Hi! I'm Alex Zorach and I'm one of the original founders of this group, and also currently the sysadmin for the wiki.
My personal website is Cazort.net, which hosted the documents for Why This Way before the group had a name and website of its own. Much of my time is spent running RateTea, a website for tea ratings and reviews.
In addition to these things, I'm also an avid birdwatcher, and active contributor of data to eBird.
My religious journey
I grew up in a family that did not participate in organized religion in any but the most tangential ways. My parents both taught me a lot in the way of values, and about the culture and traditions of religions, but they never attended any services or were regularly involved in any religious organization. My mother grew up in the United Methodist church and my father is from a family in which both of his parents were half Jewish. My main experience with organized religion growing up was attending a yearly non-denominational Christmas service at Franklin and Marshall college. For some unknown reason, I always was fascinated with organized religion, and had a strong desire to participate in a religious community. I would sometimes have dreams filled with religious imagery and messages. But I did not like all the elements of religion that I saw around me. Particularly, I was put off by a lot of the forms of Christianity which presented their own belief system as the only true religion and the only possible path towards salvation of the soul.
In college, at Oberlin, I started attending Peace Community Church, which was then called First Baptist Church, and a campus group, Ecumenical Christians of Oberlin, both of which were run by Steve and Mary Hammond. Steve and Mary Hammond, the church, and the discussion group were highly formative in my value system. I also joined a meditation club, and explored other local churches, the on-campus Jewish services, the Hillel group, and the group Queers and Allies of Faith, although I did not attend them regularly.
After college, I moved to Cleveland Heights, Ohio, and then later Lakewood, Ohio. I was lonely and seeking community, and I visited a large number of churches of a broad range of denominations from mainline congregations to an evangelical "box church". I met many friends through attending these churches, but I did not find a stable church home. I also started attending United Protestant Campus Ministries at Case Western Reserve University.
When I went to graduate school at the University of Delaware, I became active in both the Episcopal Campus Ministries and the Lutheran Campus Ministries, then called the Lutheran Student Association. I also attended an evangelical group called Blue Hens for Christ. I visited a few churches, but did not attend any regularly. My next round of graduate school was at Yale. There, I attended a very small Lutheran campus ministry group, and sporadically visited a local Lutheran church, the main on-campus Protestant service, the on-campus Catholic mass, and the Episcopal student group. After a brief period of time on the west coast, I then returned to Newark, Delaware, although I was no longer enrolled in the University of Delaware, and I was still active in the local campus ministry groups there.
Non-religious influences on my religion
My views on religion have been shaped by a wide variety of experiences.
I have been an active editor on Wikipedia, cazort, for a number of years, and I have dedicated countless hours towards editing pages, and sometimes, discussing Wikipedia's policies and guidelines. Wikipedia and its process of consensus are both major sources of inspiration for Why This Way. Why This Way's Wiki runs on an older version of Wikipedia's software, and is structured like Wikipedia, but perhaps more importantly, the religion itself shares many core values with wikipedia; some of the five pillars of Wikipedia are related to beliefs and practices in Why This Way, such as our emphasis on respectful dialogue, and our beliefs about placing more importance on the principles and spirit of our rules, core beliefs, and practices, than on their literal wording. Why This Way is also influenced by my experience with Wikipedia's "Neutral Point of View". This said, there are some key differences in how the two organizations work too.
When on the west coast, I had two particular experiences that influenced my views on religion. One was attending the Landmark Forum, which I would not recommend to anyone. Although I saw some positive elements to what Landmark presented, such as the encouraging of people to take responsibility in their lives, and the challenging of people's subjective interpretations of reality, I found Landmark's actions and the system of ideas presented to be pushy and cult-like; many of the ways in which the organization used language seemed insincere; my objections to Landmark shaped how I want our group to function, in that I want our group to be fully consensual and refrain from even the most subtle forms of coercion. Another group or philosophy that I encountered on the west coast and liked very much was Nonviolent Communication. I also was involved in the starting phase of Innovations Academy, a charter school based on a novel educational philosophy, founded by Danielle Lynne Strachman and Christine Kuglen. Danielle in particular was also very influential on my value system.
Another major influence on my religious views has been Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. The influence of cognitive behavioral therapy's theory of cognitive distortions is evident in the rules of communication. What I took from this method of therapy was the idea that certain thought patterns correspond to certain psychological disorders, such as depression and generalized anxiety disorder. One thing I'd like our religion to do is to create ways of communicating that help groups stay in healthy mindsets, and encourage people to communicate in ways that make them less vulnerable to psychological problems like depression and anxiety.
Why I wanted a new religion
I have a variety of personal reasons for wanting something not offered by existing religions:
- I see serious problems in our society that I think religion could address, and I do not think that any existing religions are addressing them as fully, thoroughly, or quickly as I would like.
- Many of the religious organizations that I feel most comfortable with are small, struggling, and have limited influence in society.
- Many religious organizations in society have publicly advocated for at least some things that I see as unhealthy or unwholesome (rather than things that I just disagree with but do not necessarily think are unhealthy or unwholesome), and have not shown me mechanisms for rooting out these unwholesome elements. Formulating our rules of communication has greatly helped me to articulate exactly what I object to. In particular, I think a lot of organized religion that I have come into contact with is dominated by presenting subjective statements as fact, incorrectly forcing things into either-or categories that are actually shades of gray, making statements about other people's motivations or intentions, and telling people what they "should" do. These ways of communicating and thinking, which I have come to see as unhealthy or harmful, do not seem to be recognized as harmful by most religions, and are often even embedded into the religion's practices, official stances, sermons, etc.
- I think I have something new and unique that I can contribute to a new religion.
- Although I have seen examples of Christianity that are close enough to my values and beliefs that I am comfortable identifying with them, most forms of Christianity in the society around me are sufficiently different from my belief system that I am not comfortable identifying as Christian. In particular:
- I think most Christian churches are too tolerant or enabling of the idea that one religion has a monopoly on the truth or offers the sole path to salvation or spiritual health; although many Christians do not believe this, I think that the Christians who do not believe this often remain too quiet and give too much tacit agreement to other Christians who hold this view. In order for me to identify with an organized religion, that religion must openly profess in their official beliefs that they do not claim a monopoly on the truth.
- The mainstream notions of what it means to be "Christian" in society are too different from what I actually believe that I think it is not honest for me to identify as Christian. One of my beliefs, which I encouraged the group to add to our rules of communication, is that I want to "Use language and definitions based on societal consensus." rather than trying to forcibly redefine words with my own agenda.