Shopping for a new religion
June 1, 2005 6:09 AM   Subscribe

Shopping for a new religion: what are your recommendations?

Maybe I'm just falling back to my fundamentalist roots lately, but I've been thinking about signing up again for some form of organized religion.

My pre-requisites are fairly light: will never believe the world is only 6,000 years old, will never think gay people are the slightest bit sinful, dislike abortion but I'm not female so I don't think I (or any male) have the right to make that decision. Don't mind tithing but would rather avoid any leader who demands the credit cards, checkbooks, and house deeds. No mandatory goofy haircuts, no death cults, and no fatties.

Ok, scratch the last one.

So what has worked for you? Most positive? Best benefits? Most sublime elements of mystical joy?
posted by pandaharma to Religion & Philosophy (47 answers total)
Well, to narrow it down (so you can look at denominations), are your beliefs more in line with Christianity? Islam? Judaism? Ba'hai? Buddhism? Others?
posted by jeanmari at 6:17 AM on June 1, 2005

But what do you believe? There's actually a few religions that would fit your requirements there.
Are you down with teh Jeebus? Into the whole judeo-christian god concept, or want something more philosophical and eastern?

Have you done the Belief-O-Matic? It seems silly, but it actually does a good job of matching people to religions that already fit their preexisting beliefs.
posted by Kellydamnit at 6:18 AM on June 1, 2005 [1 favorite]

Unitarian Universalism? It's pretty much a one-size-fits-all sort of thing. Or if you need more structure, perhaps Reform/Reconstructionist Judaism. I'm for all intents and purposes a Reform Jew and agree with you on your primary points, as do many in the temples I've come across. There is that whole conversion bit, though...
posted by amandaudoff at 6:19 AM on June 1, 2005

How about becoming a Quaker? They have no creed. The Bible is not considered a final revelation, nor are any other religious texts, though they are used. I have personally met Buddhist, Jewish, Wicca, gay and atheist Quakers (the latter consider it an ethical system rather than a religion). The idea is that it's experiential, that every person must discover God (or not) and right and wrong for her or himself. And you get the support and benefits of a (generally) literate, accepting, and intelligent community while doing that. You can also join with them in their efforts to help others. And for a group that is and has always been relatively tiny, the Quakers have a remarkably far-reaching and impressively unproblematic record of helping others. During the Irish famines they did more good than the entire British government.

I attended myself for awhile a few years back and intend to go back within the next few months. [Insert long and boring personal crisis story here.] I found them by reading about them, deciding their approach made a lot of sense to me, and then googling to find out if there was a meeting house in my area. There was, so I checked it out. I was told this was unusual - usually people go to a meeting first, and then start reading later.

At any rate, if you are interested, try some googling. There's a significant amount of information on the internet about them. And if you live in or near a major city, the odds are excellent that there's a meeting house near you.
posted by orange swan at 6:51 AM on June 1, 2005

My wife goes to a liberal Episcopalian church that would fit your bill. And which church was it that had those great ads about how everyone was welcome--The United Church of Christ.
posted by LarryC at 6:58 AM on June 1, 2005

Are actually asking that we suggest what you should believe
or are you just looking for some ritual in your life?
posted by sourwookie at 7:37 AM on June 1, 2005

I'm hanging out in the liberalish fringes of Christianity, and it's worth it if you believe in it--but it's hard figuring out the code words that distinguish liberal churches from conservative ones, and kind of embarrassing at times to be associated with the fundamentalists. Quakers are good, and Unitarians, and the United Church of Christ is very liberal...
Experiment. It's really interesting, in an anthropological sense, to look at different ways of worship.
posted by Jeanne at 7:38 AM on June 1, 2005

Unitarian Universalism? It's pretty much a one-size-fits-all sort of thing.

