Sunday, July 10, 2011

Popcorn Theology (Stick with me, it's long)

This summer the teen religious education classes from my church. are engaging in their own form of Popcorn Theology. That got me thinking about the movies and books that shaped my own views of religion.

I did attend Sunday School as a child. My mother took us to a Presbyterian church near our house. I was too young to question. I didn’t understand the concept of religious denominations. I simply thought you went to the church closest to you. Why should there be differences? Wasn’t God... God?

I just absorbed it all. Unfortunately for my religious mother, the late 70’s brought two things to our home. Cable, complete with HBO, and Star Wars.

Star Wars came complete with The Force. I never told anyone at the time, but I wanted to be a Jedi Knight, especially after Obi-Wan Kenobi described the Force.
“The Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It's an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.
I loved the idea of that. Something that connects us all. A code of honor. I wished it was real. That’s how I wanted things to be, not this praying to someone business.

In the sixth grade, my class studied Medieval History. With that, came the yearly trip to see the Salt City Center for the Performing Arts and Jesus Christ Superstar. I adored the musical. I still do. I loved the message. I loved the message of Jesus, the man. I wondered why it was so different than what I was hearing at church.

Life went on. Thanks to my Father’s influence I started watching Star Trek: the Next Generation and reading fantasy novels. I especially liked the Mercedes Lackey. Through those books I was introduced to polytheistic belief systems. Systems with female deities. What a concept!

I took a few religious studies classes in college. The more I learned of Christianity, the less I felt connected to it. There were too many contradictions, it didn't make sense to me.

And then I read The Mists of Avalon. I was introduced to Paganism. Paganism brought my wanting of The Force full circle. Here was a belief system that stressed the interconnected-ness of things. I was so dissatisfied by the religion of my youth that I threw myself into this new-found religion. It still wasn’t a perfect fit, but it was close.

Before I was married Dogma came out. People either loved it, or hated it. To me, it summed up most of the things I believed.
About beliefs:
Rufus: He still digs humanity, but it bothers Him to see the shit that gets carried out in His name - wars, bigotry, televangelism. But especially the factioning of all the religions. He said humanity took a good idea and, like always, built a belief structure on it.
Bethany: Having beliefs isn't good?
Rufus: I think it's better to have ideas. You can change an idea. Changing a belief is trickier. Life should malleable and progressive; working from idea to idea permits that. Beliefs anchor you to certain points and limit growth; new ideas can't generate. Life becomes stagnant.

About Denominations:
Serendipity: When are you people going to learn? It's not about who's right or wrong. No denomination's nailed it yet, and they never will because they're all too self-righteous to realize that it doesn't matter what you have faith in, just that you have faith. Your hearts are in the right place, but your brains need to wake up.

And about some of the things that Catholics believed... which wasn’t supported by the Bible.
Bethany: Jesus didn't have any brothers or sisters. Mary was a virgin.
Rufus: Mary gave birth to CHRIST without having known a man's touch, that's true. But she did have a husband. And do you really think he'd have stayed married to her all those years if he wasn't getting laid? The nature of God and the Virgin Mary, those are leaps of faith. But to believe a married couple never got down? Well, that's just plain gullibility.

By this time, I’d settled on an idea that if everyone’s set of beliefs is different, and that making a patchwork quilt of faith, using other religions’ pieces to make it was acceptable. Years later, this view was echoed in Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Eat Pray Love.

“‘You don’t want to go cherry-picking a religion.’

Which is a sentiment that I completely respect expect for the fact that I totally disagree. I think you have every right to cherry-pick when it comes to moving your spirit and finding peace in God. I think you are free to search for any metaphor which will take you across the worldly divide whenever you need to be transported or comforted. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about. It’s the history of mankind’s search for holiness.” (Eat Pray Love, page 297)

I can’t leave this without mentioning Joan of Arcadia. It is a show about God, but doens’t follow one system of beliefs. Many of my own views follow the “Ten Commandments of Joan of Arcadia,” the guidelines for the show’s writers.
  1. God cannot directly intervene.
  2. Good and evil exist.
  3. God can never identify one religion as being right.
  4. The job of every human being is to fulfill his or her true nature.
  5. Everyone is allowed to say "no" to God, including Joan.
  6. God is not bound by time. This is a human concept.
  7. God is not a person and does not possess a human personality.
  8. God talks to everyone all the time in different ways.
  9. God's plan is what is good for us, not what is good for him.
  10. God's purpose for talking to Joan, and everyone, is to get her (us) to recognize the interconnectedness of all things.

So in the end, people’s experiences make up their religious views. Religion for people is made of everything they’ve read, seen and herd. Mine was a combination of scholarly study, books, movies and even a musical. But in the end, it’s all the same, just wrapped up in different packages.
“The Hopi Indians thought the world’s religions each contained one spiritual thread, and that these threads are always seeking each other, wanting to join. When all the threads are finally woven together they will form a rope that will pull us out of this dark cycle of history and into the next realm.” (Eat Pray Love, p. 298)

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