Monday, December 14, 2009

If You're Not Religious, What's Up With All the Religious Imagery in Your Posts?

This is the question I've been asking myself lately.  In fact, the religious imagery flows so fast and furious around here I've been somewhat regretting announcing that I'm not religious.  Had I not announced it, people could simply assume that I am religious, and I wouldn't have to explain myself.  But here we are, and the best explanation I can offer is this:  I grew up Catholic.  When I told my youngest sister I didn't consider myself religious and she repeated it to my mother (no surprise to her after I declined to be married in the church, opting for the backyard instead), my mother told her:  She's not un-religious.  She's a lapsed Catholic.  She'll always be a Catholic, lapsed or not.  You can't undo that.  I was amused at the time I heard this, but as with most things, my mother's wisdom is revealing itself over time.  Images of saints and sin, of the weak rising and the mighty falling, of God's presence alive in the daily details: they run through my veins with my blood and beat in my chest with my heart.  Lapsed or not, apparently you can't undo that.


I suppose the first difficulty I encounter with Catholicism is the idea of Original Sin.  Babies are born sinners needing to be saved?  It seems silly to me.  If any of us are sinners, surely it's those of us who have been around long enough to learn the difference between right and wrong, and then make choices.

I struggle with the whole concept of sin.  Are we not animals?  Is it a sin when the hawk tears the fox limb from limb?  We're the children of a history of savage brutality, and we practice savage brutality today in the world, actively and passively every day.  Making high drama of this human story sometimes strikes me as avoidance: to look at it directly, to sit with it thoughtfully, to work effectively toward systematic change.  That's not a fair assessment of religion, considering that plenty of religious individuals and communities devote considerable time and effort toward looking directly at evil, sitting thoughtfully and working to change it. And I can only guess that the story that seems like high drama to me resonates deeply with them.

What resonates deeply with me is not the idea that there is sin and repentance, good and evil, suffering and striving as eternal opposing forces, although this language tends to resonate with the writer in me.  But I believe they are one.  They are somehow one, although damned if I get how, but even if we could break open our brains to accept this, I think we would simply continue to inch forward away from the brutality and into the light, shedding our history flake by flake like human skin, rather than in one fell swoop like the skin from a snake.

It's too bad we can't shed our brutal history like snakeskin.  We could iron it flat, bind it into a book, and read it to our perfect babies, to remind them that while they are not sinners, nor are they saints.  They are animals as much as they are gods and goddesses, and they will kill and heal and write their own stories on snakeskin someday.  All we have is time, and acceptance, and slow, incremental steps toward whatever and wherever God is.

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