Thursday, November 13, 2008


It's always interesting when several people blog about the same topics unprompted. What's even more interesting is when it ends up being something I was thinking about anyway.

I started to comment at this site and realized my comment would be too long. (Don't you all secretly love it when someone nearly writes an entire post in your comments section?)

There are probably many reasons why someone adopts a belief system or a religion. For me, I did it because I felt rudderless without it.

I came to this incarnation with a sense of alienation. The world felt Kafkaesque. It's a difficult thing to explain in any concrete way that would be easily understood by other people. It's not that I was 4 years old and could say "I feel alienated" but there was a hollowness there that revealed itself in many ways. Frankly, I couldn't understand why I was here and wasn't sure I particularly wanted to be. In the end, it seems to be one of those "you won't understand if you haven't been there" feelings.

Over the years, I tried a lot of things to become rooted. When I was old enough, I was very political and was a powerhouse at a podium, arguing for my cause du jour. I had a big mouth and wasn't afraid to use it. At the same time, that lingering alienation was always just below the surface, threatening to pull me into the abyss. Before that, younger, I was just a common wanderer, an ideological nomad.

It's not that I would be a "bad" person without a fundamental, guiding belief system. I'd just be ineffectual.

None of the belief systems I tried eliminated that empty feeling and I've tried most of them. There would always be something that didn't fit. I couldn't pretend for very long.

The belief system I currently hold fits in every way ~ for me. I'm not going to say what it is intentionally because I'm not selling belief systems here. Most who have read for a while know what it is anyway. If you don't know and want to know, ask me. I'll tell you.

What works for me this time is that it is a belief system that offers structure but also leaves a lot of room for self-determination and thought. It involves a lot of choice. It doesn't address issues of a supreme being. That is up to the individual to work out for him- or herself. It provides an ethical base but doesn't tell anyone how to believe/vote/practice when it comes to any particular issue. That is also up to the individual to choose how to apply the principles. There's a comfortable level of ritual and interestingly, none of the holidays can be politicized.

There are multiple traditions, so it's possible to find one that "fits". The beliefs are fundamental but how they're applied is an individual decision. The standards of behavior are basically the same as all the other major world religions. Be a decent person. Be a compassionate person. Love other people and try to do no harm.

I'm a firm believer, perhaps because of my own experience, that a rudderless existence is probably one of the hardest incarnations. Those of us who come with a blank slate and have to choose everything for ourselves have to work really hard to find the right thing, to root ourselves somewhere, nurture the growth and wait to see if it blooms.

Some people claim that any kind of religion or spirituality is for people who, as my ex-husband used to say, "can't think for themselves."

Well, I can definitely think for myself. And sometimes get into a lot of trouble with all those undirected and unfocused thoughts.

I don't think religion or spirituality is for those who can't think. In fact, I think it is for people who are willing to think. It's for people who want to give some form and substance to their thoughts. It's a direction. It's a mooring.

I don't claim to know what's right for others ~ but I do know what's right for me.

Why do you believe, if you do?



Anonymous said...

Actually, my post for tomorrow relates to this!

Leann said...

I believe because it grounds me. To blindly believe because someone tells me it is so, is just not my style. I want to know the how,where,why's of things. I have finally found a belief system that resonates with me and I am happy and most of all comfortable with.

I have been contemplating posting about this very subject.

Molly said...

I really resent when I hear people say "religion is for people who can't think for themselves..."
But having grown up Catholic, at a time, and in a place where the Church had it's nose in every aspect of one's life, I understand why people say that. And I wonder, sometimes, what it would be like to have grown up in an atmosphere that encouraged one to think things through and reach one's own conclusions.

But I don't think you should throw the baby out with the bath water. Just because you find a religion is flawed [because it's run by people, and people are human, and fallible, and corruptible] doesn't mean you can't still live by the religion's core principles.

I can't imagine not having any religion. I imagine it would feel hollow, as you mentioned. When you hit hard times and troubles, it's nice to have the comfort of familiar guidelines for coping........

Anvilcloud said...

Be a decent person. Be a compassionate person. Love other people and try to do no harm.

Sounds good to me. I guess it's what I pretty well try to do/be without an actual system. I feel pretty comfortable in life without a system.

painted maypole said...

i DO love when people leave long comments, because it means I've gotten them thinking

(that said... I feel like most of the comments I'm leaving have been painfully short lately... does this mean I'm not thinking?)

I LOVED this: "I don't think religion or spirituality is for those who can't think. In fact, I think it is for people who are willing to think. It's for people who want to give some form and substance to their thoughts. It's a direction. It's a mooring."

for me, for you, for most people I know this is the truth. There are some that it is not true for, but most people I know DO use their faith as a central point from which to think

jen said...

I think it's personal. and it's a do unto others sort of thing. and it's not about showing off how faithful you are.

PS. I just finished reading Obama's interview on his faith - and found it fascinating.

Anonymous said...

And I was just working on a post for tomorrow on this general topic, too! Some sort of synchronicity going on.

I believe in love. In living the best life you can, trying to be compassionate, to minimaize harm to others and the planet. If religion helps you do that, great. I don't think a belief in a god is necessary, but I don't think its my place to tell people that they shouldn't believe. And I also believe that it's a personal path and people should leave me alone about it.

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

I agree about faith being for people who think, and that's probably why I've wandered through so many Christian denominations. I've never tried other belief systems because I feel such a strong personal relationship to Jesus. It wouldn't make sense to go outside Christianity. I've finally found a denomination that works for me, precisely because it does respect the use of reason and the following of conscience.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I do not adhere to a particular brand of organized religion, although I have tried most of them in my search for the right fit. Buddhism comes closest to my own belief system and there is a strong overlay of Native American reverence for Nature at my core.

I believe that all true religions are similar in that they try to instill the same principles of kindness, compassion, and love, so that is my litmus test of whether a religion qualifies.

My difficulty with organized religions is that they often do not encourage individual thought and they are competitive. It seems that teaching children to believe that their way is God's way and everyone else is going straight to hell is a terribly narrow and unrealistic view, to say nothing of ungodly.

I love that H.H. the Dalai Lama always says that his religion is compassion. That is far more important than pinning a name tag on ones beliefs.

Carla said...

I think that there are people in all arenas...both religious and not, who don't think...just as there are those who do. Fascinating post. And would probably take me a whole post to try to explain my beliefs/faith and how I've come to them.

Christine said...

i'm pretty rudderless...i feel like i need something more but still haven't found it so i flounder.

a space cow-girl said...

I often felt jealous in my younger life of people that seemed to accept readily a certain belief system. I questioned everything and within the belief systems that I grew up with, that wasn't encouraged-often leaving me with the feeling of being an outcast.

it wasn't until I found Unity-which is part of the new thought movement-that I found a home. Within unity I could explore-everything from suffi-ism to buddhism to judaisim, etc-yet still had a home base and a community to provide guidance, feedback and support.

womaninawindow said...

Chani, it's funny, it sounds liek we had a great deal in common in our youth. I needed something. I got what I needed from my family, my husband and then giving birth to two children. Maybe it sounds trite, but I feel our family like a religion. We've established our traditions, our ethics, our symbols and rituals through our home. I would be lost without it. I would need a different sort of rudder. I've explored other religions briefly, my family is the only that spoke to me.

Anonymous said...

i don't think the search is ever over. or should be considered over. ideological nomadism, more than anything else i would argue, leads to existential angst. embrace it, the angst is a sign that you're alive.