In which your co-editors, Sunny Sone and Mike Kanin, attempt to tell you a bit about themselves and, in so doing, hope to tell you more about Preachy:
Hope you are well, post-phone call. I wanted to get the ball rolling on this convo. Maybe, to start, you could tell me about your relationship to religion/spirituality while you were growing up?
Hi! I’m well, thanks. I hope yr also doing well post-call.
My relationship to religion growing up was… difficult. It wasn’t like I had some kind of fanatic’s experience. Or that I had some kind of crisis of faith. Or that I had a bad run in with an awful religious leader. So maybe difficult isn’t the best way to put it? Maybe it was more that it was fraught. And I guess that starts with a kind-of tradition. It didn’t feel to me as though my parents were really all that religious, and that they participated in religious life more to make their parents happy than anything else. I think this is a very poor understanding of the nuance of their belief—maybe the nuance of belief in general—but since we’re talking about our understanding of our early experiences, I’ll stick with that context for now. And, in that context, my folks’ religious activity felt kind of like a guilt trip.
I really wanted no part of that. So when they tried to pass on their traditions—at the time, tradition seemed to me to be making one’s kids suffer through a religious education (a fact my father joked with my sister and I about)—I got pretty angry. Like some Jewish boys (from what I hear, this is a thing?), I tried on facism as a response. Not the healthiest way to process, of course. And, needless to say, I deeply regret being such a total fucking tool. Fortunately, that all didn’t last very long. Maybe a year, a little more? But my discomfort with my own identity has lingered.
By my teenage years, I think music really became a spiritual outlet for me. But there is no way I’d ever have said that then.
Sunny, how do you remember your earliest experiences with religion and spirituality? And, is there like a demarcation line? Something that divides yr young thinking with how you feel today?
Hey, just want to say first and foremost, thank you for sharing that with me. I appreciate your vulnerability. When you say some Jewish boys try on fascism, what do you mean there? Also, how did you move out of that space? And how do you reckon with that now?
I grew up in a military family, and we went to church on base. I actually have really lovely memories of attending Christian church growing up. The community was pretty non-denominational and overall low-effort for the folks involved, at least in my memory. Right around the time I was nine years old, though, I have this memory of just sitting in church next to my parents and thinking: Wow, I don’t believe in a singular god, like at all. (That’s 25-year-old-me terms. At the time, I think I was thinking something like: This is bullshit.) And from then on I was pretty skeptical of organized religion. Because I had access to the internet, I was able to identify as an agnostic pretty quickly. I think I did a Google search with the words “I don’t believe in god,” lol.
As a teenager, though, I weirdly met most of my friends through a youth group. That feels like a very Texas thing. I’m still friends with most of those people today.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that I feel most spiritual when I think about the planet—our connection to it and its connection to the wider universe. I find a lot of beauty in bugs and plants and rocks. I like thinking of myself as a little bug in a sandbox, bumping into and crawling around with all sorts of other creatures. I treasure my relationship with the beings, living or otherwise, around me. So I think it’s less of a demarcation and more of a natural progression, from skeptic to… lover? That feels cheesy to say, but sometimes I have trouble describing my spirituality. Lover feels OK.
Hi! Thanks so much for hearing me. It is an absolutely ridiculous thing that I did. Mostly, I’m talking about anecdotes. My partner Cindy knew someone growing up who did the same thing, and I’ve heard the same from other folks, too.
I think I needed to find a bit of empathy to be able to move from a place of hate (I guess that’s how it goes?). I’m sure it was way more than just this exact moment, but I remember being in the car with my mom and my sister talking about going to a NARAL rally. I think hearing their concerns about losing their right to make decisions about reproductive access made a real dent in my lack of empathy. I was probably about 13. My sister was probably 10.
I used to tell jokes about my (short) time as a (wannabe) Nazi. You know; make it into a thing that points to the absurdity of human belief. As I’ve gotten older, it’s gotten less funny. And I think the jokes sort of gave way to a curiosity about what I’ve maybe/probably left behind about my identity. I don’t ever think I’ll really practice, but I’m certainly more open to the ideas behind it all.
Are you familiar with the tradition of Kaddish? It’s the Jewish set of rites for the dead. According to my father (maybe my Zaida?), the Jewish tradition of passage holds that it takes a soul 12 months to pass on to the afterlife (I’m pretty sure we don’t do hell). It is the obligation of a living relative to say the Kaddish prayer for 11 months after someone dies. (So why 11 months? ‘Cause apparently it is also tradition for all relatives to think that their parents are just a little bit better than everyone else’s, so they don’t need to do the full 12 months. I think that one is from my Zaida.)
