I Sometimes Wish I was Religious
Why I envy those who can believe in a higher power
I lost my faith in my twenties. I never got it back, and have never really wanted it back.
To me, the concepts of organized religion are too transparent in their mythologies to hold much merit any more. Something about it had never set right with me to begin with, mostly the fact that I was taught there’s only one true religion, and everyone else goes to hell, but religion’s power is rooted in fear. Though some part of me doubted what I had been taught to believe, I struggled with that fear: the fear of death, the fear of damnation. The road out of indoctrination to true personal freedom from the psychological guilt and trauma that the Christian faith imposed upon me was not an easy road. It cost me many personal relationships and much of my familial reputation, and still, I would make the same choices again, given a chance to relive the past.
Having said that, there are aspects of faith that I see in others, that I wish I could possess. The biggest of these, is a sense of personal purpose to life. Since abandoning my faith and choosing instead to try and be a rational thinker, I have often found myself drifting listlessly through my days, feeling as though my life has no meaning, no purpose. And really, at the base level, there is no purpose behind it, or behind anything for that matter. We are born, much like everything else in the universe, for a brief existence that will eventually wink out in the darkness and be forgotten.
I try to find other ways to give my life meaning. As an artist, I bestow a heightened sense of worth to the act of creation. I pretend that the creation of art is a worthy kind of establishment of substance that can live beyond its creator. I try my best to appreciate the time I spend experiencing enjoyable moments, time with family, time with loved ones. Memories are gathered and stored away like clippings for a scrapbook that no one will read. This brain, this consciousness, is nothing if not a sensory sponge of the full emotional spectrum, and the joyful side of that spectrum is most definitely something to desire.
I don’t know if it is my personal predisposition toward depression, but it’s the dark side of the spectrum I struggle with. This is where I feel the religious minded have an advantage. Though I am sure everyone is capable of doubt and must deal with personal demons in their own way, if you have the safety net of faith beneath you, it must be easier to just let go. If you believe there is a higher power behind existence, behind your life, you can always use that as an excuse for whatever needs an explanation. There’s no need to search for a purpose, because the purpose is already written out for you. The deity has a plan for you. The deity is always in command and in control of your destiny.
I must admit, it’s this convenience of coasting through life on philosophical auto-pilot that I envy. Why worry about anything at all if you think your life is under such godly guidance?
The second aspect of this existential envy, is how faith innately grants people the illusion of hope. No matter how bad things appear, someone who believes in a higher power has the ability to hold onto a glimmer of hope that their deity will somehow miraculously shift fate into their favor. There’s always an invisible ear there to listen to their cries of despair, an invisible therapist upon which they can unload their darkest thoughts. Even the idea of death now comes with it the promise of a second life, a life without worry or sadness or fear. I’m jealous of this mentality. For me, it’s just not an option.
Since losing my faith, I’ve experienced death through the stark lens of cynicism. It’s hard not to notice the way faith acts as a comfort to those who have it. It definitely acts as a drug to the grieving. Not only does it provide a pathway to letting go when you believe God has a plan for everyone and wouldn’t test any person beyond their capacity, but it also gives people a sense of safety from death itself, as it is just a gateway to paradise where they’ll eventually be reunited. It’s all so pleasant to imagine.
I did not have these comforts when I watched my loved ones die. I had to process this grief differently from those around me. I had to come to terms with the finality of it, with the reality of it, with the uncompromising nature of existence. It was difficult. It was painful. It took a lot of time.
The third facet of this dilemma is one of lacking a sense of community, of belonging to something bigger than myself. As of 2012 it was estimated that over 80% of the world considers themselves to be a member of some faith, and over a third of that is Christianity. In America, although it has declined some over the last decade, still at least 65% of people would describe themselves as Christian. This makes secularism and those who lack a faith an extreme minority.
Being a person who publicly eschews the perceived normalcy of religious faith marks you immediately as an outsider, a person to be feared, a person to avoid. In many nations, atheism is still punishable by death. For instance, in Bangladesh, people who have spoken out about their atheism have been brutally murdered in the streets by mobs with machetes. In many ways, this makes the secular life one of paranoia and loneliness, one of choosing to keep thoughts of doubt and criticism of faith a secret. It becomes a life riddled with self-censorship and internal solitude. When you’ve heard stories of your own family members speaking of your atheism with vile disgust, including your grandfather who was dying of cancer at the time, you learn to keep your head down. You learn to avoid the topic of religion at all costs.
For me, my battles with depression and the fear of mortality have to be fought on my own terms. Though it is more difficult, I choose to find beauty and purpose within the confines of lived experience itself. Life is indeed a beautiful thing, capable of joys beyond measure, as well as its pains. As a conscious being, it is what I choose to focus on that becomes the fulcrum upon which my life is balanced. This is the true nature of freedom, of choice, of will.
At the end of the day, life may be pointless, just a series of action and consequence and random events. Life may be unpredictable and chaotic and tragic and brief. But it’s also my life. And I choose to be in control of my destiny, for better or worse.