Losing My Religion

Just reading that title makes me want to break out into Michael Stipes mode, but for the sake of my neighbour’s sensibilities, and desire to not be serenaded, I shall refrain. This blog and website has been an on-again-off-again affair over the past year, partly because I am pretty busy with our company, and there are lots of things and people that need my attention. The other part, is that I have needed some time to figure out a few things for myself, and to find my own comfort level of how I can express the fact that I have given up my previously held religious beliefs. The thing is, to what degree I have abandoned them, and if there is something remaining, what is it, and for what reason or purpose to I hold onto them, is still not fully determined. I suppose that my ambivalence may be a healthy thing. After all, it is not an easy task to have everything decided in your mind how the universe should be, who is God, and what is the purpose of human existence. There is much to discuss and explore.

Calvin-Nice-ThingsI have several dear friends who are outright atheists, and when I was a kid that would be like shaking hands with Lucifer himself. I don’t believe in devils or demons plotting our downfall. I like the book by C.S. Lewis entitled, “The Screwtape Letters”, a set of correspondence of one senior devil advising his pupil as how to entirely corrupt the unsuspecting host with hedonism, secularism, and justifications to leave the church community. But, I am not convinced our reality is a reflection of that book, and I know that the great C.S. Lewis had misgivings about that book himself. As for other C.S. Lewis books I like, I enjoyed “The Great Divorce”, “Surprised by Joy”, and “Mere Christianity”. There is cohesion and empathy and compassion throughout, and while I think that the views may be tempered in light of scientific advancement and more rigorous exposure to different viewpoints available today, these are good reads.

Coming through one time on the 88 Temple Pilgrimage was a good experience for me, but I found it more to be an intellectual and cultural study than a spiritual experience. The hurried pace from one temple to the next by tour bus is not the best way to be at peace, and calm, and to let something come to your mind. I recognize that and hope to do the actual walk itself in the next few years. My goal is to see if I can get away when I am 50 for a couple of months and do it. Might be a bit tight, considering how much I am still needed daily for our company. But we will see!

Calvinism-Some-Lives-MatterBack to the topic at hand. I am not sure if I mentioned it, but I grew up in a rather staunch and rigid Calvinist upbringing. My parents came to Canada from Holland, and while the Netherlands are all things liberal and progressive, the Calvinists of Holland are anything but. There are lots of good people in those pews, for sure, but I have grown surprisingly weary of how wretched it was to be forced to sit through endless dull sermons, attend catechism classes, and feel like I was being brainwashed.

I went to a Christian school from kindergarten all the way through my first undergraduate degree. College had some great bright spots, but even so, I felt hedged in by the tribe, by the church-going religiosity and “justified by faith” crowd. It wasn’t until I spent a year away in China, then three years in Japan, and then graduate school at the University of Alberta, that I started to make the mental and psychological shift away from all the things that had been formative in my growing up.

calvinism-when-thinking-youre-better-than-everyone-else-just-isnt-enoughIt wasn’t all bad, I must confess. I had a pretty sharp education and I developed powers of rote memorization that have been useful. Being forced to memorize chunks of Bible verses has been helpful, and some of the Bible is quite beautiful and profound, so I am not yet keen to throw all the babies out with all the bath water.

Another element of my need to lose my religion was my own very fractured, and now lifeless, relationship with my own parents. There was much Bible pounding, and kid pounding, going on in our household. And I needed to get away from that, perhaps that is what has sent me away from Canada for so many years. At least that is a part of it.

I think that my story about my departure from organized religion is hardly original. Lots of people lose their faith, and lose their church memberships. It might be part of growing up. It might be part of recognizing the beauty and significance in others and experiences defined outside the walls of church. Nature, other countries, travel, new friends, and falling in love on the other side of the world can change a person a lot. Is it an abandonment? An evolution? Or just a steady pace on the path of living one’s own life?

Some parts of each again, perhaps.

I am going to update this blog, from time to time, with ideas and things I have written about my departure from Calvinism, and from much of the quiet hatred I have seen and lived through within. I hope that does not deter you from reading all the other pages here as well. I think that the reasoning for this expansion in this blog is that a pilgrimage, a journey of your mind and soul, takes a lot of different forms. I want to explore that, and share some of the things I have been thinking and writing, or the books I have read that I think are helpful.

Thanks for your patience in advance as I fumble about, and if you have any comments or suggestions, please feel free to zap me here, or by email at: mark.a.groenewold@gmail.com

Travel safe fellow pilgrims,