My parents were kind enough to let me decide my commitment towards religion after they had been products of bible-thumping in the northeast. My mother in the creaking pews of an Irish protestant church in rural Corbettsville, New York. My father standing, feeling the amplitude from stomps, and laments in a black Baptist church in the bustle of Newark, New Jersey. Both of them fell out of their Sunday worshipping, luckily for me.
A perfect religion is subjective. It could be a matter of commitment, discipline, familiarity, or for some – a way to justify animosity. My encounters with contemporary American religion have been convoluted by the hypocrisy that intrudes on the meaning behind religion, a way to make peace with birth, life, and death. But serenity can be lost with the help of misguided interpretations. Leading people to go out of their way to picket funerals, bask in a fortune obtained with a façade, and throw Chick-Fil-A to a white upper-middle-class inside of a mansion of worship every Sunday. It’s difficult to fathom the idea that God would be comfortable with a church’s net worth being $67 billion. These are the same palaces that have authorities shoo away the homeless men and women who sleep on their stairs. That’s not very Jesus-like.
My pre-k education provided me with a color-coded bible – each color representing symbols from the holy text. White was for the bread that breaks, red was for the blood of Jesus, and so on. I recited each color to my mother. I could see the concern in her face, the morbidity of it all was plain sight. Weeks later, I accidentally knocked over a white candle while the pastor spoke, spilling wax on the blood-red carpet. I profusely apologized, sure that there would be a pernicious omen waiting for me. That anxiety didn’t sit well with my parents. I was transferred to another school, and my color-coded bible vanished.
Later, I’d watch my classmates leave for religious education. When they’d return, I’d tell the class their foreheads were dirty. It was Ash Wednesday. I’d bow my head at my friends’ houses as they’d say grace but never closed my eyes. I’d attempt to leave before service the following morning. Regrettably, I was usually dragged along, mimicking their mouthing of ominous hymns. I was lightyears away from my element. The more I saw a golden Jesus crucifix, the more religions began to appear in my life.
Throughout the years, I had a Pentecostal family tell me that I was going to hell for celebrating Halloween. I had a Mormon Spanish teacher who boasted of his relations with a Russian teenager he’d met online (he was terminated). I witnessed Catholics pass around a bottle of whiskey in a parking lot, throwing around racial slurs. I’ve seen Baptists leave church early to head to the strip club. We are all humans, flawed, and victims of our nature. It’s a matter of how we respond to this behavior. The entitlement of inclusion being used as a crutch, a talking point in defense of an action is a cop-out. When I hear people say, “God has me,” I often wonder – does He?
It wasn’t until my middle school years that religion (spirituality, really) had a positive effect on me. I moved into an apartment complex that felt like a borough in New York City. I made friends who were Muslim, Sikh, and Buddhist. They fed me, welcomed me into their home, and loved me when I felt unloved. Their actions left a profound imprint on my values, I coveted their emotional tranquility. But I subdued my nature, accepting that I am incurably spiteful towards any helicoptering authority, a quality that stems from my childhood. Feeling micromanaged led me astray from the traditional American life path, and from religion. Ultimately, it led me to focus on spirituality, where I settled into philosophy.
I am a non-believer, taking on the philosophical belief absurdism. I don’t believe that any of this existence has a direct meaning – but nothing is daunting about its futility. It’s the zenith of freedom. A liberation that cannot be stripped away. A revolt sparked within oneself. I can shape meaning into my life through my work, achievements, and my family. What makes life meaningful is one’s decision, an ideology that is free of authority, and dissimulation. My perfect religion would be Atheism, but that’s only because it adheres to my desires. Any belief that one takes on to better themselves, do better for others, relieve incessant anxiety, or to find solace in this world, I embrace it. Anything that mends, or leaves humanity unmaimed has my support. I am as flawed as the next person. Trust me.