Monday, February 15, 2010

Reading about Religion

Being religious means asking passionately the questions of the meaning of our existence and being willing to receive answers, even if the answers hurt. ... It is the state of being concerned about one's own being and being universally.

There are many people who are ultimately concerned in this way who feel far removed, however, from religion in the narrower sense, and therefore from every historical religion. It often happens that such people take the question of the meaning of their life infinitely seriously and reject any historical religion just for this reason. They feel that the concrete religions fail to express their profound concern adequately. They are religious while rejecting the religions.

Paul Tillich, The Lost Dimension in Religion

In the last few months, I've been reading a great deal of religious writing. Christian writing in particular. I started by reading through (for the first time) the Bible, and have been spending quite a bit of time reading books of writings by Reinhold Niehbuhr and Paul Tillich, both of whom were Christian priests and theologians in the 20th century.

This may seem slightly odd, given my background as an Agnostic semi-Buddhist married into a Jewish family, but it has been an incredibly enlightening experience. For whether or not I find their personal faiths compelling, priests are people who spend their lives thinking about the types of questions that most of us only think about on special occasions and disasters. Questions of the purpose, meaning, and values of life. Reading their thoughts and arguments about those questions is helpful in expanding my ability to think about those same questions, and in deepening my ability to see through other people's eyes.

Even just reading the Bible is an enlightening experience from a cultural perspective, being embedded within a culture that derives so many of its stories and references from the Judeo-Christian tradition. The casual references we see and hear every day referencing stories such as David and Goliath, Solomon's wisdom, or Solomon's wealth become richer and more three-dimensional with some awareness of the contexts in which those stories were originally set.

So my question now is... what else should I be reading? What are the books you've read or lectures you've heard that have changed your life and the way you look at the world? Let me know in the comments!