ms. fresh fish

A place to go on Sunday mornings
September 28, 2013, 9:52 am
Filed under: family, general, The big picture | Tags: , , ,

I love the idea of Church/Temple/Mosque. I love the idea of people gathering on a weekly basis as a community to help each other and strangers. I love the idea of being able to move from city to city, from country to country, and have a community waiting for you. I love the idea of a weekly play group for kids where they learn about morality and ethical issues in a kid-friendly way (while we have coffee and snacks, right? Is that what happens?).

Alas, I’ve never been able to find a faith in a higher power. Sure, I play around superficially with concepts like fate and soul mates. I believe that there is a power in energy forces around us, but rumour on the street is that that’s just physics. Ultimately, I cannot convince my brain and heart into believing the stories about, what I see as, characters. They’re all just stories to me. And although there are important lessons embedded within in them, they are still just fictional stories. (And yes, I understand that some of these people definitely walked the earth; but I believe they were just people.) Organized religion, at best, is a way to help people navigate the murky waters of life by providing clarity, as well as hope. At worst, obviously, religion can lead to hatred, violence and war. Either way, it doesn’t speak to me. Ultimately, one can’t explain why they have faith, and I cannot explain why I don’t. I just don’t.

A couple of years ago, I stumbled upon something called the Ontario Humanist Society . Humanists comprise a group of morally- and ethically-concerned atheists. They fight for social justice, equality and science-based reasoning for public policy because it’s the right thing to do. We, as human beings, are seen as being empowered with a consciousness that sets us apart from other animals. We are intrinsically moral people. Instead of a religious text, science and our senses of morality are the methods to discover universal truths. I had found my people.

So, I joined up. (You saw that coming, right?)

My first year of membership was usurped by the Twinkies, not surprisingly. But as I round the corner and come out of the fog, I’m excited to participate in this organization.

As for how this relates to my recent focus on Yoga (teacher training and now continuing my studies with the Makata Living Yoga program)? At the risk of (definitely! sorry!) being disrespectful to the millennia of history on which it’s based, for me, Yoga is a psychology: Tools to help clear the disturbances in mind (and body) and to enable a clear, honest, loving, calm way in the world. The Yamas, for example, have continuously provided me with a really effective way to navigate tough decisions, taking into account not just my well-being, but the well-being of others around me.  They need not be spiritual to be helpful in living a life where your actions and values are more aligned. I will teach them to my children, without doubt. Moreover, my experience with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Yoga are remarkably similar. So, whereas I’ve not been able to see the comforting utility of religious approaches, Yoga is very familiar and intuitive to me. (This is a tip on the iceberg of this discussion, let me assure you.)

I was recently listening to a CBC radio interview (shocking, I know) with a physicist (OK, that part’s actually shocking), where he said something that rung very true to me. Paraphrasing him:

“As a scientist, I can’t say I don’t believe in God because it hasn’t been disproved. But it hasn’t been proven, either. On the other hand, almost everything in the universe can be explained by science.

So, I revel in the amazingness of science and what it can tell us.”

I like that sentiment. A lot. I like that it’s not trying to tell people they’re wrong for having faith in God(s), but encourages people to embrace science rather than be threatened by it. Ideally, religion and science need not be competitive, but rather complementary. You will not hear me telling a person with religious faith that they are wrong. I’m not qualified to opine, quite frankly. You may, however, hear me trying to bring to light the commonalities of values that we all have, regardless of where our philosophies lie, in how to make our world a more kind, just, and joyful place to live.

I sincerely hope that one day I will have somewhere to bring my kids on a proverbial Sunday morning. A community in which they can be a part, learn how to make decisions that will let their consciences rest easy, and understand that they are part of a global community in which they need to be active citizens. We will try to do all of this in our home, to be sure, but it would be such a nice complement to tap into a larger community of like-minded people. My sense is that there are a lot of  these like-minded people out there.


18 Comments so far
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I love how well you articulated this. I wish I could atticulate my thoughts on this subject matter so clearly, but without that brain power I’ll probably just send people here to read this if they want my thoughts, for the most part. The biggest similarity? The title. I’ve always said this – what weekly/international community can I be part of if I don’t do it in a church way??