I'll second UUism. You get all of the benefits of an organized religion (social structure, ritual, singing hymns), with none of the drawbacks.
posted by agropyron at 7:40 AM on June 1, 2005

the only people i considered (at a time in my life when i thought maybe it would help to have the support of a community like you might find through religion) was the quakers. i spoke to some and they seemed pretty decent, but no matter how much they denied it and played it down, it was pretty clear you had to believe in something. which i guess is fair enough for a religion, but wasn't really what i wanted.

since then, however, i found that someone i like and respect is a unitarian. his description of the unitarian universalists sounded pretty cool - that there was something to learn from all the world's religions. the only drawback was that it seemed a little too earnest. i don't feel any need for that kind of thing any more (thank god, in a manner of speaking ;o), but if i did, that seems like a good option.
posted by andrew cooke at 7:41 AM on June 1, 2005

oh. or what everyone else said. sorry.
posted by andrew cooke at 7:42 AM on June 1, 2005

for a bit of variety, then, hinduism sounds pretty interesting, but my knowledge of that comes largely from a few comments in "the life of pi", so i wouldn't give this opinion much weight.

you might think of it as unitarian universalist from way back...
posted by andrew cooke at 7:47 AM on June 1, 2005

I'd start with the quiz Kellydamnit linked to. Do some research on your top two or three results. Go to services for each result for a month or so.

Based on your question: I'd say UU or Quakers would be a good fit.

And as amandaudoff suggested - Judaism. If you do decide on it, conversion can be a bit of a sticky wicket. Orthodox and Conservative Jews do not accept "Reformed" conversions. Or, at least they didn't when I was checking it out.
posted by deborah at 7:51 AM on June 1, 2005

I'd go with Unitarian too. Some of the coolest people i know are UU. (some people find it a little too mushy tho)

Reform Judaism would work too (my religion), but official conversion is very difficult (it's not encouraged, and we never go out trying to get converts--most people come in thru intermarriage). You're more than welcome to stop by any Reform Temple and hang out for a service or group meeting and get to know some people. What deborah mentioned may be true, but it doesn't matter--there is no overriding official hierarchy with us--what we do is fine, and it doesn't matter what other branches think.
posted by amberglow at 8:00 AM on June 1, 2005

for a bit of variety, then, hinduism sounds pretty interesting, but my knowledge of that comes largely from a few comments in "the life of pi", so i wouldn't give this opinion much weight.

I could be wrong about this, but I believe you need to be born hindu. I've been told they don't allow converts.
posted by drezdn at 8:18 AM on June 1, 2005

Check out gnosticism. Examine it.

Hey, Kellydamnit, cool site. Says I'm 100% Reformed Judaism. Guess I'm not dogmatic enough for Christians. I've lately been concluding that dogmatism is a trap and distraction from The Truth.

Christianity: So few seem to pay attention to the basics anymore. What they call "fundamentalism" isn't very fundamental from a Jesus point of view, they are typically hung up on law (Paul). Jesus was about the heart.

Organized religion offers something, I'm not exactly sure what to call it, but I think there is something worth having there. Yet, the real deal is all found by looking inside. If you pay careful attention, I think you'll find Jesus leading the way to look inside for answers. To me, this is what the Holy Spirit is about. For more explicit instructions on looking, the Buddhists are very good.
posted by Goofyy at 8:22 AM on June 1, 2005

I don't think anyone else has mentioned it, but I'm a big fan of Religious Science, or Science of Mind, which should not be confused with Mary Baker Eddy's Christian Science.
posted by willmize at 8:25 AM on June 1, 2005

I used to go to a United Church of Christ church (not to be confused with just "Church of Christ" which is very different/fundie) and they seemed pretty close to what you want. I don't have any experience with actual Unitarian Universalists, only with a pseudo-Unitarian independent church that I had some serious issues with, but probably no one here would.
posted by dagnyscott at 8:27 AM on June 1, 2005

drezdn: Hindus allow converts. An American friend was ordained as a priest of Shiva. Doesn't get more Hindu than that. He did this in India. He was lately known as "Donny the punk", and you can find stuff about him on the web (I think he was mentioned on mefi even).
posted by Goofyy at 8:31 AM on June 1, 2005

I was baptized in a very liberal Episcopalian church and I'm kind of ok with it because it's a little more about spirituality than RULES.

