Much of my adult life has been wrestling with the complexities of religion, and how it plays out in my own life and the world around me. Last night at dinner someone asked me what my core value was, expecting I think, some kind of religious statement. To be honest, I felt a little stuck because for one thing, I don't really conceive of life in terms of 'key statements' that I live by, but also because I was aware that my 'core beliefs' if they exist, aren't necessarily that religious, which might be surprising given that my life has been so intimately wrapped up in religion. First I said, 'there is no god and we are his disciples,' but then I figured I should offer a bit more so I said something about that living a life of love will do you no harm, and followed it up with a coda that it won't do you any harm, but it will cost you--a bit of a bind really, what I meant was that I really believe attempting to live a life that is marked by graciousness and loving kindness will fuck you up, it will expose flaws deep in your psyche, will present daily challenges to ones sanity, will expose hypocrisies, weaknesses, and blatant bullshit like nothing else, and there will often be little in the way of positive result, because I think, as Amy Winehouse decreed, Love is a Losing Game--sure she was singing about romantic love, but I don't think its very different with any other kind of love.
What I probably should have said is I am just trying to be a slightly nicer person, because that's the truth--there are so many arseholes in the world, and I don't want to be one if I can help it. I have let go of so many lofty religious aims, mainly because I don't think they work in people's lives, they just become baggage and I don't really think about life in terms of religious conceptions--redemption, salvation etc. it doesn't interest me to approach things that way. I have been thinking a lot about repentance lately, there have been a series of stories in the lectionary gospels that have utilized this idea--to me it means seeing what you have chosen up to now to not to see (because I think we spend our lives editing what we see-in ourselves, in each other and in the world around us)--and then doing something about it--I don't want to dress it up in language and ideas that have followed that thread for so long that they have nullified its invitation--in Jesus' accounting it seems that the people who have the hardest time with the concept are the ones who proclaim it, those who presumably have 'repented' but they haven't they have entered into some kind of religious blindspot-the 99 he jokes who have no need of it--as if 99 even exist-those to whom they direct their calls for repentance are already seeing differently. Why is religious so often such a blinder to reality? This is a question I ask more and more.
On Mark Vernon's blog recently there was a link to a new project being conducted by the RSA that I think looks quite interesting. It's called, The Brains Behind Spirituality, it is definitely worth a read. I realize it addresses these issues from a British angle, and that the American situation is somewhat different, however, I think there are resonances addressed in this initial article that make its finding of interest. The essay names something that I think should get more attention--contemporary spiritual embarassment--a lot of people I encounter wrestle with this on a regular basis--to claim spirtitual affiliation is often attended by hearers with visions of rabid fundamentalists etc. and having to clarify what one means by that over and over can be wearing. Anyway, the article is helpful I think and the findings will be interesting to engage with next year.