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If You Weren’t An Atheist, What Would You Be?

Religious_symbolssvgI have a nosy question for my godless readers. If you had to pick a religion to belong to, which one would it be?

Is there any religion that appeals to you, with rituals and politics and practices that strongly resonate with you? Do you ever have moments, listening to a church choir or attending a peace march, when you wished you had whatever it is believers have — and if so, which believers made you feel that way? Is there any religion that you’d kind of like to join, if it weren’t for that pesky business of believing in God?

God_monty_python_2To put it another way: Let’s pretend God exists. Let’s say He/She/It appeared to you, in a way that completely convinced you that He/She/It was real and not a figment of your imagination. Let’s say He/She/It asked for your worship… but said you could do it any way you wanted to. What would it be?

Quick guideline here: “I’d worship God by sitting on the sofa eating chocolate chips and watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer” is not an acceptable answer. As Russell’s Teapot said, it has to be a real religion, “not just made-up by someone.” :-)

Quaker_start_2Myself, I usually lean towards Quaker. I like the leaderlessness of it: the idea that a worship service involves anyone speaking who feels moved to do so, instead of one person who supposedly knows more about God than anyone else standing in front of the room telling everyone else about it. I like the peacefulness of it, the spareness, the quiet. I like the idea of a worship service where you sit together in a quiet, unadorned place, each person looking inside themselves but everyone doing it together.

Plus I like the idea of a religion that has, as one of its central tenets, the notion that they don’t know everything; that truth is available to everyone, not just Quakers; and that believers need to be flexible and adaptive about their beliefs.

UndergroundrailroadAnd of course, I like the whole social justice aspect of it. I like the Quaker history of involvement in the Underground Railroad; their history of anti-war activism; their history of supporting racial and gender equality.

If it weren’t for that pesky business of believing in God and Christ, I’d be all over it.

JesusBut Christ is a deal-breaker for me. There are way too many things about the Christ myth that give me the willies. And besides, Christianity has been in my face my entire life. It’s by far the religion I’m most intimately familiar with… and as a result, it’s the religion that angers and upsets me the most. Christianity in America is, overwhelmingly, a ghastly example of political and cultural hegemony at its worst, and I want no part of it — even a radical, progressive, alternative-y part.

So paradoxically, the very thing that makes the Quaker religion feel familiar and resonant — the fact that it’s part of the Christian tradition, where my own cultural roots lie — is the very thing that makes me flinch away from it.

Star_of_davidsvgThere are other contenders. Judaism, for one. I like that Jewish culture values intellect and art. I like that it values sensual pleasure; that it doesn’t have the whole fucked-up Original Sin crap that makes so many Christians feel bad every time they enjoy their bodies. Even in the strictest Orthodox traditions, where sensual and sexual pleasure are hemmed in by a thousand rigid and sexist rules, that pleasure is approved of and even celebrated when it’s experienced in the “right” way.

MenorahWhat’s more, I grew up in a largely Jewish neighborhood, and went to a largely Jewish school. So while I didn’t grow up Jewish, the rituals and cultural traditions have a lot of resonance and familiarity, and I find many of them joyful and beautiful.

And for obvious reasons, I like the fact that so many Jews have found a way to honor and preserve the history and tradition and ritual of Judaism, without taking the actual religion part too seriously. The phrase “secular Jew” makes sense, in a way that, say, “secular Baptist” really doesn’t.

Klezmatics200But converting because you like the ritual and the weddings and the music and the food seems kind of lame. It’s like that Seinfeld episode, where Jerry’s dentist converts to Judaism and immediately starts telling Jewish jokes… on the grounds that he’s Jewish now, so it’s okay. It just seems weird. Cultural appropriation, or something. Especially when you’re talking about a religion that’s so steeped in family lineage and a history of oppression. Converting to secular Judaism seems like a logical contradiction.

Book_of_isaiahAnd the actual religious belief itself… I don’t know. All that “chosen people” stuff. And all that brutal Old Testament stuff. That’s exactly the stuff I argue with Christians about all the time. The Old Testament creeps me out, regardless of whether it’s coming from Christians or Jews. Like most religions, there’s good stuff in there as well… but the bad stuff is seriously troubling. And if I were going to pick a religion, I’d want to feel happy with the actual religion part of it — not just the secular cultural part.

So Judaism’s out.

Bahai_starThen there’s Baha’i. For years, back in my woo days when I believed in some sort of world-soul and was half-assedly searching for a religious or spiritual group to belong to, I seriously considered Baha’i. I especially liked that one of the religion’s central tenets is that all religious history is an evolution towards a greater understanding of God, that all religions have at least some kernel of truth about God, and that no religion has the entire truth about God… including the Baha’i. It’s like that Shaker song, “Simple Gifts,” a song that I’ve always loved: “When true simplicity is gained/To bow and to bend we shall not be ashamed/To turn and to turn it will be our delight/’Til by turning, turning we come ’round right.” Damn straight.

Bahai_willmetteBaha’i has some other cool shit going on as well. Another central tenet of the faith is equality between women and men — and it has been since the religion was founded, way before it was cool. Plus they endorse universal education, racial equality, economic justice, and scientific exploration.

And their temples are really pretty.

Ethical_slutBut I did a little research, and decided I just couldn’t do it. For one thing, another tenet of the Baha’i faith is monogamous marriage, and I’m a pretty ardent non-monogamist; not as a doctrine for everyone, but as a valid option for myself and others. Even if I weren’t, I’m an extremely ardent believer that religion should stay the hell out of people’s sex lives.

BahaullahAnd the Baha’i faith has a focus on religious leaders — prophets, who are special Manifestations of God substantially different from ordinary people — that I find just a little too culty. A lot too culty, actually. I’m not saying it’s an actual cult, any more than any other religion. But there’s something very disconcerting about a religion that has, as one of its central tenets, the idea that each individual is equally suited to explore God in their own way… and yet that also has, as a central tenet, the idea that some individuals are more equal than others. (Especially since those more-than-equal individuals include the founder of the religion himself.)

So that’s not gonna work.

Wiccan_five_elementsIngrid keeps asking me, “What about paganism and Wicca?” And I can see her point. The worship of the physical Earth — of plants and animals, weather and seasons — has an obvious appeal to the part of me that’s always gassing on about the wonders of galaxies and stuff.

