My daughter asked me the other day if I like to go to church. I answered that I like to be in churches, that I love the architecture and the art (we stopped in at the National Cathedral on Christmas afternoon and checked out the stained glass and the crèches from around the world. We lit a few candles. A nice visit.)
That answer satisfied her, and we moved on to where we should go for lunch.
But she raised a topic that I have been giving some thought this holiday season. I have been reading a lot of fiction, mostly set in the middle ages, lately. Probably gearing up for another trip to France or England in the next year or so. At least I hope so. In the Brother Cadfael mysteries the same crimes for gain, glory or lust are committed as they are today. Members of Cadfael's church are like folks everyone knows; some are honest, some more intelligent than others, some are hypocritical bastards. Just like today. The character of Cadfael has chosen the life of the cloister after leading quite an adventurous one in the "outside" world, going on crusade, romancing women, the works. His belief in God is innate, but tempered by his experience, knowledge, and even cynicism about the human race.
The Golden Compass was on cable recently. My daughter loved it and I found it quite entertaining. I have yet to read the books it is based on, but have read about its author, proud atheist Philip Pullman. His belief system isn't the main reason I am interested in the trilogy. I like that he chose a young female protagonist who boldly goes forward in the world, following her instincts. I'm intrigued to read her story.
Where do I fall in these two extremes of belief? It's complicated. As you can tell, for me, everything is tempered by art. That is how I approach life, love, everything. I'm no atheist. I believe in too much. Somewhere between pantheism and polytheism, probably. I pray to the parking gods often, as I do the loop-the-loop round my neighborhood. I pray at night for my loved ones to stay sound in mind, body and spirit. But I don't follow or accept the Christian format (virgin birth? please), although I love the idea of the saints - probably appeals to my polytheist tendencies. Great stories, great myths. I have studied and adored art made to celebrate God, whether it is a depiction of Jesus, Buddha, Aphrodite, etc.
I'm still working it out. But I do know that too many people have died, made others miserable, tried to shut out or make suffer, other people whose belief system varied from their own. Personal belief is fine. Where it gets difficult, even sometimes ugly, is when it is practiced publicly. Organized religion is for the birds. Not for me.