I sat in an empty church recently. I stared at the white walls, the high ceilings, painted windows, and the elaborate chandelier. So much of my youth was spent in places like this. The hard pew still hurt my butt, my voice still echoed in the cavernous sanctuary, and I still didn’t feel any peace there.
I decided at a young age that when I was old enough to make my own decisions that I wouldn’t go to church anymore. I began reading the Bible in my formative years and I was able to answer some of my own questions but never all of them. I was so desperate to understand God and life that I almost joined a cult when I was twenty. No judging, I had questions and well, they had a lot of answers- it didn’t mean they were the right answers.
Religion has always been a fixated curiosity of mine. I thought the curiosity would be sated by seeking information not realizing that my questions made others uncomfortable. I didn’t understand at that age that my inquiries were unorthodox and eventually my parents told me to be quiet. The intent of my questions were never to offend but to understand. Nevertheless, my questions were ignored and I was shamed for asking because they didn’t have the answers. Once, my grandmother beat me for asking a question. I wanted to know why would God create an angel that would become Satan? I was trying to make sense of the notion that because God is all knowing that they would know what would happen because of that being’s creation. After my grandmother beat me, she said it wasn’t my place to understand, which I still don’t believe.
So much of religion still baffles me. At its core, it’s a doctrine of how people should lead their lives, pray, and worship all in effort to preserve their soul when they die and to please their deity. I think about it all the time but I still don’t understand it. Throughout my own religious journey, I’ve been scarred by a many of things, mostly people. I have encountered some of the most vile, judgmental, and unkind individuals in religious settings which is one of the reasons I’ve sworn off church. Christianity has a general theme of behavior that’s rooted in kindness, love, forgiveness, and acceptance and too many times those themes were not only missing but the opposite was present.
We live in a world where people are more eager to practice their religion than humanity. Throughout history, billions have died and killed in the name of their beliefs. Conflicts that are a millennium old still cause bloodshed currently. The value of life is emphasized only in theory but thrown away in the face of wars. Most widely held religions speak about peace and unity but I don’t see it in practice. I know that most feuds are complex and can’t be fixed with a single conversation but there seems to be a lack of effort on everyone’s part. It’s as if everyone is content in their grudges, separation, and violence.
I’ve seen religion weaponized often -mostly to exclude things and people that cannot be explained by it. In contrast, I also know that religion has inspired great deeds, generosity and has helped many. I’m torn and always will be. Sometimes I think I’m naïve for reducing the world to the quantifiable and for believing what I can see. I see that the world is broken, people are hurting, and I know humankind needs more unity, but I also see that religion is a large perpetrator of separation.
Many people confuse deism and atheism. To clarify, I don’t spend my time contemplating creation vs evolution or the arguments of scholars on if Jesus was a person of color. I don’t question if God hears me, and I don’t question this existence of God. I only question one thing. In the world’s efforts to be closer to our creator have we only pushed ourselves farther away from them? In our violence towards one another, our indifference towards each other, and the blatant hate that exists amongst humankind, what have we done? At what point do the bad outcomes outweigh the good intentions? We search for God in holy texts, we search for God in buildings, but we don’t search for God in each other, in the creation itself. Surely if we did, the world would be a much different place.
People do the best they can with what they have but collectively our best cannot be death, destruction, and division. I clearly don’t know much about what God wants, but I know it’s not that. I’m at peace most times knowing that I’ll never have all the answers and other times I lie awake at night trying to figure it out. I’m just like everyone else, doing the best I can with what I have. So yeah, I am void of religion but quite full-on love, compassion, selflessness, acceptance, and forgiveness. In a world where I could practice anything, I choose to practice those.
“In your hate, I have found God
In your sin, I have found love
In your faith, I have found forgiveness”
— Shiree Scarlet