But you know how I said earlier that, as an American, Christianity is up in my face in a way that makes it impossible to ignore its profound flaws? As a Northern Californian, I feel much the same way about paganism and Wicca and other forms of woo. I’m way too familiar with its irrational and annoying aspects to be at all comfortable participating in it… and its irrational and annoying aspects permeate my culture. And the whole “pretending this is an ancient religious practice when it was pretty much made up in the last few decades” thing totally gets up my nose.

Scarlet_aI’m finding this a fascinating exercise. For one thing, it keeps leading me back to atheism. Every religion I look at has some reason why it just doesn’t work.

But it’s also interesting because of the clues it’s giving me about what I’d like to see in the atheist movement — about what’s missing in my life that religion traditionally offers and that I’d like to find elsewhere.

A place to sit quietly with other people, where I can try to reach my private inner truth but also feel connected to the people around me.

A place to join with other people to celebrate both our minds and our bodies.

A place to join with other people in a passionate, inspired pursuit of social justice.

A place to celebrate nature and the Earth, and to acknowledge our connection with it and our debt to it.

A sense of being a link in a chain, part of a historical tradition that goes back for centuries and will hopefully go on for centuries more…

…and at the same time a recognition of the necessity of change; the humble awareness that our understanding of the world is limited at best, and almost certainly in error in major ways.

But maybe I’m being too needy, too demanding. After all, I can and do get all those things elsewhere, from different areas of my life.

Last_waltzA place to sit quietly with other people, feeling both private and connected? I can get that at a library. Or even a good cafe. A place to ecstatically celebrate mind and body and the places where they connect? I get that from dancing — not to mention sex. A sense of being a link in the chain of human history? Dancing again… and writing, and reading, and cooking, and singing, and almost every other basic human activity that’s been done for hundreds or thousands of years. A place to celebrate nature and feel connected with it? I can go to the woods, or the mountains, or even just go outside and look at trees. A way of recognizing and reminding myself of how limited my understanding is, and how much I still have to learn? Reading about science is a great way to do that.

And a place to join with others in a passionate, inspired pursuit of social justice?

BlogrollI get that from the atheist blogosphere.

So maybe this vague yearning for some atheist equivalent of church doesn’t make sense. In the same way that I stopped trying to get all my emotional needs from one Capital R Relationship, maybe I should stop looking for one place to meet all my needs for shared epiphany and transcendence.

Maybe that one place is just my life as a whole.

*****

So I return to my nosy question. What about the rest of you? If you’re a non-believer, what religion would you pick if you had to? Is there any religion that has any appeal to you? If so, why
 and what made you reject it despite its appeal? Nosy minds want to know.

Comments

  1. Todd says

    This is an easy one. A Taoist. The Taoist pantheon is as cluttered as the Hindu pantheon, but the gods are really just manifestations of the Tao. Heck, I’m practically a Taoist already, as my personal philosophy is very close to Chuang Tzu.

  2. says

    No doubt: Zoroastrianism.
    It basically believes that in the world it’s a big battel between goodness/energy/order/creation at one side (usually antropomopomoporphized as Ahura Mazda) and evil/chaos/disorder on the other side, and that our purpose in life is to help the good side win.
    They have simple ceremonies involving fire (always great) and seem to have very little politics at all. I’ve googled around and the only evil and condemning thing I can find is that the don’t like gays, which isn’t exactly a big surprise, but a bit dissappointing.
    Otherwise it seems quite cool, not preachy and generally say “hey, if you’re a good guy, that’s enough”.
    Oh, and they have just the best symbol ever. Forget that wimpy cross or six pointed stars or moons. Eath THIS Abrahamites!
    http://oznet.net/iran/Frvhar.jpg
    Funnily enough it’s probably the King Darius I in front of the old Egyptian symbol of a winged sun. So it makes no sense, but hey, I guess Zoroastrians know a good symbol when they see one. :)

  3. says

    I would go with neo-Paganism. Definitely.
    First of all, any of “The Book” religions are right out because I find “The Book” morally and ethically repugnant:
    http://lfab-uvm.blogspot.com/2007/10/my-biggest-problem-with-biblical.html
    Then, I’d be sure to pick a polytheistic religion because I think they make more sense:
    http://lfab-uvm.blogspot.com/2007/01/polytheism-vs-monotheism-omnipotence.html
    Then, I disagree with you that it’s a problem that they just make up new beliefs and rituals and claim they’re ancient. You can’t insist we pick an organized religion and then disqualify one on the basis of “believing things which are obviously false” — that disqualifies every single one of them.
    Making stuff up that’s relevant to our modern world is far better than being locked into a moral and ethical code that was invented for society as it was thousands of years ago.

  4. says

    For your question, I guess Buddhism is excluded because it’s non-theistic, but that’s my answer anyway. So fail me.
    If I was going to follow an organized “religion”, Buddhism would be it. I like the Noble Eightfold Path, and the five precepts (but I’ll pass on the eight precepts!) and the meditation. It’s more philosophy than religion, and that works for me.

  5. says

    If it counts (it’s not a theistic religion), then Buddhism:
    “Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.”
    …partly because that’s my hands-down favourite quote ever attributed to any founder of any religion.

