Keeping the Sabbath

When I started this blog back in 2011, it was always my intention to write about the Yin and Yang of our physical reality and a putative metaphysical one. Call it programming if you wish, but I have a life-long commitment to the perceived reality of the latter. I have a faith, deliberately irrational though it be.

I also have a life-long commitment to science and the physical world, and I’ve never had much trouble reconciling the two. That’s the thing I’ve been wanting to write about; how a spiritual life is not contrary or exclusive to a scientific one.

In fact, I believe they are the Yin-Yang of a complete person.

To be honest, I feel sorry for staunch atheists. I see them as partial and incomplete. I think they’re missing out.

For one thing, nearly all good music comes from believers of one stripe or another. I do wonder if there’s a connection between having music in one’s heart and having spirituality in that heart. Is it a coincidence that really good music is sometimes called “soulful” — full of soul?

§

I’ve written posts about this before, but it’s been a while, so let me introduce and declare myself.

As I’ve mentioned before, my father was a Lutheran minister (mom was the choir director) and his brother, my favorite uncle, taught theology at a Lutheran seminary. Their father was also a pastor, so talking about God runs in the family. (My mother’s side includes many teachers, extending down to my sister, so my family tree is filled with preachers and teachers.)

So I was brought up in the Lutheran church — probably the most utterly white bread and boring (and therefore sane) of the Christian religions. Not just brought up, but brought into and behind the scenes in virtue of having parents for whom the church was their work.

So my religious views included something of an insider look. For me the church was both a sacred concept and a building whose nooks and crannies I thoroughly explored and knew. (Churches can have interesting architecture and lots of surprising and interesting places to investigate. True, actually, of most institutional buildings.)

In high school, part of growing away from parents, I went through an aggressively atheist phase. (Some of that was just being defiant to my parents, but I did reject the notion of faith for a while back then.)

Ultimately the pendulum found a center: a vaguely defined agnosticism with strong spiritual suspicions, deist leanings, and occasional forays into theism (I’ve had some personal experiences that have given me pause).

The bottom line for me is that, it could be a godless universe that just happened and nothing intrinsically means anything, but that’s boring. And kinda pointless. Until, and unless, science can prove that (and how could it?), I’m free to believe — irrationally, if you like — that there’s more to the picture.

And I do.

§

Those who know me know I’m a critical person and that I have high expectations of myself and of the world. I have “old fashioned” ideas and ideals (which leads to considerable Weltschmerz).

I’m not the nurturing mother who applauds your every effort. I’m more the stern father — no less loving, mind you — who tries to help make you better, who wants to see your reach exceed your grasp.

As someone with an Engineering Mind, I want to make things better. That is always and ever the goal.

In any event, I like to dedicate one day a week to the better, or at least “off duty,” side of life. A day to relax the reins and kick back with Mom (aka Nature aka The Earth) enjoying the family (of humanity). A day to reflect on the greater whole and our part in it. A day to unplug from normal life — whatever “normal” may be — and look at things from a different angle.

I’m not alone in this, nor did I invent the idea. Cultures throughout the world observe some form of Sabbath. I think it’s good, even if not for spiritual reasons, to have one day a week that’s different, that breaks and bookends the week.

Call it a weekly Mental Health day.

§

The term, “Sunday Christian,” applies to those who faithfully go to church every Sunday and go through the proper motions, but their lives the other six days do not seem to reflect their espoused beliefs.

Religions sometimes have parables about the show of faith versus its genuine practice. Some even have parables about the ostentatious practice of genuine faith. (Hint: It’s bad. I’ll return to this when I discuss Pascal’s Wager.)

[I’m a bit conflicted about sports figures who make a show of prayer, on camera, just before a game. Some baseball pitchers, for example, walk all the way from the bullpen to the mound and only then make a prayer before they start. On the one hand, some religions ask their members to “not hide your light” and to “spread the word.” On the other hand, such a blatant public display tugs at my sense of religious appropriateness. To me, prayer (and religion) is a private affair.]

One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that believers and atheists come in two distinct groups. There are those that were brought up atheist or believer and who still follow those beliefs. In contrast, there are those brought up one way, but who have switched beliefs, often in some sort of reaction to their upbringing.

For example, the former devout believer whose faith has been shattered by injustice, loss, or the human bullshit that goes along with any institution. On the other hand are those who discover a faith later in life (again, often due to injustice, loss, or human bullshit).

§

I’m rambling a bit here, but I’m thinking that’s going to be the mode for these posts — just rambling about the topic.

In future posts I’d like to explore the idea of spiritual dualism, the difference between deism and theism, Pascal’s Wager, Spinoza’s God (physics), and other metaphysical topics. Also quantum mechanics and The Good Place. And George Floyd. (Think he ever imagined he’d have a Wiki page?)

I’ll say now that I’m not particularly interested in debating the topic, although I’m more than willing to discuss and explore it. Whether it’s all true or not isn’t the issue here. There’s no proof either way, and — along the lines of Pascal’s Wager — in this context the underlying truth is taken as axiomatic.

That isn’t to say I’m pushing religion of any kind. I walked away from the Lutheran church long ago, and Christianity, as such, really isn’t a part of my spiritual picture. I see it as merely one way up a mountain I think worth climbing.

The key (for me anyway) is a personal spiritual relationship with “God” — something that can no more be accurately expressed in words than can be quantum mechanics. (Unfortunately, there’s no math to help us with spirituality.)

But it is, as I said up top, a deliberately irrational act.

§ §

Being personal, and being the target of derision, it can be hard to talk about, and I’ll probably need some practice getting it right. This is just a start.

