I read Patrick Leigh Fermor’s A Time to Keep Silence recently. It’s not my favorite, but it had some winning descriptions. He can be really naive and sometimes that’s endearing but other times it’s just grating. And right now, for some reason, I’m kind of put off by things that I know would be much harder to do as a girl. You can’t just roll up and do whatever you want this way if you’re a girl. Every idea you have, every crazy adventure, is tempered by expectations and safety. I’m currently listening to the second book in Shades of Magic, and I so feel for Lila Bard.1
But, that aside, it’s a great little book-let, and will take you less than an afternoon to read if you don’t lose it in the couch like I did.
Anyway, the introduction is by Karen Armstrong, and one of the points she makes is that belief being a prerequisite to a religious life is actually kind of a new idea. She says that the tradition until recently was to engage in religious behavior, and belief would be emergent. I found that really encouraging.
About every 3 months, I decide I’m going to just up and join a religion. I really like religion, but in kind of a squishy way because I was raised Unitarian, which really means I was brought up to act with honor and conscience and no particular faith. I just don’t believe in God, and probably never will, and that just is what it is. What I like is bible study and philosophy and history, and the faith thing is just an annoying obstacle that keeps me out of communities that engage with those topics.
Usually the tradition I want to join is Catholicism, because that’s what’s been chasing me for most of my adult life, and I liked the smart Catholics I met when I worked at CUA.2 Once I stopped being terrified of people in costumes I’d never seen before,3 CUA was actually a nice place for me. Given my very conservative education, I had a lot in common as far as scholarly pursuits with many of the religious people I met there. Currently I live right down the street from a Greek Orthodox church, and I occasionally think that would be a good idea too. But I feel like I can’t ever go to any of the Bible study things advertised at either church, because it feels like I would be lying when I walk in the door knowing full well that I don’t and never will believe in God, I just want to talk about the Bible and the logic of Christianity because I think it’s interesting. Rather like I just want to go to monasteries and be a monk and have a cell and devote myself to silent contemplation…just without any of the God stuff. I don’t want to be disrespectful by pursuing it with an internal state that is somehow wrong for what I’m doing. I can’t make myself believe, or even want to believe, in something outside my capacity for belief. Of course, that’s insane, because I’m pretty sure they take all warm-blooded comers with good intentions in either church. It’s hard to get converts these days.
Anyway, it’s a terrible idea and I’ll never pursue it, but it’s always kind of fun to think of what it would be like if I could be a monk. Maybe I’ll Lila Bard myself into a monastery and instead of robbing it blind I’ll just settle in and quietly pursue my studies outside of time.