Where To Go From Here: Living Without Religion

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Religion is a source of wealth for millions of individuals across the world. It is the manna that feeds their souls, the daily bread that leaves all those who are hungry, spiritually satisfied.

But, let’s face it, religion isn’t for everyone and at this time in my life, it isn’t for me. And if you are like me, you may have asked yourself this question: where do I go from here?

For some, this question is pointless; all human endeavors are futile. But for others, there still exists a longing to pursue a life of meaning and purpose.

I possess that desire.

Raised in a Christian household, to a mother firmly convicted in speech, though not in thought or action–this was my adolescent life. I was a bible-toting anxious kid, concerned with being more than what I was. I wanted to learn and grow and become a good, worthy person. An example unto others. And naturally, emerging from a Christian background, I was convicted by religious thought.

My mother didn’t attend church under the claim that one is not required to worship formally to adhere to the teachings of God, the father. This, I later realized, was a conscious act of guilt. While highly intelligent and a seemingly beautiful person, she sinned often and had little desire to repent. The Church, she felt, would judge her. Obviously, she failed to understand that God insists his followers participate in fellowship with one another in order to reaffirm their faith and, also, that church should be about worshiping him and not concerning one’s self with the thoughts/deeds of others.

That being said, I–the oldest child–took it upon myself to bring my two younger brothers to church. It was more a place of refuge than a place of worship for us. Refuge from a home that neither lived by religious standards or good, secular standards.

I convinced myself on several occasions that the Spirit moved within me, but I, too, was plagued by guilt. Awful guilt. I wasn’t good enough or holy enough or secure enough in my faith. I was an unworthy human specimen.

My affliction was caused by an insatiable doubt that infected every thought. (Of course, this doubt, one could argue, was merely the product of a child who never learned how to trust individuals or rather one who trusted too much.) I felt I lacked a significant spiritual connection. I knew god had never moved in me. Even when I carried my bible to school and helped form a bible study for determined students.

Still, the doubt persisted and I knew that I could not call myself a Christian any longer. My appetite for truth and knowledge had somehow already convinced me that Christianity was not the true path. Still, it was a hard pill to swallow. After all, I spent my whole childhood idolizing my mother, who, despite all of her flaws, was a very intelligent person and taught me the immeasurable value of education. Unfortunately, she had also unconsciously attempted to repress our (my brothers’ and I) ability to think for ourselves, as her role of parent included instilling her own very specific values and truths within us.

Truths not to be questioned and opinions not to be disagreed with. To her credit, I believe this is also a failing of many parents, who find it difficult to play an ambiguous role. That is, they want their children to be independent, truth-seekers, but cannot allow themselves to be questioned. And, understandably, having given birth to me at age 17, my brother a year later, and parenting four children (two other children from her husband) at the age of 18, her own maturity and intellectual growth may have been stunted prematurely. Committing one’s self as a full-time parent, college student, and worker doesn’t leave a lot of room for personal growth. So she grew tired of laboriously attempting to shape us into good, moral, productive individuals and abandoned her role as parent.

Through this experience, I was able to free myself from the chains of her religion. However, as I’ve said, it wasn’t an easy pill to swallow. It was the pain of disillusionment and the fear of the unknown that troubled me.

And the question I feel it is necessary to answer–how does one live a life as a good, productive, caring, moral individual without the use of an instruction manual like religion?

I flitted from idea to idea and religion to religion, finding myself curious about Buddhism, Hinduism, Paganism, and many other philosophies of life. Eventually, I determined that my greatest instruction manual exists in the experiences of all human kind.

History, I feel, is our best and most true guide. I know that just because I have found fault with religion, I am not free from my own personal and social responsibilities. My Christian background will always influence me, as will any further knowledge that I have of the world. But as it is still my goal to be a good, moral, productive human being, I must act consciously to hold myself accountable for my behavior and my potential future. Especially if I one day, have a family.

And, to prevent misunderstandings, religion is not all together bad. It has good qualities. It unites families and individuals. It, ideally, holds one accountable for the choices he or she makes. It, ideally, inspires goodness(whatever that may be–our definitions of what is “good” does vary, after all). So without religion, I must find a way to carry on these qualities.