This time, initially faced with a blank page and uncertainty of content, I arrive at the bottom of the post having barely scratched the surface of the few notes I had for this first one.

I don’t know how many will join me on here (I appreciate that many won’t), and we’ll see how it goes. I’m still a little emotionally “hung over” from the Inauguration and change of government — still basking in a warm glow of relief, which makes it hard to focus.

Stay spiritual, my friends! Go forth and spread beauty and light.

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

9 responses to “Keeping the Sabbath

  • Wyrd Smythe

    And one more post that has, for far too long, been sheltering in place in my Drafts folder gets kicked out the door into the light of day! 🙂

  • Anonymole

    Ages ago I registered a domain COTGO.org (and .com) with the idea that I’d start a church: Church of the Great Outdoors. I still own it. It’s empty but hell, all of my 15 or so domains are empty. I had such grand plans. Needless to say, the concept underlies a general irreverent approach to religion: you need spiritual nourishment? Go into the woods, the desert, the grasslands. Nature will give you much more than some stuffy building packed with mumbling parishioners will provide.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Finding God in nature goes way back. Like, all the way back! I was a Cub Scout and Boy Scout and, in general, hiker-camper-fisher-type, so communing with nature has always been high on my list. (Some day I’ll have to post about the week on the houseboat, the mescaline, the Northern Lights, and the billion dragonflies. Also a swimming moose. And night fishing for slab sunnies that turned out to be full of worms.)

      Back in the day there was a comic strip, Rick O’Shay that had a main character (Hipshot) who had a relationship with God (“Boss” he called him) and his cathedral was the GO. The panels that Stan Lynde drew were truly beautiful. I really loved that comic strip.

      As for “mumbling parishioners” you should check out a Baptist service some time. They really know how to rock. 😉

  • Michael

    I’m along for the ride, Wyrd. I agree there doesn’t need to be inherent conflict between one’s appreciation and enthusiasm for science and reason, and holding the door open with the heel of your shoe for that breeze that sometimes blows through and begs a question. I am not a huge fan of organized spirituality because at times I think adherence to particular words and dogma obscure what is there. But as I think you know, I do believe there is a There there. And its existence needn’t make the Wave Equation any less amazing and profound itself…

    Michael

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Obviously, I quite agree on all points, especially about organized religion. Our sense of spirituality, regardless of its actual source or truth, seems to be one of our more powerful drives. (I recently speculated about the possibility that frustrating that drive in these secular and scientific times might result in it springing forth in other fantastic beliefs, such as Flat Earthers or less benign social cults.) Most religious organizations suffer from being run by humans charged with directing that powerful drive.

      And, of course, power corrupts.

      Which is one admirable thing about the Lutherans and some others. Their pastors have no real power, they’re more like Rabbis — teachers and group leaders. And, as with the Jewish religion, Lutherans are charged with studying and understanding their faith, which isn’t something all religions encourage. As with democracy, Lutheranism seems to be a “least worst” way of doing things.

  • SelfAwarePatterns

    Wyrd, I think you know I’m not a believer. In my case I was raised Catholic. My “rebellious” period was flirting with other Christian denominations, such as Southern Baptists and the numerous non-denominational churches. In my teenage years, I remember watching Jimmy Swaggart on TV (before his fall) and being impressed. I also watched Herbert Armstrong and even ordered some of his apocalyptic material. I dipped my toe outside of Christianity as an adult.

    I was in my mid to late 30s before I lost belief. I’ve tried it on many times and many different ways, and it isn’t for me. But if it works for you, then hey, best of luck with it.

    I don’t know how much I’ll comment on these posts, but might if I can find a way to do it constructively.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Yes I’m aware. 😉

      You’re one of those fleeing the church, and Catholicism is among the more dogmatic and ceremonial (they practically invented the term “high church”), and thus one modern people are less likely to connect with. That they have amassed such wealth and power — in rather direct conflict with their own teachings — never sat well with me, nor does most of their history. Toss in the active shielding of pedophiles, and it’s a hard organization for me to respect, let alone like.

      I suspect spirituality may be a bit like math. It needs to be presented right to see its value. When presented by those who don’t really get it, let alone love it, it can be hard to see the point. But I’ve found, through my life, that both have definite value.

      That said, given your background and age, and given you’re not someone who seems to think he’s missing anything, I don’t expect you’ll find much value in this. You’re certainly welcome to the table, though! The great thing about information is that sharing it doesn’t reduce it. (Often quite the opposite.)

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        I can’t really describe what I did as fleeing the Catholic church. Of course, I’m aware of the horrible things that happened in it, but my experience of it at the local level didn’t reflect it. Most of the laity that actually taught us in the weekly Catechism classes were good people and provided a warm supportive environment, and most of the priests I met weren’t bad. (One was rigid and intolerant, but he sticks out as an exception.)

        I will admit that I found Mass appallingly dull and avoided it whenever I had half an excuse. Which I think is why I was attracted to preachers in other denominations. They put on a much better show.

        But my memories of the church are much more pleasant than its global reputation. Which is not to say I’d recommend to it anyone today.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Your experience isn’t uncommon (although a lot of people had much worse experiences growing up in the Catholic church). On balance, most people living religious lives are serious and genuine about it. As with policing, another powerful social tool, there are issues with individuals and with power and organization, but the actual people on the ground doing the actual work are generally good people trying to do good things.

        Hard-core atheists focus on the failures and excesses but rarely greater the larger share of the good religious organizations do and the community they can form. Not to mention that a way of life with a built-in moral code isn’t a bad thing.

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