Monday, November 19, 2012

My Religious Journey-Part II

With our new born son, 3 months old, my wife and I loaded all our possessions into a small U-Haul trailer attached to our 1950 Mercury, and headed east to Dayton, Ohio immediately after the graduation ceremony where I was given my B.S.diploma in Ceramic Engineering.  The ceremony ended early afternoon, so I had previously called ahead to ask my father if we could stop along the way for an overnight in Peoria, Illinois.
My father’s new family by this time included one son from his new wife’s previous marriage, their toddler son, and twin infant girls.  So the nine of us occupied a small apartment for a night and after a short visit and breakfast off we went in time to arrive in Dayton before dark. We travelled around Indianapolis in order to avoid the Indianapolis 500 traffic and found a cheap motel before dark near the Frigidaire plant where I would soon be employed.

Our primary objective was to secure an apartment as soon as possible which we found in Kettering, a middle class suburb just south of Dayton. For the next two years we lived in Dayton Victory Apartments on the second floor.  We had a garage and 4 rooms with the rent at $95/mo. 
Being conditioned that Sunday morning was the time a family spent at church, I looked around for a church in the vicinity.  As luck would have it, there was a Unitarian Fellowship very close by and I remembered the article I had read on the English department’s bulletin board about Unitarianism.  So I went alone to check it out.

I soon learned that the Unitarian Fellowship was called a fellowship because there was no pastor who presided every Sunday and each Sunday service was organized by a committee of members who planned each service.  This feature alone gave much texture and variety which I came to enjoy.  The congregation was normally about 40-50 people and within such a small community, I stood out as a new comer and was warmly greeted at the social gathering which followed the main events, or service, if you will.  I remember being impressed immediately with the quality of the people there.  They were stimulating, attractive, and professional people, something I aspired to be.  
Unitarians are not beholden to any religious dogma, creed or tenet and everyone is free to decide for themselves what they establish as their religious beliefs.  And, as I found out, no one I ever talked to there, believed Jesus was part of a trinity, which is implied in the word Unitarian.  So most people I talked to labeled themselves as deists, agnostics, or atheists.  Jesus was treated as an historical figure that had some good things to say about how to conduct oneself.  The Old Testament was viewed as more of a history book of folk lore and attempts to explain the world and provide some laws and morality to a tribe of ancient people, most of which most certainly were not anything to be followed in today’s world. 

All this at first was quite a cultural shock to me.  I gradually let go of my childhood indoctrination to try to look at things objectively and not rely on a faith based thought process.  I threw off my Christian beliefs without much trouble.  I remember at one point however, that I knew what I no longer believed, but I could not define what I did believe.  I felt I was in a void and had some apprehension about my state of mind. 
What I learned from my state of mind then was to learn to be comfortable not knowing.  No matter how much anxiety of not knowing is caused, it is the human condition.  No one has proof there is a god or there isn’t, it’s unknown, just as it is unknown how or why life started.  Maybe, even, there is no why.

My life with the Unitarians went very well.  I became part of the community and participated in some programs.  One Sunday, the governor of Ohio, Michael DeSalle came to speak about his opposition to the death penalty. We frequently had a rabbi from the liberal Jewish wing come up from Cincinnati to speak to us.  His background was Judaism and most Unitarians had a Christian background, and yet we seemed to agree on most things spiritual.  We experimented with couple of Quaker services where we sat in silence, until someone felt the urge to say something.  Having never attended an actual Quaker service, I am not sure how close we became being more spiritual but I suspect Unitarians talked a lot more.  We had actors, professors, dancers, and occasional community leaders speak on Sunday.  
There were also about 12 of us about the same age that formed a friendship clique and held parties lasting into the wee hours followed by an afternoon pool party, weather permitting, to watch our kids, sun ourselves and to recover our bodies from any alcohol abuse experienced the night before.

All this stimulation and friendships came to an end when I became bored with my job and without any advancement in sight; I took a new job in a small conservative, slightly backward town in Indiana to work for the Picture Tube Division of RCA.  Gone was Unitarianism. The closest Unitarian church was about 45 miles away in Muncie, IN.

After a few years, my children came to me one day and express an interest in knowing more about religion. Our town had a huge community Easter Ceremony every year and most of their friends some kind of Christian church.  So I drove them to Muncie every Sunday for 2-3 months where they attended Sunday school, while I attended services in the main auditorium (to describe it as the sanctuary would not be accurate because there was nothing sacred going on).  We would talk about what they learned on the way home.  They seemed to gain some perspective they were seeking and their interest waned and we stopped going.
Since then, the only time I have been in a church was to attend a marriage or funeral service.  And even though I live reasonable close to a Unitarian Church, I have no interest in giving up my Sunday mornings, though I did attend the one in Oak Park, but only because it was built by Frank Lloyd Wright and I was curious to see inside.

My religious evolution did not stop however.  I proudly answer to being an atheist in spite of the social stigma that still exists.  No one ever asks me which is fine.  But I will speak up when someone tries to impose their beliefs on me.  Usually they falsely assume that I am one of them and therefore it’s okay.  I remain silent when in a group and someone calls for a prayer.  I might stand but I would never bow my head, instead I look around at the people who do. I learned to say the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag without the words, “under god” so I skip that part. I hate “God Bless America” because it basically is a prayer and promotes the idea that we Americans have God on our side.
What I am certain about is that the monotheistic personified god described in various holy books is the work of man trying to explain a world thought to be flat, where causes of disease were unknown, and the invention of a wheel barrel would have been astounding. I look at some of the passages in the Bible and Koran as outright immoral and note that most religious leaders are wont to mention them, preferring to remind us about the noble tales of conduct instead.

If we are completely honest intellectually, all of us are agnostics with no proof either way about the god question.     
I don’t see faith as a virtue and observe that religion seems to poison everything.  People use their religious beliefs to interfere with our sex lives, deny civil rights for everyone, threaten and sometimes kill those that disagree with a particular brand of religion, and even punishing free speech. 

I call myself a non-theist now, as were many of our founding fathers, but also answer to atheism without a care what others may think.  Faith is not a primer for being able to live a moral life; in fact it can be a hindrance.
Faith is an underlying belief that the process that produced this world and human life is best unveiled not by the scientific method but by the musings of iron age herdsmen or science fiction writers, or con artists whose theories are best judged by examining only assertions that cannot be falsified.

My loss of faith brought about discovering of myself.  There is peace in understanding that I only have one life, here and now, and I am responsible.



1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yay! Good post! - Vikki