October 11, 2016

Moving past

As you can see from my recent post, I've mailed in my resignation from my local Orthodox parish and, in the process, let them know I'm moving on from Orthodoxy as well.

But I'm not just moving on. I'm moving past.

What I mean by that is that at the age of fifty, after a lifetime of interest in the subject of religion and two formal affiliations, I'm moving past the point where I feel the need for someone to explain the world to me. I'm not looking for fairy tales any more. I've seen enough, done enough, lived enough to be at the point where I'm skeptical of anyone who tries to tell me how to live my life, what to eat, how to dress, where I have to be on Sunday morning.

It's liberating.

Many years ago, when I was still a boy, dissatisfied with the answers I was getting at the Lutheran church my mother sent me to, I found a book in the public library called The Renewal of Civilization by David Hofman. This slim volume in a red-and-white dust jacket would have a profound impact on my life. It was an introduction to the Bahá'í Faith, and while I did not join for many years, the ideas it introduced to me became a part of who I am--equality of men and women, racial equality, harmony of religion and science, the need for an international outlook, etc.

When, many years later, I finally joined, I was in for about nine years before the cognitive dissonance became too much and I resigned. While the Bahá'í Faith has many progressive elements, it's ultimately an authoritarian organization choking on its own religious bureaucracy1, at the pinnacle of which are nine men in Haifa who are considered to be infallible in the exercise of their duties. You can see how that might be a problem.

Still feeling a need for some kind of spiritual home, I did some reading and found myself drawn to the Eastern Orthodox tradition in Christianity. After a very brief catechism, I was baptized at the local Greek Orthodox church, which turned out to be a small disaster, the details of which are for another time. Feeling uncomfortable there, I visited the local parish of the Orthodox Church in America, which descended from the Russian Orthodox mission in North America. And that's where I resigned from yesterday.

Why resign? I guess I've just had enough of hierarchy, old men, and excessively complicated theology that produces arguments about the most astonishing minutiae. As I progress inevitably towards becoming an old man myself, I find that old men don't have any particular insight into matters spiritual. Hierarchy complicates things too. As the former metropolitan of the OCA2 said, "You dress someone up like the Byzantine emperor, tell him to live forever, and you wonder why you have problems?"3 And as for excessively complicated--go look up aerial toll houses, let alone the mental gymnastics involved in understanding all the implications of the Trinity. Oy. And then there's the uncomfortably close relationship between the Orthodox Church (as embodied by the Moscow Patriarchate) and the Russian government, which is giving new life to some of the more regrettable aspects of Orthodox culture. If there's one thing that's been proven time and time again, when church and state get too cozy, bad things happen.

But more than all that, I'm tired of the culture wars. I honestly don't care who marries whom, and I think there can be justifiable reasons for abortion, and I embrace the fact that we live in a secular republic whose laws aren't necessarily going to coincide with the canon law of any particular religion or denomination. It's something that everybody needs to just get over. Don't agree with same-sex marriage or abortion? Fine, don't have one. Failure to restrict the freedom of others is not an impingement on your religious liberty.

There are some people who can manage to think as I do and still keep it together as a churchgoer, and God bless them, but I'm not one of those people. And that's why I'm likely done with any organized, structured church membership. This is not to say I'm an atheist--that's a kind of certainty that seems presumptuous--but any direction I might choose to go in is likely to feature a much more direct relationship between me and the divine, call it what you will, without intermediaries or partners.4

The journey continues...


  1. For example, you are issued a membership card and number. For a religion.
  2. Orthodox Church in America.
  3. This was someone who was elected as metropolitan to succeed a notoriously corrupt predecessor, and who was himself replaced within a few years after much turmoil and, yes, Byzantine intrigue.
  4. And yes, you can parse that in a couple of different ways. No, I won't tell you which one is intended.