Present Tense

Choosing my religion……

I’m not a religious person, although I think that I might like to be. That is why I’ve been doing a lot of reading and studying, primarily about Christianity and Buddhism.  I’m exploring and asking questions of the people I know and I’m a little confused when I hear “I’m not religious, but I’m very spiritual”.  What?  So, basically, you can’t quite make up your mind?  I used to smoke a lot of pot back in my wild youth and it was certainly a ‘spiritual’ experience to sit in a beanbag chair, listening to Pink Floyd in the dark.  Wooooooowwwwwwww…….

If I’ve offended any of you ‘not religious, but spiritual’ types,  I hope you’ll forgive me.  I know that when I offend my Christian friends, they’re pretty forgiving; in fact, to all of my Christian friends, thank you for your patience with me.  I don’t really have any Buddhist friends (yet), but from what I’ve read, I suspect they would calmly tell me to quit striving, let go and accept that we all suffer together. Either way is cool with me.

I wasn’t raised with much of a religious education or background, although within my nuclear family we have a Catholic, an evangelical, a Baptist, a former Presbyterian and me, adrift and shopping.  Oh, yeah;  my husband and I were married in the Greek Orthodox Church.  So, when the urge to explore religion hit me recently, I automatically turned to Christianity with a touch of Judaism tossed in, thanks to the Old Testament.  I read a “bible for dummies” book to help me along, since I’m sadly ignorant when it comes to The Bible.  I also read some historical explorations about the stories in The Bible, along with archeological studies of  places mentioned in the Old Testament and it was really interesting.  I am hardly a biblical scholar, but now that I’ve read it, I do feel as if I have some idea what it’s all about.  I will be the first to admit that I need many more hours of study and guidance, before I can opine with even the tiniest bit of credibility about Christianity.

As I was browsing the religious section at the library recently, I came across the books about other religions and a powerful realization hit me:  I am a religious free agent.  Just because I live in a predominantly Judeo-Christian culture, doesn’t mean that’s what I have to be.  I know a bit more about Christianity thanks to growing up here and taking part in the religious holidays, although mostly from a secular perspective, but I’m really kind of a clean slate when it comes to religious beliefs.  I’m all grown up and I can read and study and pick the religion that speaks to me, personally.  That awakening was spectacularly powerful to me; I’ve always tried to embrace Christianity, but have never really ‘felt’ it like my friends or family who are devoted to Christ.

I’ve read several books about Buddhism and want to explore it further.  Buddhism does not worship God or a creator and one could make the argument that it’s more of a philosophy or spiritual practice, than a religion.  This means that before I even get very far in my quest, I’m already a religious hypocrite.  See above:  “not religious, but spiritual”.  It’s starting to dawn on me that this whole faith thing is harder than it looks!

So, I guess my question is this:  Do we choose our religion or does it choose us? My theory is that we gravitate toward the one that is most prevalent in our culture, but I would love to hear your thoughts as I continue my personal wrestling match with faith, religion, and spirituality.

March 6, 2010 - Posted by | Musings | , , ,

37 Comments »

  1. If we are wise, we choose our religion! This is a lovely piece and I appreciate your search. Good luck!

    Comment by Francesca Amari | March 6, 2010 | Reply

  2. ooooo…good stuff…i love it when a plan comes together! bless you young Jane. may your days be filled with love and light. i am dead serious by the way!

    Comment by Margie Jennings | March 6, 2010 | Reply

  3. I just started a Bible study class with 4 friends – having never read the bible thoroughly all these years, I thought it was time to delve in. I am enjoying it and learning, although I am surprised at how much I remembered from my years of Sunday school classes when I was growing up.

    Good luck!!!

    Comment by Marsha | March 6, 2010 | Reply

  4. Let me first say that I am Christian and you have never offended me. Faith is such a difficult and fluid thing. If someone says that they have the absolute truth they are lying to themselves because then there can be no faith. Faith is what we believe to be true without pure knowledge. No one knows God truly.
    Jane, I’ve said it before and I will say it again, I love you dearly. I love your ‘struggle’ and the way you are approaching your journey. It’s refreshing and challenging to me as an outside observer.
    There is a difference between religion and spirituality. Religion is a following of a certain belief system i.e..Christianity, Islamism, Judaism. Spirituality is the actual relationship with God or the Higher Power or a connection to Nirvana. (I guess how you get there is the religion part.)
    The choice is always yours. There is no saying that you can’t practice Buddhism and believe in a Higher Power at the same time. Christians say that you can’t be Christian and practice Buddhism…but again I say that all truth belongs to God and there is no line that cannot be crossed in the name of searching for that truth.
    Talk about making the Christians mad….welcome to my world.
    Good stuff, Jane. Thanks.

