Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Beliefs or Practices?

On the flight from Phoenix to Portland on New Year's Day, I was flipping through a copy of the inflight magazine and saw an article about Eric Weiner, which was actually an excerpt from his book, Man Seeks God. I was intrigued and read the excerpt. Basically, Weiner is an atheist (or as he calls himself, a "gastronomical Jew") who, after a health scare, was prompted to search for God when a nurse whispered a foreboding, "Have you found your God, yet?" in his ear during his hospital stay. When he was released without any major health problems (turned out it was his body reacting to the stress of his finishing his last book about happiness), the nurse's nagging question lingered in his mind.

So, he sought out the more mystical approaches to the major religions: Sufism in Islam, Kabbalah in Judaism, Jesuits in Catholicism, and Buddhism, among others (his book mentions a visit with Wiccans and even more strange, a religion in Nevada that is devoted to aliens and UFOs). It sounds like an interesting book. On Monday evening, Weiner spoke at Powell's City of Books and read select passages from his book.

What struck out the most for me was something he said in the Q & A portion of the reading. He said that in his talking with people around the world, most everyone asks him, "What's your practice?" or "What's your experience?" He said that almost no one ever asked him, "What do you believe?" Its his view (which is also what I've thought for many years now) that beliefs get in the way of relating to others and could lead us to wrong decisions. What ultimately matters is not what we believe, but what we experience. This is what the essence of religion should be.

It was interesting for me to hear someone say this, just as a week went by with a constant back and forth on the church's Facebook discussion page about the troublemaker, Cyndi, and everyone else. She's hardcore about her beliefs, which is ultra-conservative in politics and religion. She's practically alienated everyone on that board who had the misfortune of dealing with her. What's the point in believing something so thoroughly and radically that you end up alienating people and potential allies / friends?

For me, I've been fortunate enough to have based nearly all of my friendships since elementary school on something other than what they believe about this or that. I can easily be friends with anyone of any religion (including the annoying Jehovah's Witnesses) or none at all. Doesn't really matter to me, because I don't base friendships on belief compatibility. I'm much more interested in friends who are interesting, intelligent, and have their own ways at looking at the universe and everything in it. Thus, I don't understand when people end friendships, especially over some breech that was committed, a rift in the belief compatibility. Whether my friends are Republican, Democratic, or independent doesn't really matter to me. If you're in my friend category, it means that I like you for who you are, which is a combination of personality, soul, and vibe. A personality as abrasive as Cyndi's is naturally going to repulse me, while a likable personality is one I enjoy being around.

This book signing was interesting, though not nearly as crowded as the Amy "Tiger Mother" Chua event. I decided not to buy Weiner's book, mostly because I'm trying to cut back on book buying expenses as well as my being inundated with too many books already. Also, after frequent moves, I've learned exactly how brutal it can be to have boxes of hardcover books. I actually prefer paperback (except for political memoirs / autobiographies) and can wait until Weiner's book is released in paperback.

Does Weiner find God? Well, you're just going to have to buy the book to find out. ;)

1 comment:

Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

Your post made me smile - the part about moving with so many book!