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Sunday, May 5, 2002

It must be easier to live in a homogeneous society, where everyone believes the same thing. I'm thinking of the world of Maeve Binchy's Ireland, or the Verona Beach of Baz Lurhmann's Romeo + Juliet. Even the telenovelas that I love so much portray a place where the religious and secular worlds intersect to the extent that one degree of separation between strangers is automatically removed. If everyone is on the same page about God, then at least there's a way you're connected with every person you meet.

That would make life simpler, I think. It takes away some of the doubt about the other person's agenda. It makes it easier to talk to a stranger if there's one less subject — religion — that you have to avoid. I remember from my early years as a Catholic that I assumed not only the Truth of what I was taught in catechism, but the other "truth," that anyone who didn't believe as I did was merely unenlightened.

It wasn't until I got to junior high school and made a few embarrassing comments to free thinkers that I began to question the universality of my beliefs. It wasn't until I got to college and really saw the world from a fresh perspective that I lost the certainty I grew up with. The freedom and diversity that I found there were so far removed from what I knew in high school that I felt as if I'd been dropped into a new and unexplored country.

Still, when I read Binchy or watch the novelas, I envy the sense of community that a shared belief system can create. It's almost as if everyone is part of the same extended family. I don't think it's worth giving up the freedom of thought and the value of open debate to live in that kind of world, but I can still appreciate the comfort it gives.

I don't think of myself as a religious person any more. I was an altar boy and once thought I'd be a priest, but that was when I was quite young. I allowed all kinds of people to nudge me in many different directions, until I became whatever I am today. I accept almost everyone I meet for whatever they present themselves to be. And "accept" isn't even a strong enough word, because it implies some kind of judgment on my part. The only judgment I make is how much goodness I can find in someone, and I'll never stop believing that most people are good. That's what makes it easy for me to get along with people, and hard to watch the six o'clock news.


Yes, there's an oriole in the birdbath. I took the photo peeking between the blinds and looking through the window. Wait for it, please.

Although I'm not religious, I do consider myself a spiritual person. I believe that life is sacred, even though I define the word differently than I used to. I believe there's something mystical that connects human beings to each other, even if I don't think it's anything that can be measured or described. I cling to the doctrines that bring people together, even as I reject the ones that drive people apart. I believe these things because I want to believe them. I guess that's what faith is. My faith, anyway.

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