Comment by Marianna Annadanna

Exactly! This is why I’m optimistic about this community. I don’t think it will necessarily lead to somewhere to go on Sunday mornings, but still – a place to be with like-minded others. Refreshing and comforting.

Comment by freshfish

I haven’t gone for years, but when I was younger I found Quaker meeting to be something of what you describe. It is, technically, religious, but the form of worship is so non-intrusive & inclusive that my lack of faith wasn’t a big deal. And my experience of it as a child was mainly its focus on social justice issues & activism, as well as generalised moral guidance.

Comment by Aven McMaster

Ah yes, I’ve long been fascinated by the Quakers. I always understood that while they are progressive, they are also fairly exclusive. True based on your experience?

Comment by freshfish

No, not in my experience. Now, admittedly my grandparents were founding members of the Ottawa meeting, so I was a “birthright member”. But I knew many people who weren’t actually “Members” but were regular “Attenders”, and there was no real distinction there. My experience is that you can attend a Meeting without anyone doing anything more than introducing themselves and welcoming you, and that only after long term regular attendance might you have anyone approach you about whether you wanted to join in a more formal way. All the individual Quakers I know are very welcoming to anyone who shows any interest at all.

Comment by Aven McMaster

We have family that are Quakers. I had the most lovely experience at their house – Before dinner we “said” grace, but silently to ourselves. It was more like a personal moment of reflection. I loved it.

Comment by Marianna Annadanna

That *does* sound lovely! Sounds like just setting aside that time to use as an opportunity to be grateful. A schedule helps keep one on track 😉

Comment by freshfish

DH and I have had this kind of conversation before. I have no religion, but DH and Max are Catholic. BUT – DH doesn’t agree with many things the Catholic church says and does – but he really likes the idea of community.

Comment by Rebecca@Running.Food.Baby.

It’s hard! And it’s hard to seek something out, or organize something new, given how busy we all already are. Tricky, tricky, tricky.

Comment by freshfish

Go for it! I have often thought about why we cannot have a sense of belonging and community that is faithless. I applaud your non-judgmental approach to faith and its role in the lives of individuals. I had the same view until I moved to the United States and began to really see how religious belief has been elevated to the height of reasoned thought, and how absolutely destructive that can be for the lives of real people. We cannot suspend reason on one part of our lives while applying it to the rest and justify this. As for the the existence of God, no we have no proof for or against. But I am pretty sure that if he/she/it exists, it has nothing to do with a guy names Jesus, Allah, or any other fantastical human fable we created to add moral simplicity and purpose to our existence. I also agree with you that science is amazing enough–nothing we could have thought up even compares.Why isn’t being human enough?

Comment by Carla

*like* =) Interesting experience in the US. And unfortunate. I have had to reconcile the fact that I can have more in common with very religious friends who are passionate about social justice than with militant atheists who can be, in my view, mean-spirited. As for the everything else, agree and wish I could be as eloquent as you!

Comment by freshfish

Do you have a Unitarian Universalist church nearby? That’s where I went to get married. I think the AHA was started by a UU pastor. They are not strictly humanist or atheist, mind you, and you may need a little tolerance, but I found a home there, and a choir to sing in.

One of my favorite experiences was a Sunday service put on by the kids, where a different boy or girl would stand up and talk briefly about one of the many beliefs people have about death. One described reincarnation. One described death as simply the end of life. One spoke of the belief in Heaven and Hell. Etc.

Oh. And the coolest thing was an adult education evening course called “Build Your Own Religion”.

Comment by Marvin Edwards

Actually, thanks to this post being shared on Twitter, I’ve recently heard about the UU church and there is indeed one nearby! I love that example of the children’s presentation – great to hear them being encouraged to explore their imaginations in a positive environment. Thanks for the encouragement, and taking the time to comment!

