I believe in the equality of all of mankind. I believe that beyond religion, language, ethnicity, or social class, each human has the same emotions, dreams, goals, and virtues. Despite vastly contradictory religious beliefs, it is our common humanity that binds us together. This I believe.
As a young child growing up, I was never raised in light of a particular religious viewpoint. My parents, both coming from Roman Catholic families, had decided that religious tradition was not reflective of their beliefs. In raising my sister and me, my parents wanted us to keep an open mind in all aspects of life, including religious belief. They wished that I would make up my own mind in terms of religion as I grew and experienced life. However, life brought me to a Catholic High School, one which I have loved immensely. But life has also brought me to the awareness of the long-harbored bias of people.
“Oh, funny story!” exclaimed my friend Chelsey as we sat in the guidance center during free period. “We were in French class today,” she said, “and our teacher said to us ‘Oh my goodness, I heard a rumor.’”
This wasn’t very surprising, I knew this teacher very well, as I had been in her class the previous year. I knew she had a great ear for student gossip, and I assumed that this would be just another of her humorous tales.
Chelsey continued to tell me about this rumor: “Our teacher said, ‘I heard that Andrew Noll is atheist!’” chuckled Chelsey. Clearly she thought that this confusion was somewhat hilarious. I wasn’t exactly laughing. What would be the difference if I were an atheist or not?
To tell the truth, I’m not even an atheist; I’m simply unaffiliated with any religion – and I’ve chosen to remain that way. Thankfully, Chesley knew this, and quickly set the teacher straight. “I said to her,” Chelsey continued, “‘Andrew isn’t an atheist; he just doesn’t have a religion.’ But she didn’t seem to understand that. She said to me, ‘He just has such personal fiber. I don’t see why he doesn’t have a religion. I don’t understand how people do that – how they don’t have a religion.’”
I had had teachers say that to me before. They would tell me that I was “such a kind young man” and it was boggling that I didn’t have a religion. Or that it was hypocritical of a student of eighteen not to have a religious belief. Certainly all people do not feel this way. Nevertheless, do these teachers, or others like them from differing faiths, believe that only people who are nice or charitable or smart practice religion? Do they believe that to be non-Christian or non-denominational is a sign of imperfection or evil? If so, then, in the Christian case, over two-thirds of the world’s population lacks this “moral fiber.”
As far as I can tell, in my theology and world religions classes, the great religious leaders and founders like Jesus, Buddha, Mohammad, and Confucius all taught compassion for each person, a deep love that transcends all bounds of ethnicity, religion, or class. Yet why has it always appeared that so many decide that a lack of a religious faith, or a differing religious faith, is the sign of some flaw in the character of a person?
Although I’ve remained non-religious throughout my life, I’ve still tried to practice humility and compassion. We all share a common bond of humanity – a humanity we must respect and cultivate. Living a virtuous life does not limit itself to one religion or one set of beliefs. In the troubled times that face our world, we would do well to remember that our common humanity is what makes us great. Diverse and different, we all contribute to the richness of mankind. This I believe.
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