because the only truth to me that makes sense is this: There is no heaven. There is no hell. There is no middle man between me and 'God'. There is no sin. There is no prayer or mortal application of forgiveness to pardon my 'sin'. No Creation, Resurrection or Immaculate Conception. Good and Evil? Yes. Intelligent Design? No. I have felt this way for a good number of years now, and my line in the sand is drawn.
So it was with a great deal of interest that I listened to a story on NPR's Morning Edition, this past Monday morning. A discussion about a new book release is always interesting, and I love, love, love the way Robert Krulwich conducts his interviews - the playful banter back and forth always makes for good listening. The author, Stephen Greenblatt , is releasing The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. It is a story about how a lost book (one of only maybe three copies in existence), called On the Nature of Things, by a Roman writer named Lucretius, was rediscovered in 1417, in a German monastery, and brought forth again to the world. The amazing thing is the subject matter. The book was written before the fall of Rome, before Darwin (!!), before the time of Jesus, before the Church took a stranglehold on European society and crushed any attempts of free, scientific or spiritual thought. Click on the link above and listen to the story. I think it is just beautiful. Here is an excerpt from On the Nature of Things:
... moving randomly through space, like dust motes in a sunbeam, colliding, hooking together, forming complex structures, breaking apart again, in a ceaseless process of creation and destruction. There is no escape from this process. ... There is no master plan, no divine architect, no intelligent design.
All things, including the species to which you belong, have evolved over vast stretches of time. The evolution is random, though in the case of living organisms, it involves a principle of natural selection. That is, species that are suited to survive and to reproduce successfully, endure, at least for a time; those that are not so well suited, die off quickly. But nothing — from our own species, to the planet on which we live, to the sun that lights our day — lasts forever. Only the atoms are immortal ...
Oh. My. Almost two thousand years before Darwin, yet you can read his thoughts right here. In a time when the world of Roman Gods and Goddesses ruled the day, Lucretius was able to come up with this. I am in absolute awe. To be able to think on such a deep and complex level - these ancient works are just incredible - in the sense that they are absolutely relevant today. Here is another review, on Fresh Air.
I was fortunate enough to get to listen to the Morning Edition interview twice. Once with Dean, and then later again when I was driving with the kids to a field trip destination. I wanted Jordan to hear it. What is troubling is that he found it distressing. We are in no way trying to stamp out religion in this family. The kids are and will continue to be encouraged to make their own faith journey and to ultimately declare their beliefs (whatever they may be) as their own. I however, with a great deal of intention, look for opportunities to expose the kids to as many historical or scientific approaches to religion as I can - because I have to counteract a great deal of intense religious exposure whenever the kids enter the state of Oklahoma. (and that is putting it nicely). Jordan's mother has been taking Jordan to a Holy Roller type of church in the past couple of years - the type where the kids are strongly encouraged to bring their bibles to church with them every time. They jazz the kids up with video games, free food and candy, loud music and so forth. All in the name of Jesus. Crap. Give me a break. The sad thing is that we have to point out to Jordan, time and time again, how the church is using these gimmicks to take advantage of his youth and naivete to just reel him in. And it is working. Despite all of our hard work to keep him free and open-minded, he still wavers on the edge of contemplating that Creation could have happened. Are you serious???? AAAAGGGHHHH!
My children (can't control what happens with Jordan, unfortunately) will never be allowed to be in Oklahoma unattended. Why? Because there is so much in-your-face organized religion there you could choke on it. I am not lying when I say that from the ages of 2 -4, when Rylan was referring to Oklahoma she would use the term 'Church'. "When are we going to Church?". It took me forever to figure out what she was really asking. I have no idea how she got that term in her head - it is a true puzzle, but almost laughably ironic.