  6. says

    You know, from the things that you stated you’re looking for, it sounds like you’re looking for Unitarian Universalism or a Secular Ethical Society. Most of the things you stated, actually, are basically paraphrases of the Principles and Purposes.
    “We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote
    * The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
    * Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
    * Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
    * A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
    * The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
    * The goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all;
    * Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.”
    And according to a survey (http://archive.uua.org/news/011205.html) in which participants could choose more than one answer, 18% of UUs identify as Atheist, so you certainly wouldn’t be alone in that. 54% identify as Humanist, and 33% identify as Agnostic, so there’s more like-minded and semi-like minded people.
    The only thing it doesn’t match up with is your need for a religion that goes back centuries and centuries (the current incarnation is only about 50 years old, the 2 liberal Christian churches they were from went back a couple hundred years each). Also, they originally started from Christian roots, but really aren’t Christian now.
    However, I’m sure I’m not the first person to tell you about UUism. I’m curious as to why you’ve decided it wouldn’t fulfill the needs you stated above or why it wouldn’t work for you.
    I’m surprised you’re not part of an Ethical Society in your area. They’ve got all of the fellowship and none of the God. :-)

  7. says

    I thought about what happens if this country turns so bad that we’re all forced to choose a religion. If we could choose any organized religion, I’d probably go Unitarian Universalist. (Hell, I’ve seriously considered joining a UU church formally, but I’m not sure if that would nullify my being a Catholic and being allowed to receive communion, and it would also require me to become an active part of a UU church, and I haven’t found one in the area yet that I’m ready to commit to attending and being involved in. [If services were late Sunday afternoons instead of early Sunday mornings, I'd SO be there.])
    If it was REALLY bad and I had to choose one of the bigger religions, the more well known ones, I’d probably choose Judaism. I was introduced by a former boyfriend who was Jewish. I was interested in learning more about his faith, because I didn’t really know anything about it. Well, the more I learned, the more I loved.
    In the Catholicism I grew up with, I always felt bad for questioning my faith and not being able to blindly follow. In Judaism, not only is it allowed, it’s a commandment, a mitzvah, to question your faith, to read and learn, to fight and struggle with it, to argue with God. And the Jews believe they are called to tikkun olam, the renewal and repair of the world, and many Jews have a strong sense of social justice because of it. (I believe that as human beings, we’re all called to tikkun olam.) Jews are called to do acts of tzedakah, translated by most as “charity”, but more accurately translates as “acts towards the establishment of justice”. And the Jews seem to have figured out how to craft the words and music of their services to invoke a trance, if you want it to. Oh, my God, some of the music is SO beautiful, SO haunting, and it puts you in SUCH amazing headspace.
    I’m not so much on the whole worshipping God thing, I’m not so much on the strict and stringent affirmations of a single God, and of the Jews putting down polytheists in their prayers. (I have good Pagan friends as well as good Jewish friends.) And Orthodox Judaism feels like it misses the mark, it misses the point, what with all of the following the law to the letter but the forgetting of the spirit of the law. (Finding loopholes in Halachic law that follow the law to the letter but not the spirit drive me bonkers.)
    I don’t see what’s wrong with becoming a secular Jew. Secular Judaism welcomes everyone with open arms, and it doesn’t speak of The Chosen People(TM), but rather speaks of humanity in their “prayers”. These beautiful cultural traditions may not be the ones of your immediate ancestors, but perhaps may be the ones of ancestors long ago, or perhaps some of your ancestors were forced to convert to Christianity, or did it to culturally assimilate. And even if not, the Jewish culture is part of human culture, and we’re all linked by our common ancestry of being human. And, as you mentioned, you grew up in a Jewish community with a mainly Jewish school. They are the traditions of your youth. You were raised in the Jewish culture, if not in your home, than in school and in the homes of your neighbors and friends. To me, that makes you at least partially culturally Jewish.
    Just my $0.02.

  8. Paul le Fou says

    I actually tried Taoism a little bit in high school. Not today-Taoism, the old one, before there were any gods or anything. I picked up the Tao Te Ching and started reading. But even then, the Tao itself was too much for me, the idea of a supernatural non-entity force.
    But, I do like the calmness, the laid-back feel, the emphasis on philosophy and thinking and introspection. On that old “religions of the world” poster, Taoism was just “Shit happens.” No qualifiers, no questions, no guilt, just bam, there it is. And that comes closer to the way I as an atheist see the world than any other religion I know of.

  9. David Miles says

    This sounds flippant, and to some degree it is, but it illustrates a major aspect of most religions that annoys me.
    Church of Dagon.
    Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn
    The idea of this immensly powerful, ancient God who is essentially indifferent to humanity (other than that he might eat them) appeals to me. I just can’t wrap my head around the idea that such a creature would be sufficiently interested in individuals in the teaming masses of humanity to trade supplication for favours.
    I imagine that such a creature would probably relate to us the way we relate to bacteria. Essentially oblivious to our very existence except to absentmindedly cull us when we got in the way.
    Believing that I have a uniquely special place in the world and that God cares about _me_ just seems narcissistic. I have enough to do before I die, I can’t let ego get in the way like that.
    I’m not certain if I’m cut out for human sacrifices and being married to a fish though.

  10. Peter Bramley says

    You actually don’t want a *RELIGION*, you want the parts of the religious cultures that make you feel good; the ability to be in a group of people who think, to a large extent, as you do.
    Religions seem to provide aspects you’re looking for already packaged and ready for consumption. Expect for the icky parts about worshipping some deity.
    I have no answer for you — it would be nice if there were groups that were packaged with the things you’re looking for, but there don’t seem to be. UU sounds close, but it still seems to claim it’s sort of a religion, and neither you nor I wants to get trapped that way.
    I, too, would like there to be a convenient group to join that had everything I’m looking for. Since there isn’t, I find my group-needs met with many small, changing sets of people.

  11. says

    I have to admit, I absolutely love this article and the discussion that follows. Being somewhat of a fish out of water here, seeing as I’m not an atheist, I can’t honestly participate. Kudos to everyone who can and does, though – you’ve got me thinking.

  12. Todd says

    Paul le Fou:
    “But even then, the Tao itself was too much for me, the idea of a supernatural non-entity force.”
    Not exactly. The Tao is neither supernatural or even a force. The best description of the Tao is the flow of nature, like the flow of a stream. All you have to do is let go and let the current take you. No denying that it is very mystical shit for an empirical minded person to grasp, but it doesn’t have the same baggage as Western religion. To truly be a Taoist you have to do nothing.

