Have We Outgrown Religion?

This is a thought experiment that I’ve been conducting with myself for most of my adult life. It will probably offend some people, as religion is a very touchy subject. Please know that I often write a blog post simply to clarify my own thoughts and get thoughtful feedback. I’m not trying to tell anyone what to think or believe or disbelieve.

Recently I came across an article entitled, “A 43,900-year-old cave painting is the oldest story ever recorded. Archaeologists say it might also contain the oldest known religious images.” By Kiona N. Smith. I’ve always been fascinated by cave paintings, so naturally I had to read on. (And I highly recommend that you do, too.) One passage really jumped out at me:

“Before we could develop religion, we had to develop the ability to think and talk about things that don’t exist in the natural, physical world. We had to learn to describe and imagine not just things we had already seen, but things no one had ever seen… In other words, we had to invent the concept of fiction.”

Was the author equating religion to fiction? Or perhaps she was describing the process of faith? I don’t know. Either way I found this to be a fascinating topic.

It is not unreasonable to consider religion to be a philosophical invention of sorts. Religious tenets came about to explain those things that we didn’t understand, and also to set forth a set of rules to define morality. Much of it has to do with a subject that most of us still struggle with: our own mortality, and the acceptance thereof.

The thing is, we’ve learned so much since the establishment of most mainstream religions. The invention of refrigeration alone makes most religious food restrictions unnecessary, whereas at the time they were critical to maintaining life. We’ve also invented planes, trains, and automobiles, so our horizons have expanded and we really don’t need to have such a tribal worldview. And the invention of medical devices, microscopes, telescopes, computers, the scientific method, birth control, and meteorology have changed the way we see our planet and have impacted the way we live upon it.

Because of all this, I find it impossible to live within a rigid, inflexible religious system that is more than 2000 years old, just as I wouldn’t take medical advice from that era. Any philosophy that isn’t living, breathing, and adapting to current circumstances and our increased knowledge base does not serve us well. The fact that the Pope won’t condone condoms, even in countries ravaged by AIDS, is just one example of this.

I think we’ve outgrown religion as it currently stands. If it can’t keep up with the times, it should be left behind. My opinion. You are entitled to yours.

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Impermanence

When I was 19 years old, I was in love for the first time, in Paris for the first time, and seeing the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame Cathedral for the first time. It doesn’t get much better than that. It was one of the high points of my life.

It didn’t take long to figure out that the love wasn’t going to last, but, as they say, I’d always have Paris. Some things you just assume will last forever. Some things, you think, will be as permanent as Mount Everest.

Watching Notre Dame burn broke my heart. That spire crashing down felt like it went right through me. Yes, they’ll rebuild, but it will never again be “my” Notre Dame. That’s gone.

We tend to forget that the things made by man are very impermanent. If a stretch of interstate highway was abandoned for 10 years, it would be so reclaimed by weeds and trees that it would be unrecognizable. Whole cities have disappeared with the passage of time. Buildings and bridges collapse. Towns burn. Tumbleweeds roll down what used to be main streets. Waters rise, winds blow, sand dunes encroach.

Most of us try not to think about it. It is hard, living in that state of awareness. Impermanence is scary. It reminds us of our own mortality. If Notre Dame can burn after having stood for about 800 years, then my fragile little body is toast.

But in many ways, that impermanence is actually a gift. While Notre Dame propped up my 19 year old’s sense of beauty and romance, I went on to have many other amazing experiences, and I’m sure that more are in the offing. Knowing that all these things are merely blips on the radar of the universe makes me appreciate them even more. What I am experiencing right here, right now, will be gone in a moment.

What a gift that I got to collect these memories, if even for just a cosmic second, even if they aren’t made of mountains, and will someday be reduced to dust.

Don’t forget to appreciate the now, dear reader. In the overall scheme of things, it’s really all that we have.

Notre Dame

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Alternate Realities

Five years ago, I remember being in a room with two good men. One was Chuck, the love of my life. The other was Glenn, who was a dear friend. I remember talking, smiling, laughing with them both. It was a good day.

I wonder what I would have thought or said or done had I known that by the time of this writing, they would both have died unexpectedly, at different times, for different reasons, leaving behind different sets of broken hearts. It was the first time they had ever met each other, and the last. They didn’t know how much they were going to have in common.

It’s a weird concept that I was the only one to survive in that room, and some day (not too soon, I hope), I will be amongst their number, as will we all. Death and taxes, as they say. Inevitable.

Another strange coincidence is that I had told people about them both, at different times, and for different reasons, thinking that they were both alive, and then discovering later, to my horror, that they were not.

Chuck, I talked about all the time. He was a character. He walked through life leaving hilarious stories in his wake. He had a quirky outlook, and it was safe to say that if he didn’t delight you, at the very least he’d make you think. There was only a few hours delay between his death and my being notified, but during that time I’m sure I mentioned his name a dozen times. (In fact, I think the sheriff’s office figured out how to contact me because I had texted him, and his cell phone was chirping beside his body.) Not a day goes by when I don’t experience a jolt, realizing he’s gone. He shouldn’t be gone. Not yet.

