The book that I am working on involves a lot of traditional religious imagery, and one of the thematic concerns I'd been considering was relevance. Practically speaking, I am an atheist, as are many if not most of the people in my life. In my little sphere of over-educated liberals, religion seems irrelevant, and encountering people for whom religion is a very central concern can be a little jarring. So it struck me that for my main character, this religious imagery might feel weirdly anachronistic, and I'd have to address that.
But then I was listening to some This American Life episodes about god and religion* (in other words, I wanted to listen to This American Life, and justified it by finding episodes about god and religion so I could call it research for my book), and was bowled over by this statistic: 83% of Americans say they belong to a religion. I really have a hard time wrapping my mind around that, given how little religion speaks to me these days.
I often wish that it did speak to me. My first year in college, a very desperate and confusing time for me, one of my neighbors in the dorm was a beautifully prototypical Iowa farmboy. He was big and strong and silent and sweet, and very Christian. One day he said to me, in his quietly unassuming way, "I've found that people who don't believe in God tend to be more unhappy." I'm sure I leapt to deny it at the time, but I think now that he is right. There are probably studies that prove it. And I've thought lately, as the depression that has dogged me for more almost 20 years now has been nipping at my heels with extra ferocity, that I could really use some sort of spiritual practice in my life.
I've been meaning to get back into yoga, which I think counts for something, even if it's just alone in my living room on the Wii Fit. (Hey, can you get Morning Vespers and Shabbat for Wii? Hmm ... pretty sure this is a joke.) I even looked into the local Unitarian church, before deciding I just couldn't stomach it. The Unitarians are just too ... hokey. There's no way I could ever find faith in the Catholic dogma I grew up with--I don't think I ever believed in it, despite my Catholic-school immersion--but I do love the solemn doom and bloody gloom of it. That's how a religion should be. More Nosferatu than Raffi. In my opinion.
* Incidentally, if you have never heard any of Julia Sweeney's one-woman show about losing her faith, you must check it out.