  13. says

    Wow. Neat conversation! To answer a couple of questions real quick:
    It’s hard to put into words why Unitarian Universalism isn’t on my list. I think it’s the very fact that I *don’t* quite consider it a religion, and that you *can* be an atheist or agnostic and still belong. That puts it in a different category for me from “religions I might belong to if I believed in God.” It’s more in the category of “social activities I might actually participate in.”
    So then we get a whole different bouquet of objections — like, “Is that really what I want to do with my Sunday mornings?” and “Despite my yearning for some sort of group to share transcedence with, the reality is that I’m not much of a joiner.”
    And for the record: Yes, I think Buddhism counts.
    As to C.L. Hanson’s point about Wicca: That’s a fair point about how all religions believe things which are obviously false. So I should clarify. It isn’t the fact that Wicca/ Neo-paganism believes something that’s obviously false. It’s the *specific belief* that happens to bug me — namely, that what they’re practicing is an ancient spiritual tradition instead of something made up in the last few decades. I’m fine with them making stuff up — it’s the pretense/ self-deception that they’re not that gets up my nose.
    But that’s my nose, not yours. If it doesn’t get up your nose, that’s cool. I’m not insisting on or disqualifying anything. I completely support everybody’s right to not practice whatever religion they choose not to practice. :-)

  14. J says

    is pastafarism a valid religion now?
    btw, interesting that you leave out islam from even consideration (even though the first look at its injunctions against women would make you drop it)

  15. Noxx says

    At first I thought Zoroastrianism because I’m a bit of a romantic when it comes to things ancient. That’s why years ago I ultimately dropped the idea of Wiccan/neo-paganism – not old enough. I couldn’t be content with the newness even though I lectured self that all religions started somewhere. I think overall, people want their religions to percolate at least a few hundred years or so.
    I was raised Episcopalian, and I’m proud that they’re paving the way of tolerance (at least in the US) with regard to women in the priesthood and gay rights. Still, it’s too close to Christian fundamentalism for comfort.
    I’m actually a Reverend of UUism, but despite (or because of) that I have the same notion about it that Greta Christina does – that’s its not really a religion. It’s more an alternative to religion (not unlike a civil union is to marriage) – an attempt to tell the religious bullies that “we can do that too.”
    I guess the reason I originally started casting about with regard to religion was my annoyance with the notion that once I picked one I had to drop all the others and that while it wasn’t necessary to agree with every tenant of a religion, I had to at least try and acknowledge them all as meaningful. I suppose I can be accused of religious relativism, but I never understood why relativism was a bad word anyway. So, I spent years taking what I liked from religions and disgarding what I didn’t. I called myself spiritual, but not religious.
    It’s only been in the last year or so that I’ve begun to accept the Atheist in me, and it has been difficult. Since I had a long past of believing that God wouldn’t be a destructive, jealous maniac, losing God was like losing Santa. I find I resent society for feeding me this God concept just to make themselves feel better not unlike I resented my folks for feeding me the Santa concept. Gee, glad it worked so nicely for you, but now I’m left longing for something that never existed. Thanks, dad
    All of that said, I am opting out of making the pick and thankful some totalitarian watchdog isn’t standing over my shoulder ready to force one upon me. Not even the beneficent nothingness required of me by Taoism will do.

  16. says

    Taking “God exists” literally seems to skew the choices, as others noted, to Abrahamics, Hinduism, or maybe Great Spirit Native American religions. And away from ancient Greek religion, Buddhism, or Shinto. Things with an omnipotent Creator vs. things without.
    If it’s just “you have to pick a ‘real religion’” then probably Buddhism, less from my own limited knowledge of it than knowing that lots of others have found shelter there, and it’s pretty universal, with agnostic roots. Don’t know much about Taoism, wouldn’t have thought of it.
    Shinto has appeal, probably from watching too much anime. Strictly speaking it probably doesn’t make sense away from Japan… but it seems a friendly mix of animism + ancestor reverence, adaptive and adaptable. Nice attitudes, from what little I know.
    And the animism + ancestors of what I think of as “traditional religion” have the virtue of making sense. Empirically wrong, but they don’t outrage my reason the way Yahweh condemning the human race for Adam’s sin, or Hell, or Hindu and Buddhist memoryless reincarnation do. A good candidate for “religion that could or should be true”.
    And of course Eastern religions have a track record of playing well with others. Not perfect, there’ve been Buddhist holy wars, and Hinduism managed to co-opt or drive Buddhism out of India, but better than in Europe. And it’s funny to see Jesus claimed as a yogi or a manifestation of Brahma.

  17. says

    *does a bit of reading*
    *stereotypes wildly:*
    Buddhism: ascetism, teaching reality is an illusion, condemns dualism of discriminating between things, avoids attachment to life. Goal is to apparently dissolve into nothingness.
    Shinto: tea parties, baths, sex-positive, giant wooden penis festivals. ‘Goal’ is to enjoy life and nature, pass on traditions, become a kami.
    (festival link: http://www.farstrider.net/Japan/Festivals/HounenMatsuri/)
    One of these seems more fun than the other. :)

  18. says

    This is a difficult question, because to believe, I’d have to be a different person to the person I am, and I can’t really answer for that other person.
    Answering just for me, with my beliefs shifted as little as I can manage, we can get somewhere…
    I’ve thought about it before on occasion and figured out a few I could manage, and I recently did a test which identifies the religions closest to me worldview. Since the lists are the same, I’ll take those as given:
    - Liberal Quaker
    - Buddhism
    - UU
    There’s plenty of good things I can see in the first two (and stuff I disagree with). Since UU is fully compatible with Deism, and that’s about the only belief I can really see myself not cringing during any kind of service, that’d probably be what I’d be if I really had to do it.
    But now to answer the harder question – if I could really believe, what would I be. I don’t think there’s really a “choice” here, since belief isn’t really about choice. Sooner or later something will grab your brain, and some of it you’ll like and some of it you won’t – but if you believe, you’ll rationalize your preferences away to get rid of the cognitive dissonance.
    I find it a really hard question to deal with in a sensible way. Frankly much harder than the “Who would you turn gay for?” question (which for me the answer seems now to be – “pretty much anyone I adored enough to want to spend my life with”). I could be gay without changing a heck of a lot about how I understand myself – but I couldn’t be religious without being quite different.

