No, not that thing.
I'm speaking, of course, about religion.
Before I begin this discussion I would like to issue a disclaimer. I don't mean for anything in this post to make it seem as though I am denigrating any person's religious or non-religious views. This is solely a reflection of my journey, and since I am all about honesty on blogs, I am happy to share it with you. I figure since this is such a hot-button topic, and since I have so many lovely religious followers, I may lose one or two of you. But I hope that doesn't happen.
This question comes from the lovely Joyful Sparrow:
What is it like to have never been religious?
If Rob and I were to choose a title for ourselves in terms of religion I suppose it would be atheist. I do not particularly like the negative connotation that this term has been given by other atheists and some religious people; Rob and I do not sit back in our chairs laughing at the religious multitudes or argue religion whenever we get the chance. We both have my friends of faith and treat them just as we would any other person with any other belief system.
So how did I get here?
My father could be described as a bit of a lapsed Catholic. He attended Catholic school all the way through high school and sort of fell out of regular church-going after college. My grandparents were die-hard Irish Catholics; they could often be seen saying the rosary together in their separate chairs, and my grandmother would pray to Saint Anthony every time an object was lost (interestingly it was always found after this prayer). My mother grew up without the same deeply entrenched religious culture as my father though her family did attend church. Soon after I got sick with cancer my mother quickly lost any faith that she may have retained from childhood and became a self-described agnostic, which she remains today.
When I was born I was baptized by a friend of my parents, a Methodist minister, because it "felt right" to my father. There are also some rumors that I and my sisters were secretly baptized Catholic as well by certain members of my family concerned with our eternal salvation, but these have not been confirmed.
I grew up in an extremely rural area, and like many rural areas the majority of the population was to some extent religious (most people in our area are Baptist). All of my friends in school attended church. I went to church a few times with my grandparents but only came out of it with sore legs from all the standing and kneeling and resentment for not being allowed to participate in the Eucharist, having not been confirmed.
I always remember being interested in religion and the idea of God and Heaven from a very young age, particularly as the concepts had never really been explained to me in any great detail. I remember asking my dad why airplanes never ran into heaven since they were above the clouds.
My best friend in 3rd grade, Ernie, was a Jehovah's Witness, and I remember having many rudimentary discussions with him about his faith (not celebrating birthdays is damn near unthinkable to a 9-year-old). When Ernie passed away from leukemia I was confronted by my own beliefs in a big way; in my grief it became an absolute necessity to believe that he had gone "to a better place" and was in the clouds with God. I actually remember asking my parents if I could call him in heaven, assuming it was a physical location. God and Heaven became truths to me in the same way that Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny were truths; it became easier to accept them as hard truth rather than to accept what I now believe to be the reality of the situation.
In fourth and fifth grade I read constantly about religion, particularly Greek and Roman mythology. Around this time I developed a strong interest in Judaism. I was drawn to the sense of community and belonging that it offered; having never gone to church regularly, I felt a bit of an outcast in comparison with my church-going friends. I think I was also drawn to the mystique of a religion that nobody in my immediate circle celebrated or really knew anything about. I found a penpal online in Israel (who I still speak to, interestingly enough) and she was more than happy to teach me Hebrew words and a little bit about her faith. I went so far as to consider converting before my parents put a gentle stop to it. I don't necessarily blame them, as I was clearly doing it for the wrong reasons. Eventually that random obsession came to an end but I still enjoyed reading and learning about religion through college and into adulthood.
I suppose that throughout my childhood religion was something that I wanted to belong to, but not something that I ever truly connected with. The words, prayers, and readings didn't speak to me or to my journey, hard as I tried, and by the time I reached adulthood organized religion ceased to be something I wanted to or could connect with.
It's funny to think about, though, because at odd times I can find myself yearning for some sort of sign or some sort of divine truth. When my grandmother passed away last year it was extremely traumatic for me, and I remember clutching to my husband and telling him that all I wanted was to know that she was in heaven dancing with my grandfather. As I waded through my grief, though, I came to terms with the fact that she was gone, just like every other being from this earth has come and has passed. Truly, despite the fear of not knowing what happens when we die, I think it's pretty beautiful to be a part a timeless, natural cycle that began long before time and will continue long after I'm gone.
So, to answer your question, Joyful Sparrow, I would say that growing up non-religious was confusing, but no more confusing than anything else you deal with growing up. The absence of absolute truth meant that I was free to explore a variety of options with the full support of my parents and without feeling as though I was doing something wrong by questioning, something I value and hope to continue with my children. I have a lot of respect for those who have found solace or meaning in religion and who seek to do good by others, just as I have a lot of respect for those who have made it through their journey without a religious affiliation. Ultimately the journey is our own and no one can tell us which road will be best. And truth be told, I'm still constantly questioning every day.
I want to reiterate that I hope I have not offended anyone here, as that was not my intention. I also want to give props to anyone who made it through those paragraphs because this was a pretty dense post.