Glenn, I hadn’t seen in years, but we were Facebook friends. We had been in the same college classroom together for two years, and he was close to me in age, unlike the many 19-year-old students, so we kind of related to each other. I have no idea why he popped into my head during my vacation to Utah, but I mentioned him to my sister. Just a few of your basic, “I have this friend who…” stories. After my vacation, I thought, “I should say hello on Facebook, and see how he’s doing.” And that’s how I found out he had passed away weeks previously. He was a good man. He loved people. He was a family man and a compassionate care giver. I’m sure his absence is going to leave a huge void.

But what I can’t stop thinking about are those times when, in my head, these guys were still with us, when in reality they weren’t. I would have bet my life that I’d be talking to them both in no time, and that wasn’t at all true.

They were both too young. They both had so much more to do. It makes me wonder how much I can really count on knowing, you know?

But maybe they are here after all. The human heart has room for many people to reside. And in my mind I’ll always be able to see their smiles. May they rest in peace.

Heaven

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Continuity

I read something recently that I found very comforting. The same sunrise/sunset has been circling the globe for millions of years. Mind officially blown.

I love the idea that my sunset is someone else’s sunrise. It gives me a sense of connection with the wider world. It links me to all of time, past, present and future.

I also enjoy the perspective this gives me. The thing that is causing me stress and anxiety today is a mere blip on the sun’s radar. Talk about not sweating the small stuff! Here I am, one tiny little person, in one tiny little point in time, worrying about one tiny little thing.

It also makes change seem trivial. That multi-million year sunrise has looked different every single day, for every single person, and it will look different again tomorrow. And yet it still keeps on keeping on.

Despite our mortality, despite the havoc we wreak, on a larger scale there is stability and continuity. Life will go on, in some form or fashion, somewhere, some time. We are each just one thread in a vast, complex tapestry.

I don’t know about you, but that makes me feel like a great weight has been lifted off my shoulders.

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Knock, Knock, Knocking on Mortality’s Door

Spring is a time when life feels so abundant. Flowers are blooming and there are baby animals everywhere. Spring, for me, is the most hopeful time of the year. I went decades without experiencing it because I lived in Florida. Now that I am in Seattle, I have that hope once again, and I will never, ever take it for granted. It’s such a gift.

But this has been a strange spring. Mortality seems to be trying to get my attention of late. A dear friend of mine has been in and out of the hospital as his kidneys are failing. This, of course, has me extremely worried. I can’t imagine my life without him in it. He’s so young. Too young to be going through this. And then Don Rickles goes and dies of kidney failure. The last of the rat pack, reminding me that this is a big deal.

And then the other day, I Googled an ex-boyfriend just out of curiosity, only to discover that he died two years ago. He also managed to have nine children in the 25 years since I last saw him. But it’s a strange feeling, having boyfriends old enough to kick the bucket.

As I write this, I’m worried about my sister, who goes in for (granted, routine) surgery tomorrow. She’s my last sibling. She’s not worried. But just in case, I called her just now to tell her I love her, and to say that if she up and dies on me, I’m going to be really pissed off. Update: She did just fine and is recovering nicely.

I guess the older you get, the more this type of stuff enters your world–contemporaries dying, or having close calls. It makes life very bittersweet, but all the more precious for the frequent reminders that it’s all so finite.

Spring

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We Will Survive

A longtime reader and friend made a very simple and yet extremely profound point the other day. She said, “We are all descended from survivors.” Wow. Yet another epiphany of the obvious!

Think about it. Every single direct branch of your family tree consists of someone who survived long enough to pass on his or her DNA to the next generation, on and on, until it came down to… you. Ta Da! You have a lot of hardy people to thank for your existence.

That fact should not be taken for granted. Despite your ancestors’ flaws and quirks and foibles, they still managed to carry on, to pass the torch to the next generation. That was no mean feat. Just imagine the infant mortality rate in the 1300’s, or the slim chance of avoiding plague and war and famine and pestilence throughout the ages. It takes a special person to outrun that literal or figurative lion on the open plain day after day.

We all come from a long line of survivors. I don’t know about you, but I find that comforting as hell. I’m going to try to remember that the next time I feel defeated or helpless or in despair.

It may not be pretty, it may not be easy, but come on, people. We got this.

family-tree

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How to Spot a Keeper

I used to think that you could tell everything you needed to know about a man by how he treats his mother. I still think that’s a great theory in many cases. The problem is it only works when the man in question has a decent mother. If his mother is a total shrew or is bat sh** crazy, then her son can’t really be blamed if he’s less than stellar. And when you’re still in the market for a life partner at an advanced age, there’s more and more chance that the much-needed mother is no longer with us, so she has limited use as a yardstick at that point. Darned inconvenient, mortality is.

You can also learn a great deal by how someone treats waitresses and clerks. Is he respectful or condescending? And how does he behave when driving? Road rage is often an indicator of a deeper anger.

Why is it that so many of us don’t take our search for a mate as seriously as we would the search for an employee? After all, it’s even more important, isn’t it? If this is to be someone you share your life with, you need to be able to ask the hard questions. You need to know about both the past and the future. Goals. Debts. Ambitions. Spiritual beliefs.  And if you think you’re going to change him, trust me: you aren’t.

I know all of this sounds cold and clinical. I’m not saying that chemistry and emotion shouldn’t play a big part here. But when marriages fail, it’s often because the awkward information wasn’t obtained in advance. So ask questions, and take the answers seriously. This is your life we’re talking about.

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(Okay, so this has nothing to do with my current post, but it made me smile.)