Sunday, November 23, 2008

Losing My Religion

Well, in all honestly, I'm not sure I had it in the first place. Religion is a touchy subject to a lot of people and I suppose I am no different, except I don't know what my religion is. I know what its supposed to be and what my family wishes it was, but the truth is what I believe doesn't really fall into their line of thinking. Does that automatically book me a seat on a train bound straight to Hell? According to some yes. I've been told as much, once by a relative (its made family get togethers real fun ever since).

As a child, every Sunday without fail my mom would wake my brother and I up, we would head to Sunday school and then afterwards church. We did this for my entire childhood and it continued until my early teen years. I learned to memorize bible verses, knew the words to hymns, and could recite all the books of the bible (which has come in handy when playing Jeopardy). As a teenager I started to question, why do we do this? Why should I believe that? What did the preacher telling me a story about his childhood have anything to do with my life and more importantly, why couldn't I just sleep in? Around the age of 16 or 17, my mom grew tired of fighting the same battle every week and I stopped going to church. "You were raised in the church" she used to tell me "someday you'll come back to it." Sure I would go on Christmas and Easter to make her happy but its been over a decade and I still haven't "gone back." Not really, not in the sense that she had hoped.

In college, I studied and learned about other religions. I read translations of the Torah and the Qu'ran. For the first time I actually read parts of the Bible not as a religious text but as a piece of fiction. I learned about Buddhism and Taoism. Through various projects I became acquainted with the campus minster who invited me to attend her non-denominational service one week night. She was the first minster I knew who encouraged me to explore and question my beliefs. Who told me it was ok to not believe what the rest of my family believed. She told me not to worry, that I would find what worked best for me. She's the one who taught me that each person has to find her or her own way. Its not strictly black and white, there's a lot of gray area. If it hadn't been for her, I probably would have written off religion all together. During my final two years of college I became immersed in a project involving the Jewish religion which led me to the Rabbi of the local temple. With the campus minister, I attended some services there and felt more welcomed there where I didn't fully understand some of the Hebrew than I did in what was supposed to be my home church.

Over the years I've continued to read and learn about various world religions. I think I am more confused than ever. At their very core most of them have the same basic principles. Things like, treat others how you would want to be treated; help someone out when and however you can; believe in something greater than yourself. Am I a Christian? A Buddhist? I don't know I still can't answer that. I struggle with organized religion. I haven't set foot in a church in a few years. I think if I did at this point I would be afraid the rafters would collapse down on to me. One of my best friends (a devout Christian and preachers kid) even warns me before I unknowingly walk down the Christian fiction novel section ("Be careful Mandy, we don't want you to ignite into flames", she laughs.) She and I talk about religion often. My campus minster from college is now a friend whom I turn to often. Another mentor was a Jesuit nun. All have been willing to listen and answer my questions without judgment, which I appreciate more than they will ever know.

With the holidays right around the corner, my grandmother will start lobbying me to come to her church for Christmas. I've never gone and always say no. Her motives have less to do with being concerned about my spiritual enlightenment, than filling the church pew with her family so she can have a show and tell of sorts. I'm just not comfortable in churches saying things I dont know if I believe. For me, going and pretending I do isnt an option. There is a line in an Idina Menzel song I absolutely love "I don't know if the sky is heaven, but I pray anyway." I admire people who are so devoted to their religion, who believe without question. I'm just not one of them.

How do you feel about religion? Do you take what you agree with and leave the rest? Do you agree with it all? Where you raised in one religion but now practice another? Is this something your young adults struggle with?


Renee said...

The chorus of that Idina Menzel song is on my facebook profile. It sums up my hesitance to religion so nicely. I grew up Catholic but it never really stuck. I took two mandatory religion classes in college. World Religions was fascinating but Catholic Morality totally turned me off. Now I'm fighting with my mother about a civil union instead of a Catholic wedding and it's turned into a HUGE mess. Longest comment ever... but, in short, it's okay to struggle with religion. It's okay to be unsure. Just believe what you believe, that comes naturally. Don't force it.

Auburn Kat said...

I was raised Catholic and consider myself to be one today. While I believe in God and pray I do not go to church. My believing is in how I act and how I present myself not by going to church. I'm not a fan of people who sin the entire week and then go to church on Sunday and feel that they are a good religious person. It's how we act everyday.

My thoughts at least...

Auburn Kat said...

OH and I also never ever really speak about religion because everyone has so many different views and I respect all of their opinions.

Lauren Elizabeth said...

I think everyone has to explore their beliefs and decide for themselves. It wouldn't be faith if there was no doubt, right?

Andy said...

Well, in my case, all of my family is VERY catholic. And well, I'm not. I don't agree with their point of view in matters like gay marriage, abortion, euthanasia, sex before marriage, etc. Moreover, there are things like their view on Jesus' humanity that truly bother me. I don't see what's the big fuss to acknowledge he could have been married, or he could have had children. He never was a living God, and if he isn't a God then he must be a human with human needs. I don't know if I can consider myself a Catholic having those beliefs.

Nevertheless, I DO believe in life after death, in the existence of someone up there. I therefore consider myself someone spiritual more than religious. I believe it's always nice to know (or to believe) there's someone up there that's with you during hard times.

But my family considers being anything but a devote catholic a sin. According to them, I am going to hell. According to myself, I HAVE MY OWN BELIEFS.

Kim said...

I am a Christian and grew up in the church. My family went to Sunday School and Church every Sunday - no exceptions. I never questioned it when I was growing up and never fought my parents to go.

When I got to college I stopped going. Not for any particular reason - I think I just really like sleeping in on Sundays.