I want to feel kinship with other human beings and hold myself accountable to some kind of “good” standard. If I have a family, I want it to be united and caring. These things cannot happen spontaneously or without much effort and thought. So, as of now, I have determined that the most effective method for maintaining whatever standards of good I assign to my life, is to examine history–human history–and use it as a guide, as the instruction manual for my life.

If I do get married one day, my husband and I will need to depend on means outside of religion to ensure that our relationship does not become stifled or mundane. We must adhere to our own rules and must hold ourselves accountable to those standards. We must determine how to raise children in an effective and loving environment and how to encourage “goodness” in them without the use of bible-stories or the ten holy commandments, all while refraining from repressing their minds.

Long story short, religion does not have to be THE answer, but I believe one must have something to help them continue on in a world that seems futile without some “guiding force” or “ultimate truth.”

Just hit a fire hydrant. #Unbreakable–Lessons in Real Life from Haverford

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Parks and Recreation, Tom Haverford

My boyfriend got me hooked on the show Parks and Recreation so I’ve been watching it pretty much non-stop this winter break. He still claims The Office is better but I’m a sucker for nerdy, enthusiast Leslie Knope and nerdy, apathetic Ben Wyatt. Of course, who doesn’t need a dose of Ron Swanson running away from his sex-craved, librarian ex-wife Tammy #2? Or a Tom Haverford to keep the joke running (fart-attack, need I say more?)?

But good television still represents the times and no matter how weird, awkward, and pointless it seems, it can tell us about ourselves if we listen closely. I’ve recently caught up to the fifth season and one episode in particular really got me thinking about how amazing it is that we can still learn something valuable every day. Even when we’re sitting on our couches stuffing our faces with Hot Cheetos or yummy buttery popcorn and inching our way closer to reaching Pawnee status—4th obese city in the country, yay!

Season 5, episode Sex Education. #soccermoms.

But, seriously, while you sit there multitasking by reading this post, checking your Facebook, watching Parks&Rec, tweeting every two seconds, creating a new board on Pinterest, and playing solitaire, I urge you to also listen to the advice that Tom Haverford and mustache-man Ron Swanson give in this episode—real life is out there waiting for you!

If you haven’t seen the episode or are actually living your life, SPOILER ALERT and good for you! But for those of you interested, Tom, after hitting a fire hydrant due to tweeting while driving, is court ordered to spend time away from all screens pertaining to the internet—the horror! Despite his preference to get involved in the affairs of literally no one, Ron kind of likes Tom so he offers to help him out by taking him to the great outdoors and secluding him from the world of social media. But it proves extremely difficult for Tom; I mean the guy would rather go to jail than be without screens. So Ron asks him why he needs it so much, why he’s attached to the internet and his phone and all other networking devices so badly and Tom reveals the very sad, pathetic truth that I’d wager hits home for a lot of us:

“Ron: Why do you need to be so constantly distracted, Tom?

Tom: The truth is, I spend a lot of time looking at screens because recently a lot of stuff in my real life isn’t going that great so I’d rather play Doodlejump than think about that, okay?”

First, what is Doodlejump? And second, when did the internet become real life? It started as a tool like any other, designed to help us do our jobs better and faster, but here lately in the 21st century it’s become a lifestyle. Are we really going to let ourselves become these blobs that get absorbed into our iPads and Ultrabooks and smartphones?

If the answer is yes, pretty soon pinning about going to the gym is going to become the alternative to actually going to the gym. Oh, wait… yeah, that’s already happened.

I understand, real life can be a drag. Your love life is pretty bland so you start obsessing over the relationship between Ben and Leslie or Jim and Pam or Rachel and Ross or Carrie and Mr. Big… need I go on? You have to get a day job (gawd) and it’s not really fun because the economy kind of sucks and accounting is boring and everyone’s suddenly becoming a nurse because it’s the safe option. And you’re not good at math, you hate science, and you don’t want to be a freaking nurse alright!! And you don’t want to take the safe options. You want to be one of those revered celebrities, or a great author like J.K. Rowling, or a video game designer (or tester, please), the next Picasso or something. But, really, now that TV and the internet show us how awesome everyone else is, doesn’t it make sense that we’re starting to doubt our own capabilities?

