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I wasnt raised within a religious tradition. Mother was a member of the Lutheran Church by birth as are all Norwegians unless they sign out of the state religion. Dad, although Norwegian by ancestry, had never had any affiliation with a religious confession, nor had his parents. My brother Fin and I were free to do whatever we wanted as regards religions. Briefly, I attended a Lutheran Sunday school because my best grade school friend, Larry Nolden, did. So, too, my brother attended a Greek Orthodox Sunday school with his best friend for a while.Early on, I knew Dad was an atheist and thought little of religion. Mom was more complicated--or perhaps simple. Once she started working as a nurses aide at Lutheran General Hospital she began to befriend members of their chaplaincy staff--a big one as the institution had a large Clinical Pastoral Education program. Occasionally shed bring home a minister or a priest for dinner. Once we even had some sort of truncated mass celebrated in the living room. I saw them, these clergymen, as odd and intriguing.Religion was a big thing in Park Ridge, where we lived, and at my high school, Maine South. Most everyone seemed to have some affiliation and Christian groups such as Campus Life and Campus Crusade for Christ met on campus after the class day was concluded. Some of my best friends were ostensibly involved in religious activities. The Catholics were pretty pro forma, though some spoke well of Confraternity of Christian Doctrine sessions. The Protestants, some of them, even the countercultural ones, tended to be more in-your-face enthusiastic. The Jesus Freak thing was catching on and I knew kids who made a point of trying to convert me. Their arguments, however, were not very impressive. Indeed, the evangelicals seemed to be generally pretty ignorant. But not every Christian I met was so.The more impressive Christians were the least exclusively Christian and the most religious--if by religion one means thoughtfully serious. Some of my very best friends were so, some of them rejecting their confessional upbringings for religious reasons, others of them reinterpreting them and, often, going on to study other religious traditions. I followed a couple through their re-examinations, usually arguing on the side of atheism and of science, usually feeling that I had the better part of these discussions.There was, however, a religious tradition I couldnt discount and that was Zen Buddhism. As it, and kindred movements in Buddhism, was anti-metaphysical, my usual arguments werent applicable. Besides general ethical and philosophical problems, my own experiences with psychotropic drugs seemed to be meaningfully addressed by some religious writers concerned with Zen, mystical traditions and Eastern meditational practices. Mother first got me interested in one of these writers as she had a couple of Alan Watts books in the house. Respected friends had mentioned him, so I gave them a look and read several before graduating from high school. He was accessible and, I thought, sensible. In college I took a survey course on Eastern Religion much because of his having opened my mind to the topic.Ironically, I went on to complete a degree in religious studies at college, then to seminary and even to completion of a program in Clinical Pastoral Education at Manhattans St. Lukes hospital center. None of this made me a Christian, but it did help me appreciate the various strands of such traditions and of others.Coming upon a book by Watts I hadnt yet read, this one and his early book on Easter in fact, I returned to the kind of material which had so influenced me as an adolescent. It held up, but then the perennial tradition should, shouldnt it?
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