    Comment by kandis | March 6, 2010 | Reply

  5. My religion found me, when I wasn’t really looking. And when it found me, I studied, read, asked questions. It was right for me. Your desire to be religious will lead you to what’s right for you. I love reading your blogs! Good luck on your quest!!

    Comment by Rosemary | March 6, 2010 | Reply

    • Thanks for the kind words and the encouragement!
      j

      Comment by janelondon | March 6, 2010 | Reply

  6. Ley it be known that I would never advocate violence in the pursuit (sp) of truth. Just wanted to make that clear lest anyone should thnk that I wish to re-live the crusades.

    Comment by Kandis | March 6, 2010 | Reply

  7. Funny you should post this Jane, for I am not religious, but I am spiritual :-D. What this means to me is that I believe for certain in a higher power than myself, and I believe in being devoted to that higher power and feeding my soul in all kinds of good ways and serving humanity in return. However, my concept of God is not a Christian God, since I have no idea what that is. I was not raised Christian or Jewish. I was raised and reared in the Baha’i Faith, although I don’t necessarily follow it anymore. Being religious is a matter of being devoted and following one particular religious system or path (be that Christianity, Judaism, Islam, etc). Being spiritual but not religious means that you cannot rightfully follow any one them singularly. That is me. I have studied so much of religion, religious history, and religious culture, that I cannot say that any one of the world’s religions is the right or truthful one for me. They all hold something special, and they all are different versions of the truth. There are lots of paths out there to God. And to me, there is no “Christian God,” or “Judaic God,” or “Muslim God.” It all comes from the same source. The message is the same, it’s just been filtered down differently depending on the needs of mankind, so in my mind, it seems a bit ridiculous to subscribe to or devote myself to any one them. Make sense?

    As Dolly Parton is fond of saying: “God don’t care which church you go to, just as long as you show up.” That’s my philosophy in a nut shell.

    Comment by Roxanne Rieske | March 6, 2010 | Reply

    • Well, Dolly parton is my patron saint, so I’ll take her words to heart:)
      Thanks for the note…I think lots of us are searching for our path, right?
      J

      Comment by janelondon | March 6, 2010 | Reply

  8. Yikes, girl! You really went for the jugular with this one! Talk about a loaded topic… I’ll go out on a limb and offend everyone and say I am not religious and I’m not even sure I can claim to be spiritual any longer. The older I get the more skeptical I seem to become. Growing up in a completely disfunctionally religious family, I am loathe to the subject of religion. I guess I am officially an agnostic… and if I had to choose a religion to follow, I think I’d choose to be a Jew. (I think my parents both just rolled over in their graves). I have such an unpopular opinion of religion… have you seen Bill Maher’s movie Religiosity? (I think that’s how he spelled it)… it’s excellent and thought provoking… and it pissed a lot of people off (which might have something to do with why I liked it so much!). I think I’ll stop now before I REALLY say something offensive. I appreciate your curiosity and need to learn more… Good luck on your journey!

    Comment by Kathy | March 6, 2010 | Reply

    • What is a dysfunctional religious family, really? I hear that a lot and I guess it is different for everyone. My family stopped going to church, when I was about 8 and that was then end of my religious training/upbringing, whatever. Some would call that dysfunctional, I suppose.
      Unlike you, I find that I’m LESS skeptical as I get older and more curious and even, envious of the faithful. Quick disclaimer: I am NOT envious of the overbearingly religious groups that claim to act in accordance with a violent or oppressive reading of their particular ‘faith’. In fact, it seems that those groups, actually deter many from searching and finding, the truth that religion could provide.
      However, if more people actually did the work, the study, the exploration of the various faiths, these groups might have less of an influence. Unfortunately, ignorance can breed dysfunction and bastardization of faith.
      Humans: we’re a mess, aren’t we?? HAHAHA!
      j

      Comment by janelondon | March 7, 2010 | Reply

  9. Great piece and I, also, encourage you to keep exploring! I’m not a fan of the “spiritual but not religious” mindset. I sometimes feel people use this phrase because it’s pc. Don’t really buy into the relativism concept either (what works for me, …). While there are themes alike in various religions, there are major differences as well and the fun for me is in learning about people and what they believe while also strengthening my own knowledge base by continuing bible study. God created us in His image, so I can only imagine our curiosity is from Him as well. Faith, on the other hand, well that to me is a deal-breaker. Knowing that God is ultimately in control helps me to get through whatever…It doesn’t mean I can be lazy, just that I know that if I make mistakes, it’s not the end of the world. You’re right, we humans are a mess, but an interesting one! Thanks for your blogs, I’ve really enjoyed reading them!

