Today, I turn 30 years old. And in those years I have never been more uncertain of what I believe than I am now. Raised in a very conservative Protestant family on the edge of the Bible Belt with a lineage of God-fearing folk stretching back across the ocean, I never imagined that I would question the faith into which I was born. Now I am struggling to distinguish between what I truly believe in my hearts of hearts versus what is ingrained in me from a close-minded doctrine of hell and damnation. Are my doubts just the Devil trying to tempt me astray? Will God still love me if I decide that His Son was an important, charismatic religious leader but not the only way to salvation and eternal life? Or is my waning belief a direct result of turning away from God because I am too selfish to make the sacrifice of faith in an increasingly secular world?
Since leaving home at 17, I have worked and lived in countries around the world. I have seen death and pain and suffering that would shake the core of the most stalwart believer. I have met people in every walk of life, of every color, and every belief. I have seen hypocrisy and atrocities perpetrated by those who call themselves children of God that are just as unthinkable as the ones done by those who claim to worship no gods. I have seen love and kindness from those who, according to my birth religion, should be regarded as unclean, unforgiven, and unacceptable. And I wonder how my God, how anyone’s God, could truly expect every single person on this planet to worship and believe in one uniform manner.
Life is an ever-evolving quest of realization. I cannot afford to continue on my journey in fear of what I feel, afraid to admit that I am diverting from the path on which I started this life. I believe that when all of us were created, we were imbued with a desire to find our own personal meaning; our own explanations for self and existence; our own God, gods, goddesses, or lack thereof. And I hope that someday every person finds that fulfillment without fear of persecution or retribution. For I believe that respect for the beliefs of others is the road to salvation, enlightenment, and eternal happiness that every person seeks.