Like all on this site, I am not a religious person. I did not grow up going to church. Instead, I was left to read and learn about anything I wanted on my own and with questions. There was no dogma given to me. While I am very thankful to my family for this, I also realize there is a gap in my life experience that is often filled by religious affiliation and the extended-extended family that is provided by peers in religious associations.
I've often heard the radio report that studies show religious people are happier than non-religious people or that they tend to earn slightly more money on average than people who do not attend church. What is going on in these cases? I'm not going to go find the research to back up what I say here, but just think about common sense. If a person has an extended network of personal, face-to-face contacts that can often come from religious affiliation, then it stands to reason that they may have more economic opportunities presented to them. As for the happiness factor, I think this can also be explained in terms of human bonds and connections to others.
But, what about for the rest of us? What about for those of us who simply must question deeper than the holy books of old, so deep that we reject their supernatural origins. And, for many of us, our integrity of thought and action is so strong that we cannot possibly bring ourselves to attend religious institutions simply for the added benefit of social connections and possible business opportunities. What then are we to do to foster the extended-extended family connections that we need?
First, I want to say that this post is only about what is in my mind and felt by me at this time. I cannot speak for any other person. Yet, if your experience is anything like mine, then I believe you may find resonance with a lot of what I have to say.
For me, I have a deep sense of the sacred. Let's break down the dictionary definition of this word:
Sacred: feeling, exhibiting, or characterized by reverence; deeply respectful
Now, let's look at the definition of Reverence:
Reverence: a feeling or attitude of deep respect tinged with awe
I have a feeling of undeniable, sacred reverence for this home we call the universe or the cosmos. This feeling is made acute by a walk through an open field at night underneath a canopy of stars that through science I know to be trillions upon trillions of miles away. It's made acute when I enter into the woods at the edge of the field and begin to inhale the forest aroma of trees and soil and foliage asleep amidst the clamoring buzz of crickets and frogs and owls. The night is alive. The cosmos is alive. There is no denying this.
I'm well aware that magicians of rhetoric and logic fill volume after volume of argument in attempts to reduce our living cosmos to illusion or to figments of our imaginations, but the joke is on them for they are thus dubbing themselves mere figments within a figment!
No, I never believe a religionist who tells me our world is due to the creation of his particular god-notion and I also never believe an intellectual contortionist who tells me our universe is a pointless, meaningless sack of electrons either. The reality of our existence is far, far, far superior to the mere mental strictures and structures of any human endeavors, be they religious, philosophical, scientific, or otherwise.
The most important place, however, that we understand the sacredness of this universe and our existence is not in a solitary stroll under the stars or walk into the forest, but within the eyes and contained in the touch of other human beings with whom we participate as equals, as partners. Off and on for the past year I have been taking salsa dance lessons. When done right, the atmosphere at a salsa party is one of pure celebration of life, respect for each other, and of the unbridled creativity of human vitality. People who organize parties that achieve this level of respect and elegance cannot fake this, just as the stars cannot fake their shine and the owl cannot fake its call.
It is my experience and deep belief now that of all cultural traditions that have persisted across the eons that those of music and partner dance are our greatest, most relevant, and most important. More specifically, those that cultivate celebration, respect, and creativity are indeed a form of concrete reverence and sacred worship far greater than any abstraction or philosophificaiton found in any religious holy book or any academic position paper.
Am I saying that humanists, atheists, and freethinkers need to start shaking their boots on the dance floor? It cannot hurt! But, no, that's not my point. My point is that we have to use our critical thinking and reasoning skills to move us past the point of abstraction and into the world of the concrete. We have every right of existence to believe and to think as we do for we have examined the books and pondered the evidence and found it lacking.
Yet, their are extremely valuable lessons to be learned from our brothers and sisters in the churches, mosques, synagogues, and temples. These are the lessons of community and of face to face gatherings and activities that lead to trust, respect, and ultimately to brotherhood and sisterhood.