I was raised Catholic in Ireland, went to Mass every Sunday growing up, did both the Communion and Confirmation dealio. I never enjoyed the church experience though, never found any of it particularly meaningful. The most vivid memory I have from religion class in secondary school was when another student asked our reserved teacher if masturbation was wrong[1. That teacher’s response on the masturbation question: He believed it was a sign of immaturity and something boys eventually grow out of. Which I guess means I still have a lot of growing up to do :-P].
I was 17 years old when I consciously decided to turn my back on religion. I remember it was Christmas Day and I was feeling miserable, battling a cold. I went to Mass anyway. The church was packed, shoulder to shoulder. The pews were jammed so close together that I couldn’t even stand straight when supposed to, instead settling for an uncomfortable half-crouch. Between that and the sickly sweat and the severe snuffles, combined with the complete lack of any warm and fuzzy religious feeling, I concluded that this God dude we were supposed to be worshiping must either have a lousy sense of humor or be entirely fictitious.
Since that day, I’ve never stepped foot in a church for a religious ceremony, save for weddings and funerals. I’ve taken brief looks at other religions in recent years, but never felt especially drawn to any of them.
I do consider myself a spiritual person though. I like to believe in a higher power, in reincarnation, in the connectedness of all things. At the same time, I don’t cling too closely to such beliefs. I don’t have unwavering faith in the unprovable, and I’m cool with the uncertainty of it all. What puts me off most religions is that they claim to have all the answers, to know the unknowable.
A priest I can believe in
Given all of the above, you can imagine my recent surprise when I stumbled across the message of an unusual priest, and felt a strong resonance. I’d been aware of Drew Jacob (aka the Rogue Priest) for several months, but I never quite knew what he was all about until I heard his interview with Greg Berg on Radio Enso[2. If you’re looking for insightful interviews with inspiring, rabble-rousing people, look no further than Radio Enso. Greg’s doing a great job over there.].
Here are a few things about Drew that sets him apart from your typical priest:
- He’s a polytheist, meaning he worships many gods.
- He says fuck sometimes.
- He doesn’t have a church.
- Later this year he’ll start walking from Minnesota to Brazil.
Below I highlight a few of the big lessons I’ve taken from Drew’s ebook, Walk Like A God.
Yay for uncertainty
Drew’s a priest who doesn’t preach. He encourages folks to think for themselves. He doesn’t try to convince or convert. He recognizes the value of uncertainty…
I’ll talk about gods and spirits and all sorts of fantastic stuff. You might not believe in those things. That’s smart.
When you let go of certainty you’re primed to seek, and that is the essence of spirituality.
“Religion should be about self-development”
Drew puts a big emphasis on working to become a better version of yourself. We can’t be of much help to others unless we help ourselves first. The better we are as individuals, the more value we can add to the world.
What most people really want is a chance to explore what’s meaningful to them. The structures a religion offers are only worthy as long as they support that… Religion shouldn’t be about belief, and it shouldn’t be about repeated routines.
Religion should be about self-development.
This path of transformation and empowerment represents the opportunity to change the world itself, to leave it a better place than it was before you, to touch lives. There is no better way to have a profound impact on the world than to discover and develop yourself.
Self-empowerment is the most altruistic path.
Methinks many religions dangerously under-emphasize the importance of getting up off your ass and taking action. Just believe and you’ll be saved, so they say. Same deal with the Law of Attraction. Apparently all you have to do is lie on your couch thinking the correct thoughts and everything you desire will magically manifest itself.
Drew’s not a big fan of this shit either…
There will never be a day when science or philosophy prove that gods exist or don’t exist. You’ll never get that certainty. So let’s not talk about faith.
Instead, here is my suggestion. Look at the world around you. Look at what you do and think every day. These are the things you know exist.
These are the things you have the power to understand and, if you desire, to change.
That’s where spirituality starts: understanding what’s in your power to change, and making it happen.
Organized religion ain’t all bad
As much as I respect the late Christopher Hitchens[3. If you’ve never heard of Hitchens, start here.], it bugged me that he never seemed to give religion any credit, at all, for anything. I do agree that religion has been the cause of a ridiculous amount of hate, discrimination and injustice in the world, and there’s a good case to be made that we’d be better off without it.
But as Drew notes here, religion also has its redeeming qualities…
I don’t want to knock church. It has its good points. Millions of people find powerful spiritual experiences by attending some kind of formal worship. I would never deny that to anyone.
Church also provides a structure and social network to accompany your spirituality. That’s valuable. It’s hard being an outsider. Churches provide social context and approval. There’s a lot to be said for that.
These benefits are real and important to many people. Religion can fill some basic human needs in a neat little package. Unfortunately, with your allegiance comes a lot of baggage. Which is why I think Alain de Bottom may be on to something with his Atheism 2.0.
Pushing your edge
Drew advocates living the Heroic Life:
To live the Heroic Life means taking action, living for high ideals, charging fearlessly into new and grand plans, building a name around your art or skill, and using your life to change the way the world works.
In the Heroic Life it’s not terribly important whether there is an afterlife, whether gods watch what I do, whether prayers are answered. Instead, I try my best to answer my own prayers. And when I die, if there is nothing more, I’ll have lived a life so exciting and worthwhile that I’ll have no regrets.
I couldn’t be more on board with this. I feel most alive when I’m taking on a big challenge, facing my fears, pushing myself to the limit.
Challenging yourself to your limit is a tool of spiritual development. It is such a strong tool that I call it a weapon of spirituality. By racing into your fears, you radically alter the landscape. Everything changes when you yourself are changing.
It’s not all sunshine and rainbows
Lastly, while Drew advocates living a heroic, adventurous life, he’s careful to note that such a life is not one endless sequence of blissful moments…
The sum experience of adventure is fulfilling and life-changing, but not every minute of it is fun.
My experience supports this. While I’m off living my wildest dream and traveling to new and exciting places regularly, I still have down days. I only feel like Indiana Jones maybe half the time 😛
Be sure to check out more of Drew’s writing over at Rogue Priest. Lots of good stuff on there. If you want to support his work, I recommend dropping the $12 on Walk Like A God. Tis a quick but powerful read.
What difference does this make?
A question to wrap this up: Now that you’ve read this, what change are you going to make?
I’ve been asking myself this question a lot recently, every time I finish reading a good book or article.
For years I’ve been reading books, telling myself that I should make some of the advised changes or try some of the recommended exercises, but then I just go on about my life as if I’d never read it in the first place.
What I try to do now, as per Karol Gajda, is take time to reflect after reading. I usually read books on my Kindle and go back over the highlights I’ve made once I’m finished. From those I make a short list of action steps. I ask myself: What am I going to change? How am I going to put this knowledge into practice?
In the case of Drew’s ebook that I linked above…
- Walk just for the sake of walking. I don’t do that enough as is. I usually rush to get places. Going forward, I’ll try to leave a half hour early for appointments so I can take my time and explore, stop to talk to strangers if I feel like, pause to admire a park or a monument or whatever. And I’ll try to take a random walk every so often, with no destination in mind.
- Spend more time in nature. For most of my trip so far I’ve been confined to big cities. Conveniently enough, an opportunity arose to visit several villages in the Romanian countryside this weekend. The timing is as perfect as it will ever be. So I’m in.
How about you? What are you going to change after reading this post, or that next book? It’s fine to decide to change nothing, but let it be a smart, conscious choice.