Dilemma and debatepublished: 2009-05-18
Religion. I am confused about religion.
This morning, the Dominican Study Center for Religion and Theology asked me to write a column for their website. Theme: ‘to feel at home’. I’ve always had a lot to say about this theme, more specifically about what it means to feel like or be an outsider. One does not have to be African or Arabic to know what that feels like. I am aware people find this hard to accept, but yes, you can even
be a white bourgeois male and still feel left out, despite obvious privileges. Personally, I oppose it when any identifiable group claims sole outsidership. So far so good.
Enter this issue of religion. The column I’m to write is for a website called “New We.” The discussions and articles it launches are aimed at creating better understanding between the various religions. Obviously, this website (and the thousands of others) has been instigated by the clash between the Muslim faith and Dutch culture (note I am specifically avoiding the term “Christianity” here and use “Dutch culture”). The themes they have addressed range from emancipation v religion to fear and respect. The website has a pleasantly soft and sensitive look to it, as do the pieces. Quite a few well known essayists, politicians and writers have written something for it. But what am I to do about the aspect of religion?
I was born and raised a Catholic. I like to step into a church and light a candle for a sick or troubled friend. Then think about her or him for a while. To me, this is a personal ritual that has little to do with religion in itself. The church simply facilitates my performing this ritual. It’s dark and quiet, it smells nice, and it’s pretty. It’s what I know. I do not believe in God. At all. And when it comes to society at large, I have always been a firm advocater of separation between church and state. I also feel religion should not be allowed to dominate public debate. I suppose my irritation to this is comparable to my irritation when a specific group claims outsidership. Religious groups tend to claim the moral high ground. Does an atheist ever speak in terms of ‘we’? Moreover, religion and the claim of outsidership are often interconnected.
I therefore find myself facing a moral dilemma. I’d love to write a piece about feeling at home. However, would it be hypocritical of me to do so for a religiously based website? Should I take a principal and formal stand? A part of me says ‘yes’, which is the writer part of me. The personal part of me says ‘no’ as that part of me does not like to pass judgments. It likes to go to a church and light a candle.