Losing My Religion

December 19, 2012 in General

Are you still religious?

I get asked this question a lot.  I’m never sure how to reply, so usually give a vague answer that could be interpreted either way.

My childhood understanding of religion was frightening.  An old man with a white beard sat somewhere in the sky, watching our every move.  Sometimes he loved us, but mostly he was angry about things we were doing.  We had to obey him, or else when we died he would throw us into a lake of fire where we would burn for eternity.

Even after leaving the Exclusive Brethren, it was a while before I let myself challenge such dogma.  Turning my back on a church was bad enough, but to question God was unforgivable.  I told people that the Brethren had taken everything from me, but they could never take my faith.  And for some time, the belief that my terrible experiences were part of God’s plan helped me get through.

As I was exposed to other cultures, other religions, other ways of thinking, I began to realise that many of the beliefs I had grown up were illogical and made no sense.  I also became aware of the many terrible ways religion has been abused by mankind in order to achieve his own ends.  I was dismayed as my faith began crumbling around the edges.

University then equipped me with the tools to critically analyse my thoughts on religion.  I was able to deconstruct many of the concepts I had been taught as a child, and realised for the first time that there were logical explanations for many of religion’s mysteries.  One of my lecturers made a convincing argument that a person did not actually need religion in order to develop a sound moral code.  It was a revelation.

Around the same time, I began exploring other faith systems such as Islam and Buddhism.  I learnt with interest that the same underlying message runs through all religions.  Live your life with love, peace and honesty, and things will work out for you.  It seemed like a pretty good message.

I am now able to recognise the value of many of the religious lessons I was taught as a child.  Honesty, love, compassion – I learned them in a warped environment, but they stuck nonetheless.  I often use the analogy of a house that has been built with bricks that are half good, half bad.  The house will collapse irrespective of the good bricks, and my faith collapsed in a similar way.  Over the past few years however, I have been able to sift through the rubble, pick out the good bricks, and begin building again.

I still pray every morning when I wake up.  Prayer is so deeply ingrained as part of my psyche that I think I would continue praying even if I considered myself an atheist.  It’s not prayer as I was taught, though.  Now it’s about taking time to be thankful for everything I have, to send love to the people I care about, and to prepare myself for the day.

And if that’s considered religion, then I’m happy to be called religious.

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