February 13, 2004

False Testament
Daniel Lazare
Oh, Gods!
Toby Lester

"Only Connect" -- There's an old joke: Having been born Irish Catholic, I was raised to believe there are only two kinds of people in the world -- those who are Irish Catholic, and those who wish they were. What a surprise to learn from Lester's Atlantic Monthly article that there are, in fact, 9,900 distinct and separate religions in the world today. And how unsurprising to see that Lazare's article in Harper's Magazine confirms the complete lack of historical evidence behind Biblical stories. Over the years, my own sense of faith fluctuated mostly within the middle of mainstream, American-style, pick-and-choose Catholicism -- I believed in the Father, Son and Holy Ghost but only followed the Vatican rules to the point that I agreed with them. Falling in love with Robert Charles, who's been pursuing the ups-and-downs of his own spiritual journey, helped me to more closely examine whether I indeed "believed" in Jesus Christ. Robert's own learning under the guidance of Eugene Burger has been an awakening for him and a re-awakening for me: The great religions are monumental myths and the eternal question -- "Why are we here?" -- is an unanswerable mystery. However, reading these essays has helped me answer another related question. I've often wondered what it is within each of us that yearns so strongly for spiritual connection. The Lester article quotes Rodney Stark, a maverick sociologist at the University of Washington. Regarding the success of new religious movements, Stark says: "The main thing you've got to recognize is that success is really about relationships and not about faith. What happens is that people form relationships and only then come to embrace a religion. It doesn't happen the other way around." This now has me thinking that I've been asking the wrong question. Human beings are not yearning for a spiritual connection, we are simply (yet profoundly) yearning for a human connection. Forster, it seems, was right: "Only connect."