It’s an easy enough question to ask, and a resounding number of individuals will quickly answer, “Of course I do!” as if the asker is accusing them of something unthinkable. According to a 2009 study conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, only 5% of Americans classify themselves as not believing in God or a universal spirit, and of those 5%, 24% call themselves atheists, while 15% commit to being agnostic . For the past 25 years or more I’ve hopped in and out of those statistics. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m at a dangling point in my life; a place where I feel the need to discover, or perhaps rediscover, who I am, what I believe in, and what I plan on doing with the rest of my life. Religion, or the lack there of is one of the facets of my life that needs clarification.
I was raised in a religious home, or at least in a home where I was, from birth to college-age, taken to church every single Sunday. I was a member of the children’s choir and at 13 moved on as a second soprano in the adult choir. I attended confirmation classes at which the end of I became a full-fledged, card carrying Methodist. I never missed Sunday school and was involved in every extra-curricular activity that my church offered; youth groups, church camps, lock-in’s—I was there for all of them. So why now, at the ripe old age of 46 does my religious training seem to offer me nothing more than an advantage against my kids and husband when there is a Jeopardy category entitled “Books of the Bible,” or “Things Job Said?”
My doubting began around the age of 13. For an institution that is supposed to provide answers to its followers, religion seems to have a plethora of questions that the only answer for is “You’ll find out when you meet Jesus in Heaven.” I quickly found out that my response of, “Well, I want to know now in case I don’t make it to Heaven,” usually yielded a tight lipped glare from my ancient Sunday school teacher, and a collection of self-righteous glances from the rest of the class. I soon learned to stick with the status quo and keep my questions to myself, harboring the dark secret of my doubts.
I went through the next 15 years of my life enduring the illness and death of my mother, the births of my children, and a divorce. I floundered between reaching out to God and rejecting Him. Then I met Ryan (not his real name, of course). He was the exact opposite of my ex-husband. He was calm; he never drank or fought with me for the sake of fighting. His only drawback, in my opinion, was that he was religious. After enduring the loneliness of being a young, divorced mother for the past two years, I was more than happy to compromise and date him. Our first trip to church together was a shocker. Ryan wasn’t just a Christian; he was a born again, Pentecostal Christian. After spending the first half of my life sitting through very traditional, rather boring religious services, I found the services at his church at least entertaining. It was the dead of winter and a woman stood next to me in a house dress and flip flops with her hands raised to heaven speaking in tongues. Everyone seemed to be consumed by the “fire of the Holy Spirit.” Week after week I tried to fit into their frenzy. I wanted to feel the euphoria that they were experiencing, yet no matter how hard I tried, my prayers and actions felt false. After time, I also began to see another side of Ryan that wasn’t so Pentecostal. At the beginning of our relationship he attempted to make it clear that he didn’t believe in having sex outside of marriage. At first, this meant to me that he was marriage-minded, but I soon found out that just because he didn’t believe in sex before marriage, that it didn’t mean that he didn’t want to have it. He constantly talked to me about his “temptations of the flesh.” I was thirty, in the best shape of my life, and I didn’t find sex before marriage a sin, so when things would go a bit too far between us I was not the one fighting to stop his advances. He was insatiable, and we would spend hours in bed. Afterwards, he would gently chastise me for tempting him. The relationship ended when I discovered that it wasn’t just me who was enticing him. His job had him traveling to several cities where he had women waiting to “tempt” him there, and when none of us were available he had a ginormous collection of porn hidden in his basement! His hypocrisy also included cheating on his taxes and a few rather unchristian-like business deals that I witnessed him making.
Now I’m married to a very normal Buddhist who was raised Catholic! I sleep in on Sunday mornings, and am relieved that I’m not saddled with the guilt and obligations that go along with belonging to a church. I basically believe that religion was created by man to serve the purpose of answering the unanswerable questions of life like, “Where did we come from?” and “Where are we going?” The rules associated with organized religion also serve to control the population. The threat of Hell is very real to many people. I sometimes envy the people that can chalk up suffering or injustice to being “God’s will,” or who are able to seek comfort in prayer. Yet, I still wonder what it is about me that won’t let me conform to a concept that 95% of the people in the United States confess to believing in. I also wonder how many of that 95% didn’t answer truthfully. What are your thoughts on religion?