Religious furniture

“that’s like. tomorrow 0.o sorry I can’t make it, vesak day”
“oh you’re buddhist? it’s ok, np”

–Snippet of a Facebook conversation between Xiang Yeow and I

You ever get those survey forms where they ask for your religion? Do you, like me, hover over it for a while before deciding whatever answer you put down doesn’t matter, and that all hesitance is out of some innate need to bare your truthful soul to anyone who asks?

Right now I am thinking: why should this question even be asked?

I don’t mean that in a cynical, disrespectful way. I mean that in a puzzled, I-feel-like-I-am-being-forced-in-a-corner way, because when this question is asked it inherently assumes something: that you have a stand. A stand on religion. Whatever you put down, whether it is some religion or atheism or agnosticism or freethought, you automatically indicate that such a sphere regarding some sort of faith exists in your life.

But why should we accept these questions?

I’m asking this because I think that questions like this require that you have cared enough to do some research on at least your own belief system and have felt some form of connection to it. Not only that, this connection has to reasonably strong in order for you to actually answer something. It forces you to make space for religion in your life, even when the truth is– you don’t have that space.

Let me try to give you an analogy. Replace religion with philosophical system. Are you an existentialist, a fatalist, an objectivist, a nihilist, a positivist,…? Do you even know what those mean? Truth is, I don’t. I could probably give you a one-liner description of each, but that’s about it, and that hardly makes me qualified to say I am any of those, even as I feel like I hold some beliefs common to the one-liner description I give of the systems. That’s my attitude towards religion. To sum it up in four succinct words: I don’t really care. And how this survey question irks me is that it assumes I do.

I understand, of course, the major role that religion plays in some people’s lives. Personally, I don’t need a religious guiding force to find meaning in my life; perhaps at some point in time I will, but not now. I grew up in a Buddhist family, but I don’t think my parents really even know the core teachings of Buddhism, and it’s okay because they believe they are Buddhists, they believe in Buddha and other gods, they carry out rituals that to them are part and parcel of being Buddhist. They shush me when I question anything, for fear of disrespect to the gods. Some of it has carried over; it requires thought and some value placed upon the issue of religion in order to repudiate beliefs. Notice I said the issue of religion, as opposed to religion itself; the difference is that issue deals with where it is in your life, while religion itself goes inside the belief system, and it is uncomfortable– and untrue– to say that I don’t place any value on religion, Buddhism in this case.

To me, these beliefs are kind of like furniture– it’s comfortable having them around, I make use of them sometimes, there’s no impetus to throw perfectly functional furniture away, and also no need to devote thought to them. Asking me what my religion is is like asking me to bring my chair with me wherever I go and believe that it comes alive at night.

Unless, of course, you imply that the possession of these furniture in itself is indicative of my religion, then I think it’s time for you to think about your own faith, because surely there is more to religion than this. Surely.

Or I just think too much and I should just put Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster as my answer.

It believes it can fly, it believes it can touch the sky

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5 comments

  1. jx1992n · May 8, 2012

    “why should this question even be asked?”

    Short answer: demography, marketing, and advertising.

    More relevant answer: people (and surveyors) ask because it’s a fair enough assumption that people have principles. Yes, even hedonist or nihilist principles count.

    People like to think that religions come wrapped up with moral codes and strictures and laws about how to behave or else and afterlifes of paradise vs eternal torment vs insert-coin-and-try-again (no offence intended). Which, while not wrong, are also incomplete pictures of religion. Because, religion, for a sizeable number of people, is philosophy.

    Religion (not the organised sort with the festivals or the bake sales or the plotting child sacrifice, but the personal experience of) subscribed, believed, and practiced is a lifestyle. And everyone has a lifestyle, the deceased excluded.

    The confusion arrives when we confuse principles and organised religion. Plenty of people can have principles without subscribing to any religion, and plenty of people are card-carrying, name-bearing (whatever)-ists without living as if they believe a shred of what their forebears did. But everyone has principles that guides their life. Problem is, so many people used to have religious principles (and many still do) that it becomes much easier to ask “what’s your relgion?” as compared to “what principles guide your life?”

    So, by all means, to “what’s your religion” answer “I don’t really care about religion”, but if it’s a friend instead of a nameless, robotic survey, try “I don’t really have any religious principles that guide my life, but I do want to do X while being Y and accomplish Z…” on for size

    • melodily · May 8, 2012

      Loving your answer, it astutely gets to the heart of what makes me uncomfortable– the conflation of religion and what you term guiding principles. Taking it a step further one could dismiss my entire post as a tired repetition of the argument against categorisation, which is essentially what the question does when it demands you put a label to your principles, but it’s not so much that as the religious slant that I feel is no longer applicable.

  2. zoorado · May 16, 2012

    religion, to me, is a system of belief(s) that one subscribes to. the system may be dynamic, and may evolve over time. but expounding on the nuances that make your system may not be possible due to space constraints, in most cases. then it becomes a problem of nomenclature.

    i see a few ways of naming your religion. to make it self-explanatory, we first identify a keyword (or keywords), then add -ism to it (them, with hyphens). the following are a few broad categories from which one can choose a suitable summarising his/her religion:

    1. main item of worship (if you worship anything). eg. Thorism, or to quote the late George Carlin, Joe-Pesci-ism.

    2. main virtue/property you believe you (or anyone) should possess. eg. Pragmatism, Magnetism (if you think being Magneto makes the world a better place, or something).

    3. something you are obsessed with, at the moment. eg. Diablo-3-ism, or in the case of the late Howard Hughes, Clean-hands-ism.

    • melodily · May 16, 2012

      ABEDISM and HOUSANITY will be my religions for at least the next two months. I guess yours is arm-wrestlism

      • zoorado · May 17, 2012

        muahaha 家里蹲 much.

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