Unlike most of my friends, I didn't go to church as a child. My father was an ex-Catholic (as of age 14) and my mother was ostensibly Anglican, although if you'd ever asked me I would have definitely called her a New Age spiritualist (she claims now to be Buddhist). I was baptized, but other than funerals, weddings, or youth group meetings, the number of times I have been in a church can be counted on one hand, and I am 27.
I know some people who grew up hurt by their church, in a direct fashion - such as verbal and emotional abuse. I know some who were hurt indirectly - through teachings that said they were somehow lesser. I know those who were hurt because their church had no answers for the tragedies of the world - the deaths of those we thought were too young to die. I know people who love their church and I know those who left it for other spiritual paths and never looked back.
I consider myself basically an atheist, or sometimes a henotheist lacking a deity. All gods could be equally real, and are; whether they are archetypes, actual divine beings within our universe, or transcendent beings matters very little to me (although I tend to lean towards the former, hence the atheism).
I've tried many religions at varying points in my life. In fifth grade, when we got our little red Gideons, I read it nightly for about a month, following the guide in the front of the book to learn about Jesus. I prayed. When nothing happened, I decided God didn't exist or didn't want to talk to me, and that was the end of that. I still enjoyed churches the few times I went into them, but it always felt the same way, as though someone was saying "this is not the right place for you".
At various points, I have tried different flavours of paganism - Hellenismos being the one I most frequently circle back to, because I adore the Greek gods, but I poked at the Roman gods, Wicca, Kemeticism (Ancient Egyptian reconstructionism, which I also circle back to), eclectic witchcraft (both religious and not), the Norse pantheon, and the Celtic pantheon. I got varying levels of response to these attempts, ranging from "eh, this doesn't really work for me" all the way through to "everything about this feels wrongbad".
And yet, sometimes I feel like there is this ritual space inside my head and it is taking up space, waiting to be filled with... something. But what?
This is what I have been struggling with for... many months. It's strange to talk about with people. How can you need ritual without someone to dedicate it to? We have so few non-religious rituals that it's almost impossible to conceive; the ones we do have are generally markers of the passing of time (birthdays, graduations, weddings, funerals).
I started reading about orthopraxy (right acts) and orthodoxy (right belief). It was... at least a little illuminating. Maybe I don't need the belief in the god(s); I just need to find a set of acts that makes sense in the world, above and beyond the religion they are attached to. Maybe what I need is a theology that has me put away the shopping carts.
But isn't that just taking my ethical views and implementing them? Walk the walk as you talk the talk.
Maybe it is. But there's still that niggling need for ritual... But maybe as I walk my talk, the ritual will become obvious.