I've been reading a lot of Hindu and Buddhist books and there are a lot components of those that I accept, but some small bits and pieces of each that I'm not quite feeling. I would say, however, that I get a better feeling of peace, calmness, and community from the eastern-type thinking. The whole yoga/meditation thing really keeps me sane, I love the music, and most of the people I know who practice in that way have been fantastic.
posted by superkim at 8:31 AM on June 1, 2005

Why not just believe what you believe? Why do you need superstition and ritual? Do those things make the system true? If not, why do you need them at all? What is the point of a religious framework if you don't genuinely think it to be true?
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:34 AM on June 1, 2005

No, I'm sorry. The correct answer was The Mormons. ;)
posted by trbrts at 8:35 AM on June 1, 2005

andrew cooke, drezdn:

Conversion to Hinduism

Many people in the world believe that Hinduism does not accept conversion, and that one can only be Hindu by birth.

It is true that Hinduism is not a proselytizing religion, but it is wrong to say that Hindus do not accept converts. Hindus do not use fraud or offer any kind of reward or allurement for conversion, but if anybody wants to accept Hinduism due to their free will, then that person is accepted with open arms into Hinduism.

Like other religions, for conversion to Hinduism a ceremony is performed. It is called Shudi ceremony, which literally means "becoming pure."


If someone wants to adopt Hinduism, Shudi ceremony can be arranged anywhere in the world by Arya Samaj, Vishva Hindu Parishad and even by individual priests.


To get a good sense of what Hinduism is, I recommend books like The Principal Upanisads.
posted by Gyan at 8:39 AM on June 1, 2005

United Church of Christ, Quaker, Presbyterian Church (USA), Disciples of Christ, Methodist, Lutheran are all good candidates of Christianity to explore. Some will have some positions you may not agree with, but are in flux so there is some room for debate (varies by area and by congregation).

If you want to talk to people in any of those denominations, sign up for an account on Belief.Net and find the discussion board for that denomination. There are also boards where Christians debate other Christians (Christian-to-Christian Debate) and where non-Christians and Christians duke it out (Christianity Debate). I'm somewhat familiar with BNet, having about 13,000 posts there (mostly under the name Paul_H although I switched to Doohickie recently). If you come over to the Presbyterian board, I and the other Presbies will give you the sales schpiel for Presbyterianism. Or you can leaf through the older threads where others ask similar questions. There are also boards for non-Christian sects including Judaism, Buddhism & Wicca. Lots and lots of boards pertaining to discussions about faith.

The Quakers are neat people to talk to; they really know where their towel is. I would recommend picking up a little book called A Quaker Book of Wisdom. I hope you find a faith tradition that suits you and helps you grow spiritually.
posted by Doohickie at 8:47 AM on June 1, 2005

One more vote for UU. All the trappings of church - community, uplifting spirituality, rituals, songs, peace, deeper connection - without the bullshit (gays/blacks/jews/women/anyone other than us are inferior or eternally damned heathens). They also draw from an incredibly diverse group of influences - the Bible, the Quran, the Kabbalah, the Bhagavagita (sp?), Thoreau, Walden, MLK, Ghandi, Mother Theresa - the list goes on and on and it's a great sampling of spiritual leaders and truths.

We're not willing to give up our Sunday mornings at this point, but we've gone to UU a handful of times and really liked it.
posted by widdershins at 9:05 AM on June 1, 2005

You need to consider what you are looking for out of "the organized religion experience". If it is community, you can get that from volunteering or getting involved in a political cause you care about. If it is spiritual development, you can get that from personal religious practice, through prayer and/or meditation.

If what you are looking for is the particular kind of security and serenity that comes from an unshakeable faith in God, the afterlife and so on, I think you're going to have to pick one of the "dictatorial" religions and buy into it warts-and-all. I'm certainly not going to recommend that you do that, but what I'm saying is that the price of knowing that you're right about everything is being wrong about some things that may be very important. You could say the same about other "alternative religions" like environmentalism, free software, or politics. There's a lot of value in all of these things, but actual unquenchable passion comes at the price of blind faith. Actually, I guess pretty much all of life works like that.

