I think we can all agree that religion in the big picture is largely a geographic phenomenon. Just look at the large numbers of who-believes-what and from where. It’s painfully obvious. Odds are you will believe within the demographic of where you grew up. There are exceptions of course.
As a Yankee, New Yorker area kid, I was shoved, prodded and pushed into Catholicism. Not by my dad though. My father who battled into Berlin in WW II and helped discover the sheer horror of Jewish death camps? No, not him. He found no religion in life after that, but once returned to New York City he was surrounded by Catholics. He made a peaceful-coexistence. Smiling, but refusing to “go along.” I too, ever the outsider, the loner, the rebel, the cantankerous thinker came to realize his position and…take it also. At 15 years old, I opted out. And I too maintain a peaceful, arms-length coexistence.
Well, so, the last time, I stepped inside a Roman Catholic church was some 56 years ago. FIFTY-SIX YEARS ago. I almost did once in betwixt those years. One time on a visit to Hochheim, Germany in 2009, (where all we American Hochheims sailed in from in the 1880s) I tried to enter their age-old, small Hochheim Catholic church. But! I was stopped with a very psychic shock wave at the front doors, like some genetic, message-spell said “NO!” I simply could not enter the place. Weird. Who knows why. Jane went in. The European church and its history have a strange (and violent) past, and perhaps with some troubles with dead Hochheims ghosting the place?
But last week, I easily walked into the massive, magnificent, amazing Milan, Italian Duomo church, build by craftsmen not slaves, starting in the 1300s. It’s architecture is utterly indescribable. Let your imagination run wild with my words and it will not fulfill your vision. It’s a true, true wonder of the world.
We tourist-visitors could wander around and even sit in the pews. I did wander and wonder. I sat in a pew, as did many thousands since the 1300s. I am not sure where we would be without the mystery of religion. Folks need the who, what, where, when, how and why questions of life answered, and right now, by God! I personally don’t need these unanswered, incomprehensible questions answered. I might wish for many things but I expect very little if anything in life or death. All I expect out of life is…irony.
I too, like my father have seen some bad things. Not like his though, but some. And a sharp study of human history and human life gives me no solace. Zero solace. I can only conclude the true forces of creation must care more about the flourishing of the trees and way less about the falling of the individual leaf. I, we…are but leaves in life. How else can one really explain the horrors that occur?
The good and bad “Reverend Google” proclaims the world is made up of…
- Christianity (31.7%)
- Islam (25%)
- Irreligion (15.2%)
- Hinduism (14.9%)
- Buddhism (6.6%)
- Folk religions (5.6%)
- Sikhism (0.3%)
- Judaism (0.2%)
No one knows if these percentages are accurate, but they speak of this regionalism-religion. I understand that the Hindus have 33 gods. You would think the agnostics could borrow a few? The cosmic authority placed upon the Pope is just bedazzling. (I’d sure like to see his Bat-phone.)
Two intellectual, big-picture forces in my life on this subject were Joseph Campbell and Allen Watts. Like so many unbiased masters in theology, with more than “doctorates” in all religions, they absorbed them all and end up with none – no one religion. What-who is God according to highly respected Joseph Campbell, a leading expert in mythology and religion? In the 1987 documentary Joseph Campbell “A Hero’s Journey,” he explains God in terms of a metaphor. “God is a metaphor for a mystery that absolutely transcends all human categories of thought, even the categories of being and non-being. Those are categories of thought.”
Allen Watts wrote in his autobiography – “If I am asked to define my personal tastes in religion, I must say that they lie between Mahayana Buddhism and Taoism, with a certain leaning toward Vedanta and Catholicism, or rather the Orthodox Church of Eastern Europe.” That’s a pretty messy conclusion. Watts’ personal life was also much of a mess. I, and most, will say of him that he settled in on kind of a “modified, comfortable Zen.” His lectures and books were always fun, thought-provoking and just fascinating. And still there was time for some tea.
Where would we be without religion? Without churches? Some historians describe the massive churchs, down to the small classic churches of European history were vital to their communities, as important as say – in a way, a local major league, sports team of today. Interesting parallel of congregation, competition and tribalism. Churches…religions…they do argue and compete.
And while seated in a magnificent Duomo pew, I considered these interrelated concepts of mankind’s bloody, war-ridden history, its culture and community as it juggles and struggles with the need to have uncomprehensible answers. Erecting such buildings is not getting answers as they are just religious stadiums. And still, I expect only irony.
Then, like 56 years ago, like I did when I was fifteen years old…I left. I find that ironic.