Once upon a time, I was a religious dude. I was baptized Lutheran, and I spent many a Sunday morning in either Lutheran (with my mother and her family) or Catholic (with my father and his family) services. When it was happening, my favorite part was easily the donuts at the end, but looking back, there were a lot of parts to my church experiences that were formative.
My dad and I would read each of the passages for the day before the service got started. Then we’d talk briefly about what they meant and how they related to the topic and to our lives. He was a volunteer lector, so during the services he got up and read the passages aloud to the congregation. I remember him practicing each reading beforehand – a habit that I eventually picked up, as well.
In high school, I really went all out with the religion thing. I started by volunteering as a Sunday School teacher. It involved some reading and discussion of the topics, but mainly I was in charge of answering little questions they had about what the youth pastor said, and monitoring them while they did themed arts-and-crafts.
Then I, too, became a volunteer lector. It’s safe to say I was the youngest volunteer lector by about a decade (if not two). I had my father’s example, though, so I was pretty decent at it. At least that’s what all the old church regulars told me after each service.
I also spent a lot of time at youth group events with my friends from ROTC. It was neither Catholic nor Lutheran, but my friends were there, and so long as you don’t get caught up on the details, Jesus said pretty much the same stuff across the different denominations (minus maybe Mormonism). That was pretty chill – song singing, game playing, rapping about our Lord and Savior (sometimes literally).
Around that time I started to pay more attention to that science stuff. I was largely able to reconcile the scientific and religious beliefs I held up to that point. The “days” of an eternal being (like God) are probably not the same as our days, so making the world in “seven days” seemed pretty reasonable. Like any good Christian, I ignored a lot of the parts of the bible that didn’t ring true for me (like the hair regulations or the pro-flogging stance it takes pretty frequently), and focused on the stuff that suited me.
Then I went to college and got a secular hippie girlfriend. I took classes like the Philosophy of Religion and the Psychology of Religion that really broke down why we believe what we do, and reconciliation became more and more challenging. I had many long, heated shouting matches with my girlfriend about the existence of God and creative design. Ultimately she won, but not without many tears shed.
Now, I consistently say that I’m an atheist, but I’m pretty open to being wrong about that. There just isn’t any empirical evidence proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that God doesn’t exist, so I think it’s still possible. I think it’s also possible that all of the gods and goddesses that anyone has ever thought up are equally as likely to exist. Why not? If you believe in those entities and they make you happy and a better person, then go ahead and continue with what you’re doing.
Similarly, I’ll continue doing what I’m doing. In all likelihood, I’ll go to more church services and mosques and temples and other places of worship because I enjoy the process of gathering in large groups and discussing ethereal things. Community can be powerful even if you’re not wholly on board with whatever they’re saying. Plus where else do you get to go sing in a big group? The choices are limited, and I really like Christmas carols, so whatevs on the belief stuff.
My spiritual journey is not over. I don’t think it will ever be over. Given my openness to being wrong, there’s a lot of room for discussion, and I look forward to having many more of those conversations throughout my remaining years.
Anyway, Merry Christmas, or whatever.