I went to my first Catholic Mass yesterday. I was doing an assignment for a class, and thought that I might get an interview with a priest.
Since I had never gone before, and had no idea what to expect, I was nervous. My knowledge of Catholic traditions is limited mostly to Dan Brown.
It was 4:30pm on a drizzly Saturday, and the place was packed-Lakers playoff game packed. I'm pretty sure Jack Nicholson was in the front pew. Nobody threw stones or shunned me as the friendless secular girl. Whew! I managed to find a seat and get my religious euphoria on.
There were highs and lows-literally. As I've been sleeping on cardboard boxes lately (the life of a poor graduate student), my back was not prepared at all for the squat, standing, sitting routine we were forced to endure every five minutes, usually coupled with a hymn that I didn't know. Come to think of it-not too many American Idols in the congregation, if you catch my drift.
Various parish members in religious garb read from the hymn book, shared a message about trying to be better people and wished us to be one with God. The congregation would then reply in unison, Ditto! That's when I started to get emotional (i.e.: cry).
I missed having faith. I missed believing in God, Jesus, whoever it was that these people were all convinced was giving them the meaning of their lives. I missed feeling like faith was sacred and being moved by a sermon that really pierced my heart (in a good way!) I missed going to sleep at night knowing that God loved me and was taking care of me at all times. But that solace was gone and it had been for a while.
I think religion and the way it's promulgated to the masses in contemporary context leaves me feeling nervous (think Pat Robertson or Shah of Iran, Rezā Shāh Pahlavi).
There's a definitive right and wrong, and for someone, who skirts through life in a perpetual gray area, I can't see myself adhering to standards that I don't 100 percent agree with, even if the great reward is eternal sunshine of the spotless mind.
I don't know what I was doing without God for the past decade-maybe a combination of befriending gays, testing out new modes of spirituality ranging from the sacrosanct to the psychedelic, struggling with social customs and anxiety, and a little premarital sex here and there. I wonder how helpful God would have been if he were the one carrying me instead (I'm pretty sure those were my own footsteps trudging along the sand during those first six months of 2009). I also think about how much more extraordinary my victories and achievements might have been if I believed they were miracles from him.
Do I need God? Do I take him back? Does he take me back? Do we go to therapy together and talk about what we were missing from each other all these years? Do I really love God or is it that I'm supposed to in order to truly be fulfilled?
Harvard Humanist Chaplain Greg Epstein believes that people without organized religion can indeed be happy without G-O-D.
He writes that secular people, too, have their own rituals and sacred moments that can bring spiritual fulfillment sans the organ music and peyot curls:
"A man's birthplace, or the scenes of his first love, or certain places in the first foreign city he visited in his youth . . . they are the ‘holy places' of his private universe, as if it were in such spots that he had received the revelation of a reality other than that in which he participates through his ordinary life."
He cites a baby's naming ceremony and marriage as two of the most important humanistic "life cycle" ceremonies-- which comprise major life transitions. For religious people, they may be tantamount to baptism, bar or bat mitzvah, etc.
In a recent interview, Epstein said:
"All the major recent studies of world religious beliefs, despite using different methodologies, will tell you that there are approximately one billion people who define themselves as nonreligious or secular. In America, there are approximately forty to fifty million nonreligious people, with the percentage of the nonreligious having gone up in every single state in the past twenty years. And there are even higher numbers among young people-one in every four or five Americans aged 18 to 25 is nonreligious today. This is beyond a trend. It's a revolution."
Apparently a lot of us are "on a break" with God.
According to recent research, between 70 and 88 percent of Christian teens are leaving the church by their second year in college (Voddie Baucham, Family Driven Faith, 10).
Additionally a recent Barna survey found that:
"Young adults rarely possess a biblical worldview. The current study found that less than one-half of one percent of adults in the Mosaic generation - i.e., those aged 18 to 23 - have a biblical worldview, compared to about one out of every nine older adults."
The Barna survey suggested that one of the reasons Christianity was losing its fan base was because of its intolerance to gays. What is interesting is how being less prejudice might actually be construed as a bad thing in a faith devoted to a "love thy neighbor" doctrine. Perhaps, if the church allowed individuals to develop their own personal relationships with the Almighty and didn't elect sometimes-dubious leaders to relay messages from heaven, the Bible might get more street cred.
When I was applying to undergrad, USC sent me a postcard promising me, in big colorful letters, "Discover the Meaning of life at USC!"
My goodness, it was tempting. At $35,000 a year, it seemed like a steal. Sadly, my parents objected and thought the meaning of life was overrated. You can't buy the meaning of life, just like you can't buy spirituality. Similarly, both are inextricably related.
I remember learning in Sunday school the dangers of doubt. My pastor said that only absolute belief in God would guarantee me a business class seat to heaven-to my total salvation. I was so afraid to be stuck in coach for all of eternity, I let fear mandate my entire spiritual education. Everything I would do was to ensure that coveted seat with the ample leg room-but when holes started appearing in logic and common sense, I had to stray. (Look up the magic that is geocentricism: the religious belief that the sun orbits the earth. According to a 2005 Northwestern University study led by Dr. Jon D. Miller, one out of five Americans believes this. Reminds me of the good old days pre-1492.)
But doubt is good. Doubt stimulates risks and progress, which is the formula for life. I believe it was everybody's favorite Danish existentialist Soren Kierkegaard who said, "Without risk, faith is an impossibility."
Maybe this first step back to church is one risk that might pay off one day with a piggy-back ride from God. Lord knows I do hate sand between my toes.