More often than not, parents try to impose their own thoughts and practices upon their children. If they say you’re going to be a Mormon snake farmer, chances are you’ll be spending your afternoons reading the Pearl of Great Price and sucking the venom from your bites after a stint in the cobra fields. Children are rarely afforded the luxury to make up their own minds on who they are going to be. This is partially because parents expect certain things from children but also because children are very stupid. The kicker is that, often times, it turns out that the adult is stupid too. I was one of those fortunate few for whom this did not apply. My family, for the most part, did not interfere with the sovereignty of my mind. But it was compulsory that I attend church during some of my more formative years.
We were Baptist. People sang, people hugged, and occasionally someone got slam dunked into a pool of water. This dunking ensured that Jesus would put in a good word for them so that God would let them into galactic paradise. Once a month the bread and wine were passed out and everyone took it in unison. If you’ve never heard it before, one-hundred people breaking the silence of an echoey room by swallowing simultaneously is, at best, an unnerving sound. I couldn’t tell you why, but I genuinely hated it. I would get really nervous and adjust my clip-on tie while the man at the podium talked about how it was the blood and the body. When the bread came down the aisle, I never took a piece. The same went for the wine. I would just watch people’s faces looking straight ahead or bowed toward the floor. I would wonder what was going through their minds and what the bread tasted like as it turned into human flesh within their mouths.
In Sunday School, we were once asked to draw lambs and sheep and I got in trouble for drawing blood on mine. They told me it wasn’t appropriate, even after I explained the day’s sermon clearly mentioned those same animals being sacrificed. I just didn’t fit in and I got a sense that fitting in was a very important part of the experience. There was no moment where I decided to renounce my faith because, honestly, I never really had any. And, anytime I made a valiant effort to be part of the religious community,
I just ended up feeling even more like an outsider.
I never understood why it mattered to God that we made “joyful noises” or how making earthen bricks made us closer to Jesus. God seemed moody and abusive and the lessons we were being taught didn’t seem to have real world applications. Why would he send people to hell that didn’t even know about him? Why could he exist but not the deities that other people prayed to? By eight, I was beyond caring about any of it and just wanted to keep my religious apathy a secret. I was agnostic before I even knew that such a thing existed. For years, I assumed I was the only person I knew that couldn’t hear God’s voice. By twelve, I admitted it.
In a last ditch effort to acquire some kind greater harmony with the universe, I spent about two years researching and reading every religious text I could lay my hands on. I found that literature of all faiths varied within its subsets and that the rules and books within Christianity and Judaism have been changed according to the whims of religious leaders and kings for centuries. After reading the Bible, and most of the Torah and (translated) Koran, I decided that humanity was essentially a species of outlandishly sanctimonious idiots. Eastern religions seemed, by and large, less hypocritical than their western counterparts but the people were no better to each other in practice. Everyone seems to hate each other, despite believing roughly the same things.
When people ask me why I’m agnostic, and not atheist, I tell them it’s because I don’t care what the answer is. To me the answer is meaningless when compared to the questions that brought it into being. As improbable as every single scenario might be, I cannot unquestionably verify the absence or presence of anything. Regardless of proof, faith is for the faithful and I understand that religion serves an important purpose for some communities. While belief alone may not necessarily make religion good or just, believing fully in something makes it real enough for the believer. Religion, luck, magic, and even imagination are all wisps in the aether and it’s up to the individual to dictate what important roles they will play in our collaborative reality.
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