Sorry for not really answering the question but I was trying to answer the motivation behind it. I did the UU thing for a while but eventually couldn't ignore the fact that I felt like a hypocrite. Good luck, I hope you find what you're looking for.
posted by teleskiving at 9:09 AM on June 1, 2005

You need Belief-O-Matic.
posted by caddis at 9:25 AM on June 1, 2005

I'm one of those that amberglow refers to, who think Unitarianism is "too mushy."

I'm going to recommend, like others have, a good liberal Episcopalian church. Even in my ultra-conservative diocese there are a couple small, intelligent, progressive, gay-friendly parishes that believe that inspiration comes not only from the Bible, but also from God and our own intelligence. I'm churchless now, but I was attending one with a good liturgy and a musical director with taste.
posted by booth at 9:30 AM on June 1, 2005

caddis: Yes, we've already established that.
posted by Doohickie at 9:50 AM on June 1, 2005

My, there's lots of Unit* organizations out there.

Let me add one more: Unity. Founded in 1888 in Missouri by Charles and Myrtle Fillmore, Unity is a worldwide movement of prayer, publishing, and education that helps people of all faiths apply positive spiritual principles in their daily lives. It is also known as Practical Christianity.
posted by seawallrunner at 9:55 AM on June 1, 2005

I've got to read more carefully.
posted by caddis at 9:56 AM on June 1, 2005

Does secular humanism count? It has much of the good while leaving most of the bad.
posted by callmejay at 10:03 AM on June 1, 2005

No-one’s mentioned the Church of Satan yet: they mightn’t be the kind of organisation you had in mind, but their tenets, from what little I’ve been able to gather, don’t seem contrary to your requirements as stated, unlike the Roman Catholic church, for example. I don’t think they’re a ‘death cult,’ & nor does there appear to be a dress-code. I can’t vouch for them personally, though, and their payoff seems light on the mystical joy.
posted by misteraitch at 10:15 AM on June 1, 2005

booth -

What's so mushy about this?

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.
I don't want to pick a fight, but I don't get how anyone can find fault with those principles.
posted by Irontom at 10:19 AM on June 1, 2005

Dang... that quiz says i'm a "Neo-pagan". That's going to make Easter dinner with the fam a little awkward. ;)

Personally, i had a similar spiritual crisis a wee while back and i went religion shopping. I found that all of them are pretty much saying the same thing. Its just a matter of, we're all going to the top of the mountain but following different trails that get up there. So i stuck with what i was born with. I mean, if any one is as good as any other, why not take the path of least resistance? its AG, baby!
posted by indiebass at 11:22 AM on June 1, 2005

Be careful with the Presbyterian Church (USA). I was born and raised presby in a small northern californian city (i'm talking really northern), and a lot of the old presbyterians I met there don't really fit the description of "liberal" or "progressive," although a lot of the presbyterians I've met in LA do, so I guess it depends on the congregation.

I mean, we almost allowed celibate gay ministers, but I really do mean almost.
posted by muddgirl at 11:37 AM on June 1, 2005

The religion you seek is a simple statement:

You are a living god and no man should be held higher than you.

Everything else works itself out from there naturally.
posted by baphomet at 12:19 PM on June 1, 2005

I'm a dyed-in-the-wool atheist, but if you want to stick to some form of christianity, I second (third?) The United Church of Christ. I have a friend who's pretty religious but not *nutty* religious and from what I know of the UCC from her, they're a decent lot.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 12:40 PM on June 1, 2005

I think that "mushy" when applied to UUism has to do with the fact that the church has no dogma, just a set of principles. Many people want more structure than is provided in a UU church. And if you want a Christian religion, UU is not for you.

That said, I'm a UU, and I've been pretty happy with my experience, but it's a fairly decentralized religion, and every congregation is different. Also, depending on where you live, there may be many or few near you. I live in the DC area, and I could pretty easily attend eight or so UU churches without going too far, and if I wanted different things from a church than I do want, I might attend a different one. No matter what you decide you want, you're likely to have to visit a number of places to find somewhere you're comfortable.

If there are going to be children in the equation, UUs have very good religious education programs and other education programs such as their church-based sex ed program (they call it something else, but that's what it is, and my sixteen-year-old daughter is very glad she went through it).
posted by anapestic at 12:59 PM on June 1, 2005

I'd say the people are more important than the creed. Poke around a bit, attend liberal Christian churches (UU, UUC, some Quakers, some Espiscopalians, etc.), attend some Reform or Reconstructionist synagogues, some neo-pagan stuff, and see where you feel comfortable.

