Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Religious and intellectual loneliness

One of the nice things about being a relatively thick-skinned male with strong desires is that one doesn't seem to be very bound by one's parents' desires and examples.  I had such strong reactions to reading, whether gripping stories or mind-opening non-fiction, that the fact that my family was not as interested in ideas or books was something I noted but simply felt as a fact.  No one put me down or laughed at my nose in a book, which I imagine helped very much.

I enjoyed the public library from the 3rd grade on and was lucky enough to have my path to and from school conveniently go right by the front door of the library for three years.  Meanwhile, a new husband for my mother meant a new church, a new type of church, Unitarian instead of Baptist.  It took me a while to mature into grasping the difference but as I did, I saw big differences between the ideas and practices of the two.  

At college, I met and fell in love with a wonderful person.  I wanted her body and her mouth and she seemed to want mine.  The fact that she was Lutheran was quite peripheral in my mind.  Later, she worried about our children's religious life, maybe their eternal souls as well as their tools for life.  She was clearly more comfortable attending the church she knew and having them do so.  I vaguely followed along but I knew what I believed, which mostly boiled down to large sets of questions I could sense no one anywhere could answer.

Getting a PhD helped me don a cloak of questioning, of doubt but also of interest in all views and experiences, fanciful or factual.  I became aware of what can be called the "Main Street" problem, after the novel by Sinclair Lewis depicting a woman who moves to a small town where the mental climate is much different from what she is used to and needs.  I read "The Conquest of Happiness" by the philosopher Bertrand Russell, where he comments on his sympathy for a young person in a small town where there is a uniform state of acceptance of ideas and practices if that young person starts to think for himself, ask questions, and examine ideas for their logical consistency and probable rightness.

Yesterday, a young undergraduate whose energy and outlook I admire told me that her studies and exploration of the world are getting her in trouble with some of the people she loves.  Since Lynn and I are reading the purifying and cleansing language an intelligent man, son of Christian missionaries, uses to describe the logic and structure of Hinduism in Huston Smith's "The World's Religions", I thought that someone studying philosophy and religion would like to read it.  Modern technology and cooperation made it possible for me to have that book in her Kindle virtually instantaneously.  

Meanwhile, a retired PhD wrote yesterday that the same section of the same book helped her in the small Southern town where she was questioning and wondering feel clearer about her mind and ideas, decades ago.

I suppose many religions and other intellectual, political and spiritual practices include admonitions to stick to them for safety and rightness.  However, as long as we fear for our children and loved ones unless they stay closed to our ideas and practices, we make it difficult for them to think and grow, even though we may not see eye-to-eye with their conclusions and directions.

The world is expanding.
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