I have been raised agnostically. From this perspective, probably as close as one can come to neutrality on the subject of religion, I was able to make some observations that only a true outsider could see.
I remember elementary school, when no one I knew practiced any religion. When I was nine, I didn’t have to love Jesus to fit in. We were just kids and no one knew any better. This was soon to change, as kids began to hear about “youth groups.” The point of a youth group is to instill the church’s ideas into kids without seeming ‘boring,’ like conventional church. I don’t know what goes on in one of these groups. I haven’t ever gone to a meeting. I have seen what happens to someone after a few years in a youth group, though. Innocent little kids go in, and innocent little Christians come out.
I must have been eleven when my peer group started to inform me that I was going to Hell.
From that point, religion—particularly Christianity—played a much larger role in my life. I began to think about religion/God more often. I was curious about the traditions my friends followed.
I have always found it interesting, ironic maybe, the way people pray before they eat. My best friend’s mom, a single mother-of-two could work a 60-hour week, and still barely make ends meet. She would insist on having family dinner, but before eating the family prayed. She would thank Jesus for the food he provided them, and before the children could eat, they too had to thank Jesus. As a little kid, I wondered about Jesus, did he really give them food? I wondered if she ever wondered…
Sheep are often chided for being stupid and incapable of individual thought. I remember watching my friend’s dad in church one of the few times I went. I remember hearing this proud man recite “The Lord is my Shepherd.” I wondered if he realized what he was saying. Did any of the congregation?
Eventually, I asked. I learned that people are willing to make sacrifices and suffer humility in exchange for guidance. Religion is valued for moral fiber, and for some morality is so vague that they need guidance: religion’s specialty. Morality and religion are synonymous, in the eyes of many.
But, does morality have to be inseparable from religion? Do we need to suffer in order to receive moral guidance? Do we need moral guidance, even?
The answers seem all but obvious to me, but my religious views are not the subject of this essay. Each person needs to seek his or her own answers to these questions. Too few people have considered them. The world would be a better place if every person took a step back, examined what he or she believed, and why he or she believes it.
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