Monday, January 23, 2006

Religious Results

I just finished visiting one of my favorite websites where there's a religious beliefs quiz that measures what percentage of your beliefs match with the doctrines of several different faiths. I've taken it several times and the results are never what I've expected. The first time I took it, I wasn't sure if Overbearing Dictatorial Denomination* (ODD) would even be among the list of faiths that the test compares, so even though that was the faith that I identified myself as, I was basically just curious about which Christian denomination's beliefs were most like mine. The results surprised me in several ways.

The fact that ODD was one of the twenty-seven different faiths covered by the quiz probably would have been more pleasant news if results hadn't showed that they were not at the top of my list. As a matter of fact, the religion that my beliefs were most like wasn't even Christian. It was Orthodox Judaism. That was definitely a surprise. Of course, The German thought that was hilarious. I took the quiz again to see if maybe I hadn't read some of the questions close enough and I got the same basic results. I tried to rationalize it by saying that the test was just inaccurate but The German took it and his results came out just as we expected--mainstream Christian. That made him laugh even harder at my results.

I took the test again tonight. Wanna know which religion was on top this time? Orthodox Judaism, again. In fact, every time I've ever taken it that has been the top religion on my results list. The test mentions that even a really high commonality score doesn't mean that all of your beliefs were the same as what the religion teaches. Well, thank goodness for that since my score was 100% for Orthodox Judaism.
My Top Ten Results
  • Orthodox Judaism (100%)
  • Sikhism (98%)
  • Reform Judaism (93%)
  • Islam (89%)
  • Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (85%)
  • Orthodox Quaker (83%)
  • Bahá'í Faith (76%)
  • Jehovah's Witnesses (76%)
  • Jainism (71%)
  • Seventh Day Adventists (69%)

I dunno. Maybe I was just too hopeful. This past year has not been easy. I was raised to be ODD and I truly believed that they were what they claimed to be--the one true faith. Most of the relatives that I grew up around were ODD and so were most of my friends outside of school. It wasn't until two years ago that I started to really question the some of their teachings.

It started with a procedure that my doctors thought might be necessary. ODD has rather unusual official policies about this procedure, so I became a bit worried about how I should handle this. After reviewing the official ODD theological view over several weeks, I found it to be quite illogical. I considered following the ODD restrictions anyway but I couldn't bring myself to do that either. The position wasn't justifiable from what I read in my Bible and if I lost my life trying to adhere to it, then VanGoghGirl would have no mother. That certainly didn't sound sensible nor did it sound like anything that the God I knew would want. I made the decision to do what the doctors decided was needed. Fortunately, the doctors were able to do another procedure instead and avoid having to carry out the one that had troubled me.

Looking at how I had always accepted that doctrine without having studied it in depth for myself, I started to wonder what else I'd disagree with if I researched more topics. So, I started reading. I've enjoyed learning about other religions since I was a little girl. I remember my elementary school had a book series where each one told the mythological stories found in different lands. I checked out each and every single book in that series over and over again. That first sparked my interest in understanding why people believed differently from me.

Despite the fact that the ODD frowns upon studying other faiths, my mother never discouraged me from reading what I wanted. To tell the truth, I think I got my love for learning about cultures from her. She taught herself Spanish while she was in her thirties and our house was full of all sorts of Asian, Latino, and African art when I was a child. I was really lucky because in this part of the south, people tend to be quite superstitious. ODD adherents also have a tendency to label anything religious that isn't Christian in origin as demonic so many of my ODD friends didn't enjoy the freedom that my mother gave me.

My first mentor in college was an English professor who had studied Middle Eastern culture for decades and eventually I became interested in it too. I signed up for a program at the university for students who want to learn a less-frequently taught language. As a result of being in that program, I met a lot of international students with a wide range of religions. It was an unforgettable and enlightening experience.

Even though I spent years studying other belief systems, I never did so with the intent to find a new one for myself. Besides, nothing I read about other religions struck me as superior to the one that I belonged to. I hadn't always lived according to the official ODD standards, but I'd always viewed it as God's rules that I was breaking. Needless to say I felt guilty and depressed much of the time because try as I might, I never measured up. I learned a lot during my years spent there but the hypocrisy that I saw there really bothered me and wasn't anything that I wanted to be a part of.

I tried visiting other ODD congregations in my area and I even went to some in other states. Admittedly, a few were better than others; The ones outside of the south were infinitely better than the ones down here because they tended to have more educated members in their congregations. However, the ODD governing body taught some things that just never sat well with me. When I moved out on my own I stopped going to ODD weekly services as much.

I still considered myself a member of the ODD though. I believed in the majority of the official views but felt like there wasn't any point in working towards getting baptized (something I'd never done) because The German and I couldn't get legally married yet. I taught VanGoghGirl all of the ODD teachings I'd learned from my years in that congregation. I wanted to give her the same basic values that I was raised with. The German respected my choice and even shared a lot of my ODD beliefs but he was never convinced that it was the right religion.

Once I got diagnosed with cancer, my outlook on religion changed rapidly. When I was faced with those two surgeries, I asked everyone I could think of to pray for me. I asked the Wal-Mart cashiers, my neighbors, people at school, my daughter's teachers, anyone I held a conversation with regardless of their religion. I figured that God listened to all sorts of prayers as long as they were sincere and well-meaning, so they'd all be helpful. I started doing something else that I had never done before. Every time I ended an interaction with others, I told them that I hope they have a blessed day. I know that might not seem like a big deal to some but it was enough to startle my mother. ODD members just don't do that sort of thing. I didn't see any harm in it and it made me feel happy to wish good on others, so I kept on. Most people reciprocated with similar wishes or gave me a hug or a smile. I have never once had anyone react negatively to me for saying that.

So, about a year or so ago, I started this researching of my ODD beliefs. The ODD governing body is pretty distrustful when it comes to the internet and once I started studying I can see why they would be. It turned out that the ODD had a rather complicated background. I'm not going to bash any religion right now but I've found myself in the position that I can no longer believe that the ODD governing body is really God's mouthpiece on earth. While the average ODD member is a part of it because they believe what is being taught, they generally don't know the uglier side of the ODD because they've been taught to only look at official ODD-published material when they want to learn about the organization's history.

Most of my family is unaware that I feel like this. While my mother might tolerate me having doubts, she'd be floored if I told her that I simply don't believe in the ODD any more. I think she'd view it as a personal insult to her. I don't know if we could even have a close relationship after that. It would be like I switched teams after memorizing her playbook.

Belonging to such a high-control group for the first twenty years of my life only to find out that it's not what it claimed to be has left me quite disenchanted. So, where do I go from here? I'm not sure. I've visited a few non-ODD congregations in the past year and I'm actually pretty fond of one of them but even that one teaches some things that I really disagree with. I don't think that I'll ever be able to just put faith in an organization or denomination again. I would really like to be a part of a congregation because I like the encouragement that one can get from there and because I feel that God wants us to meet with fellow believers. I guess I'll just keep looking and listening to see if I can hear God's voice and follow it to whatever congregation it leads me.

*In case you didn't realize it, ODD is a pseudonym.

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