A fascination with the psychology of religion

This is a repost of a letter I wrote to Jared from Lick the Fridge. Read more about this kick-ass letter-writing project here. This letter is a continuation of a conversation about religion – read the first two letters in the conversation here and here.


Jared,

I’ve started this letter at least a half a dozen times. It’s difficult to choose a place to start when there’s so much to discuss.

I’m not sure there is any actual purpose to my interest in religion. It baffles and fascinates me, so I try to learn more. Like you, I’ve found that the majority of people willing to discuss their religion are more interested in converting me. I’ve come to deeply respect the exceptions – though I’m also wary of them.

When I first met my ex-husband, I considered myself a Christian. I even attended a couple of meetings at his church. As my personal beliefs developed and I let go of the “Christian” label, I continued to respect his beliefs. And he claimed to respect mine. He knew before we married that I had no interest in ever going back to Christianity and he said he was okay with that. He said he accepted me as I was.

During one of our many discussions on religion, we started talking about church views on homosexuality. We specifically talked about his sister and her wife and how many churches would not accept them. He told me how his church doesn’t believe in turning people away for any reason. He told me that they were inviting to people, even if the church opposed their lifestyles, because how else could they one day learn the truth?

I asked him if that’s what he was doing with me. I asked him if he was pretending to accept me so that one day I would become enlightened and join his church. After a very long silence, he said yes.

It was a turning point for our marriage, though that’s another story for another day. It also jaded me. I became skeptical of the motivations of others. I came to prefer those who could at least look me in the eye and tell me I was going to hell. I still wonder at times if my Christian friends truly accept me.

Sometimes, I wish I had a concrete belief system. I wish I could say, “I’m Wiccan” or “I’m Buddhist” or even “I’m an atheist.” Sometimes, I think it would make life simpler if I could neatly box myself with a pretty label. I think that’s where I get my desire for non-committal labels (as I mentioned in my comment to Jen). Maybe it’s a character flaw, but it is what it is.

I used the “more en vogue and allegedly more neutral spiritual” label for many years. Then I realized that even that’s not true. Sure I’ll celebrate some nature-based holidays with rituals and prayers. I even do a little spell-casting (or as an old Pagan friend once called it, “prayer with oomph!”) here and there. I have moments when a full moon will captivate me or I’ll watch the cherry blossoms fall and feel immense joy. But generally, I don’t think about my Higher Powers. I don’t think about the energies of the universe. I don’t typically spend any portion of my day thinking about religion or spirituality or any of it.

I typically spend my days thinking about my daughter and work and writing and friends and family. I typically spend my days yelling at my daughter, hugging my daughter, yelling at my boyfriend, hugging my boyfriend, laughing at stupid jokes, getting angry at stupid politicians, working, attempting to finish a written thought, embracing my geekdom with an episode of Torchwood or Firefly or Eureka, procrastinating folding clothes or going shopping, and singing loudly and off-key to the random music on my playlist.

And when I do think about religion and spirituality, it’s usually from a logical, questioning perspective. I question this need so many of us have (including myself) to believe in some greater force in the universe. I question prayer and how some people think divine intervention helped them get a new car and have no problem reconciling that with a loving god who lets children starve.

I’m curious about “fringe” religions and ancient religions and the differences between monotheism and polytheism. I’m intrigued with the way so many religions have splintered. I wonder where the line is drawn between a religion and a cult. Is there an actual line or is it one of those things you can’t define but you “know it when you see it”?

I think about the variety of religions and spiritual paths I’ve come across and the people who follow them. I wonder about their lives and what led them to that path. Are they blindly following their parents? Did they latch on to a charismatic leader? Did they experience tragedies or miracles? Did they have moments of awakening? I’m fascinated by the psychology of it . . . of nature versus nurture.

So, I guess that’s the answer to the purpose of my interest in religion. It’s people. Individuals and their experiences and thoughts and feelings and psychological processes.

I know I’m all over the place with this letter, but like my comment on your Betty Friedan post, I think I’m just going to go with it . . . and then maybe work on a letter about your Betty Friedan post!

~Dayle

Read Jared’s response: Perfectly Happy Without Religion

Photo Credit

Photo Credit

***I apologize to anyone who is receiving notification of this post twice. When I rearranged my posts the other day, I apparently forgot to change the date on this one, so it was up for about 20 minutes yesterday 😛 ***

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2 responses to this post.

  1. As you know already, I agree with much of what you say here… and I, too, am always fascinated with the psychology behind religion.

    Reply

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