Shout Out to Eve: Free Thought as The Ultimate Faith
My reluctant affair with Catholicism was not so easily terminated. Despite my arguments that church was boring, that my weekly consumption of red wine was illegal, and that I am half-Jewish, my father insisted that I be exposed to Catholic dogma. My mother, though a non-practicing Jew, supported my father because she believed that a religious upbringing could potentially benefit my brother and I. However, she managed to convince him that Sunday services were unendurable for youths and came up with an alternative solution. We joined a religious group comprised of families with children. In theory, this group made religion fun by incorporating music, art, and social activities with Biblical studies. Most importantly, this group posited to be open-minded; they anticipated that some children would have less religious knowledge than others and ostensibly embraced the opportunity to nurture beginners.
I believe that it is a sin to lie, and yet these dutiful believers seemed to have no problem reneging on their mission statement. In fact, their dishonesty and narrow mindedness convinced me that organized religion was no better than elementary school cliches. Every Sunday our group leader would strum a guitar and yodel atonally about God until I had a piercing migraine. Then we would leave our parents to attend a short religious class. It was during one of these classes that my brother’s ignorance finally convinced my parents that religion was not in our future. Upon being asked what a prophet was, he unhesitatingly responded ” A profit is the money you make from a successful business investment”. I was proud of my sibling and thought that his answer was quite intelligent for a nine-year-old. The stunned teacher did not share my view. After class, our parents were informed of our religious idiocy. Rather than being angry, they finally agreed that it would be best for us to determine our own spiritual paths.
I did not immediately abandon religion in the wake of my liberation. Indeed, I thought anything would be an improvement over Catholicism and decided to consider Judaism. By this time, I was in my teens and had begun to date. One of my first boyfriends was Jewish and he exposed me to our nearby Jewish Community Center. He took me to Bar Mitzvahs, included me for Passover dinner, and showed me how to play with a dreidel. I enjoyed myself immensely and, for a short time, I was blissfully Jewish even though I actually knew very little about the religion.
My doubts about Judaism began when I discovered that my boyfriend’s father was a notoriously severe slumlord. I was horrified to discover that this professedly religious individual could treat his fellow men so shamefully. I was additionally appalled by the Jewish community’s acceptance of his behavior and large financial donations. Perhaps I am an idealist, but I do not believe that religious organizations should subordinate morality to money. I had noticed a similar mercenary trend in the Catholic churches and was unwilling to stomach the exultation of corruption a second time in Jewish temples. It is wrong to use religion to justify a deficient character and immoral acts. I left my boyfriend and Judaism without qualms.
I am currently a sophomore at Vassar College, recently rated the number one campus for atheists in the United States. At Vassar, I have been encouraged to objectively reflect upon religion’s impact on humanity. Throughout history, religion has been responsible for more bloodshed and than any other cause. Indeed, more than two million people died in the Holy Crusades, a series of battles beginning in 1096 CE and lasting for approximately 250 years. The death attributed to religious wars such as the Crusades has not declined with the advent of more modern societies. Most recently, the Muslim terrorist group Al Quada captured a horrified world’s attention by attacking United States’ vessels, embassies and buildings in the name of Allah. The ensuing invasion of Afghanistan by American troops resulted in the deaths of soldiers and countless civilians. Other modern religious wars include the insurrections amongst Serbian Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholics, and Muslims in Bosnia, the systematic extermination of Roman Catholics by Indonesian Muslims in East Timor, the violent clashes between Hindus and Muslims in Kashmir, and the bloody conflicts between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland. After studying and thinking deeply about these devastating conflicts, I fail to understand the advantages of religions that foment unjustified hatred, intolerance, and violence. Religion should be inspired by a genuine love of humanity and dedication to upholding moral principles. Historical and current events indicate that organized religions frequently fail to instill strong ethics in their followers. I do not believe that murder is justified because it is imputed to a specific God or holy doctrine and am deeply disturbed by the recent atrocities attributable to religious wars.
Additionally disheartening is the immoral conduct of religious officials. Why should I place faith in the teachings of priests who have committed sexual crimes and other heinous illegalities? It seems irrational to believe in a faith when its main proponents do not respect, believe, or practice what they are preaching.
It is due to the aforementioned personal experiences and historical events that I am an atheist. This does not mean, however, that I have abandoned spirituality in a more general sense. Indeed, I believe that I often find more beauty and inspiration in life than religious individuals because I exalt in the present as opposed to the afterlife. Moreover, I am not a prisoner of commandments and other constrictive religious rules. If I err, I may regret my mistake but ultimately perceive it as a learning experience, attempt to correct my fault, and move on. In fact, I am even able to rejoice in minor sins because they reflect the very quality that makes us human: our imperfection. Life is exciting because it has the ability to continually change our ideas and spirits. Humans are incapable of attaining the immaculate ideals expounded by religions and invariably perceive themselves as inadequate when they fail to exemplify the consummate Catholic, Jew, Muslim, or Hindu. Perfection is an impossible, masochistic struggle. It is my sincere belief that people would benefit more from truly free thought and a willingness to embrace life as a joyful, unpremeditated journey than they do from the misleading security offered by organized religion.