I expected this to be easy to write because I’ve been fascinated by religion lately. I’m not sure where this fascination came from, because I wasn’t really raised to be religious.
My grandmother is very religious, but her son (my father) rejected her Catholic influence. I usually think of him as the anti-Catholic, but I’m not sure why. He tells occasional jokes about his Catholic upbringing, but he’s not hostile about it or anything — just apathetic. My mother is religious now, but for most of my life she was not religious at all (she rewrites history, so she will deny this). Once or twice, she chose some sort of non-denominational Protestant church and we went every week. I really bonded with the youth group at one of them, but the teachings/services didn’t really leave a huge impression on me. My mother’s sister exposed me to most of the religious teachings that I remember from my youth. She was very active in her Presbyterian church and she babysat us every summer. I remember attending and later teaching vacation Bible school and participating in “5-day clubs” with the neighborhood kids at her house.
Learning religious history helped me weave together the various threads of world history into a more coherent tapestry.
Then I went to Catholic high school and took a required religion class every semester. The one I thought was most interesting was Church History. The nun was very honest about the role of politics and the level of corruption — her honesty surprised me as much as what she taught us. I didn’t know anything before that class. I thought Roman/Greek mythology was extremely ancient, not contemporary with Christianity. I didn’t realize all of the Christian denominations sprang from the reformation of the one Catholic Church. I knew nothing except kid-friendly Bible stories. Maybe my interest started there — learning religious history helped me weave together the various threads of world history (that I still only vaguely know) into a more coherent tapestry.
That’s what I like to study about Christianity. I would like to figure out how it evolved into the religion that we have now.
A book that I’m (slowly) reading right now is about the Councils that defined the beliefs of the Church. This book is written by a very biased Monsignor and he writes about the beliefs that didn’t “win” in a very dismissive way. But, much like the nun from my high school, he’s honest enough to leave in all of the politics and manipulation. At most of the Councils, an idea was debated (but sometimes only one side showed up). After the debate, the “losers” had to recant and accept the winning opinion. If not, they were usually kicked out of the Church, and sometimes they were even exiled. Occasionally, someone who held the other view would come into political power or would be elevated to one of the important bishop assignments. Another Council could be called and the decision reversed, and then all the exiled people would be moved back in as the incumbents were exiled. I’m simplifying quite a bit and of course, most decisions weren’t reversed, but accurate detail about the amazing level of politics would take too long. It’s fascinating and it makes me appreciate our democratic society — and wonder about blind adherence to these theologies.
Quite honestly, my beliefs have strayed so far into definite heresy that as I read the explanation of some of these debated theologies, I really don’t know why these people were willing to lose anything over them. The differences between the two views are so small — both sides trying to apply logic to an issue that is not logical. To someone that has rejected some of these ideas entirely, it’s interesting to see them as live ideas that were still being defined. It’s unfortunate that these people lost their livelihoods and sometimes their lives while trying to make these contributions to thought.
I also just read a more controversial book that ties the religion of Jesus (which many sources agree is not the same as today’s Christianity) to the religion of the ancient Egyptians. This one was incredibly interesting because it touched on so many things — the likely history of the patriarchs from the Old Testament, the religion of Jesus and the aftermath of his death, the Crusades ... I loved it.
With Christianity, I’ve taken a historical focus, but I’ve tried to familiarize myself with other religions too. I think they all have something to teach us. One of the interesting things that I’ve noticed is that while a lot of the key religious figures commanded their followers not to worship or idolize them, people seem to have a need to do it anyway. Even though I love learning the truth behind the myths, I’ve finally realized that there is something about the myths that fills some need for some people. Maybe that can tie into my interest in psychology ...