Public Displays of God

Welcome to Format Free Fridays at, the one day a week when I break the format of answering your questions and I dispense that which we rarely welcome in life: Unsolicited advice.

Today I want to discuss my feelings regarding religion and God (hereinafter referred to as R&G). I have a visceral reaction to reading about or hearing anyone refer to R&G.  The feeling starts with my stomach churning and is followed by a tightening in my lower back. My breathing becomes a little shallow.  It’s as though my body is readying itself for battle. I don’t suppose this is what members of clergy would want me to feel.

It recently occurred to me that while I may be someone who has examined her life (ad nauseum), I have focused little attention to my feelings about R&G, and as a shrink, I have to acknowledge that this is not likely an oversight, rather, a desire to avoid thinking about R&G. And when someone avoids thinking about something, there’s something worth exploring.

I was born into a Jewish family. I say that because I wasn’t sent to Hebrew school or formally educated, and my family’s level of observance was two steps away from being considered Christian (one step would have meant we had a Christmas tree). Jewish holidays were more associated with specific foods than with specific biblical stories. We lived in a community of primarily Catholic families whose children painted swastikas on the walls of my school’s bathrooms and once burnt a cross on our front lawn. I suppose I learned early on that having a different religion provoked conflict.

Today I live in New York City.  I no longer reside in a homogeneous community.  I walk among Muslims, Jews, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Atheists, Agnostics, and every other religious and non-religious type imaginable. There is no longer a reason for avoiding religion. Why, then, do I continue to have a viscerally negative reaction to hearing about R&G?

As I ponder the scenarios in which I most often hear about R&G, I realize that such references are rarely made in an inclusive, peaceful way. I hear about boycotting companies because of the sexual orientation of their spokespeople and waging court battles that would strip me of my legal marriage. And before Banning Gays From Human Rights became the new War Against Drugs, there was always someone telling me that my God wasn’t the right God or that there was only one path to being a good human being. The vast majority of such discussions felt to me as though they were fueled with hatred, and when they weren’t, I was usually on the receiving end of someone who was actively trying to convert me to a different religion.

I feel about religion and God in much the same way I feel about sex.  We all do it in our own way - and I don't want to hear about your religious beliefs any more than I want to hear the details about your sex life.  It's like PDG - Public Displays of God make me uncomfortable.  I always feel like I’m being recruited or ridiculed, and I don’t know which is worse.  But I do know one thing:  We need a paradigm shift where religion and God are concerned.  We need to be the peace that we want to create.  We need to question whether our actions and words are bringing people together or dividing them.  And we need to use our energy to heal instead of to hurt.  Wow.  Look who’s proselytizing now?