Friday, February 26, 2010

What I Learned as a Heathen

In leaving the church to avoid the legalism and hypocrisy, I feel in some ways as though I threw out the baby with the bathwater.  Or at least, I am aware that I and my family have lost something potentially valuable by not participating in a community larger than ourselves, and in not being familiar with the Bible at least as it informed the last two thousand years of Western history, art, music, law, and economics.  I have made some effort, though clearly not successful, to keep my children from being infected with my anti-organized religion bias--I've tried to teach overtly and by example that everyone is in her own place on the journey of enlightenment and if their religious community feeds them, more power to them.  I've tried to make religious tolerance the name of the day.  The eye-rolling and caustic comments from my girls about church-attendance or other families' church-habits make it clear that I've not been as successful at ecumenical respect as I'd hoped.  Or maybe they have just as sensitive a bullshit meter as I have but fewer inhibitions about calling it as they see it.

Also, in leaving the church, I put absolutely everything I'd been taught into the bin.  Is any of it Truth?  Biblical inerrancy? Divinity of Jesus? The Trinity? Original Sin? Justification by faith? Sanctification by works? Free will vs. the Elect? Worldly reward for spiritual holiness?  Does any of it matter if the practice of religion ignored all of it in preference for power structures and legislation by guilt?
I examined the theologies of several different religious traditions over the years (mostly Buddhism, Wicca and Paganism, Zen, and Sufi but some toe-dipping into other systems) as well as lots of variants of the neo hippie cultures: Waldorf education, Simple Living, Back to Earth.  Amazingly, I found the same legalism, self-righteousness, holiness based on adherence to a particular set of rules, and discipline-by-ostracism in every single one.  So, Truth must be that people have such a strong need to belong that the power-mongering among us can use absolutely anything to set up that abusive dynamic.
I found other Truths, though, that ran through everything I looked at--stewardship of the earth, the body being the temple of the divine, humanity is the image of the divine, measure of holiness by Fruit of the Spirit, and a reverence That Which Is Greater Than Ourselves.  I decided these are Truths because, as far as I could tell, they are constant through all times and all places.
But knowing these things to be True (by whatever name people call them), how do I live and worship in community with others who recognize these Truths without setting up a system with potential for legalism?  Is it possible? Are legalism and power-tripping the price we pay for community?  Is that the real dynamic tension of the universe--unity with Divinity in community versus corruption and separation from Divinity?
And how do I avoid that tension within myself? How do I live in such a manner that promotes the unity without allowing the corruption?


  1. We think a LOT alike!

    And from the looks of things so far (I am just now getting around to reading your archives) we have read a lot of the same authors, particularly pertaining to home/unschooling. I swear by Gardner and Holt among others for my home/unschooling educational philosophy.

    Also find it interesting that my premises- not having done the investigation you have, and your conclusions- having done the investigating, about legalism being prevalent in all human organizations and faith traditions, are also the same! That is just so cool!

    Might I suggest one possible answer to the question of how to live and worship in community without the legalism creeping in? How about meeting without the organization already??? I think it is in our obsession to organize/identify/specify/number everything that gets us into trouble!

    Organizing means making rules. Making rules means someone has to police them. Organizing also means keeping track of attendance, giving and complying....

    Why can't there be meetings where all we do is share, encourage, entertain, pray for and with communing with God and each other? Why does everything have to be structured, qualified and quantified?? Someone got the ball rolling on a very bad thing when they made 'church' into a high-functioning business.

    Just a few of my own 'heresies'!

    Cindy@Baptist Taliban and Beyond

  2. "meeting without organization" seems like an oxymoron. How does one convene or conduct a meeting without organization? But I suppose you meant a hierarchy, a mission statement, a division of leadership and laity, those kinds of organization. I have longed for such a gathering--a meeting of kindred spirits. But so far have found no one in my real life who is willing to participate. Everyone I know is either still enmeshed in their religious system or allergic to anything that might be/become religious. We live in a highly religious town where children proselytize on preschool playgrounds and religious classes are offered to school-kids through the public schools.

    I dream of a simple gathering place for spiritually minded people of all stripes to meet, to pray, to commune. The internet has been wonderful for talking with people but I haven't found that sort of meeting that I dream of.