For what it is worth, the Belief-O-Matic constantly says I should be a liberal Protestant of some kind. As a dyed-in-the-wool polytheist, I find that rather amusing.
posted by QIbHom at 1:04 PM on June 1, 2005

muddgirl- I've heard reports about very conservative PCUSA congregations. I've lived in several different cities, and I've been struck with how liberal and open minded PCUSA churches are. Maybe I've just hit the right ones. (They asked me to be an elder, even after I questioned the divinity of Jesus in an adult Sunday school that I teach.) In my experience, they are more about an honest search for truth than following dogma.
posted by Doohickie at 1:09 PM on June 1, 2005

I'm a liberal/moderate mainline Protestant. That works for me. But I think that isn't really the right answer. The question isn't what you want, or what others prefer, but what you believe to be true. I'd recommend you study up on various religions, with a concentration on liberal Protestantism, since it sounds like that's the way you're heading. Think a lot. Read a lot. Attend church services. (You don't have to join a church to attend, remember.) At the end of the day, what do you believe? What do you choose to accept as truth?
posted by unreason at 1:32 PM on June 1, 2005

Irontom, I don't want to pick a fight either, but I do want to respond, even though anapestic said it pretty well. I find no fault with those principles. Every human should hold to them. By mushy (that was not originally my word), I mean in a religious sense. My impression is that UU is more "spiritual" than "religious." Accepting of all belief systems. I, myself, want to work with a limited palette. I need to pick one and work within its boundaries. And, to be honest, I'm protestant mainly because I was brought up that way and haven't been motivated in any way to leave it behind. That's just me.

(I'm certainly no expert - I can only base my opinions on conversations I've had with Unitarians. I have no first-hand experience. Thus, I appreciate the link you provided. I've never seen it all laid out like that.)
posted by booth at 2:11 PM on June 1, 2005

I've been a member of (counts on fingers) four different Protestant denominations (Congregational, UCC, Presbyterian, United Methodist), and regularly attended services at two others (Lutheran and Baptist). Of those, I think that an independent Congregational Church might fit your desires best. They can be difficult to find, though. Not all Congregational churches merged with the UCC in the 1960's, and the independent ones tend to be fairly progressive and less than hide-bound. (f'rex, I was at one service where the message was "abortion is between a woman and her God". 20 years ago.) They're a little more God-focused than UU, but not overwhelmingly so, and less focused on ritual than the UCC churches I've been to.

However, even within denominations, congregations can be very different. I'm currently a member of the UMC, because I don't like the local UCC (congregational) church, and the nearest independent Congregational Church is 40 minutes away. In a previous town, we joined the UCC/Presbyterian church because we weren't comfortable at the Methodist church.

Try a church on before you commit to it. If you feel uncomfortable in the church before you join it, joining it is *not* going to change that. Attend a number of services. Attend a couple of non-Sunday morning activities (one of the best ways to get a feel for a church is to see how the members interact in a less formal setting). If asked, explain that you are looking for a church -- many congregations have an outreach program for just such a situation; or at the very least, there is a person who can help you.
posted by jlkr at 3:01 PM on June 1, 2005

I'll nth the suggestion above for UU. Not only is it exceedingly welcoming, but there are various groups within the UU that focus on certain religious traditions, while remaining inside the UU framework. CUUPS (Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans), for example, is the largest (that I know of) neo-pagan group within the UU.

Then again, you might be interested in looking at something like Thelema, the religion founded by Aleister Crowley. As written in Liber al vel legis (The Book of the Law): Every man and every woman is a star. I'm not a Thelemite, but that's an awfully beautiful statement. Thelema tends towards ideas of self-empowerment, that sort of thing. The pantheon that's used is Egyptian, though it's an update of the Egyptian ideas viewed in light of the Aeon of Horus (the risen child) as opposed to the Aeon of Osiris (the slain and resurrected god).

