Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Religion matters

It is due no doubt to my Pietist heritage that I take seriously and respect the religious world view. It is no doubt also due to Pietism (in Finnish "herännäisyys") that I don't mean organized religion, its petty or viscious powerstructures, its obscure, irrelevant theologies and muddy and intolerant thinking. But I do think that regardless of any possible supernatural reality (whose existence I tend to doubt) there is a deep inexplicable mysticism in our being in the world, and often it is the religious experience that captures some of the essence of this. In the way that the relatively materialist and rationalist Enlightenment (not to speak of the postmodern inanities) does not.

Of course the organized religion is not concerned about this mystical being in the world: it is concerned about earthly power and control. Even our mild Finnish Lutheran Church of the latter-day social democrats cynically compromices between radical, open vistas of the true essence of Christianity and the influential conservative perversions of it that reluctantly and tortuously have retreated from actually murdering non-orthodox minorities to just actively discriminating against them. Of course it is debatable whether this mystical essence is worth the other worldly, ignorant and intolerant 99%, but I don't think that this utter corruption of all honest seeking is peculiarly characteristical of religious organizations but of all human organizations.


helsinkian said...

I tend to take other people's religion seriously but my own less than seriously. When religion is abused, it hurts people. But religion can help people in many ways. It is a very human activity.

Since I have both people who believe in God and atheists among family and as well as friends, I've developed a sort of bilingual discourse on religion. I feel that I understand both and feel affinity toward both but neither group feels as my own. I can talk to an atheist about the downsides of religion, especially state-sanctioned religion or any kind of arrangement that limits the freedom of people to seek answers to questions they most likely will feel as important in their lives. As I'm very curious about religions, myths and the history of religion, I feel that I can talk to most believers of different religions with empathy about their religion and try to see that what is it in that religion that gives them such solace.

Actually the most difficult relationship I have to religion is with the Lutheran Church. I stick to it but not a day goes by without my considering leaving it. It's a good church, probably top ten or close in my book but it's not mine. I feel my own baptism to that church as a problem since I've ever heard of other religions, I've seen them as more appealing to me. I would never even have considered Lutheran as a serious option, hadn't it been the religion of ancestors and the decision to baptize me hadn't been made before I was capable of saying something about it.

I know that I went to confirmation willingly, with an open mind, seeking something that I didn't find from that experience. As a social experience the camp was invigorating but as a religious experience the ceremony that was supposed to confirm my Lutheran faith left me numb. I felt a strong connection to my friends but my part in the Lutheran Church felt as a hollow act, a role in a farce that I played only to please elder relatives.

Now I know the Lutheran Church is not soulless, there are strong Lutheran believers right here in Helsinki. I'm certainly liberal in my religious views and I prefer many things in the Lutheran Church compared with more conservative religions that may appeal to other senses than reason. But I don't feel Lutheran at all. It appeals neither to my reason nor to my feelings.

I still want to say I hugely respect those whose feelings get that kick out of Lutheranism and who do feel it as the height of reason in a religious context. But I feel very uncomfortable about the way how priests tend to reason that since more than 80% of Finns are Lutheran, their views represent those of the vast majority of the people and they should have special privileges and keep their state church status.

I'm a member of the church and I don't feel even a slightest jitter of the Lutheran vibe in my heart. But I've never confronted a priest in my parish with my feelings or my lack of belief in the doctrine of my church. A religious friend of mine did this and he left the church after lengthy discussions with priests, realizing that his religion was not Lutheran.

stockholm slender said...

Your position sounds quite familiar! I have a very Christian background - but also a very peculiar one as Pietism or herännäisyys in its current form is not very typical movement in its refusal to aim for power and control. So, I have hard time in totally refusing this mysticism and silence which Pietism means for me. It is quite sneaky in its undermining the meaningfullness of the clear, but fundamentally simplistic atheist-agnostic-believer categorization. Theology and church are really not meaningful for me, and I have only vague sympathy towards the Finnish church combined with fierce impatience of its appeasement politics. But our being in the world really contains something mystic - if only we would get rid of religion as opium for the people and retain only the religion as a form of truth seeking.

I respect the position of the state church from a Burkean perspective: we should not easily tinker with existing structures. Lutheranism contains amazing visions of human experience - like most religious traditions. The details of the theology are something else and mostly aimed for control.