Thinking about religion reminds me of my ex-boyfriends and my past relationships. It’s always been a complicated affair; demanding commitment, taking loyalty, requiring devotion and at least one date per week. My relationship with religion, though, predated all my exes, which means that we’ve had a very long history together. Looking back on my life or reading my previous blog posts, I see a definite shift in my paradigm about religion and the place it has in my life as well as the hold it has over me.
I started off being a devout Christian. Born in a Christian Batak family, one that would ostracise family members for leaving the faith or converting to another, there wasn’t really a choice. Loving the words of the preachers and the church and the Bible, I remember being asked in junior high who my idol was, and without hesitation answering, “Jesus.” I adored Sunday school, was on the way to being a Sunday school teacher myself, attended church service several times a day and multiple times a week. As far as a relationship goes, it was pretty perfect. Like all my relationships, though, it ended.
The turning point was in high school when my sexual identity, one I’ve never had an issue with, one I’ve always accepted as simply and naturally as my being right-handed or brown-eyed, became a subject of contention and ridicule, all in a priest’s one sermon. In hindsight, at that point I was already changing, restless in my faith in the dogma of something unquestionable. It was the time when I would step back within myself during sermons and, instead of raptly listening to them and, in the words of the faithful, ‘let the words of the Good Lord and grace of the Holy Spirit wash over me and fill me to overflowing’, I started thinking instead. I’d look around at the congregation, wondering at the expressions on their faces, studying their body language, pondering their reasons for being there. And I remember thinking, So many people need something to believe in, to hold on to. Something they consider bigger than themselves; because in their minds, only something bigger can possibly be an answer to the unanswerable questions in life.
So the process happened gradually. I began thinking, and started questioning, and on it went. I experimented with Wicca, delved into Buddhism and mysticism, tried spirituality apart from any particular religion and settling down with agnosticism for a while, ending up an atheist and right now considering myself an apatheist, which in essence is more of a state of mind than a belief. At this point, I don’t care whether or not god (or God) exists and care even less about debating or defending each perspective. It’s just irrelevant to my life.
It does help that my mother comes from a multi-religion family, with a whole lot of open-mindedness and without fanaticism excepting one or two extended family members. My maternal grandfather was Buddhist and my beloved grandmother still is. My uncles and aunts and nephews are either Moslem, Christian, Catholic, a combination of several, or anything they wish to categorise themselves. It is in this environment that I learn tolerance and acceptance of other faiths. That it is alright to differ and that the difference doesn’t matter.
The world outside, however, is a different thing entirely. With organised religion separating one group from another, used as political weapons and for financial gain, with each claiming not only Truth with a capital T, but Holy Truth. Sacred Truth. Unquestionable and God-given Truth. Where everything else that doesn’t agree and everyone else who doesn’t obey branded as heretics, sinners, and destined for the fire, brimstone, and eternal damnation of hell and fit to be oppressed, destroyed, killed.
Despite, or maybe because of, knowing how this place is, now that I’ve made my choice, I can honestly say that I’m happier. The world feels like it makes more sense. Life feels easier to understand when the veils that have been clouding my vision have been lifted or brushed aside. And isn’t that all we ever want? To be happy?
I don’t wish to ‘convert’ anyone. The journey I decided to take has led me here and if there’s anything I know about life, it’s that we all take our own, make our choices and decisions, answer our own questions. And that’s alright. What I wish, though, is for people to just leave well enough alone. The beliefs of others – or lack thereof, how they live their lives, so long as it doesn’t harm you and yours, why be bothered?
Whether or not I’ll believe in religion again, whether I’ll believe in a god or God, remains to be seen. I’m not so arrogant as to be absolutely certain of the future. I do hope that whichever I decide, I won’t ever choose ignorance, no matter how much bliss it may offer, over seeing things clearly.