Anyway. My father sort of took for granted that I would not be his Kaddish. And that totally makes sense, given my near total lack of participation in Jewish life. So he didn’t ever really ask. And when we finally got to talking about it, just a few weeks ago—again the first time it ever came up—I ended up volunteering for the role. My father and I have a really wonderful relationship (at least, I think so), but this is just a place we never went. I’m glad we did, but it’s a consequence that it took so long, I think, of how I presented myself to him.
Funny thing is, it all kind of gets back to this circle of tradition; doing it for yr forebears and such. Not that I feel guilty. More like I simply should. And that’s probably also the nuance I didn’t get as a youngster.
Some questions for you: 1) so yr earliest memories of church are of community? 2) The googling about nonbelief is amazing! Does that mean the internet helped you navigate your earliest systems of belief? Turning this a bit: do you think that digitally native generations have a fundamentally different view of faith cause they can Google? 3) Have yr youth group friends stayed religious?
I find yr description of existence extremely comforting. And totally loving! Can you share more about the non-living creatures that you bump into?
I’d say probably yeah, my earliest memories of church are of community. Also food—fig newtons, coffee, orange juice. I have all these memories of hanging out in the basement of the church watching people eat.
My youth group friends have basically all turned out to be non-religious. I think even when I met them as a young teenager they were mostly agnostic. It just so happened that the youth group had the best activities. I mean, they took us bowling and out to the river, stuff you don’t really get to do otherwise as a kid without a car, or without your parents involved. It’s funny to think about, actually, the first time I ever smoked a cigarette was right outside a church with a bunch of people who played in the church band. And I was 13, pretty young, all things considered. So the church was not necessarily a site of worship for me, but definitely a site of some social significance.
It’s an interesting question about whether the younger generations have a different view of faith. I can only speak from personal experience. With Google, having a little bar where I could type in all of my questions, and see that there were whole communities of agnostics, really helped me feel OK about not believing in a god the same way I was raised. So in that way it opened the door for all sorts of other thinking, though I don’t think I blossomed into really thinking creatively about belief until college. People really rewarded you for being an atheist on the internet in 2011, lol. With folks who grow up on the internet… I don’t know. I feel like it would be easy to jump from belief to belief because there’s so much information out there. I think that’s a cool and good thing, to do that exploration. But I also think there have always been people who are devout and people who are less devout. There’s just more to look around at these days.
Re, nonliving creatures, the most relevant example is from this trip I took out to Big Bend National Park in December of last year. My friends and I hiked up to the top of a mountain (Lost Mine Trail) and encountered these enormous rocks. It was the evening and the rocks had been chilling up there all day, taking in all of this warmth from the sun. And while we were up there I gave one of the rocks a big hug, pressed my cheek up against it, and felt all this warmth spill into my chest. It was the most incredible feeling. Anyway, big boulders, soil that hangs out under my fingernails… I think about interacting with the road at 6pm after it’s soaked up whatever the day has to offer, and I’m like just stepping on it, and how that’s fine, that’s just the role we both play. I think there’s a relationship to everything.
What do you mean that you don’t feel guilty, you feel like you just should? Is there anything that’s resurfaced now from attending religious services as a child? What ideas are you most open to now?
Also, you are about to have a kid. Do you think you’ll pass anything on to them?
Okay, so i’m thinking about you hanging out with that rock—and the warmth it gave you.
It seems to me that this is a rather tangible religious experience put next to, say, a piece of scripture. But… I should probably also note here that I don’t spend much time with scripture. Anyway. is that a fair statement? At least for you and how your experience with such moments runs?
And I guess that gets back to this notion of the devout. I’m totally curious about how you experience a level of…devout…ness? Like, is that the same thing as faith? Or is it a whole other idea? For me, I wonder if ‘devout’ implies some level of servitude (which, of course, is full-on encouraged in so many modes of religion)? If so, that seems wholly different than faith. Many apologies if it sounds like I think I just invented philosophy! That’s totally not my intention. I think my experience of faith is so binary that being faithful and being devout all run together, if that makes sense? Like, I love the idea that hugging a rock is a non-bowing act of faith. Does that make sense?
