Growing up, politics and religion were the two topics that under no circumstance were you to talk to anyone else about… but as we know, that’s not the case anymore. We now work on the pretense that “showing up with your whole self” means “showing up with your entire set of beliefs” … but we need to talk about that.
Lately, religion and its followers seem to surround me. Whether it’s everyone wishing each other a happy Christian religious holiday during a networking meeting, getting invitations to a house of worship, or even on a seemingly innocent networking call: a god seems to be this cloud around my orbit.
At its core, religion is nothing more than a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith (Merriam-Webster), though I would also add that it’s a perspective. Religion is completely and entirely an individual relationship and experience; not only is it built on your perspective of the world, it’s also built on your perspective of yourself and how you see your soul within your worldview.
Now, one can argue that in this world, sometimes faith is all we have. We hold onto it, steadfastly looking ahead at possible solutions through an all-seeing eye. With newsreels showing pictures of daily violence across our world and neighborhoods, poxes now added to our pandemic/endemic world, political frustrations… it can look pretty grim. If faith gives you respite, who am I to tell you to not have it?
But that’s exactly what I’m going to tell you to do… kind of. In a more roundabout way, because if there’s one thing that religion also invokes, it’s passion. And while a god is supposed to be infallible, the human race is not.
You see, I’m an atheist. A staunchly comfortable one… but I’ve never introduced myself as such. That’s because my personal belief is that if you find comfort in any ritual, place, or faith and it doesn’t harm someone, then it’s not my place to criticize, flagellate, condemn, or judge. That’s my belief… and unfortunately, I already know yours. Because it made me feel uncomfortable. It made me feel awkward that you assumed I followed your faith, your perspective, and your way of seeing the world, without ever asking me what I thought or what my beliefs are.
You simply told me what you believe… and quite frankly, I don’t care.
Now, one would argue that the Internet is a) either NOT the place to have theological discussions, or b) it’s FULL of them, and by criticizing you, I’m doing nothing more than joining the noise. But you see, I feel the need to educate you. Because I deal in language, and religion is full of it.
When you join a house of worship, the first shift usually comes in pronouns: at your house of worship, it’s “we”. “Us”. Outside of your house of worship, it’s probably “me” or “you”. That by itself starts to prime your perspective: you’re with “your people” when you’re in your house of worship. It’s “us vs. them”. Who are the “them”? They’re the uneducated, hopeless, sinful masses that just need a little bit of education, a bit of prayer, a bit of faith. Your faith. Of course!
By joining a faith and starting to use the “us vs. them” mentality, you forget sometimes that we’re all one. A human race. We all have flaws, and we all have our different perspectives of our own worldview and how we see ourselves in it… and not all of us share your specific worldview or your specific religion. Yet sometimes, the conversation halts, and the lecture, sermon, or presumptuous persuasion starts. The human part of the human race is nothing more than a footnote, and the possibility of a relationship stops… yet by shifting language, it doesn’t have to be this way.
The cool thing about languages that have been around since the dawn of record-writing is that you get to see their impacts on each other. “God” is almost always capitalized in English to show importance: it’s a proper noun. But did you know that ojalá (God willing) in Spanish comes from the Arabic “إِنْ شَاءَ ٱللَّٰهُ “ or “In sha’Allah” (if Allah wills it)? And who else is a proper noun? Buddha. Nirvana. Brahman Allah. (Now, I know that Buddha nor Brahman are not gods in their respective religions, but they are venerated, so give me a bit of religious wiggle room).
Speaking of wiggles and scribbles, before there were runes and language, there were symbols. No less than 7 religions or myths have a tree at some point: whether it’s Yggdrasil in Nordic myths, Fusang in ancient Chinese literature, the tree in the Garden of Eden in Christianity, Kabbalah in Jewish mysticism, the Grandmother Cedar in the Oneida tribes, and many others.
The thing is, we’re more alike than we are different. The whole reason why I fell in love with language was for the spark of connection between two people; the fact that words have power: they can create laughter, tears, and a gamut of emotions (including a closed-off sense of unease).
All values and beliefs are valuable: but so is a good conversation and a place to feel safe, seen, and heard.
So before you go spouting off your perspective in an “us vs. them” world, let’s remember the “we”.