Photo Credit: Ziggy Marley Album Cover
When you look at western society (especially white, middle class society), what are the things that people have ‘given themselves to’ that as a result infuses their life with meaning? I see three primary ones: religion/faith, jobs/careers and family.
Some of us are invested in all three at once, some of us weave in and out of different ones at different times. But these are the primary three. Hobbies and pets are other examples of these things, but they are not as common to the big three it seems.
When I grew up, religion was my deal. Everything I did was because of it. The music I listened to, the friends I had, the way I spent my time, the way my passions were shaped, my morality, my sense of duty. There is a lot of problems with this because of how bad the religion was. Western Evangelical Christianity is a disaster of a religion to be brought up in. It creates short-sighted, judgmental and narcissistic humans who have trouble seeing the good in others and truth of any kind. There is also a deep seeded fear in this kind of Christianity that is hard to let go of. However, I can’t throw it all under the bus. There is also a ton of good that came out of this that I am thankful for. It introduced me to Jesus and traditions that are deeply rooted in non-violence, peace, grace, liberation and love wherever it is found. It made me fall in love with and learn from revolutionaries, feminists, activists, indigenous people, the LGBTQ community, the black community as well as being introduced to opposition to power and oppressive systems.
Many of my friends have completely discarded religion by now. I can’t say I blame them. The amount of corruption, brainwashing, abuse of power, hate and violence that comes from folks heavily involved in religion, especially Evangelical Christianity, is horrendous. I’ve considered going that way, but I can’t shake the traditions that I’ve discovered that still for me offer a lot of hope and meaning that doesn’t seem to be found elsewhere in the same intensity.
I have abandoned so much of the religion I was raised in that the things that I hold onto now are almost indistinguishable from the original. And when I say that many of my friends have abandoned religion, I just mean that they went in a direction with their lives where religion isn’t the primary purpose or reason driving their life any longer. I don’t mean that they stopped caring about the things they cared about or have lost their moral compass. I just mean that their lives are no longer structured around the structures that came with that religion. Many of the aspects of religion we were raised in do not have the depth and opportunity to carry us into adulthood in the changing landscape of our society. Going to church on Sundays, listening to an uneducated dude ramble for half an hour, singing some poorly structured songs and memorizing ancient texts just isn’t very meaningful anymore for a large number of us.
I think that we have a privilege and opportunity to grow into something much bigger than the limits that religion is bound by. It is natural to abandon these initial meaningful activities and motivations as you grow to see that there is more going on. Religion is like a dim reflection of bigger ideals and broader themes. Eventually, as you work through the things you’ve inherited you can appreciate those things for what they are, but recognize that they are not the things that give you meaning and purpose in the world. Those of my friends that have abandoned religion haven’t abandoned the broader things that religion came from, they have graduated to them.
It was when I started appreciating the bigger themes that I started caring significantly less about the doctrines and specifics of Christianity. When I finally let it sink in that love is the gauge of all law – years of doctrinal guilt and religious self-righteousness melted away. When I finally let it sink in that peace was our goal – I no longer cared to win, and conversion seemed antagonistic. When I finally let it sink in that justice is worth fighting for – I started seeing actual injustice all around instead of interpreting differing opinions as injustice. Grace became more important than biblical authority. Selflessness became more important than atonement theories. Truth became more important than personalities.
This is where I am struggling now, because I don’t think that embracing ideals like love, grace, peace and justice means that you need to throw out religion or that you’ve grown out of it. I just think you approach it differently now. You aren’t looking to the religion for your meaning. You aren’t extracting identity from the rituals. I think the healthiest way forward is one that has a balanced and critical relationship with your upbringing. Instead of your religion telling you what is loving; love is informing you on how you should love despite your religion. Instead of your religion defining justice for you; justice comes from your heart towards all things and puts religion in its place. Love, justice, peace, grace – these things are the ultimate givers of meaning and our religions need to submit to them, not the other way around.