  19. says

    Greta,
    Folks have mentioned Unitarian Universalism — as a sexuality-positive person, you might be interested in their lifespan comprehensive sexuality education series called “Our Whole Lives” (aka “OWL”). It includes materials for grades K-1, grades 4-6, grades 7-9, grades 10-12, young adults, and adults.
    The UUs developed this curriculum in partnership with the very liberal Christian United Church of Christ.
    The OWL series was developed using the best medical public health guidelines available from Planned Parenthood, SIECUS, etc.
    Both UU and UCC denominations are among the few that ordain non-celebate gay, lesbian, and bisexual clergy. Both denominations are among the few that ordain transgender clergy. Both denominations are the among the few that have taken a public stand in favor of civil marriage for same-sex couples.
    The UCC would probably be too Christian for your tastes, but the UU option might be a good fit.
    Call around your community and see if anyone is planning to offer the Adult OWL sex education curriculum in the near future. It’s a lot of fun and it would give you an idea of our sexual ethics.

  20. says

    Gah, my personal info isn’t being remembered. And I check the box.
    Efrique: ostensibly, many religions are about the practice, not the belief. The spirits or god care about what you do, not what you believe. And of course if you imagine being forced into “some religion! any religion! But a real one” at gunpoint, that’d probably be true for you anyway. So it becomes “which religion would you rather practice” or “which religion would you prefer to fake?”

  21. keelyellenmarie says

    Buddhism seemed appealing to me at one point, but I realized that it was still just too… religion-y for me. I do miss church sometimes though, and I think I might consider a UU church eventually, particularly if I have a family when I’m older. The UU youth groups give such amazingly honest sex education, and are really supportive in encouraging kids to develop their own beliefs. I’m sure they have their flaws, but it sounds much better than the youth group I went to in high school (hey, lets show you pictures of aborted babies until you cry and decide that you will spend the rest of your life telling people abortion–and maybe even sex–is evil).

  22. Robert Madewell says

    I would be a worshiper of Odin. I always found the omni-max christian God, just a little too over the top. Odin is omniscient, but he had to sacrifice his right eye to get it and he’s not omnipotent. He’s even mortal in a way. He can be killed (all norse gods/godesses can be killed). A more “down to midgard” god for me! The problem is that I need proof that a god really exists before I invest my time serving it. Just like Yahweh, there is no proof of Odin’s existance. Also, all religion is just so much superstition.

  23. says

    I don’t see the “pesky business of believing in God” as the obstacle to my joining a religion. As far as Buddhism or Taoism goes, believing in gods is not, strictly speaking, a requirement anyway. If I liked the ritual, I’d do the ritual. I’ve flirted with Zen Buddhism a bit over the decades, for instance. I like the koans, the stories, Ioanna Salajan’s Zen Comics. One can sit without necessarily believing in anything — indeed, it can be said that Zen Buddhists believe in Nothing anyway. The spare, Danish-modern decor, the simple robes, all suit me better than, say, Roman Catholicism, though many queens (as we know) prefer that ornateness, the incense, the altarboys. (And Buddhist monks are as notorious as Catholic priests.) I could probably become a Roman Catholic and play it the same way if I liked the rituals enough, but I don’t.
    So why don’t I become a Buddhist? Because it’s an organization, with an authoritarian hierarchy, with internal politics, often as corrupt as any other religion. See Janwillem van de Wetering’s Afterzen, or Lawrence Shainberg’s Ambivalent Zen. I hadn’t really thought this through before now, but the main problem I have with religion is not the god business, but the authoritarian structures. Which is why I’m not a scientist either. If atheists were to organize, we’d fall prey to the same problems.
    I, too, like the Quakers, and have attended silent meetings from time to time. But they — like any other denomination/sect — have a range of positions, some of which are less appealing than the ones you mention. Take a look, for instance, at M. F. K. Fisher’s account of California Quakers in the early 20th century — the same basic milieu that produced Richard Milhous Nixon.

  24. Kagehi says

    Hmm. My big three: Tao, Hindu and Buddhism.
    Tao because it doesn’t try to cram silly spirits down your throat (for the most part).
    Hindu, because even though it has gods, they are not “supreme” in any practical sense, but very human in a lot of ways, and fallible, and because, despite some silly BS like Vedic, it is mostly open to the idea that reality is reality, and you can’t shove it in a box and insist its something else (i.e., religion doesn’t trump reality, religion must give way to it). That and its very open, despite its silly cast systems, about sex and a lot of other things.
    Buddhism, because you have to love the idea of some guy telling you, “Don’t just believe everything someone tells you, not even what I tell you.” Yeah, its got a lot of its own woo, but it **could** have changed to fit the modern world view and science, unlike those that actively deny that reality can differ from what the holy word says, except that as a sideline religion it has kept most of the woo, without really being “forced” to change to fit reality, the way the Xian religions have been forced to (enough that for Judaism and Christianity its only the radicals that refuse to accept that reality defies any literal interpretation of scripture), despite fighting tooth and nail to prevent it.
    But, all the ones that demand that gods are real, that you can point specifically at something and say, “that is god”, and demand that reality either conform, or be made to appear to conform, to faith… you can take those and bury them in a land fill. Its just the complete silliness of some of the BS my big three still insist on thinking makes sense, which includes a supernatural world, that makes the idea of following them seriously absurd.

  25. says

    I also like the tenets of the Quaker religion–and living near PA, it’s not uncommon around here–but have the same problem as you, the whole believing-in-God thing. I’m drawn to Buddhism as well, because the Buddha is not a deity, but I don’t really believe in spirits either.

  26. says

    I think you’re not quite correct about the Quakers. I went to Quaker school (Brooklyn Friends) and attended Quaker meeting for about ten years.
    The whole idea of God and Jesus being a pure literary metaphor for self-evident/naturally determinable/consciously chosen ethical principles was widely accepted. In all the time I was associated with Quakers, only a very few ever talked about any sort of literal truth of God and Jesus, and those people were generally regarded as a little bit eccentric.
    You can be (as I was) a stone-code atheist and be a member in good standing of many Quaker meetings. All that is necessary is that you endorse the ethical principles of absolute pacifism and consensus, for *any* reason.
    The reason I no longer self-identify as a Quaker has nothing to do with its roots in Christianity; it is because I no longer endorse absolute pacifism (although I do remain quite peaceful).

