Friday, October 24, 2008

Things I don't have time for: Golf, Religion ... pt. 1

You'll remember that about the time you started getting really good at golf I swore it off. My reasoning was that, in order to enjoy playing, I wanted to be somewhat proficient at the game, and I was only going to get proficient through practice. Practice, it seemed, was going to take not only time and money, but some sort of commitment too, and I knew that it wasn't going to happen for me on any of those fronts. So, rather than continuing my normal pattern of playing two or three times during the summer and just enjoying being out there, I decided to quit the game altogether. Can't/won't practice, can't/wont improve, game gets frustrating, no point in playing. Or something like that. It's an all or nothing position. If I can't do it right (or more accurately: the way I want) then cut it out completely.

What does this have to do with religion?

About the same time I swore off golf I went through a long period of spiritual reflection and general introspection. We've not talked explicitly about this thus far, so let me get some things on the record for context purposes. I was raised Catholic, baptized and confirmed. Both sides of my family are Catholic (save for some delusional fake orthodox members ... which is really another post). Jen is Catholic as well. Both our kids are baptized. However, I'm what you might call a "non-practicing Catholic". I took a comparative religion class in high school when I was 16, and never really looked back after that. The more I learned, the more difficult it got to think of the Church as the inviolate entity it claims to be. Trite, I know.

So, as it goes with kids, I started to think about how we would raise them. Is there any benefit to being "raised Catholic"? What sort of internal pressures there would be? etc. Jen and I decided to raise the kids Catholic (need to double check that that's still the case :-) ) and I figured that if we were going down that road that I should get my own spiritual junk in order. Hence the aforementioned period of introspection.

It ended up being a fairly long and intense period. Kind of unproductive too. I felt constantly agitated, and ultimately nothing really appealed to me. Nothing made sense. Nothing identified itself as a construct that I could view the world with. Throughout this period I experimented with being a good Catholic. Went to Church every Sunday. Read the Bible each night. Read commentary on the Gospels (which actually was very interesting). Prayed even. I decided that if anyone was going to "do Catholic" in this family we were going to do it right. So I sat down with the Catechism of the Catholic Church and starting reading about what the expectations are.

That lasted all of 20 minutes. You cannot live by the catechism without being a monk. Just not possible. Well that's not true. But it *is* really hard (not that the religious life is supposed to be easy). I just couldn't see forcing *that* kind of rigor on my family and living *that* kind of life. Besides I felt like I was faking it. And in a sense I kind of was faking it. The problem is that I never really made the intellectual commitment to it. And secretly the time and money sink(s) annoyed me. Sure, I could continue going to church. Continue sitting for an hour each Sunday listening to stuff I didn't really believe, frustrated that the kids won't sit still and that I could be running or something instead.

So I decided to just stop it all. Just like with golf. If I wasn't going to be a good Catholic, and really *get* something out of church and religious life and actually live it the way it's supposed to be lived, then what was the point? Like golf, if I wasn't going to commit to religion, then why bother doing any of it at all?

Nothing else during this period really spoke to me either. I picked up several books on religion that were teenage favorites and just couldn't get into them. Similarly, my favorite Philosophers weren't really helpful either (Epictetus, Aurelius, Eckhart, Spinoza, etc). Then ... on a whim ... I picked up The Portable Atheist. Wow.

Now I had been meandering toward a very naturalist/rationalist worldview on my own, but TPA really pushed me over the edge. It's not a fantastic book, in fact I think it devotes too many pages to essays that merely point out the shabby or depressing things that people have done in the name of religion over the years. But when it's good, it's very good. The essays by Carl Sagan, Primo Levi, Steven Weinberg, Richard Dawkins, et al. were outstanding. After months of searching, reading, thinking I had finally found something that stirred me. Something I could get onboard with. Specifically there was a passage from Steven Weinberg's essay that really got to me. I think I've mentioned it to you before. It's the one where he says he can understand religious conservatives because:

"... like scientists, [religious conservatives] tell you that they believe in what they believe in because it is true ..."

Weinberg said what he didn't understand was religious liberals because they:

"... seem to think that different people can believe in different mutally exclusive things without any of them being wrong, as long as those beliefs "work for them.""

This is the essay where he coins the term "not even wrong" Religious liberals are not even wrong in Weinberg's view. This passage, along with Primo Levi's anecdote about a man in a concentration camp praying and thanking God that someone else was chosen for execution, added to my failed attempt at playing the religious conservative, made it seem like uber-rationalism and atheism might be for me. Plus it's trendy. :)

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