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May 06, 2006


My parents insisted I accompany them to church every Sunday not, as I later came to realise, for the religious experience but rather that they could be seen to be 'doing the right thing' as responsible parents and good citizens.
I learned to recite pages of prayers and columns of creeds, all of them meaningless and, in later years, faintly hypocritical and embarassing.
I was exposed only to one religion and absolutely no spirituality whatsoever.
This was a very clinical and cynical introduction to G-d and one that served to ensure that I never found Him.
In later years I studied 'other' religions with interest, picking over their prophets and selecting the saints, creeds, ethics and beliefs that 'spoke to me'.
I am still not 'religious' but I have a wealth of spirituality that draws on Hindu devas and Jewish rituals and Buddhist principles and Muslim codes.
St Francis is my hero, Krishna is pretty cool...
I hesitate to say that my spirituality is a 'Pick N Mix' of popular religions but it really is just that. And this is how I teach my children, to find G-d in many places and sometimes nowhere at all
Does that make me shallow? Irreligious? Lazy? A bad person?

In what I gather is a fairly typical combination, my mother was firmly (though nonaggressively) religious, going to church every Sunday and expecting us to do the same, while my father was firmly (though nonaggressively) indifferent to religion, never going to church or talking about religious matters. I went to church and Sunday school, believed, was even confirmed (in the Lutheran church); then when I was 14 or so it all fell away, and I found myself unable to believe and uninterested in the whole subject. I stopped going to church, which distressed my mother, but (being a good mother) she didn't apply any guilt trips or pressure, just let me know it would make her happy if I went. The whole subject of parental influence in these matters is an interesting one, and I'll be curious to see what others have to say.

beth, this is a very interesting question, as is the passage you quote from Jung (I read that book long ago and commented on your first post about it but my rather long commnent vanished and I didn't have the energy to rewrite it). Anyway, you make me want to re-read Jung's "Reflections". Certainly I was influenced by my father's spirituality as well as my mother's more down-to-earth approach (similar to what Jung writes about his mother). What I picked up from my father was a sort of spiritual independence - he was "religious" in the sense that he totally believed in the existence of God but in his view it wasn't necessary to give allegiance to any particular religious dogma or tradition. His relationship to the Divine was strictly one-to-one, with no intermediary, and essential to his being. I never quite figured out what my mother's religious beliefs were; she went along with Catholic tradition, more or less, but wasn't very interested in it. She too had the independent streak that said it was okay not to follow the rules exactly, while not entirely breaking away.

Julia, of course it doesn't make you a bad person! I'm sure other people will echo your remarks and your path.

LH: yes, that does seem to be typical, although in my family, it was my father who went to church more or less happily (he and I both sang in the choir) and my mother who, like Jung's, found her spirituality and grounding in the natural world. neither of them are church-goers now. My father was a Methodist minister's son, and had enough church in his youth to last a lifetime. I married a minister's son, too (Unitarian, but still...) - hmmm!

Natalie, thanks for chiming in here. Had your mother been raised Catholic in France? BTW, your previous comment IS there - I've enabled comment moderation because of spam, so I'm afraid the comments don't appear immediately anymore.


I was raised a strict atheist, though my mother backslid as soon as she left my father and became, first a fuzzy unitarian, and then a fuzzy episcopalian.

I'm in revolt against both my parents, I think -- against the materialism of my father, and the fuzziness of my mother. I wanted something intellectually hard-edged -- needed something intellectually hard-edged, if it was to stand against the analytical habits my father instilled in me -- and yet something that would nurture the "intimations" that had always been so important to me (and that I carefully hid from my father for years.) So it's not surprising that I ended up as a buddhist, though I suppose a bit surprising that I ended up a tibetan buddhist. I revolted against my mother's vagueness by picking an ancient tradition with definite duties, and identifying it publicly as my own path, my own discipline. I didn't want a comfortable religion; I wanted one that made demands, cut to the bone, changed what I said and thought and did.

Interesting how many people reacted against their upbringing this way.

beth, sorry for doubting your comments box! Yes, my mother's vaguely Catholic background came from France, though her father (like many working-class French people) was deeply anti-clerical, having been brought up by Jesuits. Sending my sister and I to Catholic schools in New York was not so much for religious reasons but because the schools were considered to provide a better standard of education and to be "safer".

One thing I would say, and this has absolutely no bearing on any parental preferences/prejudices, is that whenever I have the opportunity I pop into unlocked churches (preferably Catholic) and light a candle...
I have no idea where this comes from or why I chose the Catholic faith but it cost me a small fortune when we visited the basilica in Assissi where candles cost more than the average euro and there were so many opportunities to light them and pray!

Neither of my parents were religious, though my mother was nominally Roman Catholic and I was thus baptized. My parents' ;lack of interest, combined with being sent to a Catholic school, resulted in my being essentially nonreligious. Though there are probably some deep-seated personality-based reasons for same as well.

Our family was one that did all the things expected from a long lineage of Catholics. We churched each Sunday, attended our churches school, said grace at dinner, were baptized, confirmed, attending weddings and funerals all in the same church our parents parents and their families did. I recall the formalities as comforting not in the spiritual sense but with hominess of tradition. In all the years I was surrounded with opportunities to "catch on" I didn't. All these doings always bothered me in the sense there was no feeling behind them.

Resently our family lost our father. During the weeks of his death there was a moment when he wanted to say the rosary. It is a memory that will last forever. A dying man lying in bed with his arms outreached and his hands fumbling through the beads the best he could. We were all there with him yet the honor of silence and the wonder of the depth of his prayer impressed me. He made it through the ritual, from that moment on an undeniable calmness set it. He died in peace days later.

My perception of his faith changed that day. My perception of my faith changed that day too. I wish we could have shared our beliefs with each other. It gives me great comfort to know that what had always appeared as going through the motions was more than that. His faith and religion were personal, deep seated, and most important to me was that it was there. He loved and was loved.

Chris, maybe non-religious -- but I'd be hard-pressed to call you non-spiritual.

Jane, thanks for sharing that memory and how it affected you. I was touched by it. So much of what turns us off from religion, I think, is an impression of insincerity or empty ritual that we observe in adults when we're children. Yet, as several have said here, the desire for ritual and meaning is deeply rooted in us, so much so that many spend a whole lifetime looking for some authentic way to express and incorporate it.

Beth, thanks for hosting this great discussion.

I became a born-again Christian at age sixteen. I preached in my high school halls, the whole thing. When my world fell apart eight years ago, I discovered that my adopted religion had been in part my way of rebelling against my father, whom I had not been close to until years later. I needed something that could reach me back then, and my parents' Episcopal Church wasn't doing it. The church reminded me too much of my father, who was an usher and the senior warden there.

For years now, my heart has softened towards the Episcopal Church. The services there touch me deeply. I have used the church’s prayer book and hymnal for devotions a lot. I now like to think that I share some of my father's spirituality, but in some respects I am fooling myself.

The whole thing turned out better than if I had never rebelled.

Claiming our own spirituality is a journey of epic proportion. It is no little thing to separate out those strands of words and energies we've marinated in and have internalized in almost superstitious ways. At Christmas this year when singing "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" I was struck by the lyric, "Make safe the way that leads on high." I've been doing a tremendous amount of work with a gifted spiritual director. Sometimes the growth feels illogical and almost dangerous. Still, the open space around my heart and the creativity that exponentially clamors for expression cannot be a fluke, can it?

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Who was Cassandra?

  • In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.