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05 May, 2007

Growing Up Secular

I used to weird people the hell out when I say I was raised secular Christian. They didn't believe in it. (These were frequently the same people who had no problems with the concept of secular Judaism. I was never entirely certain how they held the concepts in their heads.)

My mother has described herself as a "recovering Catholic". My father is a lapsed Anglican who I vaguely suspect of atheism (not that it stops him from reading lots of theology). We celebrated Santa Brings Pressies and Bunny Candy Day, without any sort of coherent religious meaning. I think I had a Children's Bible of some sort. I was taught the Lord's Prayer, and occasionally would remember to mumble it before bed. That was pretty much my family's state of religiosity.

I wound up going to church semi-regularly when I was seven or eight, I think, and my experience with it was pretty much comparison shopping. I had the option of going to the Methodist church with one of my friends, to the Catholic church with the neighbors that I had adopted as bonus grandparents, or watching Sunday morning cartoons. I alternated for a while between the churches with occasional days where the cartoons won. Eventually I settled on the Methodists and was reasonably active in that church's community for a nine-year-old, including listening to the sermons and thinking about it a lot.

I didn't have any particularly religious friends. At least not in ways that impinged upon my consciousness. My parents had Jewish friends with children about my age, which meant to me that they had a holiday with roast beef before we did in December. I had a friend in elementary school who I suspect of being quietly and very devoutly Catholic, but it never came up; I have vague memories of there being a crucifix hung up in her house, and clearer memories of my mother mentioning that her brother had been disowned when he came out of the closet, but, again, religion never came up.

Religion qua religion never came up at all. I mean, yeah, it came up in church, with people talking about ways to live, but the evidence that it extended beyond that was surpassing subtle. As an adult, I've met people I know to be devoutly religious from personal information, but their faith is pretty much invisible in the actions of ordinary life. People whose faith is visible are weird.

When my faith is visible, I'm weird. And sometimes this throws me for a loop -- I'm one of those freaky fanatic people who actually has religious structures that are part of everything else. I pour water to the gods regularly. I do my rituals regularly. I read and write theology like someone who means it.

I'm not secular anymore.

It's funny to have that perspective on the world. It gives me some sympathy for the crazy fanatics sometimes, the whole sense that everything around me is operating according to different principles, not the ones that I'm living by. Feeling the need to keep it slightly under wraps so that nobody thinks I'm a nutcase.

Because I still have the impression that out there in the world beyond my walls, people doing things for religious reasons are ... strange. I'm watching a friend of mine have to wrestle with some bureaucratic tangles that involve having to go to a religious building of a faith not her own, and the difficulties she has in convincing people that this is a problem, that yes, real people who aren't living in enclaves with walls and guns have restrictions on their lives depending on their religion, that it isn't just showing up to weekly service, listening to some readings, maybe singing a hymn, and doing social brunch with the folks from the temple afterwards. That it's real and makes a difference, and that it can be real to people who aren't completely on the margins of society fanatical weirdos.

My bread is rising, so that there will be bread for the Beltaine I celebrate with my ritual group; not my holiday, but I mark it anyway. There will be bread, and the first piece goes to the domovoi as I promised him. And I will go out and plant seeds, then, because the season demands it, because getting the seeds into the ground before the festival matters. And we will light a fire, and we will pour things for the gods, and possibly the neighbors will think we are quite, quite mad.

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