As I grew up and went to college I met those who would devote their lives to Universities and other perilous academic flesh parlors. They managed to make a decent living, influence a few strangers, and not slit their own throats upon realizing the ideal was nowhere close to the reality.
I learned to mourn from those who didn't fit in either group so they floundered and were lost in wars, accidents, bad relationships and diseases that didn't even exist while we were growing up. By the time I reached young adulthood I had a world of new knowledge and painful scars that healed on top of the wounds that came with those lessons.
But it was the immigrants within my own family and in my neighborhood who taught me the most important lesson: those who dare to leap do so alone, against all common sense, and in spite of the bleating herd--but the rewards for doing so are magnificent. If they didn't believe this, I'd be writing this post from Europe because they would not have uprooted their lives to break away from the stockade, the comfortable pasture, the herd of like-minded creatures, the holy institutions of church, school and some twisted biblical version of marriage, to come to a land where they would starve for the first few years, endure ignorance beyond belief, work hours and jobs no one wanted, and still never be completely accepted by anyone except each other.
I took these lessons with me when I moved north for Graduate school. I mistakenly believed, as many foolish youth believe, that my world was the same as everyone else's. I didn't want to be swallowed by the Academic trap that caught my friends and made them safe and sane and far less interesting than they were when words didn't matter so much. I wanted something familiar and yet something different. I didn't want structure and organization. I wanted free form, freethinking, and a minimal amount of rules based on judgements of the few.
These desires led me to gravitate toward the "new age" community because it seemed familiar in the sense that it had the right words when applied to people: artist, musician, rebel, outlaw, different. There was an aura of creative energy that had the familiar smell of childhood much as a loaf of freshly baked bread evokes memories of special times.
I thought I had come home, but I failed to see something I never expected to see in those who smelled so familiar: the stench of dogmatism. I missed it because I wasn't familiar enough with the smell to recognize it. I didn't go to church as a child or as a young adult or as an old adult. I went to nature instead. I camped out in the desert, in the mountains, the hills. But not my community, not the family I thought had adopted me as one of their own. I soon learned the community lived in the attic of a house whose foundation was something far more restrictive and dangerous to me as an individual: religion. And I also learned that because I wasn't trained in churchiness, in mandatory meetings, in standing as a herd, then I was dangerous to them. They could never own me and that meant they could never accept me.
Now you have the understand the situation here. I am a blatant Atheist. Always have been. Always will be. But I'm also someone who doesn't dismiss someone's beliefs or lack of them without having a damn good reason for doing so. That's why I went to their circles, their dances, their suppers, their gatherings, their rituals. I wanted to see how they were different, how they had left behind the past they claimed to have left behind.
I didn't see anything different. I saw the children of middle America being the children of middle America. They had their ritualized Sunday suppers that were only for "family," which was great if you were part of the family and awful if you were not. I was told that the line had to be drawn somewhere, that some people had to be included and others not. But no one told me how the decisions were made, who made them, or why I was included in such an aberration. I quit going to dinners.
They had parties and special events that were invitation only that were private and ritualized. People heard about them and once again were hurt and asked me about some of them and once again I felt bad as if it were my fault that my friends were becoming their parents. Once again it was us and them, once again it was a community of traumatized children reliving their past and inflicting wounds of vengeance on others to lessen the burden on themselves. I quit going to "events" that were closed.
They had meetings with rules and rituals and formalities that were stricter than any religion they escaped from. They had a code of community do's and don'ts that were based on nothing more than the noisiest voice generating the most acquiescence...very much like the loudest tantrum sets the agenda. And they punished, shunned, and discredited anyone who did not believe, who did not attend their churches and meetings, who did not hate and distrust those they hated and distrusted.
My circle of friends I trusted became small enough to count on one hand. And that's the moment they came after me just like the Puritans went after the witches...except they all saw themselves as witches and still do. They came after me because I refused to fight back, because I didn't see any of their issues as serious enough to give it much thought, because I trusted them with the loyalty of one who was raised to trust only her friends.
In the end, I'm proud to have been shunned and shut out by those who did so, just as I am proud of the deep and lasting friendships I have formed within the community with those who were shunned and shut out like me. I deliberately sought them out because I saw the value that the ritualists failed to see in them. And I was raised to believe it's the black sheep of the herd who are the most interesting. I've made a life of finding the blackest sheep to be part of my heart. We don't go to church. We don't go to rituals disguised as church. We don't go to mandatory meetings that exist only to decide who is in or out that week. We don't pretend we have the one and only truth squeezed into our way to tight back pocket ready to whip out and beat non-believers with.
We appreciate each other for being different, for liking and understanding and appreciating Mathematics, Science, Logic, Computers, Art and Literature...and also finding our own truths within new age spirituality. But mostly we appreciate each other because we know that not going to church on Sunday doesn't automatically make one an Atheist. It just makes you someone who can't see your own face in the mirror and therefore can't see your past sneaking up behind you and strangling the life out of you.
(bumpersticker available at: http://www.cafepress.com/ursinelogic.102805214)