Don't get me wrong - I am not saying that church or the teachings of Jesus Christ are bad. I believe he was a wise, prophetic man who walked this Earth and did good things while he was here. I believe he had a lot of important things to say about how to treat each other with respect and kindness. He meant it - look at the times he was living in - the Roman occupiers were a bunch of assholes! But that is the point - that what he had to say was relevant to the time period and culture he was living within. Decades (pray tell centuries?) after his death, when the books of the new testament were coming together, they told his story. That is a long time for a story to get thoroughly embellished. And embellish it they did. Stuff and more stuff was added - the more fantastical the better (and isn't it strange how the Agnostics were suppressed?). That's how all the great storytellers perfect their craft - make it interesting and powerful for it to have the fullest effect. Stories have a common thread within every society on Earth - they are the most effective tool to exert a society's preferred cultural norm among the masses. So all of the Evangelical and Day of Reckoning crap? Pure hogwash meant to scare the daylights of the believers and to fill the coffers of the church. (Pay us and we'll SAVE you!) That is the aspect of organized religion that really pisses me off. God gave you free will - and now he is going to punish you? God hates gays? God will smite you if you get an abortion? You will be punished if you do not hand over all of your worldly goods? What exactly are the new breed of organized, mega churches trying to achieve here? Believe this or you will go to hell? Where is the 'be kind to your brother' message? Where is the 'be kind to the Earth for it's all we have' message? Where is the 'you-are-not-better-than-anybody-else-no-matter-their-nationality-skin-color-sexual-orientation-socio-economic-status message'? You can't play both messages at once- they contradict each other! Don't profess to be a loving Christian yet only to tell me, that because I haven't confessed my sins and accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior that I will not see you in heaven. What an awful, awful thing to say to someone. It hurts. It segregates. It passes judgement that is not yours to give in the first place.
Our own church, for the most part, does a good job of keeping the message on target. But. In the past, one half of our pastoral team has strayed into a grey area that we (Dean and I) are not comfortable with and that discomfort has prevented us from attending church services in the past two years. Ironic, I know, when we still go there once-a-week for Financial Peace University. But it is the small-group interaction and discussion that really appeals to us - and we have found a great deal of comfort in it. The fact remains that our fears are well-founded because of the dilution and distortion of the message. It is not only the minister's message that can stray. It is every adult that the kids come into contact with. Sunday school is a big gamble. What are these adults saying to our children? I don't want my children to grow up thinking that the story of Noah's Ark was REAL. That Adam and Eve and all of the (gasp) trouble she 'caused' was REAL. Little ones cannot decipher between an embellished tale of wonder and what is REAL.
This blog is about our family and our homeschooling experience. There is so much that ties into that decision. The quandary of religion is a big part of that. We want control over what our children are exposed to. When a child is spending time with others, we have very real concerns about what information or experiences those adults are exposing them too. Is it fundamental? Objective?
So back to the car journey this past Monday morning... Jordan is troubled. He asks "So is that all there is? We are just a bunch of atoms? There is no heaven?" Of course I am not going to sit there and dash all of his hopes of an afterlife. This is a touchy subject for him - his mother has had to confront her own mortality in the past year, and I know that Jordan is very concerned. I make it very clear that it all depends on WHAT YOU PERSONALLY BELIEVE. That is the beauty of our human nature and the free will we have been given. No one can tell us the absolute truth. We can gather up as much information as we can, sift through it, and adhere to what speaks to us. For me, the beauty of atoms coming together, forming a life, and then disassembling when that life is over, and then coming together to form something else... over and over again. That speaks to me. No soul is attached. It is just the coming together and then the parting of atoms - yet in such a fantastical way that anything and everything in our universe is created that way. And then disassembled. Not destroyed, just disassembled. There is a finite amount of materials - yet look at the diversity that surrounds us. Pure awesomeness.
Fast forward a couple of days, and Jordan is reading a blurb about Martin Luther in his Core Knowledge book. Long discussion on the way to church (of all places) ensues. I cannot stress to Jordan enough about the importance that you should question the authority figures in your life that insist on exerting absolute power. There are life lessons to be learned from history. Do not let Martin Luther's battle with the Catholic Church and the legacy he left behind be in vain. He, despite great personal risk, questioned the clergy's authority to take money from the masses in return for the pardoning of sins. There is no middle man between you and God. The church cannot control forgiveness - only you can. The most important sources of forgiveness are the person you hurt or from within your own self. And forgiving yourself is one of the most difficult lessons to learn in life. Some will hurt for years, unwilling to let go of failure. It was a good discussion. Jordan messes up frequently - yet he has to learn to grow from the experience and move beyond the failure. And, quite frankly, so do I.
So many great men and women have been such sources of inspiration and beacons of light for us. I thank Lucretious and Martin Luther for giving me something to think about this week. My visual source of inspiration this week is the image of Phoebe (from the sitcom Friends), running through Central Park. Arms and legs going in every direction. Hair flying. A big grin on her face. Unleashed...
Sorry if I throw out an elbow to far. Sorry if I kick you in the shin. But I will say what I think. I will express my fears, humility, anger, frustration, happiness, hopes and dreams in a way that is meaningful to me. The fact that I stop, think and share my feelings is the truest indication that I don't want my life to be just an endless repetition of days with no legacy of thoughts or ideas. I hope to inspire others as well...
Here's to Phoebe...