    Comment by Sherry | March 7, 2010 | Reply

    • Thanks for the comment. I guess whatever brings one to faith or ‘spirituality’ is a good thing. My opinion (and your’s it seems) is that it’s imperative to know WHAT you believe in your life; it helps you immensely on your journey. I was just having a conversation on this very thing with a friend, but it was about politics. Don’t listen to the political/religious noise; do your own exploration and study and then figure out your own beliefs!
      Sounds like you have taken the time to study and figure it out! I admire your strength of conviction…thanks so much for the comment; it’s exactly what i was looking for with this post
      Jane

      Comment by janelondon | March 7, 2010 | Reply

  10. hi Jane.

    I have enjoyed reading this posting and the responses.

    I have accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior many years ago. I know from personal experience that without Christ in my life and without having Christians friends and family around me during my life travels, I would not be here today. I have had my doubt in the past does Jesus really love me?? and let me tell you it is only by the grace of God and that fact that he lives within me that I am still alive today.
    this is just my personal belief.

    No one can make this decision for you.

    You can gather insight from what other people post, on what you want to beleive in but in the end the final decision it is all you. It is good that when you started to think about this that you automatically wanted to chose to be a Chirstian. I do know that when you die your spirit and soul will go to heaven and that is the greatest comfort to me.

    You mentioned that you don’t feel like what your other friends feel but in time as you get to know the Lord more, your will feel more comfortable. It is like starting a new job you don’t feel like you fit at first but then as you get to know everyone and you get to know your routine you feel more comfortable and then eventually you are part of the family right?? well it is the same thing with being a Christian. the more you know that beeterr you feel.

    Dear Jane I will be praying for you

    Comment by julie | March 7, 2010 | Reply

    • Thanks for the note. I’m glad you’re happy and secure and sure of your faith; but, I haven’t chosen Christianity. My point was that Christianity was the first religion that I began to explore, mostly because it is the dominant religion in our culture. I have no doubt that for you, and many others, Christianity is the proper choice.
      I have more exploring to do….
      Thanks again for your kind thoughts
      Jane

      Comment by janelondon | March 7, 2010 | Reply

  11. Well, since you brought it up. I’d like to nudge you back toward Christianity Jane. There are a lot of teachings out there and when you look over the vast sea of beliefs it certainly can be confounding. Just remember Christ said, “I am THE way, THE truth, and THE light. No one comes to the Father but by me”. Yes, the Bible is packed full of all kinds of things and it can be confusing. It takes a lot of patience and really more than a lifetime to learn it and it says the same thing to everyone. Paul wrote in his letter to Timothy that the scripture was not of one’s own interpretation. In other words, everyone has to follow the same rules in order to finish the race. Sadly, many don’t see it that way and that’s the reason the road to destruction is wide. Many will be on it. Straight is the road and narrow is the gate that leads to salvation. There’s no need for it to be wide because so few will find it. As always, you are in my prayers Jane and I hope you find that straight road with the narrow gate.

    Comment by Mike | March 7, 2010 | Reply

    • Mike:

      Thanks for your thoughts; this is starting to turn into a campaign for Christ:) You’re right, there are lots of paths and I think that I need to find the one that speaks to me and it may or may not be Christianity. I’ve got an open mind, and a lot of ground yet to cover.
      Jane

      Comment by janelondon | March 7, 2010 | Reply

  12. Jane,

    I was not raised in any particular discipline of religion either. I come from a protestant (mom) and Jewish (dad) line. I have never considered religion, and never really thought it fit into my life. I studied Buddhism for a while and really liked it. I liked the fact that it was more of a personal reflection, rather than essentially being told what to believe. I have a very hard time with God and Jesus, simply because I do not understand why (he/they) allow the things that happen, to happen. I also have a hard time reading what is basically a book of stories, as that is what I feel the bible is. No one was there, there is no one to dispute it. That being said, my husband and I have started attending a small up and coming church. Our boys are making friends, as well as my husband and myself. I try to keep when an open mind when they talk, it’s hard though, as I am not 100% buying what they are trying to sell. But that’s just me. I think deep down, most people just need something to believe in. But I like the fact your are shopping before committing. And who knows, you may never find one that’s just right. But at least you tried. And I think you get points for trying 🙂

    Comment by Samantha Spillman | March 8, 2010 | Reply

    • Samantha
      Thanks for the note….I’m not sure anyeone buys 100% of anything a religion is selling:) That’s why it’s called ‘faith’.
      And what about all of the good/great/wonderful things that God “allows” to happen?

