Is it Religion, or is it Me?
Today I was sitting at one of my children’s activities and talking to another parent beside me. She asked me my opinion on a local kids sleepaway camp. Why me? Well, isn’t it obvious? If you want an opinion on anything, by all means, ask me! I will give you my opinion. It doesn’t matter if it is a good one or not, you will get it. All you have to read is just a few lines of any of my blogs and this should become apparent.
But actually, she asked me because my kids had gone to said camp and she was honestly wanting some thoughts, advice, things to consider. And I gave her my honest opinion (of course, asking me my opinion is like dangling sausage over a dog who’s only been allowed vegetarian fare. I’m gonna eat that up like I was a natural carnivore!). However, I can’t deny that I was quite, well, nervous about it. Why? Because this camp was a religious camp and my opinion about this camp could not be separated from its religiosity. Actually, my opinion on this camp was entirely, one-hundred percent, due to the religiosity of it.
Now, I was nervous because to give my opinion meant I had to give also a bit of my history with religion (and when I speak of religion, I mean, Christianity and more specifically, Protestantism). Those who know me well, know my opinion very clearly. I give it freely…to those who have already invested enough time in our relationship that I know they won’t high tail it as far away from me as I could. Now, in this case, I’ve just been getting to know this woman due to the mutual friendship of our sons. I like her, however, I did not know where she stood in terms of her own religious views. Would I offend her by expressing mine? Would my son be shunned by her son because mine is a dirty unbeliever (is more what I was thinking)? And as far as she knew, I had sent my child to a religious camp so didn’t that mean I agreed with what they were teaching?
The answer is, hell no! But I had hoped my daughter could have escaped unscathed and with a really cool sleep-away camp experience. I was wrong and I learned my lesson. And, in the most non-judgemental, accepting way I possibly could, I let her know that. Thankfully, she was receptive to what I had to say and I enjoyed my discussion with her.
Why am I telling you all this? Because the entire time we were walking, I couldn’t help but worry about those around us and the potential for our conversation being overheard. NOT because we were saying anything rude, or judgmental, or controversial (depending on the audience), but I did let her know what I thought. I let her know that I did not agree with the practices of the camp and the practices of those who are not accepting of others beliefs and who force their own beliefs onto other people. (Not that all the members of the camp did so, I think only a few naive and brainwashed ones did, but they still…oh, hell, it doesn’t really matter. This is about my reaction and feelings about my conversation, not about religion in general and not about that said camp). It was obvious, from our conversation, that I rejected the Christian faith and their take on God.
Now, I personally reject that faith. PERSONALLY (And by reject, I do not mean there is nothing valid or important in it. I just do not call myself a Christian). I do not reject those in it. I do not reject the lessons that can be taught by said faith. I do not reject the fact that there are some great messages to be found in it and I do not reject the fact that Jesus Christ was a very wise and caring man who risked his own life to teach other people to be kind to those less fortunate than them. I just do not choose to accept the bible as truth and I do not choose to raise my family in the church.
I choose to think for myself and have my own beliefs, which mean, for me, turning from the religion I was baptized, confirmed, and married in (by my father, actually). But here is the thing, unless you are a close friend of mine, until now, I have been relatively afraid to say that. No, not afraid to shout it out into the void and be very vocal in discussions about it, but afraid to offend those people around me who I know do not share my beliefs. I am very careful around those who do have a great deal of faith in the bible and God and Christianity and all that. Why? Because I am afraid of offending them and of having them think I am a bad person. Afraid that they will no longer like me or consider me a viable option for a friend. Which is why I walked out of there afraid that I had been overheard and had made another person feel bad. I don’t know what those sitting near me believed, and so I wasn’t sure if my words struck a chord with them or made them feel that I was mocking their own beliefs.
(And lets get one thing straight, just because I was enjoying the conversation I was having, does not mean anyone around me even gave a shit about it. So keep in mind, all of this is probably pointless because those who were sitting near me most likely had their own conversations going on and did not even think twice about me sitting a few feet away from them.)
Because I wasn’t criticizing their religion. I was simply expressing my own beliefs and experiences. Which is totally fine, right?
Yes, except, I then felt bad about it. And I hadn’t said anything that warranted those feelings. So why am I hyper-aware of other people’s rights to their own beliefs but refuse to give voice to my own?
Now, I am sure at this moment you are thinking, Oh my god, it was a single conversation, stop reading so much into things, but it was more than that. So much more. However, in order to explain that to you, I must provide another real life scenario.
A few days ago, driving home from a different camp, my children were discussing the fact that there was a blind kid in their class. They’d never encountered a blind child before, so of course, this was a topic of conversation. A conversation in which my son felt bad for the child and in which I told him that we had no right to feel bad for him, for to do so would be to suggest that our lives were better than his, that we had something he didn’t. Perhaps his lack of eyesight granted him so much more in his other senses that we should feel bad that we weren’t like him. And then my daughter asked, “Were you ever blind in another life, mom?”
And there the crazy comes in. Or, crazy for some people but reality for me. I have spent a great deal of time and energy doing past life regressions in order to overcome many of the issues that I’ve struggled with. This work has changed my life and changed me as a person…for the better. And I have shared some of the knowledge I have gained from this work with my daughter. And some of it with both kids as it was so essential in helping them come to terms with my father’s death.