  27. Rebecca says

    After much deliberation about whether or not to join this conversation, since my own spirituality is deeply in flux (mostly due to this blog) I’ve decided to just play the dang game.
    Greek Mythology.
    I loved it as a kid, so it holds an odd sense of tradition for me. Plenty of gods and goddesses and even demi-gods to ask for help. Pretty much a god or goddess for anything you might want to do or be, actually.
    And heck, you get to eat the animals after you sacrifice them, so it sort of counts as reusing resources, something I’m all about.
    As for the afterlife, it’s pretty much about letting the punishment fit the crime if you screwed up bigtime. And if you didn’t, then you are hanging out in the Elysian Fields with just about any dead person you might ever have wanted to meet.
    And the sex! I like the idea that if a god or goddess thinks you are cute, they can swoop down and you two can get busy. Though I’m thinking that hooking up with a rain of gold might be an odd experience, and I’m not doing ANYTHING with a swan.

  28. Necronomikron says

    Though I’m rather familiar with it and its faults, it would have to be Wicca, if I were to just pick a religion. I just like the general ideas of it, and find it interesting.
    However, it’s just as wishy-washy as the rest of the religions, so, whatever.

  29. says

    CLC stole my initial inclination answer, including the quotation supposedly from Gautama Buddha about following your own reason and conscience.
    Then again, I really dislike the whole “Desire is the source of all the world’s pain” bullshit. Desire is also the source of all the world’s pleasure. Desire – wanting things – is about basic human drives. Ignoring that is anti-human, and no fun to boot.
    Besides, I’m not all that… meditate-y.
    Maybe the Old Norse religion? I have a real fondness for the mythology from childhood (like Rebecca & the Greek pantheon), and the ritual requirements probably weren’t to onerous: I wouldn’t mind roasting some goats and pounding back some mead in Thor’s honor…
    Couldn’t do the modern version though. I’ve met some Asatru (neopagans who embrace the Norse pantheon), and mostly they’ve been asshats overly obsessed with machismo. Come to think of it, I wouldn’t like the Old Norse crowd either, i.e. vikings. All that raping and pillaging and dueling and such really isn’t my thing.
    The thing about getting religion is that you have to hang out with religious people. *eeuw*
    I’m all about hanging out with my friends and such – I’m very much a social animal, even for a human – but I’m not always willing to pay the price that often comes with this “sense of community” guff.
    Ultimately, I think I’d have to embrace Judaism, although nothing too orthodox. No other religious culture has the same level of respect for scholarship: A religion would have to respect academic study and the pursuit of truth in and about the world for its own sake to feel at all welcoming to me. Since more than one acquaintance – including a rabbi! – has told me that it’s possible to be an atheist and a Jew, even an Orthodox Jew, I get the feeling I’d fit in okay – in this alternate universe where I had some urge to participate in a religion.
    That’s the real trick, innit? In reality, I have no such urge. When people are genuinely puzzled by my atheism (instead of just hostile) and ask me some question about “spiritual needs,” I’ve always turned that question around and asked them what exactly a “spiritual need” is? I’ve never gotten an answer that really makes any sense to me. I’ve decided that whatever this yearning is, whatever a spiritual need is, it’s just not a part of my make-up. I don’t have any spiritual needs, thanks. So quit knocking on my effing door!
    In some ways, I think religion is the ultimate marketing campaign. It reminds me of the tag-line for a radio station’s comedy commercials hawking products from the imaginary Brute Force Cybernetics Corporation: “We create a need, then we fill it.”

  30. says

    I was an atheist before I became a Wiccan, so some of the this discussion is eerily familiar. Recently I debated the pros and cons of polytheism vs atheism with toomanytribbles. You might find some of that interesting:
    http://witchesandscientists.blogspot.com/2007/11/comments-on-comments-or-zeus-sam-iii.html
    You mention joke religions such as the Pastafarians. In all do respect to the individuals who devote time and energy for such creations, they’re intended mostly as vehicles to poke fun at absolutism. Ask yourself if they are really meant as systems of self exploration.
    Your attitude towards Wicca makes me wonder if you’re suffering from the ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ syndrome. Why not consider relative newness an advantage? You seem adverse to the idea of a central dogma from a dusty old bible. Who needs such a crutch! Do people still maintain ancient origins for Wicca? Maybe that’s what the people around you are telling you, but just about every piece of scholarship I’ve seen on it acknowledges its recent inception. But Wicca draws from many ancient belief systems, and many Neo-Pagans and Witches rightfully claim their origins reach back into antiquity.
    Good luck

  31. HWSOD says

    I have wanted to participate in the Cathlic mass for a long time. My mother’s famliy is stanchly cathlic and one thing that has alwas felt missing from my life is heratige. I just dont realy have anything that goes back more than a generation, and if only it wasnt a religion that people realy belived much. Then i would pratice the rituls. But people do belive and want to enforce all sorts of evil rules. I mean I consider the Catholic churce an Evil Organization, probloly responcible for more deaths and horrors then Al-Queda. (Manly because of STD related things).
    but they do have very buetiful churches.

  32. jen_m says

    If I wake up with some kind of religion, I want it to combine the tolerance of the UUs with the pomp of pre-Vatican II Catholicism. I love all that Latin and chanting and incense and old guys in fancy dresses, but I am really not fond of the homophobia and misogyny pieces. (Not to mention the centuries of oppression and murder thing. But the outfits! So pretty!)
    King Aardvark, I think you can get the murder-and-pillage-for-religious-expression thing with any of the Big Name Brands.

