On being a None

When I tell people I’m a “None,” they think I’ve said “I’m a nun,” as in a habited lady who lives in a convent, which I find both funny and a little ironic because I’m actually sort of the opposite of that kind of nun.

The number of religious services I attended growing up could fit on the fingers of one hand with enough left over for a peace sign. I never officially learned about the Bible, did not study religion, and was not baptized. I did not marry my husband in a church. My parents never tried to teach me anything biblical—save, perhaps, for a very secular version of the “Golden Rule.” I managed to go through life almost completely ignorant of the specifics of religion besides what I picked up on in popular culture or by schoolyard gossip. I hardly know a Catholic from a Protestant, let alone the belief systems of other world religions. They are, after all, legally required to NOT teach us this stuff in most schools.

Granted, not all Nones are as ignorant about religion as me. Some grew up attending church but distanced themselves from their faiths as adults, others may still attend religious services occasionally but do not identify as members of any one religion. Then there are those, like me, whose lack of religion was handed down to them by the previous generation. Both my parents grew up with a religious affiliation but were Nones by the time I entered the picture.

I guess it should come as no surprise that my husband is a fellow None, though you could say we are a “mixed-faith” None couple: my broken affiliation is with Christianity, and Phil’s is with Judaism. Phil’s parents were both raised attending synagogue, his father even participated in the Jewish coming-of-age ritual of the Bar Mitzvah, but both his mom and dad were leaning toward Noneness by the time Phil was born—though, officially, his parents would have still identified as being Jews. Like a lot of None couples today, Phil and I feel a greater affinity with Noneness than our seemingly divergent religious backgrounds.

First post

So, here, I start my journey through religion. My goal: to provide an informed answer to the question, “what’s going on in there?” of every place of worship I visited. What pieces of divine wisdom would I gather along the way? What, if anything, would I get from these experiences that I’m not getting by staying firmly planted in a secular world?

Before going forward, I would have to tell my family what I was doing. I couldn’t just wake up Sunday mornings and leave the house without my husnand, Phil, wondering where I was headed. When I told him that, at least for a while, I would be gone for a portion of every Sunday he furrowed his brow and muttered “that sucks.”

I told my grandmother, my dad’s mom and my only living grandparent, over the phone. She is the most religious of my remaining family, although her association with the Greek Orthodox Church in Dallas has become mostly cultural: christenings, weddings, funerals. I told her I was going to stay in a monastery for a week and she cried, “They’ll rape you!” Her hearing is not so good, though it turns out she heard me just fine. I eased her into the idea over the course of several conversations.

My parents were the ones I was most nervous about. We had a family friend who became a born-again Christian when I was growing up and it was with a mixture of pity and sorrow that we spoke of her. She may have been reborn on the other side but she had died on our side. They took the news of my project stoically, though with a bit of confusion at first. It helped that I couched it as a “scientific study,” and that I was going to many places of worship and exploring several religions. How would they feel if I settled on a religion, became a member at a single place of worship? I had a feeling that would be much harder news to break.