What do you Believe?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

There are three things that I was taught never to talk about in polite conversation: Bush, Booze, or the Bible. 

Imagine my surprise when my host father asks me at dinner: 

Are you religious? 

We had talked briefly about religion before, when I mentioned that I had been raised Christian and found the cathedral in Caen beautiful.

That's the thing about France, and most of Europe, you know when you're going through a town because you will see a large cathedral with spires reaching towards the sky, rising out of the countryside. Without fail. Therefore, one could reasonably surmise that religion would be a huge part of the culture.

So I asked my host father: Are a lot of people in France religious?

The following conversation was incredibly enlightening. Basically, he explained that France is a very de-Christianized nation. There is an extreme separation between the church and state, although historically the kings were from a "divine" lineage, etc. So there are a lot of religious influences, but there is certainly not a lot of influence in the state or public sphere. I explained how it's really different in the United States. I know a lot of religious people at home, and religious ideas certainly permeate the public and political sphere. There are several celebrities, political figures, and other important public figures who are devout and outspoken about their religious beliefs. It's not like that in France. Religion is very much a private matter. You will not find politicians openly displaying their faith. There are certainly active members of religions, as even tourist landmark Notre Dame has a dedicated parish, but it's just not as public as it is in the US. 

We then started talking about our own personal beliefs. I won't divulge too much of what he said, but this one part really stood out to me. He said, "science explains the 'how,' but it's up to us to explain the 'why.'" 

That's a really interesting way of looking at it, I think. I feel like we have been conditioned to see science and religion on opposite sides of the coin, when in fact, they may be more compatible than we think. Science tells us that we are beautiful, amazing, unique creatures in our DNA, in the way that it is formed, in the natural processes of this world, in the immensity of our Universe. Maybe religion is one way of making sense of all of that... of the science. We know the how... by why? 

Okay, Zoe. Answer the question.

Here's the thing: I find religion beautiful. There's something comforting in having faith in something whole-heartedly. Every city and town in France I visit, I definitely see the cathedrals and they're gorgeous (my favorite has been Bayeux). It's amazing that even in the midst of bombing the crap out of this place, both sides during the world wars tried their best (and were pretty successful) in saving the cathedrals. The ceremonial aspect of certain sects of Christianity, like Catholic mass, are absolutely amazing to me (I use Christianity as the example because it's what I know best). The Bible is a beautifully written book, Psalms are my favorite.

I'm just not religious.

I went to church when I was a kid. I did the AWANA thing, and got all the stickers on all my badges, memorized a ton of verses, and was seriously into church and my friends that I made there. But some things that I learned at church were not compatible with what I feel in my heart to be right, especially as I grew older and started to be exposed to different ways of thinking. I became one of those people that only went to church on Easter and Christmas Eve. Not all churches are the same, and I know that. I just find organized religion to not be my thing. 

So what do I believe? 

Do I believe in God? Yes. And He - or She - is a comforting presence in my life. 

I believe in kindness. I believe in the capacity for good that we have. I believe in loving each other, in not judging each other, in compassion, in fairness, goodness, humility and forgiveness. I believe that even though the world is a scary place sometimes, there is reason to hope. At the risk of sounding like a feel-good hippie (mind you, I am from Colorado), I believe in the power of the Universe. 

So, here I am. A decidedly un-religious girl in a country where the influence of religion is built into the very fabric of the social, political, and historical landscape, and massive cathedrals dot the countryside. It's certainly an interesting place to be. 

Are you religious? Have you ever been to a place that made you think seriously about your religion/faith?

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