      Jane

      Comment by janelondon | March 8, 2010 | Reply

      • This is a point i am trying very hard to see. I agree, it’s not all bad. But it’s harder to see the good. I know it’s a terrible way to see things.

        Comment by Samantha Spillman | March 9, 2010

    • See Lucinda’s comments below…

      Comment by janelondon | March 9, 2010 | Reply

  13. Jane,

    Best wishes on your spiritual journey.

    I was raised a “fundamental Baptist”; however, I am currently a Catholic Christian. My strict Baptist mother is convinced that I’ve sold my soul to the devil and I’m now on my way to hell. Because most “fundamental Baptist” believe that they are the only ones who will end up in Heaven.

    I, on the other hand, believe that all who sincerely seek after God (no matter what religious affiliation) and treat others with love will go to Heaven.

    I noticed that someone else had commented that they have a hard time with understanding why God allows bad things to happen in the world. My teenagers have posed this question to me quite a bit. My response to them is because we are given free will and we can choose to believe in God or not. Since we are given free will, God does not interfere with the path that man has chosen. We can all choose the path of love and kindness to one another and then we would not commit evil atrocities against one another. We can reject love and kindness, and then we all see the consequences of hatred and intolerance.

    At any rate, I commend all who set out on a spiritual or religious journey and I believe the main thing is to be truthful about what you truly believe and to follow that path with your whole heart. I also believe that most of us will be shocked by “who made it into Heaven”.

    Comment by Lucinda McCollar | March 9, 2010 | Reply

    • Lucinda:
      I LOVE your last line!!!
      Jane

      Comment by janelondon | March 9, 2010 | Reply

  14. What a wonderful, worthwhile pursuit! I would highly recommend Donald Miller’s book Blue Like Jazz-Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality. It’s funny, moving, and profound. I think you will be able to relate to his journey and it will give you even more to chew on.

    “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8

    God loves it when we seek Him. He is waiting for each of us to discover the joy of living in relationship with Him. It sounds like you are on your way.
    Best wishes.

    Comment by Kathy L. | March 9, 2010 | Reply

    • Kathy:
      Thanks for the comment and the book suggestion; I’ll check it out!
      Jane

      Comment by janelondon | March 9, 2010 | Reply

  15. This was a gutsy post-it is such a tough topic. To me, there are people who go to an institution to worship and those that do not-that’s the long and the short of it when it comes to people who say they are religious or not. I respect that you are becoming well informed, and so open-minded. My first impression of you is that your not that open-minded; but the more I read of your blog, the more I think that is just the way you come across. Hats off to you!

    Comment by Teri | March 9, 2010 | Reply

    • Teri:
      thanks for the note. I try to be open minded, however, I’m also quite opinionated. So, maybe that’s what you’ve been hearing:)
      Glad you liked the post. I have to say I did hesitate to post it, but I think a lot of people struggle with religion and faith. It’s the human condition that we all share!
      Jane

      Comment by janelondon | March 9, 2010 | Reply

  16. At your age, you will probably have already left this earthly life by the time you get finished exploring all the different religions! Ha ha. There are so many subsects of sects of groups of faiths…let us know when you get to L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology, anyone who can start a religion by writing science fiction has to be pretty persuasive.

    Comment by imasink | March 11, 2010 | Reply

    • No plans to explore L. Ron…you’re right; so much information, so little time. I’ll have to leave SOMETHING out:)
      j

      Comment by janelondon | March 11, 2010 | Reply

  17. I really think John Lennon got it pretty close to right. He encouraged us to imagine no religion…no heaven above…no hell below…

    Please don’t take my meaning here as an atheistic stance. Atheism misses the point too.

    The ultimate religion of no-religion is, indeed, Buddhism. Especially when stripped of its Asian accretions and cultural haze. Unfortunately its message has suffered the same fate all the great Teachings have suffered. We, in our ignorance, up and made religions out of those teachings! And in the process we made things very complicated, ritualistic and reduced much wisdom to convoluted superstition and magical thinking.

    The term “Buddhism”, according to one Zen monk, is a misnomer. The true way to speak of it is “Buddha-dharma”. The teachings of the Buddha. To attach “ism” to it makes it into something it is not.

    The Zen monk I mentioned? Steve Hagen. Not very asian sounding! He is from Minnesota! Well, okay, so what. I’ve ever met the guy. But he wrote a couple of eye-opening books. Of those I’d suggest a nicely concise one titled “Buddhism Plain & Simple”. He cuts to the chase right out of the gate.