The real truth is that life is kind-of-a-little-bit-of what you make it. Social media isn’t the destructive force–we are. It’s up to us—the almighty human beings—to decide how to respond to things, to pick apart the intricate details of our complex lives and figure out how to balance the teeter-totter. It’s not healthy to sink too much into one thing. Yes, it’s true—the internet isn’t going away and pretty much everyone is catching up and adapting. But it’s also true that, for now, our physical bodies and our minds could use some real-life stimulation. You know, all those things you used to do before the internet and being a nerd was cool.

Thanks, Parks&Rec.

The World is Too Much With Us

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{fog on the road–Devian art}

I know that the world is indifferent to us. But it is as indifferent as it is deceptive. There are times on passing nights when it appears as if nature has created some tiny miracle just for me—times when I exit the theater after sitting through a film that stirs up some deep passion or melancholy from inside and a mystic fog has settled heavy upon the parking lot. I step lightly through the clouds, almost like floating, to where my vehicle sits and can’t help thinking that “tonight, tonight, is beautiful. And it’s all for me.” As the car travels down the interstate, the fog hides the glow of bill boards that litter the roadsides and the only thing that penetrates the cloudy mist is the sharp glare of oncoming headlights that seem to mirror our exhausting and unending search for truth and clarity. The lights follow the lines on the asphalt, guiding us onward to something we can’t be sure exists, but will salivate forever after believing in the mere possibility. “It must, it must, it must, it must,” is our repeated mantra.

My stomach twists pleasantly and I’m comforted by the hazy fog we pass through. It seems like a thick blanket obscuring us from other people with their other lives with their other jobs and their other things. The telephone lines and the “rent this space!” signs, the tall church steeples, and the ambulance lights—all hidden out there on the outside… for now at least. My mind bobs back and forth from attending to my frozen toes and musing over my life as a walking advertisement of the quest for truth and knowledge. Always seeking more, more, more. Thirsting like a blind man for eyes that can see. Always trying to escape the fog that before was only ever awful and suffocating.

Thinking that blind men must, at some point, accept that they will never see with their eyes. Wondering why it is a comfort to me now… a relief just to bask in the simplicity… the beauty… of a world strange and unknown, but here.

C.H.

SO I Like Red Meat…

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I like a good steak every now and then. And fresh steamed green beans. Yum.

I came up with the idea to limit my consumption of red meat to only 5 times a year… but so far I haven’t been counting. Despite my lack of dedication and will power, I do still plan to implement this, even though it’s not often that I get a chance to eat it.

Why? I ran across some studies that focused on the correlation between meat consumption (specifically red meat) and obesity in America. The results were intriguing but not all together surprising. With the boom of fast food also came the boom of our mid-sections. And what do most fast food places specialize in? The selling of red meat products and french fries. Though I detest burgers made from the fast food industry, I’m not opposed to one from Chili’s or T.G.I.Friday’s…

Oh, here’s the study: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2697260/

Therefore… red meat 5 times a year….. should this be less/more? To be honest, I came up with the number randomly.

C.H.

Banned Books Week

Banned Books Week

Celebrating the freedom to read and write on whatever subjects we choose.

Introduction

Wanna know about me? The purpose of this blog? Here it is:

I’m a 20 something year old University student who grew up in a small city in a southern state. Yes, folks, in the Bible belt. But don’t worry, I’m not a religious zealot. I learned the value of education early on and strive to increase my knowledge of human life by forever remaining a student of the world. Raised in the lower crust of society but with somewhat of a natural advantage due to my pasty skin color, I aim to take what was given to me and turn it into something more. A rags to riches type of story. My ultimate goal is to be able to sum my life up as a successful endeavor. I want a career, I want joy, I want comfort, I want adventure, I want it all.

But here, I just want to share my thoughts–about politics, society, religion, literature, etc.–in hopes that they inspire others to share their thoughts. I believe strongly that we can learn much about ourselves from listening to other people. Good conversation is food for the brain. So keep reading, keep listening, keep learning.

Yours,

C.H.

Bookish Bre

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