I am always fascinated by a conversation with a religious individual, especially someone who is clearly an intellectual. 

Recently, a dinner party of a dear friend I had the opportunity to converse with a highly intelligent, former editor of the religion department of a well known weekly news magazine. ( His name and magazine name are irrelevant to the discussion)

He is a devout Catholic and I was fascinated to hear his defense of his religious beliefs and even some of the Church's religious dogma.  When I asked him about the future of celibacy his response was something to the effect that the structure of the church would deteriorate if a married priest ever got divorced.  He followed this up by discussing how women priests would threaten the foundation of the church's structure as well.

I knew that I could never raise the notion that embracing sexuality was a spiritual point of view and perhaps more "holy" than abstinence.  This would challenge a core belief of his.  It would have been dismissed as wrong without further discussion.

When I mentioned that Episcopalians had abandoned celibacy he pointed to there declining membership.

Now I could have had a similar discussion with an Orthodox Jew as to whether maintaining a kosher life style was relevant in a modern age.  His response would have been similar.  Such basic tenents of belief are not grounds for examination.  They must be accepted as is.

My individual problem with fundamentalist religious beliefs is that I regard them all as historically devised and humanly derived.  

Now I do understand the value of a religious community, shared values, customs and rituals.  But I personally cannot justify belonging to such if I cannot firmly hold their precepts or prayers as valuable to me.

I do embrace a spiritual dimension to reality.  But my personal emphasis is on thoughts and deeds rather than formalities and ritual.  I found Bill Maher's film Religulous rather telling in its observations.

To me the spiritual path is about intention and actions.  Ritual, holidays, ceremonies can be useful but secondary. The challenge of life is to overcome adversity and maintain a loving attention to all that exists.  This is not easy especially in a world in which certain forces  threatens the very existence of those who do not share their religious identity. 

The balance between love and self-protection is itself powerfully challenging. 

  It would be useful if religious individuals of all persuasions would be open to dialogue with consideration of  opposing perspectives.  There may be some who are,  but despite their intellectual capabilities when it comes to religious beliefs I believe their minds have already been made up.

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