    As noticed by some respondents there is so much to wade through. Hopefully some of us who have been through that mill can help you clear your own way much easier than we did!

    Comment by Greg | March 13, 2010 | Reply

    • Greg:
      Thanks for the book suggestion; just reserved it from the library. I’m looking forward to reading it.

      And yes, there is a LOT to wade through, not the least of which is other people’s “dharma”:)

      Appreciate your thoughts and encouragement.
      jane

      Comment by janelondon | March 14, 2010 | Reply

      • You’re welcome. I hope you find it beneficial. Useful. Maybe even a way to clear all the underbrush (other people’s “dharma”!) in your path that trips you (all of us, really) up.

        The title of your blog, by the way, did not escape my notice! Very interesting indeed! You will see why!

        Comment by Greg | March 14, 2010

    • Greg:
      Read the Steve Hagen book. Wonderful! I may buy a copy to keep around. Thanks so much for the suggestion.
      Jane

      Comment by janelondon | March 30, 2010 | Reply

      • Jane,

        Thanks for letting me know of your experience with Hagen’s interpretation. Not an easy task to unravel that old ball of yarn. As “Plain and Simple” as it suggests itself to be it does rather nudge some mountains over an inch or two. That is if you are not, finally, inclined to throw a shovel at the problem. As we are mostly inclined to do. 🙂

        I’m sure you can imagine I certainly have a copy of the book around. But the poor thing has taken some trips. And is rather beaten up for its travels. It actually disappeared for two years. I was looking for it one day to look something up and got a bit frantic about not finding it. I finally resigned myself to buying another copy but never quite got around to going to the bookstore. One day, some months later, my daughter presented it back to me sheepishly while admitting she “borrowed” it from me. “It was just lying there, looked interesting, cool book.” was all she said. Really? I had to go upstairs, frayed book in hand with a straight face, and only then laugh my ass off with my face buried in a pillow! Kids. Sheesh. She is turning 24 come October and really cannot connect those kinds dots just yet. But she did keep it tucked away for two years in her own private world. So who knows? So, okay, I’m good with “Cool book”!

        But this business does not sink in, I’m convinced, unless one is at least 45 years old and has hit the wall at least 83 times. Because, as we finally see, the 84th time is the lucky number. But then it is only a “maybe”. Maybe then we finally realize the 83 previous problems will NOT go away. So, okay, fine! There are days when I’m GOING to kick and scream about number 84. Oh well. I get over it eventually.

        Hopefully between you and me, at least, we can finally stop leaning! And the world can miraculously become a peaceful place habitable for all creatures? Should I hold my breath? So many leaners and so little time. OMG. I’m leaning again. Old habit.

        Welcome to the quest. I wish the best for you on your grand journey.

        Greg

        Comment by Greg | March 30, 2010

  18. Had to chime in on this topic as well.

    I grew up in a non-religious household…became interested in Buddhism for a while (while also studying other Eastern religions) and fell into the new age/consciousness movement by accident and have been there ever since.

    Yes, I had a definite mind image of what new age people are like, and most of them are, indeed, just as you think — nutty! But then I realized there aren’t any more nutty than say, Christians or Baptists and I explored more. I also discovered that there are many of us who secretly are looking for the answers much like you and that have adopted their own beliefs and are living quite fulfilling lives.

    I attended a funeral service yesterday which was fine (Lutheran) but I was reminded of a line from a book I read this weekend where the author proclaimed “why in the hell would I want to wash myself in any body’s blood…yuk.” I thought that summed it up pretty well for me.

    Comment by Chris | March 30, 2010 | Reply

  19. Jane,

    We aren’t intended to be religious. We are meant to have a relationship with God,and live by his principles.(not rules). Too many people get caught up in the religiosity and make themselves God, Sad. We are to live in liberty and freedom.

    Its all about behavior and having healthy behavior comes from having a healthy belief system and knowing what’s true. It is not about control or greed as many traditional churches live by, while at the same time ‘preaching’ to the audience that their legalism is the only way. Too often the church controls by fear, guilt and shame. Not at all what Christ had in mind.

    If you have a chance please visit the website…www.atthewell.net, it’s got some interesting stuff on behavior.

    Comment by Vicki | March 30, 2010 | Reply

    • Vicki
      thanks for the comment. I did go to the website, but there isn’t a lot of information there. I’ll explore further, but to be honest, I’m kind of drawn to a different path.
      Thanks again. I really appreciate your thoughts.
      jane

      Comment by janelondon | March 30, 2010 | Reply


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