Once I graduated and go out on my own, I started going again. I've never really questioned my faith. It's just always been there.

I grew up United Church of Christ, and now am a member of the Methodist Church.

I honestly don't know how people go through life without faith of some sort. I would have never gotten through our adoption without the full faith and trust that God was in charge and had a plan for both my life and the life of my soon to be child. I believe that all things happen for a reason - and I really mean that.

For example, if I wouldn't have had infertility problems, I would have never adopted, I would have never gone to Guatemala, I would have never met some amazing adoptive mamas, I would have never gotten involved in relief organizations in Guatemala, I would have never met the people I needed to meet to learn about Baby Alex, I would have never had the opportunity to foster him, and I could go on and on.

I know that some people say that it's just the way life flows - I don't - I believe that God has a hand in all of it.

I have full belief in God, in his Son Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. I believe that Jesus came to earth, lived and died for my sins. I believe in heaven and hell, and I believe that He will come again.

Why do I believe this? Is it just because this is how I was raised? I've thought about that. Would I believe something differently if I was born into a Jewish family - maybe? But, I've thought about it and as an adult, and this is what I believe.


Nikki said...

I can relate with a lot that you wrote... I am just not sure. Here in Canada, it doesn't seem as big of a deal. I have refrained from posting about religion much on my blog as a lot of my readers are American and from reading their blogs I am pretty sure they would be the type of people that would think "you will go to hell" for not being religious! But for me, religion is a personal thing. I don't think there is any right or wrong way to believe and I don't think people should be looked down upon for not believing what you believe. I am not atheist... I just find that I am more spiritual and I don't personally feel the ned to go to church every week or read the bible- i just don't get anything out of that!

Nilsa @ SoMi Speaks said...

Have you ever read the blog No More Casual Nonchalance ( The anonymous author struggled with her religion for a long time. And eventually switched religions. You might be interested in her stuff.

Me? My brother says, "You're not Jewish, you're Jew-ish?" ... which sums me up best.

Eternal Optimist said...

I sometimes sturggle with this and while I embrace all schools of thought, I belive in God and heaven. I don't go to church but I am rethining that - not because I believe it makes me a better Christian but I miss the sense of community.

alexa @clevelandsaplum said...

growing up greek orthodox i did the whole sunday school, president of my youth group, church camp thing through high school.

it isn't like i don't follow orthodoxy anymore i just don't participate. once i got into college i basically just stopped going to church other than for funerals and weddings.

it makes me sad, and over the last couple of months i have been thinking about heading to the greek church in cleveland by me.

but for you, i think everyone needs to explore their own beliefs and it eventually will become their own

MeLaNiE said...

I was raised in the church and am still expected to be there. I love going to my college ministry down here, and don't know what I would do with out it. Now, do I go through times where I'm like I want something more? Of course. But, I believe that something more is God, and that he has a plan for me.

I have also learned to take other religions into account. I don't look down on them, because I believe that I am supposed to love a person no matter what. It took me a while to learn this.

Little Fish said...

Well being Jewish is a big part of my life, but I really and truly believe that all God wants is for us to be good people. I have total faith that God (not he or she because God has no gender) does not care what you believe in or if you believe in anything at all. God only cares that you act in a good, kind and respectful way to others!

I think one of the things that gives me hope for the future are the recent studies showing that people of faith no longer believe that their path is the only path to God. Their is so much beauty in so many different faiths and it's wonderful when people embrace that.

I think it is wonderful that you have explored your own spirituality. You may never find the answers, but I know that you will always be a person filled with kindness and intergrity and that's what's important!

Katie said...

Religion is not something I talk about very much on my blog, just because I don't know how to really write about what I feel because it's so personal for me. I'm really bad and writing about things that are personal. I believe in God, absolutely. I remember being fascinated by religion and trying to learn all I could when I was really young. Before I could read I would make my parents read the Bible to me for hours. Neither of them were very religious at the time, but they were always willing to humor me.

After I learned to read, I spent hours reading the stories in the Bible on my own.

When I was eight I decided to join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or the Mormons, after some investigating into a few religions. It's a big part of who I am. I think there are always things you struggle with and try to understand. But whenever I drift away, I am always brought back.

I think we are spiritual beings and we all need to find our own path. Our goal here is to learn all the truth we can, and to love and care for each other the best we can.

After all, I think that it's the love that we have for others that is most important.

michellewoo said...

This is a topic I've kind of avoided for a while. But talking and writing about it has helped me better understand my beliefs. I now understand that being uncertain is ok. It's better than following blindly.

B said...

You know what? I just can't get into religion. I've known it for years and tried anyway, just for my family. In the end, I'm happiest believing what I believe, namely in nothing.

Mandy said...

Renee-- I LOVE that Idina Menzel song. Good luck with your mom.

Auburn Kat--I couldnt agre more.

Coconut-- I think so too, its the only way to find out whats best for you.

Andy -- yes, I would consider myself more spiritual than religious as well.

Kim--Thanks for sharing. I really do admire people like you.

Nikki--ditto on church and the bible. And you're right, its a very personal thing.

Princess-- my problem with the churches are here is there arent a whole lot of people my age, which hinders the sense of community.

Alexa -- I dont know much about Greek Orthodox, I will have to read about it. GOod luck with your decision about going back.

Melanie-- I am glad that you are becoming more open to new religions. I also admire your unwavering faith.

Little Fish--thank you for the kind words. I think its great that more and more people are believing that their way isnt the only way as well.

Katie-- that was an awesome comment! Thank you so much for sharing. That was so well said.

Michelle Woo-- I agree its better to be uncertain and question than to just blindly follow as well.

Deutlich--I got to the point where I couldnt do it anymore for my family.