So, today I was contemplating a statement I often hear about religion. "It gives me comfort".
If I am having a conversation about religion, and that is said, I do let such conversations slide after that. What is there more to say? Well, today I'll start off with that it makes no sense to me. Maybe it doesn't have to, but I like to try to make sense of things.
One reason it makes no sense to me is that religion does the opposite of comforting me. How so? Well, religion itself does not make sense to me. The texts are often contradictory. And most importantly, I feel there are often dogma, or interpretations of text, that are potentially unfriendly for certain populations, and I am not sure why any god worth my time would do that. So some interpretations of religion are actually discomforting to my own strong ideals, which could be said to be part of my own spirituality.
It is not my intention to be judgemental or caustic, so I am sorry if I come across that way at any point, it is simply an exploration of human spiritual expression. If you find me off-base, discuss! I tried to discuss this with a family member today and he said that it is a deeply personal topic and people don't like to discuss it. If one is not experienced in the matters of religion or spirituality how are they supposed to understand others, or grow in those areas personally, without the occasional open, meaningful and respectful conversation? Perhaps he felt put under the microscope. In additional to the religious and the non-religious it would be really interesting to see what adult converts think.
So I set myself along to the path to try to think why religion gives some comfort. Yes, I really had to think about it because religion, and potential comfort stemming from it, makes no sense to me. So, my theories?
Familiarity, nostalgia and/or teaching (and the meaning one imbues all of that with)
Familiar things are often comfortable, even when they are not positive (FYI - that is not a comment on religion). So when familiar things are positive or neutral it is more easy to attach significance or meaning to them. And I don't mean that judgementally, I am not discounting people's experience as meaningless.
There is a crisis ("Fourth World conditions") on an Indian/First Nation's Reserve (Attawapiskat - Northern Ontario) made very public last year. Many people on-line responded with shock, horror, disgust, anger and/or racism to the story. This weekend I was reading a website where a person responded to these comments, advising that people shouldn't automatically make judgements that there is Reservation mismanagement, explaining how it normally works, and how this crisis came about.
Anyways, there were many comments of people thanking this person for sharing and then interesting discussions about other issues surrounding the First Nations. I never got thru it all, but what I did read resonated with me. Some of the discussion was around First Nations poverty issues, and leaving the Reservations/Reservation systems to try to deal with the poverty issues. The replies spoke eloquently to such issues, which basically boiled down to familiarity and the meaning it holds for them. The meaning they attach to the land (and not just First Nations, a transplanted Newfie spoke poignantly about missing Newfoundland), the comfort and meaning they attach to being around people with similar histories, and the ease it creates (no one questioning them upon meeting them about why their parents named them *that*). I am not doing it justice by any means, but, beyond First Nations issues, it made me also more generally think about the meaning we attach to our experiences, whether those experiences have to do with the landscape (natural or man-made), people, or ideas (cultural, religious, spiritual, secular, etc). Reading that yesterday is probably part of what prompted this rabbit hole today
I could expand my thoughts, or dissect it smaller, but I don't know it is really necessary. I know I thought if the "comfort" comment had to do with the thought of life-after-death, and/or the idea that things will all work out because of a guiding/protecting force or a grand plan. But even that would fall under the above.
I also wonder if religious people filter *every* experience they feel is spiritual thru their religious prism. How could they not really. Is that how they are typically taught? Or do religious people just assume a spiritual experience needs the religious prism they have been taught?
I feel most spiritual in surroundings or situations that make me feel calm, centred, pure and/or in awe. Typically I feel most spiritual alone in the natural world. I felt the way described above when I was kayaking alone on a lake while camping this summer. I have felt that way while going over things I am thankful for recently. I am sure other people have other experiences, certainly I can't imagine feeling spiritual is always the same for everyone. I also figure spirituality shouldn't always feel comfortable either. I feel that spirituality is essentially about discovering yourself, as well as connections that are all around you, and their meaning to you.
One thing I find interesting is my family has several members that say they are religious. But none of them follow the outward traditions of their religion. That is, regular church attendance (not even once a year), saying grace, praying, going to confession (where applicable). This includes in private, in their home. The most outward sign of their religion is I know two of them put out a small nativity scene at *Giftmas. Not that one needs outward signs to be religious, but it does make me think about the familiarity angle I was going with above. For them it is not about the familiarity of traditions or churches or congregations, but seemingly about familiarity with an internal experience, concept and/or at least label/identification. Obviously spirituality is a very personal thing involving mental concepts anyways, that sometimes manifest in people physical acting out traditions/rituals.... It was just I had started out with all this thinking thinking about people that regularly attend Church and following traditions/rituals that may seem familiar and that certainly doesn't cover all religious people.
And I've got to figure it works the other way around too. To some what is discomforting about other/all religions is that it is unfamiliar. (Though surely some people are very familiar with a religion and their experience gave them a negative association with it. Heck, I was in Catholic school until I was 10, but i have merely forgotten near all of it, and don't feel familiar with the Catholic experience.) We all have, conscious, subconscious, or otherwise, belief systems that are contrary or judgemental. We all come by them thru culture, interactions and experiences.
*Giftmas is a term I came across on-line. It was actually used in the phrase "Merry Pagan Giftmas". I think it was meant to throw back at people who get all up-in-arms about the war-on-Christmas. The phrase being suggestive of the actual origins of Christmas (and many of its traditions) and the more recent over-commercialization of Christmas. Which might irritate some strident war-on-Christmas people. I just like it because I get fed up with Christmas at times, as I am sure we all do at some point or another
Edited by sierraleone, 10 December 2012 - 10:34 PM.