I have a complicated relationship with organized religion—especially in the last 6 or 7 years. For example, Sara and I got married in a United Church by a Unitarian minister. We used to go to a Unitarian church, but attended Catholic mass on Christmas Eve.
For a time, I was an avowed atheist.
Lately, with talk of baptism on our minds, we’ve been attending a United Church (after deciding that the local Anglican parish was too “Catholic”).
Building my own theology
Our years in the Unitarian Church of Edmonton (UCE) made me realize how important it is for me to have some kind of spiritual practice in my life. Unitarianism was a good fit. No one told me what to believe. I had to figure it out on my own, but had the help and guidance of a like-minded community (and a pretty outstanding minister).
But at times I’ve felt like it wasn’t enough, like the theology—or lack thereof—wasn’t sturdy enough. It didn’t have weight to it. So I began to look toward Christianity. I looked at the ritual of Anglicanism. I looked at the near-humanism of the United Church of Canada. I even looked at Quakerism, albeit only from a distance (I never attended a meeting for worship).
I settled, for a while, on the United Church. I was baptized into it, and it seemed to be the Christian denomination that most aligned with my beliefs. Sara, too, seemed to like it (or, at least, she said good things the particular congregation we’d been visiting). But I still have trouble saying the Nicene Creed. I’m not sure I really believe it.
Christianity has its merits. It’s a powerful story and I still find meaning in it, even if I’ve long taken most of it as little more than allegory, myth and metaphor. But saying the creeds seems to require a slightly more literal interpretation—not in the sense of biblical literalism, but certainly in a more literal way than I ever have.
And so, on Easter Sunday, I’m sitting here and wondering what the right path is; do I:
- return to the Unitarian Church?
- stick it out with the United Church, recognizing that I’m at best a nominal Christian?
- alternate between the two?
- seek out something else entirely?
Religion and child rearing
Complicating all of this is the fact that I have a child now. While I certainly don’t want to indoctrinate her into any particular religion, I believe that spirituality is important for children.
It’d be nice to raise Dee in a faith community that has young families with children. The United Church tends to lack that. The congregation we’ve been visiting does have a very small group of young kids—and the minister does a great job of ensuring they’re seen and included—but, like so many mainline churches, it seems to be mostly grey and dying.
The Unitarian Church of Edmonton has a lot of young families—from what I see on Facebook, it looks like there may be even more kids than when we were attending regularly.
Raising Dee as a Unitarian seems to make the most sense. It “fits” our family best and, I think, would give her a better basis for ethical and moral living than a Christian church. I think, if we raised her in a Christian setting, we’d be saying, “Yes, but…” a lot when talking to her about what she’s learning in Sunday School.
I guess that means the theology isn’t so weak after all. It’s much more in line with what I believe, actually.
So maybe that decision is made. But the question remains: to baptize or not to baptize?
For some reason, it seems weird not to. But if we’re doing it purely for cultural reasons, instead of actually believing in its importance, is there a point? And, as a nominal United Churcher, I view baptism as purely symbolic—no one is going to hell (if it’s even a real place) for lack of baptism. Even if I were a dedicated Christian, baptism isn’t strictly necessary according to “my” denomination.
If it’s just about a rite of passage—something our culture tends to lack—maybe a dedication in the Unitarian church is enough. It’s an option we haven’t discussed much, but perhaps the ritual (as a concept) is more important than the details.
I don’t have an answer. Not right now, at least.
Sara and I will have to talk. We’ve spoken about this before, but we’ll have to continue talking in order to figure out what works for our family.
This post, essentially, is me thinking out loud. I think better when I put my thoughts down in writing. And I’m genuinely curious to know what my readers (all three of you) think about the questions I’ve posed. Leave your thoughts in the comments.