I think, yeah, guilt here means something like if you don’t participate in a certain set of religious experiences (whether or not you are a believer), you have failed yr relatives. It’s just really hard for me to get with that. And I think that that continues to produce some anger on my part when I think about belief. There is this pretty great line that I think Elaine Pagels notes in her Gnostic Gospels that the notion of the mono- god as a jealous god is actually a critique offered by some early Christians.
For me, I still feel that jealousy in the guilt that gets passed down. Like, my Zaida asked me if Cindy and I would have a bris for our kiddo. When I told him that we wouldn’t, he responded that this answer was disappointing. My Zaida is a wonderful human. And I super duper love him. But I feel like his god is jealous of my decisions.
But I’m totally working on it. A good friend brought me to Yom Kippur services this past year. It was probably the first time I’d been to synagogue in like 20 years. It was really really great. I couldn’t tell you why. But I think that’s a sign that I’m finding myself more open to organized belief.
As for the kiddo: Despite the fact that there won’t be a bris, I want them to know where they come from—and why it is so important to their great-parents for them to feel that identity. But that’s a really complicated question. And besides, I also want them to be able to freely believe what they want to believe.
Sending warmth to you!
I definitely think of the rock as an ecstatic experience. It’s hard for me to disentangle ecstasy, spirituality and religion. I feel like they’re all wrapped up together. Most of my ecstatic moments feel like a moment of clarity, with the general result of appreciation toward the life (and non-life) around me. I don’t think you have to be devout to experience ecstasy, though I do think a routine of thoughtfulness (be it religious or not) might help those moments happen more frequently.
I agree that devoutness is different from faith. I think of it as strictly adhering—to a social structure, a religious tradition, a mindfulness practice. I don’t think I could maintain devoutness of any sort, really… I don’t even wake up at the same time every day! I do try to be devout about, like, being compassionate, but, you know, sometimes I fail.
I’m struck by the idea of passing down a jealous god. I’ve never thought about it in those terms before. This conversation kind of reminds me of this anecdote from my mom. She grew up going to a Baptist church in Dallas, and a bunch of congregants there were against dancing. Eventually, she disagreed and decided that dancing was for her. But she says she carried guilt about dancing for a long time because it was so frowned upon, even though she was totally happy with her decision to break with the mainstream belief at her church. I think some of her reticence around dancing was socialized down to me.
Apart from your family, are there other people who have influenced your beliefs (and how)?
So is it crazy to think that being devout to the idea of compassion is kind of where religion should start? Like finding mercy, love, peace, and understanding (even when we fail). Isn’t that kind of what it’s supposed to be about? Like, what do you think your mom would say about that idea (I’m assuming she is still practicing)?
Also, and perhaps more importantly, does yr mom still dance?
I think the single biggest driver of my belief system was growing up with DC punk music. My parents provided me with a strong sense of right and wrong, and a drive to do good to other folks; Dischord gave me a counter-culture excuse to be, like, a basically good human being; it made it cool to be nice. The experience of having the values that I identified with most closely validated by tangibly awesome (in the sense that they were performing in front of my face, and also in a sense that they seem, at least to me, to have a provably awesome quality) musicians was deeply life-affirming. I’m so positive that I am not the first person to point this out, but I am so grateful for it.
I feel like I haven’t asked you how yr parents influenced your belief systems. Did they? Are there other folks who played a role?
Also: in this conversation, I can already see so many things that might have made us want to write about spirituality, religion, the practice of religion, the over-practice of religion, and so forth. like:
—our own respective histories (natch)
—a current need to find examples of goodness in the world and, you know, highlight them
—maybe iron out some guilty kinks?
What do you think? And, I should probably ask: What are you hoping to get out of this site (I mean, other than some *really* dope Friday playlists)?
I don’t feel like it’s craaazy to say that. I just wouldn’t dictate it. I think about, like, ascetic monks who value love for god above all, and live these kind of quietly beautiful lives. I don’t know if i’d call that compassion, but I think it’s just as valuable. I think my mom would like the idea of religion starting with compassion, though. She still dances.
What are the values you most closely identify with? And how were they validated at that time in your life (by Fugazi/Dischord)?
