What is religion? I have long pondered this question, wondering if there is a definitive answer. Yet, there is not, and there will never be. Contention captures this subject, with a seemingly-abundant number of stances, existing in a seething mass of dizziness.

To my mind, faith is conventional. Having existed since the beginning of time, religion is the definition of ancient history, however, still developing into both the near and distant future. Generations carry on the learned traditions, beliefs, and values of their spirituality, allowing a type of “staying power” to be generated. 

A child is likely to be influenced by their family or relatives when considering their own interpretation of religion. For myself, this was true. I was a real believer of what I had been told—that once dead, Jesus was resurrected, that Moses laid down his staff and parted the Red Sea, leading the Israelites to freedom—and I did not, by any means, think otherwise. Partaking in familial celebrations during the holidays and high-holy days, accompanying my parents to both church and synagogue, I embraced the two distinct faiths that my mother and father singularly associated themselves with: Judaism and Christianity.

While I willingly and readily balanced each religion simultaneously, there came a moment where my perspective changed and was undertaken by the materialization of something entirely foreign to what I had known. To the interested reader, I tell you this, not because I am searching for pity. Instead, I want to reveal the truth. I want neither solace, condolence, nor comfort as I approach you with this explanation.

Upon attending the funeral for my step-grandfather’s passing, I witnessed a certain finality. A finality that I concluded, could not be explained by religion. At that moment, there was no God, no found truth in the faiths I had indulged in all my life. I decided that I would not remain a loyal believer of religion, as, if I did, it would be a lie. I would not cheat myself. Rather, I would attempt to understand this decision.

In a recent conversation I had with my grandmother, I was made to feel that my position was insignificant. I was undermined, overlooked, and, virtually, misunderstood.

In, what I believed then and still do believe now was, an unintentionally abrasive manner, she approached me, questioning the basis for my thoughts on this matter: “So you’re an atheist now? You don’t believe? What a shame. It’s what those liberals want, to take away everything. Oh, ok, you know what, so you want everything gone? No Easter, no Christmas, no free thought? We might as well live under communism.” She did not hear what I was saying. The mere notion that her granddaughter no longer lived by the guiding hand of religion was inconceivable, unimaginable. It was horrifying.

I do not believe in religion. I do, however, strongly contend that faith forms community, establishes values, and helps prompt moral obligation, or better said, responsibility.

Nevertheless, many people do believe that the capabilities of religion reach exceedingly beyond the former. That religion offers an unwavering hand, able to provide the answer to the most intricate questions. That God serves as a sustaining force, granting sound framework to his followers, to his most faithful admirers. That although life is failing, that the world has not recognized your potential, God has. He is your listener, your savior, your commanding presence that tells you to endure your suffering, to live, and do better.

For me, it’s nonsense. Yet, I recognize that for others it is precisely the opposite.

John Rafferty, president of the Secular Humanist Society of New York, once said in response to an op-ed piece on the potential of atheism, “The only thing that will change the minds of the people who believe, against all evidence, that secularism will cause America to ‘slide into moral anarchy’ is to actually meet atheists and humanists, to recognize the decent, moral, freethinking friends and family all around them.” 

This statement radiates truth and recognizes the struggle that non-believers face. In fact, this was the subject of my dispute with my loving grandmother. Upon reflection, I understood that I could not blame her for her reaction. She was yet to experience a connection with someone who was not a believer of religious matters.

However, the answer to our quarrel was simple, essentially. We could, and would, in plain terms,  just coexist. But, isn’t religion political? Wouldn’t politics inevitably make this somewhat unattainable?

For instance, Paul Thornton, Los Angeles Times Letters’ editor quotes, “In many states, women’s reproductive rights are abridged solely for religious reasons. Our gay and lesbian community is seldom treated with the utmost kindness and respect by the various religions of the world.” I offer this point not to condemn religion, but rather, to shed light on the politicized nature of its entirety.

While my participation in religion is limited, I do understand the value of a higher power, a set of beliefs that cannot be compromised. And I do, in fact, recognize the beauty of this. In some ways, I wish I did believe. Were it not for that moment, I would. And still, I am left wondering, if my allegiance could be broken so easily, was it ever meant for me? Was it ever mine?

This article was initially a project from the class Dangers of a Single Story completed after reading the book Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

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