Religion is a source of wealth for millions of individuals across the world. It is the manna that feeds their souls, the daily bread that leaves all those who are hungry, spiritually satisfied.
But, let’s face it, religion isn’t for everyone and at this time in my life, it isn’t for me. And if you are like me, you may have asked yourself this question: where do I go from here?
For some, this question is pointless; all human endeavors are futile. But for others, there still exists a longing to pursue a life of meaning and purpose.
I possess that desire.
Raised in a Christian household, to a mother firmly convicted in speech, though not in thought or action–this was my adolescent life. I was a bible-toting anxious kid, concerned with being more than what I was. I wanted to learn and grow and become a good, worthy person. An example unto others. And naturally, emerging from a Christian background, I was convicted by religious thought.
My mother didn’t attend church under the claim that one is not required to worship formally to adhere to the teachings of God, the father. This, I later realized, was a conscious act of guilt. While highly intelligent and a seemingly beautiful person, she sinned often and had little desire to repent. The Church, she felt, would judge her. Obviously, she failed to understand that God insists his followers participate in fellowship with one another in order to reaffirm their faith and, also, that church should be about worshiping him and not concerning one’s self with the thoughts/deeds of others.
That being said, I–the oldest child–took it upon myself to bring my two younger brothers to church. It was more a place of refuge than a place of worship for us. Refuge from a home that neither lived by religious standards or good, secular standards.
I convinced myself on several occasions that the Spirit moved within me, but I, too, was plagued by guilt. Awful guilt. I wasn’t good enough or holy enough or secure enough in my faith. I was an unworthy human specimen.
My affliction was caused by an insatiable doubt that infected every thought. (Of course, this doubt, one could argue, was merely the product of a child who never learned how to trust individuals or rather one who trusted too much.) I felt I lacked a significant spiritual connection. I knew god had never moved in me. Even when I carried my bible to school and helped form a bible study for determined students.
Still, the doubt persisted and I knew that I could not call myself a Christian any longer. My appetite for truth and knowledge had somehow already convinced me that Christianity was not the true path. Still, it was a hard pill to swallow. After all, I spent my whole childhood idolizing my mother, who, despite all of her flaws, was a very intelligent person and taught me the immeasurable value of education. Unfortunately, she had also unconsciously attempted to repress our (my brothers’ and I) ability to think for ourselves, as her role of parent included instilling her own very specific values and truths within us.
Truths not to be questioned and opinions not to be disagreed with. To her credit, I believe this is also a failing of many parents, who find it difficult to play an ambiguous role. That is, they want their children to be independent, truth-seekers, but cannot allow themselves to be questioned. And, understandably, having given birth to me at age 17, my brother a year later, and parenting four children (two other children from her husband) at the age of 18, her own maturity and intellectual growth may have been stunted prematurely. Committing one’s self as a full-time parent, college student, and worker doesn’t leave a lot of room for personal growth. So she grew tired of laboriously attempting to shape us into good, moral, productive individuals and abandoned her role as parent.
Through this experience, I was able to free myself from the chains of her religion. However, as I’ve said, it wasn’t an easy pill to swallow. It was the pain of disillusionment and the fear of the unknown that troubled me.
And the question I feel it is necessary to answer–how does one live a life as a good, productive, caring, moral individual without the use of an instruction manual like religion?
I flitted from idea to idea and religion to religion, finding myself curious about Buddhism, Hinduism, Paganism, and many other philosophies of life. Eventually, I determined that my greatest instruction manual exists in the experiences of all human kind.
History, I feel, is our best and most true guide. I know that just because I have found fault with religion, I am not free from my own personal and social responsibilities. My Christian background will always influence me, as will any further knowledge that I have of the world. But as it is still my goal to be a good, moral, productive human being, I must act consciously to hold myself accountable for my behavior and my potential future. Especially if I one day, have a family.
And, to prevent misunderstandings, religion is not all together bad. It has good qualities. It unites families and individuals. It, ideally, holds one accountable for the choices he or she makes. It, ideally, inspires goodness(whatever that may be–our definitions of what is “good” does vary, after all). So without religion, I must find a way to carry on these qualities.
I want to feel kinship with other human beings and hold myself accountable to some kind of “good” standard. If I have a family, I want it to be united and caring. These things cannot happen spontaneously or without much effort and thought. So, as of now, I have determined that the most effective method for maintaining whatever standards of good I assign to my life, is to examine history–human history–and use it as a guide, as the instruction manual for my life.
If I do get married one day, my husband and I will need to depend on means outside of religion to ensure that our relationship does not become stifled or mundane. We must adhere to our own rules and must hold ourselves accountable to those standards. We must determine how to raise children in an effective and loving environment and how to encourage “goodness” in them without the use of bible-stories or the ten holy commandments, all while refraining from repressing their minds.
Long story short, religion does not have to be THE answer, but I believe one must have something to help them continue on in a world that seems futile without some “guiding force” or “ultimate truth.”