Chuck_Yoghurt wrote:The original thought which prompted this thread was that I also just don't get why people believe in something so intangible. One possibility for The thread was to maybe have some people explain why they do or don't believe in whatever you want to name it him them she.
That would be more interesting than all this dick-slap we've been enjoying for the last few days. It could be a genuine sharing of points of reference.
No doubt. Certainly that's the spirit with which I entered into the first several of these threads I participated in. Sadly no conversation on the subject of faith has even been allowed to go any other direction but the one you've witnessed here.
But what the hell - I'll try again (and again, and again). Watch what happens.
I was not born into a particularly religious family. My parents were Jewish, but neither were practicing Jews. My mother identified as a Jew culturally. My father dabbled with Eastern religions, finally arriving at Huna - a new age Hawiian religion. I don't think he practices it though - I simply think he had read about it and found it appealing.
My grandparents were not particularly religious either. My grandfather on my mother's side openly described himself as an atheist. My other grandparents all identified as Jews, but none were particularly observant. I went to Hebrew school and we belonged to a temple, but we seldom went and barely observed holidays. I never quite understood why I was sent to Hebrew school. I think it mattered to my grandparents on my father's side. My paternal grandfather drove me over the hill from the San Fernando Valley every week for six months in preparation for for my Bar Mitzvah. I'm glad he did as he only lived about a year an a half after the event. Those car trips we took together were the only time I ever got to spend alone with him getting to know who he was. In retrospect, that time with him was the beginning of my seeing the value of religion. I saw in a literal way how tradition can tie the generations together.
I was an atheist throughout my youth. I saw religious people as cartoons. I saw my Judaism as a thing to be hidden. Something I'd be hated for by some, looked down upon by others, and joked about by almost everyone. I was a target for Christian evangelists worried about my soul. I was going to hell they told me. A chunk of my family tree had died at the hands of Nazis, so being a Jew seemed to have very few advantages. In the media we were buffoons. Jewishness was nebbishy and loud and to be laughed at. I learned to joke about it first before anyone else said anything.
In junior high I was caught not saying the words "under God" in the pledge of allegiance. I resented being made to say it - in fact I still do. My homeroom teacher took it upon himself to make sure I said it. he singled me out in front of the class and made me explain to everyone why I wouldn't say it. He stood next to me every morning to hear the words come out of my mouth. If i didn't say it, I had to do pushups in front of the whole class. I did them every day that semester. I could have reported him but I began to enjoy doing the pushups every day as a way of flipping him the bird. I began reading the scriptures of all religions with an agenda of negation.
My best friend during those years came from a pretty religious background. I was cruel to him - mocking him for what I saw as the stupidity of his beliefs. He stopped hanging around with me when it got too thick. We lost touch for 20 years over it. I was an asshole. I knew it even then. As sure as I was that there was no God, I also knew that the people I was judging and mocking led more soulful lives than mine. They were nicer people than the person I was turning out to be. The more reactionary I became about religion, the more I disliked the person it made me into. I didn't want to be that guy. But I didn't want to be religious either. I didn't know what to be.
As I got older I began to spend time with people who were very different from me. I became a musician and spent time around other musicians - often the ones I admired most sang songs about their spirituality. They challenged my preconceptions. They were smart, tough-minded - everything I wanted to be. Meanwhile I'd find myself going back to the religious songs of folks like Dylan and Leonard Cohen, and responding to gospel and gospel influenced R&B. My own religious training (as scant as it was) began to start coming back to me. In particular the idea of a God for whom one could never speak his name.
So one night I was explaining to my father why I was an atheist. I told him what I did believe in - the unknowable mystery at the core of it all. He looked at me and said, "so why not call that God" and all at once things clicked in place for me. The God I'd been rebelling against was the version represented to me by humans. I suddenly understood what "no man sees my face and lives" meant. I understood what the idea of an incorporeal and unknowable God meant. It was simple and elegant. Most importantly, I began to see that this was not simply my notion of God, but one that was wholly consistent with the God described in Judaism.
As I've gotten older and dealt with challenges, this idea has continued to deepen for me and animates my life in ways I never would have imagined. Instead of standing on the outside judging others as they worship, I find that I am able to connect deeply with others and myself when I allow myself to worship with them. Moreover, I find that I've softened to all people of faith. I accept their prayers - even their attempts at conversion with empathy. I empathize with people who do not believe as well. I know where they are coming from. I do not believe that every person needs faith. It has value for those who find value in it. One can be a soulful person without it. One can be a jerk with it. The good guys are not all gathered an either side of the line. What matters is kindness and openness of spirit. I try to respond to it whenever it is offered to me. That's why I am bothering to answer this question despite all of the acrimony here. Because Chuck asked with an openness that deserves response.