So I’ve been thinking lately about what it means to be a “religious” person. I decided, sort of on a whim, to put up a profile on the lavalife and “plenty of fish” dating sites. Mainly I did it in order to try and meet some potential dates, since the pools I normally swim in are a little on the thin side when it comes to potential mates. What I have learnt from this online dating experience so far is various and entertaining, but I want to just reflect on one aspect: the “religion” drop-down field.
Now, there are various ways by which one might classify oneself on social networking sites (I’m speaking broadly here of not just dating sites but other networking sites like MySpace and Facebook): by which schools one has attended, by profession, by location, by interests, by tastes (in music, film, tv, books), but by far, for me, the most fascinating category is that of “religion”.
Let’s start out by saying this: I think I definitely have to call myself a religious person. I figure since I am actually an ordained minister in a church, there is really no way of pretending that I don’t find some value in organized religion or identify somehow with organized religion. But here’s the funny thing, when I signed-up for lavalife, I was reluctant to choose a religious affiliation from the drop-down box provided on my profile page. Weird, eh?
I think partly the problem is that if I choose one from the box, the closest one is ‘christian – other’, which just seems to be strange. Why can’t they just put ‘christian’ and leave it at that? Or just put ‘religious’, and if someone wants to know more, they can ask. The ‘non-religious’ field-choosers don’t have to specify what type of non-religious person they are, so why the pigeon-holing of us religious types? And then what about hybrid types? Yes, I’m christian, but I come from a strange little denomination, and I find value in the teachings of Buddhism, and I really enjoy the way the Hare Krishna folks worship, and I really love the traditions and practicality of Judaism, and I also find just being in the outdoors to be a profoundly religious experience, and not just in a Christian ‘creation spirituality’ kind of way. So what am I? What drop-down menu selection ought I to choose?
I like the fact that Facebook, instead of having a drop-down box where you must select from a list, instead just has a field where you can fill-in whatever you’d like, I think that is a little bit better for being able to specifically articulate what one believes in such a personal area, and for the longest time on there I have been “Christian, Process Theology, Community of Christ”.
But on the dating sites the choices are limited, so I picked “other”. Not “christian – other”, just “other”.
And I had a couple of messages. Two of which asked what kind of grad student I am. Hm. Now there’s another good question. So I told them I studied theology, and in relation to this bit of information they both asked “so, are you a religious person?” Yes, I am a religious person, but – and this is the key part – I really wanted to say “but I’m not THAT, kind of ‘religious’ person”. I’m not the shove-it-down-your-throat type of religious person, I’m not the you’re-going-to-hell type of religious person, I’m not the let’s-pray-together-on-our-first-date type of religious person.
And so after those two awkward questions, which I pretty much just avoided answering, I changed my profile. I selected “christian – other”, in order to avoid that question in the future. And yet I’m not necessarily even particularly comfortable with that, because I don’t want to get messages from, get this, THAT kind of “religious person”. And I am also afraid that someone might avoid even sending me a message, out of fear that I am one of THOSE kinds of religious people!
Perhaps I am over-thinking this and really I’m just not ready for the world of online dating sites….
But because of this little identity drama I have been reflecting on what it means to be a religious person. Is it merely because I have a card in my wallet that says I’m an ordained minister? Is it because my name is in a computer database at church headquarters on the list of “members”? Is it because I have studied theology? Is it because I go to church every Sunday? I ask these questions because there are plenty of religious people who do all of those things and are also judgemental, self-absorbed, destructive, unloving, and I don’t think any of those latter qualities are marks of a truly “religious” person.
I’m reading a little book right now called On Religion by John D. Caputo, and he has some very interesting things to say about what religion and religious people ought to be about. He says things like “religion is for lovers” and says that religion is not such a singular thing as it is often made out to be, but is instead a bunch of ways people have come up with to love God. And “anyone worth their salt” says Caputo, ought to love God.
There are points that I don’t meet Caputo on precisely, but much of his general thesis appeals to me, namely that the focus of anything we want to call “religion” ought to be love. And not just love of self or friends, but love of God, the world, and everyone.
And so on Facebook, the one place where I can freely say what I wish about what I believe, I now say this:
I think anyone “worth their salt” can see these religious views in me once they get to know me, and I think I will just have to trust that as I meet new people, my “religiousness” will speak for itself, and I won’t have to explain it away, nor squeeze myself into a little box.