Are You Religious?

Even though she’s religious, Alice Stanley has to try not assume the worst when people declare their faith.

I am religious. This is probably the first time I’ve ever said that so forwardly in public. It’s a nasty thing to be these days. As a liberally-minded twentysomething, I hear religious and think:

  • racist southern evangelical biddies
  • super rich power churches
  • people that appear to be average but SECRETLY LIKE SARAH PALIN

Never do I see myself, even though I just admitted it. I’ve gone to church most Sundays in my life. I have a proficient knowledge of the Bible. I consider or self-reference some form of spiritual literature daily. But if anyone on any given day asks me if I’m religious, my immediate response is, “No.”

Depending on who asked, I may give some specifications: “I am spiritual,” “I was raised religiously,” or “I get inspired through many mediums.”

But, they all mean the same thing: “Yes, I’m religious, but I don’t want you to think I’m stupid.”

Since it’s Confession, I’ve got a few more. I like church. I like hymns. I don’t like the Bible, but I like some stories. Still, when someone references anything biblical in public, my perception of his or her IQ drops faster than Potifar’s wife’s dress. There’s something seriously wrong when even a self-proclaimed religious gal can’t see a fellow Christian as anything more than a moron.

I really do appreciate our diversity and freedom of religion in the United States. That might sound dreamy, but I actually think we’re doing okay with that piece of our society. Generally, people recognize religion as personal. At the same time, the U.S. has a strange concept of “personal” because religion isn’t something we keep to ourselves. When it comes to faith, personal means being allowed to publicize your faith even if you believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster while knowing it will always be a social snafu for someone to tell you you’re wrong. The cultural awareness of religion being personal simply ensures that people are not outwardly judgmental of other’s personal choices. This raises a popular question: can we have our Communion wafer and eat it too if we insist on expressing our opinions and maintain the right to be offended if someone speaks ill of them? I don’t think so.

My religion is meaningful to me for a few reasons. First, it’s a social network of people who can discuss philosophical and spiritual ideology with a foundation of like-vocabulary. It also provides a curriculum for bettering my life. Whether I decide to agree to the entire curriculum is another matter; it’s at least a good starting point. Last, there is a pleasant familiarity to organized religion for me. For example, I take great comfort in visiting churches while I am abroad because even if I don’t speak the language, I recognize the service order. I expect many people appreciate their religion for the same reasons I do — even though our faiths may be very different.

The facets of religion I enjoy (social groups, ideology, comfort) are clearly available through an infinite number of other mediums. Everyone has some ceremony, some life philosophy, and some friends (hopefully). Some people just happen to use religion as a tool for those universal aspects of humanity, and some people don’t. As I said, and will say again (although it pains me to do so), I am of the former group: coughreligiouscough.

But why did I have pick church to be my vehicle for my societal needs when I could make friends, share vocabulary, and find comfort in a knitting club? The answer, of course, is that I believe my faith. Like most people, I’ll have my qualms with organized religion in general, but overall, I’m buying it. I am profoundly moved by ideas I have learned through my spiritual journey. So, I stick around.

Not only is it important to have the freedom to believe and worship whatever we want freely and openly, I do believe it is beneficial. Just as I have the freedom to say whatever I want about life, God, etc., I appreciate that everyone else has the same freedom. If a person is religious, something about his or her religion must be working, right? If nothing else, in a world where we rarely have to wait for anything, a large chunk of society studies one text or ideology for years, if not lifetimes. I find that remarkable. Isn’t it great that we can have open discourse about differing religious values and ceremony so we can learn from everyone’s best practices and ideas? Think of how much we could learn if we ignored our first judgmental instinct when we learned about someone else’s faith. I just wish my age bracket wasn’t so opposed to admitting anything of the sort, myself included.

Now that I’ve realized all this, I’m not sure exactly how to change. I want to think I’ll stop shirking around my beliefs, but I just don’t believe the majority of my peers will give me the benefit of the doubt. You’ve probably noticed even when discussing my religious beliefs directly, I can’t bring myself to say my church’s name. I still fear judgment, but I can resolve to stop judging. Yes, it’s difficult to walk away peacefully from a debate when my opponent has just said “it’s my religion” as an argument for or against some major societal issue. But I’ve just got to realize that that person’s definition of religion doesn’t have to be universal, because it certainly isn’t mine.

Alice Stanley is an MFA candidate in Dramatic Writing at Arizona State University. Follow her tweets or send her an email. She also has a website.