Re Dischord and feeling like it’s OK to be a good human: I feel like that relates back to this idea of guilt stemming from a clash between societal norms and religious norms. I don’t think there’s much incentive to be a good human in late capitalism. This conversation reminds me of this David Graeber piece I read today (rest in peace):
No one would deny, of course, that humans are flawed creatures. Just about every human language has some analogue of the English “humane” or expressions like “to treat someone like a human being,” implying that simply recognizing another creature as a fellow human entails a responsibility to treat them with a certain minimum of kindness, consideration, and respect. It is obvious, however, that nowhere do humans consistently live up to that responsibility. And when we fail, we shrug and say we’re “only human.” To be human, then, is both to have ideals and to fail to live up to them.
My parents influenced me when I was a kid by taking me to church, instilling in me a strong sense of duty to be the best version of myself I can be. That includes a sense of right and wrong, though I’ll admit that I have to search for right and wrong sometimes. (I connect deeply with that last Graeber line about both having ideals and failing to live up to them.) I don’t think it comes naturally to me, that sense. The person who has influenced me the most, though, is my friend Aaron. I don’t know anyone who thinks as deeply about belief as him. He’s spent a lot of time trying out different practices, and I think watching him wield his creative muscle in that way was inspiring, and led me to question and think more deeply about my relationships with the mundane and the mystical.
I totally agree with what you’ve said re the site! i suppose i also would (selfishly) like to see what others believe. Faith is so intimate. I’m an Aries, so I’m super nosy and interested in everyone’s brains. 🙂
Is there anything else you were hoping to get out of the site?
Wow. That Graeber line…Like all day, every day. That’s totally my struggle.
My mom told my third grade teacher that she wanted me to turn out eccentric? Eclectic? Something like that. So I think that the whole set-up was that I would end up as an iconoclast. Maybe lucky for me, being an iconoclast raised in the 1980s meant, I think, an automatic rejection of toxic cultures. Greed. Toxic masculinity (I hope). Those are two big ones. Later, the systems of oppression that function to undo efforts at equality? Like everything you’d feel after watching just a whole slate of Hollywood films that came out around the time of my youth (from, like Meatballs to Wall Street).
But I’m trying to be clever and I’m kind of avoiding your question (a tic, I’m afraid). My values. Fuck. What are my values? (This has turned pretty revealing.) I believe in equity and love, honesty, loyalty* and follow-through. I believe that you should be able to say and believe what you want**, and that you should offer me that same respect. I believe that you shouldn’t be left to die on the street alone, and that if you need help, you should be able to get it and not have to pay for it. I don’t believe in a sentient higher power, nor in businesses and gospels built on monetizing the crap out of folks who do.
And, to yr Graeber quote: I’ll be damned if I live up to any of that with consistent rigor.
I think Dischord gave me my people, my community. It’s a small thing, but it was a place to start. I hope I’ve done better as I’ve grown and that I’ll keep doing better as I age.
What are your values? What are your beliefs?
Okay, so maybe this is silly, but… Are you an Aaronist? One of the small mental traps I find I set for myself revolves around thinking about how a prophet becomes a prophet. And given what seems to be the… populist (is that right?) nature of propheteering (is that right?), it seems anyone can be a prophet, so long as they’ve got a flock. If Aaron has you as his flock, he has a flock—and is thus a prophet. I’m honestly not making fun of or trying to disparage anything here. If anything, I’m trying to say: Why couldn’t you be an Aaronist (like in the broad general sense of being an anything)?
I think that about sums it for the site, for me. I think I too am really nosy about people’s brains! But I’m a Libra so…?
I really do hope that lots and lots of folks will share their thoughts about belief with us. And I hope those thoughts provide something of a respite from the rest of the garbage that floats around the internet.
*like take care of the folks that take care of you; not like I need to bang away at some retaliatory act of violence
**to, like, a point. the tradition of using speech as a way to intimidate, other, and undo whole classes of people for the sake of “preserving” your sense of self is just awful. It’s also awful that I have to write this.
I believe in compassion, warmth, forgiveness… I was a girl scout for about as many years as you could be a girl scout, and that really taught me to leave a place better than you find it. I think that applies to self-growth, too. I believe in trying to be the best version of yourself every day (and forgiving yourself—and others—when, as a human, you fail to live up to your own ideals). I think you can find something sacred in just about everything.
Re Aaronist… Maybe I am! Though I think Aaron would also be a Sunny-ist, for what it’s worth. Maybe that’s a difference: A prophet isn’t necessarily influenced by their flock? I don’t know. Maybe everyone’s a prophet in their own way.