So what,’s the big deal, you ask? Well, here is the rest of the conversation.
“No, not that I know of or have experienced so far,” I told her.
“What do you mean?” asks my son.
So I explained to him that we have all lived multiple lives and that I have been lucky enough to go back and learn from mine.
“But don’t tell anybody,” says my daughter, adamant and certain.
Now, why would she say that? Well, because I told her the same thing. I told her not to tell anybody about what we talk about because others might not understand or they will tell her she’s wrong or that she’s crazy and because it goes against what many people believe.
I told her to keep my beliefs, beliefs we share, a secret from her friends so they wouldn’t think she’s weird or laugh at her. And now we were passing on that ridiculous advice to my son.
I don’t even know why. But I know it ties in directly to my conversation today, or not the conversation but the fear of being heard and being found offensive. Because my beliefs do not match those of mainstream society…or, the christian society. At least, not from what I’ve seen. And because I do not want to offend them, I am afraid to share my own beliefs.
Which is ridiculous, I know. Why do the thoughts and feelings of others trump my own? And not only that, but why am I teaching my own children to hide theirs and do the same thing? Why should I have walked away today afraid that my words would not be accepted, or, hell, I don’t care if they’re accepted, but found to be cause to judge me. I did not say anything that could be construed as offensive. And yet, I was afraid. Just as I was afraid for my kids should they tell one of their friends about past lives and those that I have lived.
Have I been judged harshly by religious fanatics or lost friends over my beliefs? No, not that I know of. Have I seen religious fanatics waving hateful messages and condemning others for how they live their lives? For not sharing their beliefs? Yes. But have I also seen those people who call themselves Christian accept everyone around them regardless of their lifestyle and their beliefs? Yes. And have I seen those same Christians behave in a loving manner to all those around them? Yes. Have I also seen this of non-Christians, atheists, agnostics, and so forth? Yes. So then, what is my problem? Who am I afraid of?
Somehow or another I have gotten it into my head that if I express my non-religious views and my unorthodox beliefs to someone who believes in God and goes to church, that they will shun me, that they will cross themselves and back away, waving garlic and brandishing a sharpened stake. And their children will do the same to my children.
And herein lies the question: whose problem is this? Because not once have I been attacked for sharing my views. So, is this not some barrier I am putting up? There are some religious people I really, really like. They are kind and wonderful, just as the people I really like who have no religion. So why do I have it in my head that I have to tiptoe around those who believe in God? Why do I feel they have more rights than I do? That they have the right to express their beliefs while I do not?
Is this a religious issue or is this a personal issue. Am I afraid they will see my beliefs and shun me or am I afraid that they will see me and shun me.
That is what it is. Because I am a little off the beaten path, I often go against the grain, choose to swim into the current instead of with it. But is that not okay? Am I not allowed this choice? Just as they are?
I think this is something we all do. Someone says something and we choose to stay quiet instead of telling them we disagree because we somehow feel by disagreeing, we are making the other one feel bad. Telling them they are wrong. But what kind of world would we live in if we all thought identically? If we all believed in the exact same thing and went about our days never questioning it or looking for different routes or pathways or answers? I mean, Christianity wasn’t the first religion. There are many others much older than it, some still thriving and some only alive in the history books, because a people or a religion died off or was destroyed by another. If no one ever questioned what someone else said or believed, we could still be sacrificing virgins for rain or riches or whatever else they sacrificed virgins for.
I don’t share a belief in God that others might. And that’s okay. Because it doesn’t mean I’m not a good person nor does it mean that I can’t have something important and valid to say to another. Something relatable. As I said, when my dad died, my kids were so happy to find out that they may have another life out there…with him. And I was excited to know this wasn’t my first go around with my father, either. This was an incredible comfort to me. And perhaps it could have been for others as well, but I would have been too afraid to say anything.
No one is censoring me but me. No one is telling me that my beliefs are wrong or offensive, but myself. But there is someone telling my kids that they are wrong…and that is also, me. I am teaching them to hide and look over their shoulder, constantly worrying that there might be someone out there that could possibly get their nose out of joint because we don’t think the same as they do. And when the time comes for my own kids to make their own decisions about life and the afterlife and everything in between, are they more likely to listen to someone who tells them to keep it all a secret, who is too afraid to show who they truly are? Or will they follow the one preaching from the rooftops whether it be a whole ton of bullshit or the ultimate truth because they aren’t afraid to hide it? And when they get that instinctual feeling, that quiet knowing that something is true and right for them, are they going to listen to it or shove it down for fear someone might think they’re stupid or strange or weird.
When it comes down to it, this isn’t about religion. Not at all. This is about being who you are, whether it’s an atheist or a Muslim or a Christian or…well, you get my point. I need to embrace where I am and who I am, and all the lifetimes it took to get me here. Because, I’ve lived through some pretty bad shit, and would I not be doing myself a disservice, would I not be invalidating all the suffering I have gone through, by keeping it all hidden? Am I not invalidating myself right now by deciding that others have more right to their own beliefs because theirs are more socially accepted?
My children chose me as their parent before they came here, because of who I am and where I am. It is time I honor them and their choice by allowing myself to be seen, by no longer hiding. If I want them to be fearless in who they are, I guess I will have to go first.
So, here I go. Take it or leave it, I can no longer hide.