Old Tyme Religion


Because I like to break the rules, today we’re going to talk about religion. The Alchemist and I have had some marital friction lately. All of us do. I won’t say more than that here, but the hard talks and sparking connections we’ve been putting back to rights have gotten me using parts of my brain I haven’t used in ages.

I was raised Catholic but slowly fell away, until, all of a sudden I realized I needed to make a clean break. That clean break put me in a nebulous theological position. I have a lot of formal training in the area, and none of the other Christian traditions could hold water (for me). I knew all of the arguments backwards and forwards. This led to a questioning of Christianity and, by extension, religion as a whole.

I’ve even gone so far as to toy with the label of atheist. Those who know me, know I hate labels. I used it more for provocation than anything else.

When pressed to think about it, both in getting to reconnect with the love of my life, my diadh-anam, and those helping me along my journey by sharing their own highly personal stories (if you’re reading this, you know who you are) I can’t say that I don’t believe anymore. I do believe. Catholicism doesn’t work, but reductionist materialism doesn’t work either.

I believe in God.

I also believe that God, at its* core, is fundamentally unknowable. As an accurate translation of Pseudo-Dionysius reads, it is beyond-being, beyond-essence, beyond-knowing.

The revelation traditions which have risen throughout human history, in my opinion, teach us far more about the human psychology of those receiving and proselytizing that revelation than any positive truth about the divine. At the same time, it’s difficult to critique traditions (excepting hard ethical boundaries like discrimination, physical mutilation, etc) because I’d take a very pragmatic or teleocentric approach: if your religion makes you a better person, so be it. That’s wonderful.

Tying back into the beyond-beingness of God is the fact that, what makes humanity special among all of the (known) universe, is that each one of us shares this core of beyond-knowingness. When approaching one another, we have to remember that – no matter how much we know about a person, their history, their motivations, their desires – they are an agent. Agency is an incredibly powerful concept. At the other’s core is otherness. A locus of choice, a wellspring of activity, the foundation of consciousness – something we can never, ever understand.

We have to embrace the wonder and mystery of unknowability. We have to meditate on this.

Someone I’ll refer to as M shared with me an incredible story. The key to it was learning to love her husband unconditionally. Replacing what she called a Spirit of Disrespectful Judgment with a Spirit of Curiosity. I haven’t dug into the sources she recommended, but the Spirit of Curiosity really resonated with me. It’s a method of looking at your beloved (and, really, anyone you encounter) asking to be surprised. Not answering their question in your head before they’ve even asked it. Not criticizing them constantly according to your judgments. Instead, seeking to understand them. To fall into the core of their personality – even though you know you can never, ever fully understand it.

Whatever your religion or lack thereof, I hope you’ll consider joining me on this journey into the unknown.

*English desperately needs a non-gendered pronoun which conveys positive being more than the impersonal and inanimate ‘it’.



4 Comments on “Old Tyme Religion”

  1. jjmahoney007 says:

    As someone who hasn’t struggled so much with religion but with the church (and other Christians), I still get what you’re saying. I believe that the Bible is God’s word, even if I don’t understand some of it. And Jesus is God incarnate and our best possible way to understand who God is. But all that aside, for me living out my faith is summed up in the two commands that Jesus summed up everything with: Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself. For all the huffing and puffing in the religion and politics (which are often confused in the church), people seem to forget the “love your neighbor” part. I don’t care where people fall on certain issues. Abortion, gay marriage, welfare, whatever. You can stand firm on a side, but if you aren’t listening to the other side and loving them, showing them compassion, trying to understand their side, you’re a noisy gong.

    That may be an aside to your post, but it’s the first thing I thought of. 🙂 Good stuff though David!

  2. David says:

    His journey is different than mine, but I thought this blog post was worth sharing here for anyone interested:


  3. Denise says:

    Hi, David. I can relate with your experience. I had not been going to church for 5 years before I was able to even consider the idea that I may no longer be a believer. Before I left the church, our marriage had friction over religion. We were both Christians when we married, but my husband stopped believing about 2 years into the marriage. I hated his questions….because I didn’t really have good answers. How did I deal with it? I avoided talking about the subject. I ended up leaving the church a year later for personal reasons of a different nature.

    Five years after I had not set foot into church (except for a couple of times when I had visited family) was when I was able to even consider the idea that I may no longer believe in Christianity. That was hard. I read works by Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Richard Dawkins. So much of their words made sense to me. My husband and I would also watch The Atheist Experience on Youtube occasionally. I am just now (10 years after leaving religion) starting to deal with some of the emotional baggage.

    I think the journey takes a while…

  4. […] final thing is something I’ve talked about at length here but communing with something fundamentally unknowable yet which you can commune with at a level […]

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