Really, we need a bit more information from you. Do you already have a belief structure in place, and are merely looking for a congregation (circle, temple, whatever) to share acts of worship with? Or are you still trying to frame your beliefs, and are looking for a context in which to do so?
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 6:33 PM on June 1, 2005

key words: fundamentalist roots - organized religion.
- never believe the world is only 6,000 years old
- will never think gay people are the slightest bit sinful,
- dislike abortion but I'm not female so I don't think I (or any male) have the right to make that decision.
- Don't mind tithing but would rather avoid any leader who demands the credit cards, checkbooks, and house deeds.
- No mandatory goofy haircuts, no death cults

I'm not trying to troll or anything, but it doesn't seem like you're looking for as liberal a church as the UU.
How about Catholicism?
Great fundamentalist roots and an organized religion!
I'm not trolling

- yes, there's the Bible, Jeesus, Mary and saints *BUT* Catholics believe that just having faith and following the Bible is not enough to be a good person: you have to /do/ good deeds, /be/ a good person. Faith alone won't get you anywhere far.
- Catholicism is traditionally community-oriented. The first NGOs were catholic institutions (think Red Cross, soup kitchens). Actually, community service is an integral part of the religion. (see the part where you have to do good deeds, not just have faith)
- Catholicism is more coherent when it comes to abortion/death penalty. Both Cathos and Prots are against abortion (and since you're ok with that, so far so good), but P's are pro death-penalty and C's are con. Protestants base their pro death-penalty stance on the Bible (duh), Catholics base their con death-penalty stance on Papal decrees (a pope said a few decades back that being pro death penalty and pro abortion is a paradox and hypocrisy). In a sound bite, for Catholics, life doesn't start at conception and end at birth.
- age of the world, and all that dating the Bible stuff is a bit foreign to me. Once again, catholics tend to interpret the spirit of Bible. (see the death penalty... Catholics are against it because the pope stated that it's nonsense to be pro life and pro death simultaneously, despite it being written in the Bible that one should be put to death for plenty of reasons). I think this may be because the Catholic Church knows it compiled the Bible, so it's not really taken as "God's final Word", more like a blueprint for good living, to be adapted according to the day and age.
- Gay issues. Ok, so we're clear that Catholics interpret the Bible more or less loosely. Currently, the official stance is con homosexuality but if you reread chapter 18 of Leviticus, you realize that there could exist in the future a different interpretation to the texts. In sum, most verses in that chapter starts with "Do not have sexual relations with [your mother/sister/etc..] /except/ verse 22, the verse that speaks of homosexuality which goes "Do not lie with a man like you lie with a woman for that is detestable." Why isn't it written "do not have sexual relations etc etc " since the verse above it and below it explicitly forbids you to have sexual relations? Maybe because it wasn't meant to forbid homosexuality but forbid a single sexed male couple to form a family unit which in those times was the basis of each tribe/clan. I see this verse as saying, "Homosexuality exists, ok. But don't form a new tribe around two males: include women in the family structure". But hey, that's my view. It's not like Catholicism forbids you to interpret the Book.

