Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Politics & Religion

Growing up, I was always told that there are two subjects which you should avoid in polite conversation:  politics and religion.  Granted, this was practically a non-issue, since my family, my neighbors, and most of my town were all Republicans and all went to the same church.  I think that finally ended when Kennedy ran against Nixon in 1960 and the decision had to be made whether to vote Republican, or Catholic.  Nowadays religion is far more likely to come up in conversation, especially along with politics, and I still find myself reluctant to get into it sometimes.  People usually wind up asking me why I go to church if I have no belief in God, or the soul, or an afterlife.  I’ve been asked how I can even consider myself a spiritual person if I, quote, don’t believe in anything, end quote.  It’s hard to convince some people that you can be a spiritual person, that you can believe in personal redemption, for example, without extending that belief to include a God.

But at least most people have HEARD of Unitarians now, if only as the punch line to a joke on Prairie Home Companion, or The Simpsons.  (As much as I love Garrison Keillor, my favorite Unitarian jokes come from The Simpsons.  Probably because back when I was an actor I always wanted to do cartoon voices.)  My favorite Simpsons moments are when Lisa goes to the Church of Springfield’s Ice Cream Social and gets an empty bowl from the VERY right-wing Christian Reverend Lovejoy.  He calls it a "Unitarian Sundae."  She says, “But the bowl is empty!” and he says, “Exactly!”  I also laughed when Bart went next door to his Christian neighbor’s house to play a video game called Bible Blasters, where you shoot unbelievers with Bibles in order to convert them to Christianity.  Bart thinks he’s hit one, but his neighbor says, “No, you just winged him; now he’s a Unitarian.”

Well, I haven’t been winged by the Bible, but the fact is, I DO consider myself a spiritual person, and I do have beliefs.  As I said, I believe in personal redemption.  I believe that through your actions now, you can redeem past mistakes.  I believe that coming to church regularly helps keep me on that path.  I also believe in scientific fact.  I believe in the enormous human potential all around me.  I can appreciate the wondrous architecture of nature and the universe without feeling any need to believe in an architect.  For me, one does not necessarily lead to the other.

And this drives my Christian relatives CRAZY!  You’d think that by now they’d have learned that they’re never going to change my mind.  (I certainly know I’ll never change theirs.)  And yet, some of them still ask me what I believe.  I’m not sure whether they’re hoping for a new answer or an old argument, but now I just tell them, “I believe ... I’ll have some more dessert.”  It obviously hasn’t helped my waistline any, but it does wonders for saving family gatherings.

So.  I don’t believe in a deity.  But I DO believe, strongly, in Unitarian-Universalism's "Seven Principles."  I especially appreciate the Fifth Principle of the Unity of Experience.  I like the idea that there is no conflict between faith and knowledge.  Other beliefs do not threaten mine.  And this doesn’t mean that I am not open to other beliefs.  I have found beauty and wisdom in many places, not only in Einstein and Hawking, but also in the words of the Bible, the Bhagavad-Gita, and the Buddha.  I like to read, and learn, and most of all, I like sharing my journey.  With toleration; with that unity of experience which denies any conflict between Sacred Faith and secular knowledge.  After all, we all get to take this trip together.

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