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Posts Tagged ‘Religion or Something Like It’

Man oh man, I’m wild about Julian of Noriwch.

Julian is the best. We were first introduced when one of the characters in Iris Murdoch’s lovely The Black Prince informed a character (named Julian) that she was named after the great Blessed Julian. I’ve read her little masterpiece, The Revelations of Divine Love, several times, and it is one of the kindest religious texts I’ve yet found.

Julian was an anchoress in medieval England, living her life out in a small cell attached to her church. The 14th and 15th centuries were quite a time for female mystics, and for more on it I highly recommend Visions and Longings, a compiliation of their writings put together by Monica Furlong. Julian herself might have passed from history without a sound, but she became sick when she was 30 and believed she was shown visions. They occured again later in her life. These visions brought her out of the narrow, infidel-hating religion of her times and gave her a sense of universal love and salvation. Her religious ideas after these visions give the impression that all people will be saved, that everything is for the best and it’s only our being caught up in the flux of things that prevents us from feeling that with all our souls.

It might seem like to wishful thinking to some, but to read Julian herself is to be given the feeling that every atom of the universe is precious and accounted for. Here are some of the things she herself wrote:

Love was without beginning, is, and shall be without ending.”

He that made all things for love, by the same love keepeth them, and shall keep them without end.

God willeth that we endlessly hate the sin, and endlessly love the soul, as God loveth it.”

All this was to make us glad and merry in love.”

Let nothing disturb you. Let nothing frighten you. Everything passes away except God.”

In her visions, Julian was shown a hazelnut. And what an important little thing it was! For the hazelnut shows the reader what we all are, how small, and how loved:

[Jesus] shewed me a little thing, the quantity of an hazelnut, in the palm of my hand; and it was as round as a ball. I looked thereupon with eye of my understanding, and thought: What may this be? And it was answered generally thus: It is all that is made. I marveled how it might last, for methought it might suddenly have fallen to naught for a little. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasteth, and ever shall for that God loveth it. And so All-thing hath the Being by the love of God.”

And she continues, ostensibly about the hazelnut, but really about everyone:

In this Little Thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it, the second is that God loveth it, the third, that God keepeth it.”

Julian and the Hazelnut

Finally, there is everyone’s favorite:

All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

Love her.

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One thing I find eternally disgusting is bourgeois atheism. I, personally, find it sickening when a well-fed, well-clothed person whose lifestyle entirely depends on the back-breaking labor of others gives a clever, pedantic promotion of atheism. Which is why I found this article to be so entirely repulsive: it sums up absolutely everything which annoys me about the modern secularist.

The first thing that bothered me was presenting Doestoevsky and Ann Coulter as examples of people defending religious belief. Just because the American Religious Right is anathema to all things good and decent does not mean that all religious people are misguided, wrong, or “bad”. When we speak about religious people, we should always, always, always remember people like Dorothy Day, Simone Weil, Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, the Kennedy Brothers… the list goes on and on. I find any of those people to have done more for social justice than any young proclaimer of secularism. I’ve yet to meet an atheist social worker (people get their hands dirty, there, you see), though I know a good many working in politics or law. It’s one thing to blog about an idea or argue about it. It’s another to give your whole life over to it. It’s one thing to talk about tolerance and progressive ideas. It’s another to be moved entirely from love, to root one’s whole being in it. It’s absurd to compare a person as complex and brilliant as Doestoevsky with a person as hate-filled as Ann Coulter. It’s wrong. It’s like saying, hey, you know what, governments are bad. Even though thoughtful, hard-working people like Bernie Sanders work in government, so do people like Sarah Palin. So let’s get rid of the government, huh?! It’s just the framework upon which our society operates, so what? And religion is just the framework upon which human beings give meaning to their lives. But some bad people have done bad things in the name of religion, right? Well, I’d argue that’s half-true, because a great many of those bad things were done for personal motives, out of a personal desire to be righteous, or out of greed, or lust for power. And you know what? So have governments, democratic and otherwise. I can’t think of a perfect government in this world, but I want to keep them around. Our world is not one of perfection, in government or religion. It is about the humble quest for perfection, with all its mistakes and trials and failures.

