I generally don’t talk about religion here – except the one time I opened up to say I was raised in a cult. It is a very long post and if you are really at all interested, you can find more information about it by reading The Cult That Snapped by Karl Kahler. Regardless, today I was on a tour of the Greek Orthodox Church in St. Louis during the Greek Festival and once again was bombarded by this thought of what we’ve lost having (in many ways) separated ourselves from the traditionalism of church. At this point I am all at once telling myself to forget about writing anything on the subject and yet asking myself, “why not?” this is my blog after all. So with the idea in mind that we are all very open and different people, let me share with you something that was on my heart today.
I was sitting in the pew with my son on my lap sucking his thumb and looking rather bored at the guy who was describing (at length) the history of Orthodox religion – specially Greek. My husband at this point took my son off my lap and sat him in the pew between us and it was at this point that the entire idea dawned on me. My husband was teaching him patience, listening and respect all at once by removing him from my lap and onto the pew. It was a simple shift from one place to another and altogether a huge moment of understanding, “You are growing up now.” In this instant am I reminded of when I was young and sitting in a pew at my Grandmother’s Presbyterian Church being taught to be silent, to listen and be respectful of the minister speaking. I grew up with this instilled in me because I learned to be still.
I couldn’t help but consider this on many levels of what church had taught me growing up and all of those people that came before me for centuries; in many ways by these simple actions of our parents. We were given a basis of our morality, of our kindness and good fortune to others as well as the concepts of respect. These idealism were ingrained in us just as much as the doctrine that was being taught, regardless of which faith you attributed yourself to. A place of worship was a place of silence, learning and understanding; of contemplation and spiritual growth.
My son wasn’t just learning to sit, my son was learning from his Father a significant part of growing up.
This is where I attended Sunday School. The top floor is now condemned and being removed because it is unsteady, but it was here in the middle of the floor where a long wooden table once sat. I have very fond memories of this place that overlapped my years in the cult as this is my Grandma’s church and where we went when visiting her. It was here that I learned a great deal of what my son was learning today while sitting still during the speech about religion. Not as grand as the Greek Orthodox Church with its great golden pillars and clouds on the ceiling, but it was a simple place that taught the same concepts; giving the idea that it doesn’t matter where you attend you learn the same concepts.
What was on my heart, what I began really wondering, was whether or not the loss of people regularly attending church (as was an expected custom of everyone in previous centuries) also applies to the loss of the common concepts. Does instinctual morality and common courtesy stem from the traditional lessons that are applied by parents in a church like setting? Does right and wrong, respect of elders, common kindness / courtesy, helpfulness and instinctual goodness towards mankind stem from church?
Not religion, not the indoctrination, but the tradition of simply attending and the lessons that come naturally from that. I started thinking that perhaps it doesn’t come naturally without the core of how we learned since the beginning of time, which is why we have dozens of books, movies and even applications that try and teach very simple things to children. Children learn instinctively by watching their parents and from that the people in their community, if you are attending a church from shortly after birth and consistently being taught to be still, be respectful, listen, etc. then obviously it will become your nature to be that way. However, if you grow up without those customs then it would make sense that you would have to learn them elsewhere, that these common concepts would not be instinctual without mimicry of the parents doing so.
Then I begin wondering if we lost something really inherent to us as humans.
I’m reminded of parenting books. Since the beginning of time women had been giving birth and raising children, they learned how to do this through their own mothers, their communities and so on. It is only recently in history that women had to start turning towards books and teachers for assistance because we moved away from the common ideal that women stayed at home and raised babies and so on. We began moving outside of our communities as the world expanded and then air travel and the internet made it completely capable of living anywhere and being close to home. There was not this continual instinct in how to give birth, raise a baby and so on because we moved away from the continuum. Not in any way saying this is bad, I’m a big supporter of women’s rights (hah! what woman isn’t!), but I think we lost our instinctual understanding to some degree. In many areas, we no longer have the community that was in yesterday’s time and many of us are left to our own devices without our parents, siblings and communal sisters.
So coming back to what I was talking about. I feel we lost something and I wonder in many ways how we regain that without having to be tied to specific religious concepts. My husband and I want to attend church at some point to teach our children these lessons, to be brought up with the idea of being a part of a community and so on; but having grown up in a cult and going through what I had, I hesitate a lot. I want my children to have the ability to have open minds, to think and question without persecution (outside and within themselves).
How can I bridge my concerns with what I feel is necessary for inner evolution?
I suppose I’ll be wondering about this forever since there are so many theologians, philosophers, teachers, scientists, etc. trying to figure out the same thing. I can only go by what I witness in my own life and today when I saw my son move from laying on my lap with his thumb to sitting up straight in the pew, quietly and respectfully, I also saw humanity move from infancy to adolescence. It brought with it a lot of thought.
What do you think? Have you had the same feeling in similar settings?