Confusion, bewilderment and frustration...my relationship with religion...
I remember when I was 15, sitting on the couch a Sunday morning, watching TV. My mother walked into the living room, dressed to the nines and asked me, “Are you going to church today?”
I looked at her bewildered, “I haven’t been in the last six months. Why would I choose to go now?”
She looked at me and before storming off exclaimed, “You just don’t give a shit about God.”
While I look back at that moment humorously, that time in my life was very important.
I was going through a spiritual phase, trying to figure out what I believed in for myself. I was raised with Christian beliefs, went to church every Sunday, went to youth group, and even Bible camps.
My parents, who had been raised Christian, themselves, weren’t fundamentalists, but did believe in the basic tenants on Christianity: be kind to others, don’t steal, cheat, or be gluttonous.
They wanted to make sure that I grew up with morals and that I wouldn’t burn in the fiery pits of hell. And for that, I thank them.
Thinking back on my childhood I always questioned what I was told to be right. I had to figure things out and examine what I had been taught to the core. I never really considered myself Christian, although that was the basic answer I gave people when they asked what I believed in.
Truth was, I didn’t know what I believed in. I had no concept of what it meant to hold on to a faith that I discovered on my own. It was around my sophomore year of high school that it really began to set in that I had never really explored other religions or practices of faith.
I went on to the internet and started researching. Mormonism always fascinated me, so I went to the official church website and signed up to receive more information. A few days later, two men in white shirts and ties were on my doorstep with pamphlets.
My mom asked who was at the door, and I shooed them away and told her a salesperson.
I went on to read about scientology, Judaism, Buddhism, and even read stuff on Satanism. My mother, was kind to me during this process, believing that I was going through a ‘phase’ that I would quickly grow out of.
I even read up more on Christianity, and found that I loved the writings of C.S. Lewis because he was an atheist turned Christian, who spent the rest of his life questioning is own faith, but always coming around to the belief that there is a loving God.
After going not attending for about a year, I decided to go back to appease my mother during Easter and was met with the prodigal son reaction. I felt like an outsider.
People asked me if I had been attending another church.
When I answered with a simple, “No, I just haven’t been going to church at all,” they looked at me with amazement that I surprisingly hadn’t ended up pregnant or looked like I just gotten out of drug rehab.
I went on to explain that I was doing my own soul searching without church. I never received a response.
Needless to say, I didn’t go back. The next couple of years I teeter tottered with my faith and finally settled on that I did believe in a God, I just wasn’t sure which version.
Then, I finally stepped into my first college philosophy class. We delved further into the question of God more deeply than I could have imagined.
Just when I thought I had begun to figure out what I believed, everything was turned upside down. While studying religion, I never really considered the option of Atheism. It didn’t seem possible to believe in nothing.
David Hume, J.L. Mackie and Stephen Gould were just a few of the atheists we read in class. They made points that seemed very valid and I went back to square one.
I went online to Amazon and purchased the God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins and Letter to a Christian Nation, by Samuel Harris.
After barely passing my philosophy class and reading cover to cover of those two books, I declared myself an atheist after my first quarter in college.
I went home for Christmas and had a coming out of the religion closet conversation with my parents. They looked stunned. My father asked if something terrible had happened and mother asked herself what she had done wrong as a parent.
They told me I was lost and confused. They turned out to be right, but for different reasons.
I quickly grew out of my atheist beliefs and started paying attention to the core of me. I stopped reading books on spirituality or religion.
It’s not because I didn’t find knowledge or wisdom in any of those readings, I just found it completely confused me.
I needed to take the time for myself that allowed me to think clearly without the influence of other’s beliefs. I wanted to dig deeper than I had before and that involved me paying attention to my heart.
I had a conversation with someone soon after I came to this resolution. "What do you believe in?" he asked me one day as we were walking out of a class.
"What do you mean?" wanting him to explain further.
"I mean what's your religion?"
I looked at him in bewilderment. Religion? He could have asked me any other question like what my hobbies are on the weekend or what my favorite color is.
At first, a sense of violation came over me because I felt it was too personal of a question to ask someone he barely knew.
After several seconds of hesitation he asked, "Well?"
I looked at him realizing why I didn't want to answer his question. "I don't have a religion," I said and walked the other direction.
His question of course bothered me because I didn’t have a clue. And to this day, I still don’t. I have been in and out of faith rehab for the last several years.
I have jumbled around, and have cursed myself in the process for not finding a belief to settle in. I started to be unkind to myself because I couldn’t seem to grasp on to anything concrete.
Beating myself up about not having a strong faith in anything didn’t do any good, however. It just made the whole journey of self-discovery more difficult. I had to let go and just let life happen.
Once I started to accept that it’s okay to change, to consider new ideas and not have the answer for God’s existence or love readily available, my mind began to free itself up.
Now, when someone asks me what I believe in I give the typical, “Well, I am spiritual but not religious.”
Even though I don’t quite know what that means yet, I am beginning to see that it’s okay. We are all spiritual beings. Events will take place in our lives that will cause us to question all we know and what we’ve been taught.
We might return to the same belief or find a new one. While I wish there was a definition for what I am, and many will label me as lost and confused, I suppose I will just have to settle for not being labeled at all.
I guess one can call me a devout follower of figuring it out as it goes.
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