I generally avoid talking about religion, not because I’m afraid of offending anyone, but because my feelings are not terribly strong on the subject. This makes it fairly pointless to bring up, because chances are I’ll end up in a disagreement with someone who does have strong feelings about it, who like as not won’t understand that I do not care whether they believe one thing or another, and that I do not care that they want ME to believe one thing or another. I don’t even feel strongly enough to call myself an atheist. I’m apathetic about it.
My family was not terribly religious growing up. We belonged to a church for awhile, and we went mostly on holidays. I was in the cherub choir, that kind of thing. I liked the hymns and I liked coloring in Sunday school. After cherub choir at five years old, I have no memories of church until I moved in with my father when I was in seventh or eighth grade. My father has had his fair share of issues, and my step-mother thought that finding God would help him. We began church shopping, and it was during those years that I both gained and lost my faith.
I liked church. I loved the singing, I loved the pastors quoting the Scripture and extrapolating lessons. Clearly, I was already a budding literature enthusiast. A couple of the churches we went to had excellent classes for kids my age, pre-teens. But we were never at one church for very long. Two, maybe three weeks was usually the maximum. Then we’d drop off and stop going, and find a new church a little while later and start going there. And during the week, during those gaps, I forgot about God. Not completely. But I was twelve, thirteen, and I didn’t feel at all inclined to relate everything in my life back to God the way some people did. When we went to church, I thanked Him for my life. I sometimes asked for patience with my siblings. Things like that. But I never remembered to pray during the week.
I was a happy child, and I was a good child. I didn’t need God to regulate my behavior. I didn’t see the first flowers in spring and think, What a blessing from God. Part of this was my own nature. Part of it was the inconsistency of our church attendance. And part of it, a sizable part, was the inconsistency of the message at each different church we went to during my middle and high school years. I was a child, and it annoyed me to be contradicted at a new church when I’d just felt comfortable in the ways of the old one. I began to think it was all a joke–religion, that is. Men and women talking about God. It seemed more like they were talking about themselves.
When I was in high school, I joined a church over the summer so that I could see a boy I liked who went there with his family. I stayed at the church after I no longer liked him because of the friends I’d made. I loved the singing. I liked the lessons. I loved the youth group especially. It was full of kids like me who either didn’t believe in God, or didn’t care, or didn’t know, with some true believers mixed in. We talked about everything in a frank, open way, including our confusion about our own beliefs. I am eternally grateful to our youth group leaders, who never condescended to us or tried to tell us what to believe. They were so adept at teaching us religious lessons outside the context of religion. We’d talk about something, the leaders would listen to our thoughts and opinions, and then usually at the end say something like, “That’s exactly what Jesus said to so-and-so at such-a-place…” It made us feel like we were engaging in a discourse, rather than just being fed dogma. We actually had a relationship with these deities in our minds, whether we knew it or not.
I never believed–I still don’t believe–that God works daily in our lives. I suppose my beliefs have a touch of Deism. God gave us free will. If he wanted to dictate our lives, plan everything out, why would he do that? No, I believe that if He exists, he merely observes. I believe more in human ingenuity and luck. There is no rhyme or reason to the world beyond what we make. This is empowering to me. However (and this is where we get into politics):
I don’t need you to agree with me.
Radical, I know. Some of my best friends are very religious, some very atheist, and we’re all still friends because we respect each others’ beliefs. Like I said, I believe that there is no rhyme or reason in the world beyond what we construct or accept for ourselves. Because of this, I can enthusiastically respect my friends’ beliefs. Some view their world through faith. Some view their world through logic. Either way, I am happy for them, because they are happy, confident and comfortable in the same way that I am with my worldview.
Unfortunately, there are many people in the world who don’t feel that way, and they all seem to be running for public office in the United States. Politicians like Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Mitt Romney don’t respect my beliefs. They need me to agree with them, and barring that, they need me to submit to their idea of morality. As someone of no religion, they automatically assume that I am an amoral person, and because I am a woman with no religion, they assume that I’m running around using contraception and having abortions (which doesn’t make much sense, since contraception prevents abortions). They believe that using contraception is immoral–because they believe that women having sex regularly and enjoying it is immoral.
I can only hope that these politicians’ determination to establish a theocracy in place of our democratic republic is all show for their rabid base. Surely they wouldn’t actually try to strip women of rights we’ve had for fifty years, rights that should have been ours much, much sooner? Surely they wouldn’t barrel over other religions’ rights when they’re so sensitive to issues of religious liberty themselves? Surely they are intelligent and mature enough to realize that if someone has a different belief system, it doesn’t undermine theirs? Surely they’ll respect other beliefs, as representatives of a country that prides itself on being a melting pot, a sanctuary, a place of equality?
My greatest fear is that they won’t.