I've had occasion to wonder what my core beliefs are - what do I actually believe in? I'll come back to that in a bit...
My Family Religious Affiliations
I never had the impression that my Dad's immediate family were particularly religious. My Dad was not a church-going man, and in fact had expressed some bitterness in how a local priest (Catholic I believe) had stopped by one day to give him advice on er, intimate aspects of his relationship with his first wife. Man - I mean, Dad was bitter and angry when he told me that story.
However, my little sister and I were christened Anglican. Did that mean that Mum and Dad were attending Anglican church at some point? I will reserve judgment on that.
As a little boy, I don't remember attending church on Sundays very much, except to sing in the choir. We may have attended though, since I do recall having a fine little green Sunday suit and long pants which were probably meant mainly for Sunday church. My sister Kim and I were periodically encouraged to attend Sunday school a few years later, when we lived in Aldergrove, outside of Langley, BC. All I can clearly remember from Sunday School was some children's bible books that depicted a blonde, clean-shaven Jesus, which I felt was all wrong. Also, some kid ate a bunch of the white library paste and stuck out his tongue to prove it, which was both gross and rather funny.
Some members of my Mother's family were devoutly religious, going to church with sincerity each Sunday, and speaking resolutely of their relationship with the Lord. Sometimes, hearing this kind of talk confused me a bit or made me uncomfortable, even as a little kid. I didn't understand the significance of it all. My Mum had brief moments where she was influenced by the spiritual beliefs of her religious relatives, and I can recall Mum coming in off the front lawn, talking (or raving) about Jesus, and Dad shouting at her to keep it down.
My impression is that Mum might have believed in God, or she might have believed in her parents more. I think my Mother was easily influenced by other people in her family, so I cannot be sure of what she truly believed in.
If my Dad ever had religion in his life, he did not have it by the time I knew him. In my teens, I asked Dad about his beliefs and if he had ever read the bible. He said that once he did start reading it, but at the part in the Old Testament where everyone was over 900 years old and still having kids, he gave up in disgust. He couldn't believe that.
In Dad's immediate family, among his brothers, parents, and his Aunt Molly, there was a strong tendency to belong to benevolent orders, like the Odd Fellows or Rebeccas, or the Shriners. These were religiously-based organizations that gave people some social and financial support, and performed charitable deeds in their local communities. The Odd Fellows and Rebeccas were Christian-based fellowships, which came out of the English Guild system in the 18th century (See http://www.oddfellow.org/english/faq1.html). The Shriners are a Masonic order (similar to the Free Masons) whose origins depend upon who you ask (See http://www.freemasoninfo.ca/fez.html). My uncle was one of those fez-wearing, red-blazer-bearing Shriners, and seemed to take a lot of joy from being part of that association. I still don't know what it's really all about or where it came from though, to be honest...
What does it all mean?
So many associations. Different group with different beliefs, and sometimes they try to discredit each other. The thing is, everyone joins one of these groups for personal reasons, and at some point may feel compelled to defend it from the views or opinions of others. Some fundamentalist Christians think that Masonic groups are based in Islam, paganism or even Satan worship, for example. I'm sure there are biases in every group, and that in many cases, they distinguish themselves from "competing" groups by their differences, which they believe to be advantageous. *sigh*
So, what do I believe in?
So, I am not interested in becoming a card-carrying member of any organized religion, fellowship, brother/sisterhood or whatever. All the special clothing, memorized oaths, and special halls or churches seem too externalized - like over-worked symbolic diversions, which I think distract from core philosophy.
Even though I am a budding Buddhist, I don't have any interest in the outside manifestations of it. I don't chant, wear robes or shave my head, any more than an average Christian would dress up like a priest. I think that the most difficult thing for someone to do is to develop their own strength in a belief system based upon personal study and introspection. By this, I mean that if I cannot find the inner strength to develop and test a belief system on my own, I will be susceptible to manipulation by others if I join an organized group. I believe in being skeptical until I feel I have enough information.
This doesn't mean I don't believe in something. I have a strong belief in science as a discipline to help us understand the patterns of nature. I believe generally in psychology and philosophy as practices that have contributed to our understanding of ourselves and the world. I believe in the right to ask questions and admit that I am finite, temporary in this world, and that I do not know the answers. I do not expect a belief system to give me those answers. I would rather be given the questions, and a means through which I can come to know an answer for myself.