I've been so busy. I've been following how this thread has progressed with much interest, but I haven't had time to write a good response! I don't even have much time now, but I'll try.
Yammer, first I'll try to address your posts.
I feel like I should reveal a little of my background to explain where I'm coming from. I grew up feeling a lot like you. My parents were aetheist/agnostic (one born Jewish and one born WASP) and brought me up that way, but I really envied my religious friends. I went with them to various churches and synagogues (never mosques or other places of worship unfortunately), even volunteered at a few of these places and went fairly regularly, read up on Eastern and pagan religions, but could never get beyond the ideas of God or of reincarnation.
In my early 20s, I started seeing a guy who ended up being my husband, and we merged our searches (he had been brought up aetheist but in an Italian Catholic sort of background and had always searched for meaning as well), and somehow together we decided that Judaism was The Way. And not just any judaism, but "ultra" orthodox Judaism. We both converted (my mother wasn't Jewish) after a year of studying. I had to take a leap of faith to believe in God in the beginning of that, but I came to believe strongly and deeply and assumed that I'd be keeping Shabbat and eating kosher and covering my hair and body the rest of my life. I won't speak for my husband and how he came to believe, but that was my experience. We did this for seven years, during which we had our two daughters, but then my husband started to have scientific doubts (until then he had found ways to make everything work for him scientifically), and started to lose his faith. This nearly broke us up, because the way I saw it, I had taken a leap of faith and could keep on leaping and everything about me was invested in this leap, but he just couldn't do it anymore. Neither of us felt we could remain in a marriage where each of us saw things differently (when we do things, we do things intensely), and so it was either divorce, him living what he believed was a lie, or my giving up everything for him. It nearly destroyed me at the time (it did destroy all of our friendships), but within a year or so of talking and talking and talking and thinking and reading and talking and talking and talking some more, I have come to believe that I can never go back.
We came to believe, early in our search, that a religious life was a better life, that religious people were good people, that the family who prayed together, stayed together, that there was less chance of all sorts of disfunctionalities (i.e. alcoholism) when one was religous, etc. etc. We have since come to see (although we came to this conclusion separately, each in our own way and time) two things: 1) that one can have all of these wonderful things without religion, that one can have a purpose in life and ethics that follow from there, as I explained in my first post, and 2) that while many religions can motivate people to be good, it also can also motivate people to do bad. I don't want to go into this idea too much here because I don't want to offend anyone, but the way I see it, religions generally just encourage goodness to other people within the religion and in order to spread the good news. That doesn't negate the good works, but it does put them in a different light for me. Also, many wars are caused by religion. Just look at what is going on in Israel right now -- that is all about religious beliefs. These are just a few small examples of why I believe, Yammer, that the price of having a dogma is much more than cognitive dissonance.
However, even while I feel no desire to be part of a religion except for the small matter of missing a congregation, I do still feel like a spiritual person. It is clear to me that there is more to life than just what I can see. There is beauty and ugliness and righteousness and evil, and I think about these ideas and what is behind them all the time. I also think about what I can do to bring more beauty and righteousness and truth to this world. I am fascinated by other religions and religious practices, and I also love religious spaces, like you do Yammer. There is part of me that does want to "know" what happens after death, but mostly I groove on the idea of becoming compost! I understand why we have religions and why people are religious. I do wish sometimes that I had a word to explain how I feel, and I think pantheism comes pretty close, but as I said above, it seems a little bit like wordplay to me.
Scribblerkate, thank you for your description of your UU experience. I think if I had one really close to me, I'd try it, but the nearest one is about a 35-minute drive, and I'm not sure it's worth it to me. I get the idea that it's kind of a safe haven for people who are uncomfortable with Christianity in general, but come from a somewhat protestant background and want to stay somehow culturally connected with that. Perhaps before I had embraced Judaism the UU church would have been right for me, but I am now coming from a different place altogether. I have looked a little into some of the very liberal branches of Judaism (reconstructionism and humanist), but even those have their drawbacks for me. The new moon group is looking better and better to me. Thank you for your ideas on that. I'll be seeing my friend tomorrow so maybe I'll talk to her further.
Do either of you, Yammer and Scribblerkate (or any others who join this conversation) ever feel frustrated by multi-denominational events that seem to include all religions except non-religion? There was an event here recently that included Catholics, Jews, Sufis, Buddhists and others but included plenty of references to a concept of God that they could all believe in. I didn't go, but I heard enough about it from friends and the media to know that I would not have felt comfortable, even though it was supposed to be a spiritual event that included everyone.
Michelle, if you're still following this thread, I am interested in your new moon group. During my religious Jewish days, I regularly attended a Rosh Chodesh group (I'm assuming this is what you're talking about), and I really loved it. I think what actually gave me this idea was a combination of reading a post on these boards about a Rosh Chodesh group and then reading a mention of new moon groups in some pagan resource and realizing how universal they are. Something about universal ideas and rituals really appeals to me.
I'm loving this conversation.