I’ve recently made a new friend who has, unintentionally, made me call up my eternal debate between faith versus religion. Growing up I was raised in a household that had faith. We were taught to believe in God. There were Bibles around. The ultimate commandment though in our home, was love. We did not subscribe to a Christian belief system to the extent that we ever said it was the only way to believe in God. I was raised to respect all religions equally. I am so very grateful to my parents and family for raising us the way they did.
My mother’s family was Catholic, as most good Italian families are. My great Aunt Theresa was even a nun. I remember visiting her at the convent as a child. Well, to be honest I remember Sister Peanuts more (that was her nickname), a beautiful African American nun that took a liking to me. She even made me a teddy bear that I have to this day. However, by the time my mother came along, the family’s church attendance had steeply fallen off. My mother made her first communion and that was it.
My father is Lutheran. He sought out the word of God and attended church with some relatives. He made his confirmation. It was his choice to do so. I think it is beautiful that he chose to go to church, to make his conformation, to go through all of that. I feel like most people I know who have done the same did so because it was expected, because their parents or someone else in their life made them. Choice is truly a beautiful thing.
That brings me to, well, me. Like I said, I was raised in a loosely Christian household. We would often talk about other belief systems. I attended classes held by my Native American neighbors through the cultural program of our school, and we discussed that too. It seemed to me that all the different ways of believing in God were different roads to the same end place. I loved learning about God, in many different forms and ways.
Enter high school. At that point in my life things changed a bit. My parents didn’t like the local public school option so they found a Christian high school to send me to. It was such culture shock to me, going from public school my entire life, not being a church goer, and suddenly thrust into a church based school. I had mixed feelings about it (as I do most things in life). On the one hand, I was loving and embracing learning about God on a daily basis. I felt kind of on fire for the Lord. Then… there was the other part of it. I remember being around all these kids who had gone to Christian schools their whole lives who didn’t quite seem to fit the teachings of God. High school kids were still high school kids. The judgement, the manipulation, the cliques, all of those charming traits were very much present. They could quote the Bible all over the place but they weren’t exactly living it.
As for me? Well, I was human. I was cruel at times. I was compassionate at times. I loved learning about God but I also felt like a black sheep too. My views were a tad too liberal. I was too accepting, too open to other view points. I was essentially told I was wrong. Lovely. Still, the school and the teachings got to me. I wanted to lead a Godly life. I even thought at some point I could join a church.
This lasted until about the age of 22 or 23. That is when I started to let go of what I call, “the Christian brainwashing.” I was realizing that I couldn’t fundamentally agree with everything in the Bible or any church. I spent years trying to figure out how a religion that is based on love and acceptance and NOT judging could condemn so many. If I were to believe something fully, how would I feel about x,y,z?
A major turning point for me came when I ran into someone from high school who was still a “good Christian girl,” though I am pretty certain that she was no longer chaste among other sins. She sat there talking about a classmate of ours that had come out as gay and was now married. She had been very close to this person in high school but now felt she couldn’t be because he was gay and that was wrong. God says so. Not her exact wording but that was the gist of it. I was shocked. How could she turn her back on someone because of that? I have an aunt that is a lesbian. Some of my closest friends are. I would never abandon a person because they are gay. How is that God’s teaching? How is that love?
Over time I pondered many arguments about God, religion, spirituality, faith, etc. Right or wrong, this is what I have come up with. During all of my questioning or soul searching, I’ve never doubted God or His existence. I feel closer to God witnessing compassion between two strangers, or the love of an animal, or a gorgeous blue sky, or a gentle breeze on a Summer’s day then I ever have in any church. It seems to me that most religions out there have the same basic ideas. It also seems to me that if you compare history to religious books, there have been times when some of the rules and regulations of said religions coincides with earthly profits. Meaning that some of the stuff in there seems to have benefitted the author’s family or friends to such a point that it seems hard to believe man didn’t distort the word of God here and there for their own gain. Heck, kind of like nowadays…
I know, without a shadow of doubt in my heart that there is something greater than myself. Even science has its limitations. Miracles happen. I believe in an afterlife. I believe in God. I will not however, say that the way I believe is right or wrong over anyone else’s beliefs. I only know what is in my heart. I know that nearly every culture has always believed in something greater than themselves. We can’t all be wrong. So can’t we all be right? What if God shows Himself to people in the way they can understand? What if it isn’t about a book and living a certain set of rules but rather, following the golden rule. Do unto others as you’d have others do unto you. I pray nightly, I do read the Bible on occasion but I can’t support the church. I may attend here and there. I think churches can offer something truly beautiful. I just don’t think they are the only way to be a believer, nor is any one religion the sole path to salvation. I support gay marriage and even plural marriage (assuming no child brides or other abuse is present). I believe in the tenant of love. I believe that God speaks to people in His own way so that they can understand. I believe that God is present and active in my life and He is leading me to where I belong.