Thursday, March 27, 2008

Religion, Faith, and Alchemy

I am constantly on the lookout for new ways to explain my own ambivalence about religion. I despise it, and yet it has made who I am, and it forms the basis for nearly all of my endeavors: academic, spiritual, psychological. I am drawn to religion, but only in the sense that it must necessarily be an ongoing process, rather than a product of one group of people's musings on the nature of God. Religion, for me, is beautiful only when it is allowed to be fluid, constantly evolving and in flux, and when it teaches people to love other people. Why? Because I think that is how God must be.

When I was 19 or 20, my then-boyfriend, a year younger than me, gave me The Alchemist, by Paul Coelho--he said the book had meant a lot to him. I loved the book, though I didn't really get it all at the time, since I was so immersed in a community that privileged rules and rituals over real spiritual inquiry.

Today I was reminded of this when I saw that over at there is an interview with novelist Paulo Coelho that gets at some of my evolved ideas of God and religion in a very insightful way.

Paul Coelho:
"I think that traditional religions face this backlash because they overlook the necessity of personal faith. To follow rituals is extremely important for the cult, but religious leaders should understand our individual faith, our need for actions that truly stir the souls of the men and women. Because these institutions have been ineffective in doing this, we have been seeing a gradual disinterest in all segments of society.

I always say that religion and faith have to be thought of separately—mainly because faith is sometimes at odds with the cult. You can find this difference in other realms, including politics. We all know that laws are different from rights. We all know that certain laws may be unjust and that we have the right to oppose them if we think they are unfounded. The same goes for religion: individuals don’t accept rules that are no longer tied to their personal lives and questionings. People need meaning and only life and faith can supply this, not merely rules."

Joey Kurtzman, the interviewer, asks:

"Along the same lines, as we try to remake our faith so that it can serve some purpose for us, how careful should we be about violating the 'authenticity' of the tradition?"

Paulo Coelho:
"First you need to be clear about the 'authenticity' of tradition. In my eyes, personal faith is the beating heart of this authenticity. This is the living fabric of all religions."

It's true--when tradition stops meaning something to people, and when it loses its ability to move people, perhaps it has stopped mattering. And perhaps, when that happens, people must create new traditions.


Anonymous said...

How True.
I know for myself, I had to divorce myself from religion and fall in love with jesus and who he really is and wants us to be. Religion destroys people, churches today get it all backwards.
Keep learning, growing and searching for truth!

Insignificant Wrangler said...

I can't remember exactly who said it, but: faith is a wonderful thing; belief is where problems begin to arise.