Comment by freshfish

Very thought provoking and well written Lori. Thank you for broaching this tough topic and infusing your own beliefs and orientations to make it wonderful, and personal. As you know I do believe in God and have been able to witness miracles in my own life that only faith, not science, could explain. Like the brain tumours that magically disappeared from my husband`s sister in-laws brain before they were scientifically treated but after hours and hours of prayer (doctors baffled). Or how like how the doctors told my mother I was dead in the womb before I was born but after her prayers, when they checked again, I was alive, and born two weeks after my due date. I have about a hundred examples like this and so I am blessed, because I have seen… and some people have not seen physical evidence of God in their lives where science has no answer and so I do not judge them and I fully understand it can be impossible to believe in the unseen. For me I find comfort in the fact that even when science doesn`t have an answer, there is one last appeal that can and does on occasion override all reason. And I don`t blame religion for hatred, violence and war, or the strife and evil we see in this world. I blame humans. And if there wasn`t religion we would find other ways to divide ourselves because that is what we do as humans. Further, God and science are not at odds at all. This is a common misperception amongst both spiritual people and non-spirituals, religious people and atheists alike. But it take a higher understanding of religion and other complex concepts to understand that God and science go together perfectly and there is nothing in science, nor nature that is actually contradictory to believing in God. What I think would be great actually is rather than to have separate gatherings of secular and religious people is to find a way to have us all come together and be able to do good in this world, because there is one thing we can all agree on: this world desperately needs it.

Comment by Paula

We do agree on so much, Paula! I don’t think they should be in competition or at odds at all and absolutely agree that people could well benefit from coming together regardless of their belief’s *roots* or spiritual implications. (Along those lines, see my post above about the Universal Unitarians, which one of my tweeps tipped me off to!) As such, my imagined Sunday morning gatherings absolutely welcome people with a faith in God(s) as well as atheists. As for miracles… first of all, whatever the reason, I’m thrilled that you have had these beautiful experiences. Secondly, though, I’d be inclined to believe that there is a lot of room for science to still investigate and learn. Not to date ourselves too much, but our mothers’ doctors didn’t exactly have the best tools at their disposal (which is perhaps why I was supposed to be a boy, among other things). This isn’t meant to minimize the beauty of life and people’s journeys by any means. I’m just not convinced that things that are “unexplainable” mean that they’re miracles. Maybe they just haven’t been figured out yet by the people who are looking at the issue. (p.s. SO happy to hear about your SiL! I wanted to ask this weekend, but got distracted by all the joy, cuteness and sugar… So, so happy to hear it!)

Comment by freshfish

Unfortunately it does sound a *little bit* like a minimization of the experience (seriously, you not being a boy compares?). Anyways, I think it would be just as silly to think that everything that is currently unexplainable is a miracle, as it is to think that science has an answer for everything. What it comes down to at the end of the day is where one puts their faith. You seem to place yours in science, believing that the answer may be there, even though we cannot see it, or haven’t discovered it yet. I place mine in God, whom some would say we cannot see, touch, or feel the evidence of either. Science is no more concrete to me than God is, particularly during times of major scientific paradigm shifts when all we thought was true on a particular topic, is no longer. And who says that science is not the physical evidence of God anyways? In fact, while none of us witnessed the big bang theory personally, many believe in it. However, I do not find the theory that something started from nothing (and then the universe expanded as it is currently expanding) any more plausible than seeing the Big Bang theory as the explanation of how God started the universe. The latter would be more logical, in my view, because something can’t start from nothing. However, a pre-existing God could definitely have started that train in motion, just as is described in Genesis. Just saying.

Comment by Paula

Oh, love. ‘Twas not my intent to minimize at all. I merely wanted to suggest that perhaps 35 years ago, medical devices were not overly sophisticated, which could explain why your mother was told such a horrendous thing. When I was in labour, in 2011(!!), they couldn’t find one of the heartbeats, and he certainly hadn’t moved in days/weeks (that I could feel). An u/s saw his heartbeat and a VERY UNCOMFORTABLE (for both him and I) procedure was able to monitor it. Neither of these technologies were available when we were in utero. I can only imagine what would have been the medical protocol for me in that situation in the 70s given the evidence available.

As for all of your other points, yes. This is exactly how I feel. Chicken or egg? Who knows? Certainly not I. But one intuitively makes sense to me and the other doesn’t. Yours seems to enable a combination of the two, which I think is wonderful.

The issue I was trying to get to is that when you don’t have a God-faith community, it can feel kind of lonely given our inability to get our sh*t together to congregate (notwithstanding the Unitarians, which, because of this post, I have been alerted to… hooray!) around activism, community values, and raising engaged citizens. I just wanted to share my experience and give people in a similar situation a sense of (virtual) community.

Comment by freshfish

Pecfret shot! Thanks for your post!

Comment by Laticia

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