  33. sexposfemme says

    While I still attend church and do church activities as an atheist, and love the music, and spiritual peace, there’s no way I’m going back to Christianity. I don’t like the sermons about self-sacrifice, being meek, turning the other cheek, loving enemies other anything like that. I don’t understand how with our history as blacks and women we can support a religion that advocates that. As a matter of fact, I don’t think most Christians apply the theory at all, but I guess that’s what Jesus is designed for.
    At the risk of sounding totally nuts, honestly if I had to choose a religion it would be LaVeyan Satanism. Yes, the Church of Satan. I find most of their ideas shockingly similar to ideas I already have: libertarianism, objectivism, epicurianism, sexual liberation, social Darwinism and eugenics (like me, they found that it can work well without any racist or sexist aspects). They are VERY anti-sexist and anti-racist. The apex of the pyramid is a female. They encourage women to use their feminine sexual wiles to tip the scales of justice. They even use gender neutral language.
    But I don’t believe in black magic, I think it’s a waste of time and money. Also I think all religions have the potential to be vicious mind control cults. It took me forever to get out of Christianity. Besides, I don’t feel the need to be part of a religion. But also let me keep it real: I could never be part of a religion called Satanism! There are heavy social repercussions as far as close people finding out, like spouses. I have a pattern of telling whoever I’m in a relationship with secrets of my past and hearing theirs to come closer together. I could never bring myself to tell a significant other that I was ever affiliated with that group. I think that would most likely scare most people off. Also even though I take their word for it that they don’t actually worship a literal devil or believe in a devil, sometimes they write stuff that seems metaphysical and basically creepy like “Hail Satan?” “Hail Lucifer?” “Hail King of Hell?” WTF? If you don’t believe in or worship Satan why are you saying stuff like that? Lastly, there’s a tiny part of me that is still Christian and would wonder if I wasn’t selling my soul to the real Devil but I know luckily by now that that’s silly. The main thing for me besides the creepy hocus pocus is having to go around with this secret about huge myself that no one else would know and that I wouldn’t dare admit. I’ll stick with libertarianism.

  34. Donna Gore says

    One of the Eastern religions, Taoism or Buddhism because they’re more of a philosphy and less of a religion. More based in reality than fantasy, more in the here and now than the future after death (which we don’t even know what’s going to happen, if anything). I read this book called “Buddhism Plain and Simple” in which
    the author claims that there was nothing supernatural whatsoever in the original form of Buddhism, that all the crap about reincarnation was added in by people at a later time. And the monks, chants, bells, whistles, all that stuff as well. (Humans seem to have some kind of need for ritual). On the topic of the afterlife, he said something like “Why waste time trying to know what is unknowable?” I’m no expert on Buddhism but it does seem like something humans would do, project their fears and desires onto the religion by adding in something about an afterlife.

  35. says

    Donna Gore, “One of the Eastern religions, Taoism or Buddhism because they’re more of a philosphy and less of a religion.” That’s a common misconception, which is easy for us Westerners to buy into because we don’t live in Buddhist or Taoist cultures. I’ve encounted Asians who admire certain aspects of Christianity in the same way — they think of it as more of a philosophy than a religion, because they didn’t grow up in a Christian society. (I used to make the same mistake about Judaism.)
    I once had an online exchange with someone who said he liked Zen Buddhism, because it wasn’t (he thought) an “organized religion.” Of course it is. It takes serious selective vision to read even popularized, Westernized accounts of Zen and miss the fact that they occur in monasteries and temples, that the principals are monks and abbots and priests and novices in a rigid hierarchy — but he did it, and so do other people. The Buddha seems to have disdained speculative questions (e.g. the afterlife) but he also seems to have organized orders of monks during his lifetime — even nuns, though he notoriously resisted at first because he disapproved of women.
    Even in the West, you can read books which might as well be called “Christianity Plain and Simple”, which try to boil Christianity down to a sticky but sweet syrup of philosophy. You can do that with just about anything. The 1st century rabbi Hillel famously reduced the whole Torah to “What you don’t like, don’t do to others! The rest is commentary, go and learn!” Not the worst advice. But Hillel also observed the purity laws, and would have expected a convert to be circumcised.
    It’s hard to be sure about Jesus, since we have so little reliable information about him, but there seems to have been a lot more to him than the Golden Rule. The miracle working, the exorcisms, the apocalyptic preaching, and indeed the accumulation of disciples and financial contributors all point to someone who was ready to organize. And even before the gospels were written the early churches had rituals like the eucharist and baptism, which they traced (plausibly) to Jesus’ own cultic practices.

  36. says

    And, highly off topic, but prompted by some comments above:
    Buddhism *is* theistic. It doesn’t have a supreme creator god, but it has gods. Loads of them in fact, of several types, devas, brahmas, asuras, and in Burma, nats.
    You don’t have to worship them, but they are there and they are to be believed in. The idea that Buddhism is non-theistic is a fabrication, and a westernization of buddhism to make it more palatable to westerners who tend to no longer believe in little spirits running around in our world.

  37. says

    Unless I radically rewired my head, any faith I picked up would be a faith I’d lose again. The question then becomes, “Which faith would I profess, for reasons shallow and callous and not fit to repeat on a family blog?” And I think the answer to that is plenty clear:
    I’m worshiping Death of the Endless.
    So I can score from the gloom cookies.
    Yep, a shallow one am I.

  38. blu says

    Right-on Todd (#1) Chuang Tzu’s writings are inspiring, hilarious and truely deep. Victor Mair’s excellent book “Wandering On The Way” was a life saver at one point in my journey. A great blog Greta. Your labors do not go unappreciated.

  39. John B. Hodges says

    For real life, I’d have to go either UU or Quaker, I’ve done both, those are the “least intolerable” for me.
    I note that “Jedi” has been accepted by the census bureau in England, because so many people wrote it in. (As in, the Jedi Knights of Star Wars.) That would be a contender also, but I fear that if I looked into it I’d find more garbage there.
    As for Joke religions, let me put in a plug for Gesargenplotzianism.
    http://www.phil.vt.edu/Miller/papers/Gesargenplotzianism/geztitle.html

  40. says

    Very interesting discussion!
    I had a similar discussion as a former athiest myself with some people about 8 years ago.
    It troubled me for a long time.
    Decided to find out for myself using scientific methods and the Internet which 7 years ago was something new to me and almost the entire rest of the world.
    I read the bible, asked myself and others simple questions which should have tangible or measurable answers and then went on my quest.
    I did find answers . The composite total were just to many. It drove my own scepticism beyond acceptable limits.
    I am now a Christian.
    Decided to write about what I found and also the simple straightforward method I used.
    It’s an article I called “Armchair Archeology”
    Read it if you want here:
    http://ablebodiedman.blogspot.com/
    regards
    Geoff