Hmm, what else... oh yeah, pedophiles amongst priests and AIDS in Africa.
First off, these are great challenges for Catholics and that's positive. If your religion doesn't challenge you, it's not worth spending your time and effort on it. Religion isn't suppose to make you more righteous, it's suppose to make you humble and introspective, imho. And these problems are humbling.
Let's start with the pedophiles. Yes, they exist. Yes, it's a freakin' crying outrage. And no, it's not just something that'll go away if we ignore it. Actually, a few years back, I asked a polish priest about this, and his answer surprised the hell outta me. He stopped, looked me straight in the eye and said. "The Church isn't a building, it's not any priest, it's not even the Vatican. (heavy pause) Everytime you get together with another person to pray, /You/ are the Church."
That stuck with me and I have no mercy with pedophiles that silently work their way into trustworthy positions to have intimate contact with their prey be them pedophile pediatricians, pedophile camp counselors, pedophile boyscout, pedophile teachers, etc..
Ok, on to AIDS in Africa (and elsewhere). This is a much more convoluted issue than the pedophile infestation. Several factors are contributing to Aids in Africa, amongst them the Church teachings. But, deep down inside, in your heart of hearts, what do you think has the real impact on AIDS:
- 1st world pharmaceuticals waging war against 3rd world firms providing generic HIV drugs,
- African leaders that refuse to admit that HIV has any link to AIDS,
- American foreign aid tied to anti-contraception programs,
- priests preaching against condoms.
This may be a matter of opinion, but I don't think priests preaching against condoms - despite it being as much against the culture of life as the death penalty - is not the most urgent and serious obstacle to progress in the war against AIDS. Aid workers on ground zero will most likely confirm that the problems lie in obvious factors, such as the lack of paved roads and the sheer impossibility of reaching infected communities or even the lack of adequate medication for African problems. There was an issue a few years back with HIV medication that has to be taken in regular 12 hour intervals to work .. the problem the pharmaceutical didn't take into account was that in rural communities people don't have watches or keep track of exact time. Thus the medication, despite it being cheap and easily transportable, was utterly useless for a whole segment of the infected population. Same thing goes for medication that has to be always taken with food or water, or stored in deep-freeze: some communities simply do not have regular access to goods we take for granted.

What other issues are there with Catholics? Some take issue with the whole "saints" schtick. And it pretty obvious to see why, since it's elevating common mortals to near godly status. I guess one has to come to terms with it. It's only about having some other religious example of a good person besides Jesus. I guess it's kinda depressing to always take Jesus as an example, and the lives of saints provide colorful lessons of [chose your flavor: faith/madness]. ;)

Finally, in my closing arguments, you know when they say that the Church is this sclerotic institution that has never changed and never will? Well, history contradicts this. Actually, the Church survived because it was flexible. There were times when the Pope was run out of Rome; there were times when the Church functioned smoothly despite not having a pope for years; there were plenty of times where the Church split down the middle, there were reforms and counter-reforms, book burning and book safekeeping, good guys, bad guys, lively intellectual debates and elbow grease - as well as best selling fictional intrigues, hahaha..!

In sum, Catholicism is something that works for me because it's the right combination of flexible/organized, traditional/liberal, universal/local. It's organized in the sense that there's a hierarchy, mass is codified. (There's something to be said about that incense smell in Church. It can bring me back to childhood, and in a pavlovian manner, makes me feel at home no matter on which continent that Church is or in which language mass is chanted.) Yet there's also plenty of local traditions and customs: my personal traditional catholicism is quite exotic to Catholics from another part of the globe. In general, Catholicism is flexible in its teachings, the Bible isn't the final Word, dogma changes with the ages. It's flexible also because it develops alongside of you. The Catholic I was at age 8 - madly in love with an alter boy, but otherwise dragged to Church - is different than the Catholic I was at age 18 - everyone's an atheist so I wanna be different - which still differs from the Catholic I am today - after several deaths that hit me hard and the advent of heavy work and family issues, I go to Church to sit in the cool darkness, to suspend just my anxiety and fears for a moment, to calm this aching heart, and even sometimes, to let tears flow in the quiet miracle that is inner peace.
posted by ruelle at 4:54 AM on June 2, 2005 [1 favorite]

Ruelle, I respect your attachment to Catholicism.

As an ex-Catholic and as a progressive member of a Protestant denomination, I think you are painting Protestants with a pretty broad brush. I am against the death penalty, for the separation between church and state, pro-women in ministry, pro-birth control, pro-social justice and pro-commitment (regardless of orientation). I appreciate and also sometimes get frustrated at the more democratic leadership of a Protestant congregation as compared to a Catholic congregation. (Conflict isn't always fun but the opportunity to debate key issues is very important to me.)

There are Protestant denominations that I would not be able to follow and some that I would feel very comfortable in.
posted by jeanmari at 6:09 AM on June 4, 2005

Hi jeanmari!
Are the two of you sharing an account? That's pretty cool!
Thanks for posting. You're right, I painted both Cs and Ps with broad brushes. There are pro-lifers and pro-choicers, fundamentalist nutters and liberals leading lives of religious desperation in both camps. ;)
posted by ruelle at 8:07 AM on June 4, 2005

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