There is power behind having convictions, believing in structures (family, faith, moral, etc.), and living each day built around the confines and principles of those structures.
There is also power behind being ourselves – the true version of ourselves. Respectfully, but unapologetically.
We moved into our new home a year ago. As the weather broke and my face no longer hurt from the cold, I started making my way outside, which naturally led to meeting neighbors for the first time.
One neighbor, during our first conversation, asked what church I belong to. Not what my faith was, what my beliefs were, but what church I belong to. I found the question assuming, perhaps brazen, rude.
Apparently, I am old school (I guess) – I do not like to talk about religion or politics during a ‘nice to meet you conversation’ (or in some cases, at all). So, you can imagine my discomfort being blindsided by a question I already knew they did not really want the answer to, unless it was the answer they wanted to hear, but I knew it wasn’t.
I politely (secretly a tad angered) said, “Oh, I don’t belong to a church. I lost my faith when I witnessed my mother wither away and die.”
I know – not the right way to handle it, but there’s a lesson (for me) in this, so at least I have grown.
I didn’t handle it correctly because I lied. The truth is, I have questioned organized religion for as long as I can remember.
Mom was always pragmatic when I asked her about death – she didn’t paint this beautiful picture of floating up above the clouds to be greeted by this beautiful figure that will open the pearly gates to heaven where we live in harmony for eternity. She would say, “I don’t know Fe, I haven’t died yet, but maybe whatever we believe happens to us when we die, happens.” (Fe, my childhood nickname).
She did put her foot down once. I remember staying at my step-paternal Grandparent’s for the summer one year. Grandma was huge into religion – went almost every day for a prayer and a spritz of holy water. She made me call my mother one day and ask her if I could be converted to Catholic. Mom came to get me the next day.
Funny aside – the church thing was a whole new experience for me, and truthfully, I am glad I got to experience it for the first time during my formative years. I remember this fountain filled with water as we walked out. I stuck my finger in this fountain to taste the water (surely as a sign of rebellion because I was old enough to know better), only to be gently slapped on my hand by Grandma, but not for the reason I was expecting. Instead of her telling me that wasn’t appropriate, or it was some sort of sacred water, she said, “Ew, that’s gross, you can’t drink that water.” I asked why it was there and she told me it was holy water. Uhhhhh, okay. So, this water will get me into heaven, but I can’t drink it. Got it.
Some of you may be thinking that my lack of belief in religion comes from my mom’s lack of involvement in church or allowing me to be open and explore my own beliefs. Maybe, but Ken had a far different upbringing – Catholicism was forced down his throat at a young age, and he ended up right where I am.
We all see things through a different lens. The same exact experience has vast outcomes for all of us – wouldn’t it be weird if all our belief systems around the world were exactly the same?
My entire life, I have found the topic of religion uncomfortable, mainly because I do not have the same belief system as almost anyone around me. I felt the need to tiptoe.
Here is my real answer, neighbor: I do not believe in organized religion, and just as I respect you and your faith, I expect the same in return.
Also, don’t ask questions you don’t want to know the answers to.
We should not judge people for what they believe happens when we meet our demise or how they think is the sound way to live to get there. We die completely alone; nobody comes with us on our journey (I guess that’s an assumption, eh?). For anyone to judge another’s faith or what someone else thinks happens when we die is honestly the biggest waste of time. It’s simple: just don’t be an asshole.
We have talked to God-fearing individuals that admit they only perform acts of kindness as a pearly-white opening gesture to be granted permission to enter heaven. If organized religion was built on a fable to build community and do good onto others, then in some cases it worked. Some people use religion as an excuse to do shitty things and repent – all is forgiven. We don’t even view the same religion through the same lens. It really is simple: regardless of what you believe, just don’t be an asshole.
My message here is less about my lack of belief in organized religion and way more about having tolerance for beliefs outside of the norm. I refuse to be uncomfortable answering questions that should not be asked if one’s heart is not open to hearing an answer that differs from theirs. Just because my beliefs differ from yours doesn’t mean I am an asshole, and I will assume you aren’t either.
I also refuse to hide behind a wall of shame because my beliefs are not conventional. I am tolerant of your beliefs; it is now time for you to be tolerant of mine.
Have tolerance, and don’t be an askhole.