Wednesday, April 8, 2009

You've gotta have faith...

One of the differences that always strike me during a visit with the in-laws is the religious and faith based differences we have.

When B-dog got sick, I was concerned that III's mom would be pissed about the amount of money we were spending on her treatment. Last year, their dog was having some sort of kidney problem. It was speculated she may need surgery to fix it, and MIL told me "Which we wouldn't do because a dog doesn't have a soul, so it wouldn't be fair to the dog."**

This visit, we were in the car discussing their Saturday afternoon trip to one of the local Cath.olic churches. The ILs and III were discussing how OLD everyone was at the service (Well... it was a Saturday at 4pm...). FIL says "The only religion that attracts young people nowadays is Mus.lims and then they brainwash them into blowing people up." Oh, geez. So I make the mistake of piping in: "There are quite a few young families at my school that belong to Uni.tarian churches." FIL questions what Uni.tarians believe and MIL explains, "Oh, they don't believe in anything. That's why young people like it. Uni.tarians don't have any rules." Double geez.

There, it seems, is the difference between my ILs and me. They see religion as a bunch of rules God gives you to follow. I see religion as how one feels spiritually. While Uni.tarian churches don't have a specific teaching in terms of rules and telling you what to believe, I do respect that they teach kids (at least the ones that my students attend) that religion is very personal and it is important to believe what you believe while respecting what others believe.

I was raised Jewish. Growing up, my family belonged to a reform synagogue. My dad was raised Jewish and my mom converted before I was born. I went to religious school every Sunday for 10 years and Hebrew school every Wednesday for five. My parents both taught religious school at our synagogue. I assisted in the younger religious school classes when in school myself, and I taught religious school for 3 years when I was in college. I had a bat mitzvah. I was super active in my temple youth group (which included a lot of social action). I traveled to Israel where I was in a school program for 2 months.

My college boyfriend was not Jewish, and neither is my husband. Throughout the years, I've had a lot of ups and downs regarding my beliefs. I am very rational minded and like to have proof of things. I loved when I was in Israel and it was explained that there is actually archaeological proof of an earthquake at around the same time that the story of Joshua and Jericho supposedly happened. But I definitely have a spiritual side too. I really appreciate that, in Judaism, you are allowed- even encouraged- to question and I love how that allows me (especially in reform Judaism) to continue to feel spiritually confused and even ambiguous, but still identify myself as a Jew.

One place where I have really struggled is around death. I envy those who believe in a specific life-after-death. I would think it would be comforting to really believe something. My therapist asked me "Can't you just decide to believe something?" but my brain just doesn't work that way. Judaism doesn't have a super specific life-after-death theory like Christianity does. I've always thought, as someone who loses people, that I like the idea that they are somewhere watching over me. However, as someone who will die, I like the thought of reincarnation...

I started out reading a few different novels that I had heard about which had different takes on life after death. Else.where is a YA book that paints the afterlife as kind of a combination of what my two ideals are. Then I read The Brief His.tory of the Dead which is apparently based on the quote from James Loe.wen, Lies My T.eacher Told Me, “Many African societies divide humans in to three categories: those still alive on the earth, the sa.sha, and the zam.ani. The recently departed whose time on earth overlapped with people still here are the sa.sha, the living-dead. They are not wholly dead, for they still live in the memories of the living, who can call them to mind, create their likenesses in art, and bring them to life in anecdote. When the last person to know an ancestor dies, the ancestor leaves the sa.sha for the zam.ani, the dead…. Many… can be recalled by name. But they are not the living dead. There is a difference.” This was an interesting theory to me too.

Then KB recommended that I read "M.any L.ives, M.any M.asters". I did a little research and found that, while she had read it quite a while ago, it had recently been in the media again, thanks to O.prah. I read it and part of what drew me to it was that it was a sort of "proof". Yes, it was based on the word of one man, but supposedly he was recounting his experiences as a therapist and a hypnotist. Then I read "O.nly Love is R.eal" and liked that even better- it gave answers to a lot of my questions about, not only death, but relationships and connections. It suggested to me that KB is my soulmate and gave me hope that, after we died, I'd see her again, and that I'd see III again.**

Do I believe this 100%? No. But it's as close as I can get to my therapists suggestion. This is what I'd choose to believe. And these experiences of others give me just enough "proof" that I feel comfortable putting it on my lists of possibilities.

This is already quite long, but some other things that often confound me are the suggestion that things are "meant to be", and that "everything happens for a reason" and those sorts of religion based suggestions. I don't believe that everything happens for a reason. But meeting III has led me to realize that good things can come out of bad.

Finally, "O.nly Love is R.eal" touches on pregnancy, miscarriage, and abortion. It is an explanation I probably can't do justice, but suggests that, while a soul is chooses (or actually, chooses) a certain body, it is not "affixed" until around or just after birth. My explanation is probably not at all helpful to anyone reading, but his explanation comforted me a bit about the process, even though I have yet to be pregnant and therefore have never had a miscarriage (or abortion). But it leaves open the possibility, though my rational mind's tendency is to pooh-pooh it, that my child has just not chosen me or chosen this time to be born yet.*

*It's a very small part of the book, but I really wish I could explain this better. I have not read his other books, so it's possible they also go into that in more depth...
**I hope to see my dog again too... she's definitely, as a friend described it, my "doggy soulmate". Also why I loved this postcard.


msmall said...

a dog doesn't have a soul

I almost had to stop here! To think our doggies don't have a soul!

For me it is all about the spirituality but also believing that there is something/someone "bigger" than me. I guess there is a lot more to it than that too. I guess I will have to blog about it some day too

Jess said...

Thank you that did help me! I was so worried that I missed the big O even though I have been pissing (literally) my money away by peeing on those damn stick twice a day!

Hmmm...I believe my puppy has a soul and she is coming with me to heaven and if I go to hell, she better pack some ice cubes, lol! Regardless if she had a sould or not...I would take her in for surgery because she is breathing and she is my baby.

You know religion is one of those things that I believe you either have faith or you don't. You can't make someone believe what you do if they are lacking faith. I took a religions class in college, and I it give me a new found respect for other religions because I realized that without faith all religions seem a little skeptical(even nuts) from the outside looking in.

I believe God has rules for us but I also believe that we should respect other people's beliefs...great post! You know what I hate...I hate the guilt that comes with religion. I think I was guilted in doing what I thought God wanted me to do rather than doing it out of love and respect. I hope I can teach my children right and wrong without making them feel guilty...not sure about that though!