But if you’re a middle-class young adult, well-fed and above-average-educated, reading your pop culture magazines and seeing your independent movies and obsessing over the new cool band of the month, your life might feel pretty rich. Your lifestyle is dependent upon the destruction and pillaging of the Earth. Your clothing, your technology, the lifestyle provided to the bands you like, the culture which permits you to eat most of your meals out and throw away 40% of your food (the average amount most Americans do)… it seems pretty permanent, pretty great, exciting and ever-changing and who needs to be reminded of human fallibility, of great love, of those who suffer their backs to be broken to provide us with such a life? Isn’t it silly that those under-educated people who work in strange, “dirty” countries like India and Bolivia and Indonesia believe in a God? How funny, how primitive.

So I was disgusted when I read this: “In short, prosperity is highest in societies where religion is practiced least.” Well, what exactly is prosperity? Enormous consumption of goods whose manufacturing damages the Earth is not prosperity in the long run. Anti-immigrants (really, anti-Other) attitudes are not prosperous, and the oh-so-happy secular Scandinavian countries are having some huge difficulties as they face new waves of people who have different ideas than themselves. Articles like these show little interest in human beings (economics really says it all, and who cares about the backs of the people upon whom our spiritual indifference rests?), complete neglect of the high rates of mental illness and the ever-increasing numbers of substance abusers, and all the other problems of our society. Articles like this one rest upon a childish understanding of religion, and a desire to pretend the safe, comforting constructions of our western lifestyle are permanent. Religion is a word so big, so huge, that to characterize it in one word is folly. To write it off is absurd. The way of wisdom, it seems to me, is to recognize that religion, like all things, reflects what a person brings to it. If a person brings hate, a desire to terrorize and dominate and control, religion will become a tool of it. For those who approach religion with a need for mercy, religion will help sustain them and enable them to be loving and forgiving; and so on and so forth.

I am absolutely and entirely all about arguing and challenging those who hold religion hostage to their own dogmatisms and hatred (Catholic Church: you!). But I am also so frustrated and so tired of those who, whether or not they know it, reduce human existence to a long process of consuming goods and experiences. The world is full of suffering, things do die, people do suffer, and a search for meaning beyond ourselves is not ridiculous; a desire for justice and a hope for mercy and redemption, a desire to figure out how to live in this world and find if there is anything more than our ephemeral existences: these cannot be brushed aside as the workings of the ignorant and deluded. The simplistic and slightly-threatening depiction of  religion (which, unfortunately, a great many terrible religious groups seem thrilled to live up to) secularists present are full of gross generalizations and a desire to characterize all religious thought as coming from the same sick and broken branch. In turn they offer us a society whose economics are basically cutthroat (you can be as liberal as you like, but if the governments acted the way we say we wished they would, we sure wouldn’t be able to maintain our lifestyles!) and whose ideas of self-fulfillment remain just that: fulfilling the self, developing the individual personality. Where is love, where is transcendence? They exist, and they cannot be categorized or made into creeds or dogmas, whether religious or secular. I hope one day to live in a world where just because a thing cannot  be measured by it’s usefulness, it’s still considered valuable.  A world where people and their questions are also seen as holy and full of unnameable mysteries. A world where technology and progress are not idols, but are subject to the same intensive scrutiny religion is: and if all things are questioned, if we study our history, our failures, and our successes; if we seek to learn and understand and not merely to categorize and consume… well. Maybe then we won’t be so eager to colonize other people into consuming clones of food, music, and experiences, or to turn them into mirrors of our empty, consuming selves. Maybe then the ancient question “What is truth?” will be heard in all its weight, with all its challenges, and we will seek not to provide a quick answer, but be willing to doubt and question (ourselves especially).

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