Personal Religious History

My spiritual life to date has been a 35 year journey of exploration. My family’s religious background is mixed: My father was raised as a Jew, and my mother as a Roman Catholic. My mother, herself, came from a mixed family: Her father (and stepfather) were Jewish, and her mother was Catholic. Religion was never an issue in my family. All of my grandparents were rather relaxed in their practices. I don’t believe that, other than weddings, funerals, and the like, either of my parents went to any religious services once they were over the age of fifteen or so.

“Officially”, I was considered Jewish (convenient when three quarters of your family is also Jewish). I was presented in the temple, given a Hebrew name, and all of the things that happen to a new born Jewish child. I was told “You’re Jewish”. I thought of myself as Jewish. But I didn’t really know (or care, quite frankly) about what that meant. We didn’t celebrate any religious holidays in our home. At least, not as religious days: We always did a big dinner for Easter and Thanksgiving, but without any religious overtones. We also did Christmas. Not as a religious holiday (although we had a little plastic tree every year, and my mother had found a lovely old-fashioned nativity scene she set up on the piano), just as a “family holiday” for being together and giving gifts and being happy.

That was how my childhood was. I knew, of course, that most of my classmates in school were religious (almost universally Christian of one kind of another), and that most of them went to church every Sunday, and observed all of the rules and regulations associated with being a Christian. But it didn’t really matter that much to me. Or to my parents, or to their parents. It was a part of who we were, but not one that really mattered all that much, and that was how we liked it. Not that I didn’t know what was involved in being either Catholic or Jewish. Even as a child I was a ferocious book worm, and read everything I could get my hands on, including books on Judaism and Catholicism as religious institutions. I was curious intellectually, not out of any sense that I did (or should, really) belong to any practicing faith.

When it was time to enter fifth grade, my parents transferred me from the school I was in to a church school. Specifically, an Anglican one. The curriculum was much as you’d find in most public schools around the country, with the additional requirement that we go to Mass every Wednesday morning. This was a requirement, and it didn’t matter if you were Anglican or Methodist, or Catholic, or Jewish, or Islamic, or even Atheist. When it was 11:00 on a Wednesday morning, you went to Mass. Period. You didn’t have to believe, or even really participate. Just sit when they sat, stand when they stood, kneel when they knelt, and so forth. I spent eight years in that school, and, like it or not, I began to absorb a sense of myself not as a non-practicing Jew, but as a non-practicing Christian.

After finishing at school, I came to the states to attend college, and the school that I ended up at (because of their academic record) was Seton Hall University here in New Jersey. A Catholic, church-run University. Not that I took any religion classes, because I didn’t. However, the Gods are not without a sense of irony: the job that I ended up with through the student employment office was as an office assistant in the office of Campus Ministry, assisting the assistant director (a Nun who had (more irony) taught at the Catholic school that was my Anglican high school’s cross-town rival). It turned out, however, that college was not for me (yet), and I quit school at the age of 19.

The majority of my friends at this time were practicing Catholics, some of them quite strong in their faith. I spent a lot of time with them, even hanging out in the parish offices where some of them worked, where I got to know the priests who ran the parish. I also got pulled (not unwillingly) into singing with the folk group that did the music for the noon Sunday mass. I’ve always enjoyed singing, and didn’t feel that my participation was necessarily religious in nature.

Perhaps it was the constant exposure to the Catholic Church, and a growing feeling that I needed someplace, spiritually, to belong. But at the age of 21, I entered the “Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults” (or RCIA, as it is known), which is the program whereby adults from other (or no) faiths convert to Catholicism. I was one of eight adults in this six month program. We studied the bible, and Catholic doctrine, and religio-ritual practice, and at the end of that time, at the Easter Vigil Mass, in 1990, I was baptized, received my first holy communion, and was confirmed into the Catholic faith.

I was content to be there for the next ten years, and in that time, a lot in my life changed for me personally. I quit drinking, I came out as a homosexual, and I returned to college (to a Methodist school, this time) in 1997, from which I graduated in 2000, finally earning my BA. But through all this, I knew that I was still changing spiritually. I’d thought that when I became a Catholic, that feeling of needing something would be satisfied. But apparently not. The more time I spent as a Catholic, the less satisfied I was. Not necessarily with God, but with the Catholic (or Christian) interpretation of what God was, and what God wanted from us.

Specific examples: According to the Christians, Jesus says to “Love thy neighbor as thyself”. But the Christians feel that they have to append to that: “Love thy neighbor as thyself, as long as he doesn’t go beyond the bounds of what we define as moral behaviour.” The Christian bible says “Judge not, let ye be also judged.” But this restriction doesn’t apply, apparently, if the people you’re judging are not Christian, or are “deviant’ in some way (such as being *gasp* homosexual). The more instances of these sort of hypocrisy I found, the less happy I was. By this time, my father and stepmother (my parents having divorced when I was 13) were steadfast Unitarians. I once described Unitarians (as a joke) as “Polytheistic Monotheists”. Nobody could see why I thought that was funny. Especially given the origins of Unitarianism as another Christian sect.

I looked seriously at Unitarianism, but it just didn’t feel right to me. They did occasional readings from the Old and New testaments, which was fine, but they also did readings from the Tao, or from the Tibetan Book of the Dead, or from the Qiran, and none of that felt quite appropriate to me. I assumed that I was doomed to spend the rest of my life as a “Fallen Catholic”. Believing in a God who wasn’t quite the one presented by the church, and having questions that the Church either couldn’t or wouldn’t answer. Questions like “If God is all loving, why did he create Satan and allow Satan to spread evil?” or “If God created man in his own image, does that mean that God has nipples, a navel, genitals, and an anus? If so, why? He doesn’t need them, does he?” These sorts of questions don’t go over well in the Church. They tend to irritate priests when you ask them.

Some years ago, I joined an online community. Not one with any religious overtones, but one wherein folks posted to a “journal” as if they were immortals of various mythologies. I’ve always been fascinated by mythology, especially Greek, so I joined eagerly, taking on the persona of Apollo, and posting as if I was Him, keeping a journal. It was through this medium that I met Kyrene, who directed me to Hellenion. As soon as I started reading the Hellenion webpage, and seeing what the organization was about, I realized this was what I was needing as the next step in my spiritual journey. I’ve been reading (and more or less believing) the Greek stories since I was a small child (my mother to this day insists that I taught myself to read on an old book of Greek myths for children). I joined the organization, fully intending to dedicate myself to working to make the worship of the Olympian Gods a commonplace activity.

The thought had never occurred to me that there were actually people in the world who still worshipped the ancient Gods. This was a (you’ll forgive the pun, I hope) godsend to me. And, the fact that we (Hellenion) are a reconstructionist group means that we have to work together, not only to uncover our spiritual roots, but also to build on them and recreate the worship of the Gods. This means we’re coming together as a community. It also means (and this is important to me) that I’ve found a community in which I feel that I can be a productive member, as opposed to one who merely sits on the sidelines, and follows the rules, without questioning. It’s that feeling of belonging, not just worshipping, that I think is missing from so many mainstream religious communities today.

One of the first things I did when I joined Hellenion was offer myself to Apollon, devoting my life to His. Of all the Greek Gods, he is the one to whom I am drawn the most. And it’s not surprising: He’s the musician, and music has always been a very important part of my life. He’s the singer, and so am I. He’s a protector, and (as my friends will attest), I get very protective when someone (or something) I care about is threatened. While I feel drawn to all of the Gods, it is Him to whom I have chosen to dedicate my life, and my service. I have sworn to Him that, come what may, I will work hard to live up to His standards, and hope to find favour in His eyes.