  41. Christopher says

    I would have to go with Leveyan Satanism: its philosophy of self-centeredness (worshipping one’s one self as a “god”) coupled with a set of doctrines dedicated to assisting the individual in manipulating his environmnet to suit his needs makes it very appealing to a Nihilist like myself. After all, with myself as “god” I could make make my own “righteousness,” “sins” and “judegment” without fear of reprimand from anyone else in the group – as they all do the same thing in their lives!
    However, I just don’t see the point in a number of their practices (such as the psychodrama rituals) just don’t seem necissary to me – they’re quite asthetically appealing, but I just don’t see why I have to go through them form psychological benefits I can acquire through more convenient means…

  42. says

    After reading your question Greta, my first reaction was Buddhism. It’s philosophy of kindness, reflection really appeal to me. The gods and goddesses, not so much, but I’m free to ignore them. Unfortunately, the most common interpretation of Buddhist teachings (at least in China) requires followers to be vegetarian, and I don’t think I can live with that. I don’t eat a lot of meat (at least nowhere near as much as Western diets, with steaks and so on), but I can’t live comfortably without it either. It’s not healthy to be completely vegetarian or vegan, particularly for females due to the higher potential for iron deficiency, as well as general deficiencies in calcium (if you don’t eat dairy products) and zinc (in all meats).
    So… that kind of leaves me rather stuck, since I don’t know much about other religions like Universal Unitarianism, Quakers or paganism. I joke sometimes that I would like to follow the (imaginary) Church of Gaia, based on the philosophy presented in Final Fantasy games, but that sort of mythology is… well, blatantly fictional (whereas organised religion tends to pretend they’re not). I don’t think I can keep a straight face while claiming to believe fantasy mythology.
    I don’t think I can keep a straight face, at least not for any length of time, while claiming to believe in ANY deities. So, like you, everything leads back to atheism again. But I like it for its freedom, and for the way I can make friends without wondering if they really like me or if they’re just nice to me because I’m part of their religious group and thus their religion says they should be nice, because, y’know, I would totally be that insecure if I was religious (particularly for the guilt-heavy religions like variants of Christianity).

  43. Jamie G. says

    Me?
    Buddhism. In fact, I’d say I am “almost” Buddhist. To get more specific I am attracted to Zen Buddhism, but I would practice as Secular/Naturalistic Buddhism.
    I don’t know if I would call it a religion, but I am attracted to modern bushido which was the code of the samurai. I admit I am very intrigued by the samurai way of life and philosophy and consider myself a Japanophile… I love their culture, beautiful country, traditional way of life, and traditional homes with the rice paper walls. I get giddy watching old samurai movies like the Seven Samurai or the Twilight Samurai. It doesn’t help I am a cop, so I get the whole “Warrior Way”.

  44. says

    I am a Quaker, an ordained minister and someone very interested /comfortable with Zoroastrianism as well.
    If I can use ‘God language’ for a moment, you all seem to be talking about experiencing life as it actually is rather than merely as you would like it to be.
    I recognise my own various weaknesses here but I have to ask why you feel that religion prevents a person from experiencing life as it really is, after all one of the metaphors for people of faith is that there is a ‘ground of being’ underneath all that is.
    Just a question really.

  45. jemand says

    I love the new religions… I adore discordianism and pastafarianism, I love Laveyan Satanism, and Raelism, Jedi, Invisible Pink Unicorn, etc. are all great I think. I could never worship an ancient book, an ancient tradition, there is too much inertia, too much stuck in the past. I want something new.

  46. says

    I am currently a secular Pastafarian because I like the communion and sense of humor shared within the congregation, and the pirates of course.
    I also like Jediism. It’s a nice, non-wooish brand of Taoism, with a nice flair of LeVeyan Satanism on the dark side. I’ve always had a thing for those two extremes, one a doctrine of submission and the other a doctrine of self-will, but I could never reconcile to myself choosing one over the other. The Taoist master has serenity within himself, yet the greatest human accomplishments have come from those who dare to go against the flow and attempt the impossible.
    I’ve decided that we’re all just the captains of our own boat–when the time is right we can unfurl our sails and sail with the wind to our destination. The key is knowing when to unfurl the sails and when to set your men on paddling.
    Anyways, I’m keeping the lightsaber along with my pirate hat, with a few ninja stars thrown in for good measure.

  47. Sensemaker says

    Why does everyone assume that you would have to follow an organised religion. Remember what the task was:
    “Let’s say He/She/It asked for your worship… but said you could do it any way you wanted to. What would it be?”
    Given the state of the world, I would conclude that this entity was either not all-powerful or not completely benevolent -he/she didn’t claim to be. That excludes a lot or organised religion. If I followed an organised religion and accept their dogma I would assume to know a lot more about this entity, the state of the soul etc. than I really do.
    I would simply meditate over the world and my experience with this deity -possibly coming up with modest suggestions for improving the world. That counts as worship in my definition and it is the most intellectually honest worship I could do (I would suspect I was chosen for this revelation because of my intellectual honesty).
    I would not try to proselytize. The deity made an effort to show him/herself to me (and possibly select other people) alone.
    Sensemaker

  48. Bruce Gorton says

    I was into the Tao for a while. I like the basic optimism at the heart of it, and the poetry works.
    That said – it would kind of depend on why I wasn’t an atheist.
    For ezample if it was because someone proved the Abarahamic God – I would probably be a Satanist. There are very few versions of that particular deity that shouldn’t be opposed on moral grounds.

  49. Eclectic says

    Bruce, I’ve actually had serious theological talks with satanists (Temple of Set, not LeVay’s bunch), and they actually have a coherent morality and theology.
    Basically, screw this submission and sheep and “drop-kick me Jesus through the goalposts of life” stuff; it is immoral for Yahweh to “test” humans like a kid with a magnifying glass at an anthill, and trusting him to know best is idiotic.
    Lucifer got his name dragged through the mud for pointing out the immorality. (Parallels to Bradley Manning are probably relevant here.)

  50. says

    When things are young and vulnerable, and nature wants to grow them, it occults them. Secrets them. Seeds in the ground. The embroyo in the womb.

    Cults are where Cult-ure has always been Cult-ivated.
    The government has loads and loads of its own cults, and doesn’t want us to have any.

    Media made you think “cults r bad” by getting you to associate them with bad things. Cults are just secret societies. They are good, bad, and mostly mixed. Just like families.

    The ultimate cult is the natural human family. (Mom, dad, kids.)

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