As a child I was raised Catholic and believed in God or a “higher power” but I never liked going to church. I remember visiting a large cathedral in Melbourne with my family and reacting with something like “this place looks like where the devil might live.” I don’t remember how my parents responded to this notion but I doubt they appreciated it very much.
Perhaps it was the gothic revival architecture that reminded me of sinister places depicted in cartoons or children’s movies. Or maybe I had some intuitive sense about the dark side of organised religion. Who can say.
Now I would look at such buildings with a sense of awe and reverence. Even though I no longer practice Catholicism, I can appreciate the beauty in historic church buildings and the role religion played in the development of my psyche. I don’t regret being raised with a sense of faith in something greater.
For as long as I can remember I always knew this God force might not be true though and that believing in something outside of our seen reality was a choice. It was a choice that made sense to me because I couldn’t prove it wasn’t true. It was a comforting idea so why not roll with it I thought.
My childhood best friend Lisa, was an atheist and her parents taught her that God was a story, much like a children’s book about unicorns. I tried to convince her otherwise, and I think I might have swayed her slightly for a brief time, at the very least via imaginative spiritual games.
We used to play in the nature reserve that adjoined her house and I clearly remember how we made offerings to the trees: I would gather bundles of rye grass, flowers, plumbs or berries and place them at the base of old trees as a “sacrifices” to the tree spirits, urging Lisa to participate. She would ask why we should do this and if it was a Catholic thing and I would explain that I wasn’t sure but that I just thought the nature spirits liked it.. and that ancestors might be buried under the park and so we should remember them.
I had forgotten about this memory until as an adult I came across neo-paganism and pagan revivalism. In my early twenties I met a friend of a friend who was a “white witch” and I was curious to discover that there were modern day nature-worshiping pagan religions like wicca .. I had no idea these existed before that.
I read a series of books about neo-paganism, wicca and other revivalist movements and found they matched my personal world view and deep connection with nature. Reading about their rituals reminded me of my childhood offerings and I wondered where I got these ideas? Were they an extension of Catholic rituals I observed at church like the holy communion or was I tapping into some sort of innate pagan spirituality that’s in all of us? Perhaps a little bit of both?
In a 2006 government survey I listed my religion as “Eco-feminist neo-pagan with lapsed catholic and taoist influences,” my housemate listed his as “Jedi.” We both had a bit of chuckle about it but it wasn’t totally a joke. They were the best words we could find to describe our eclectic and somewhat vague spiritual beliefs. Neither of us supported a one-size-fits-all religious path. In a multi-cultural world with thousands of different faiths how could we justify subscribing to just one religion. That felt like pure insanity.
Some may argue that all religious beliefs are pure insanity. I read in an article once that said there’s a high correlation between mental illness and religious belief according to studies. The author suggested that belief in spiritual possibilities (which often seem bizarre to the non-believer) might be one expression of mental illness or that ill people were more likely to seek comforting spiritual ideas. I understand what he’s getting at but it’s pretty offensive in my opinion.
Perhaps there’s a correlation for other reasons. Could many believers feel a deep inner conflict between religious codes of conduct and the norms of secular society? Perhaps mentally ill people seek out religion for a sense of community and support more so than comforting ideas. The possibilities are numerous. I’ve also read studies that suggest people with faith live longer. So if they are in fact nuts then maybe neuroticism has certain advantages!
Some critics argue that the belief in God disempowers people because they attribute their success to the will of God rather than their own hard work. It’s a fair point but I think in reality most religious people believe that success is a joint effort between them and God and that the higher force is just a support. Many believe in the idea of free will.
Some believe that God is within as well as without or that God is everything. From my own perspective I believe in a kind of “God force” that runs through everything that we can tap into. Some call it God, others call is consciousness … others again the Tao. Whatever it is I don’t see the harm in tuning in and feeling into why we might perceive.
To at least be open to the possibility.