Frank Bruni is Rethinking His Religion, and you can too

It isn’t every day that we have the space and opportunity to put our minds to the task of deep thinking. Yet, so many wonderful changes in life come from the sparks of insight we gain when we stop to think things through from time to time.

The Cinquecento Project began as a multi-faceted attempt to inform friends and family about life in Sicily; to educate myself about my new culture – both military and Sicilian; to give me an excuse to order a new food, take another picture, or trek to Cefalu for gelato (no regrets!!!); to focus on the positive perks of daily life; and so much more.

Frank Bruni over at the New York Times shares a touching story about changing perspectives through deep thinking. Rethinking His Religion begins as a coming of age story. Immediately, Mr. Bruni encounters a deeply religious student, and Bruni is turned off.

This man attended Catholic services every Sunday in a jacket and tie, feeling that church deserved such respect. I kept a certain distance from him.

Over the years, they had some interactions, but nothing could have prepared Bruni for the turnaround achieved by his former classmate.

About two years ago, out of nowhere, he found me. His life, he wanted me to know, had taken interesting turns. He’d gone into medicine, just as he’d always planned. He’d married and had kids. But he’d also strayed from his onetime script. As a doctor, he has spent a part of his time providing abortions.

Bruni goes on to describe the journey his classmate underwent to reach the point where he reached out to Bruni. The classmate attributed college with opening his eyes to just how diverse and far-reaching this world is, to the injustices and prejudices practiced and coveted by those in power, to the constant fragility underlying even our most successful achievements.

Questioning his church’s position on homosexuality made him question more. He read the Bible “front to back and took notes of everything I liked and didn’t like,” he said.

“There’s a lot of wisdom there,” he added, “but it’s a real mistake not to think about it critically.

Then, Bruni highlights the crux of how this gentleman bridged his Catholic upbringing with his decision to perform abortions. For many in our nation, abortion is a touchstone issue prompting knee-jerk reactions. Bruni’s classmate had followed the beliefs preached to him only so far.

He has thought a lot about how customs, laws and religion do and don’t jibe with women’s actions and autonomy.

“In all centuries, through all history, women have ended pregnancies somehow,” he said. “They feel so strongly about this that they will attempt abortion even when it’s illegal, unsafe and often lethal.

The discord between the ideal and the real is apparent to all of us. Every time we wish for another hour in the day, we are recognizing the limitations that prevent us from reaching our ideals. Not only in finishing the dishes in time to enjoy 30 pages of your book before bed, but limitations that prevent us from flying across the country to tend a fragile friendship, or the limitations that lead to the choice between a time with your kids or a second job to fund their college dreams. On the ways religion falls short, Bruni speaks through his classmates thoughts:

And in too many religious people he sees inconsistencies. They speak of life’s preciousness when railing against abortion but fail to acknowledge how they let other values override that concern when they support war, the death penalty or governments that do nothing for people in perilous need.

He has not raised his young children in any church, or told them that God exists, because he no longer believes that. But he wants them to have the community-minded values and altruism that he indeed credits many religions with fostering. He wants them to be soulful, philosophical.

While this article touched on many areas worthy of deep thought, what especially touched a chord with me is the emphasis on “community-minded values and altruism.” As a non-religious person, I have faced the question about what role I have in our overwhelmingly religious society. How much credibility do I have in the eyes of a strict Catholic, a Mormon, or evangelical (of any religion)? Would they trust me to doctor, guide or legislate for their community?

These deep thoughts are the stuff of mind wanderings on a still evening, and they are also the questions that pull me along. I look forward to finding time in my day to think about crunchy problems like how do I justify disagreeing with policies that are paying for my life (military)? How much have I changed my opinions as I have learned more about the mission of the military, particularly in this overseas station?

Turning over the events of the day in my mind and selecting five highlights was skimming the surface of the ever churning thoughts, questions and doubts swirling within me. I am re-entering engagement with these thoughts, it is a little scary, but like Bruni’s classmate – I hope I have the courage and wisdom to continue on the journey.

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3 responses to “Frank Bruni is Rethinking His Religion, and you can too

  1. I thought about this so much as well. I had a boyfriend in college who was religious, and he would always tell me that my values came from Christianity so really, I should be religious. Being a good person, doing the right thing, helping other people, etc., he believed all of that stuff came from the Bible. I’ve met many people who say this same thing. I don’t believe that. I think all that can be found in the Bible, but I truly believe being a good person does not stem from a book’s teachings. I loved the part of Religulous where Bill Maher is talking to that senator and saying he thinks even without a Bible’s commandments we could all agree to not kill each other and steal each other’s shit.

    • I completely agree with you, especially rang true was that values can be found in a book of religious teaching, but the beliefs and values we hold and how we choose to act are human acts that cannot simply be attributed to a book.

      My upbringing was Catholic and from a young age I questioned the logic behind dogma as well as the ‘practical’ aspects (women can’t be priests, no meat rules…) and so on. The more I learn about world religions, the more I see a persistent theme that transcends religious distinctions – sorta summed up in the golden rule and the concept of compassion.

      This makes me odd duck out in many settings (especially in my current peer groups), as well as making me rather intolerant of people who strictly adhere to orthodoxy or other strict practices of a religion and especially annoyed by religious claims to war.

      • That’s exactly the term I was thinking – the Golden Rule. It really is as simple as that I think. I know how you feel, being the odd person out. My whole family (apart from my immediate family) is really religious. One HUGE thing I’ve noticed about living in England is that people never talk about religion here, and it’s such a nice break from the US. In the UK you can safely assume the person you are talking with is not religious. In the US you have to assume they are. It’s so much more relaxed here and people are so much more liberal. Often they just simply don’t understand American politics! (Santorum!)

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