Religion Realism

A guest post by Jo-Anne Loh as she tries to come to terms with some of the fundamental forces in her life. 

The Church of St. John, the Divine.  Image Credits: Jo-Anne Loh

The Church of St. John, the Divine.
Image Credits: Jo-Anne Loh

I have been largely defined by two words all my life. ‘I’m Christian.’ There’s a photograph at home of my 6 month old squalling self being blessed by a pastor with holy water. Right next to it hangs a certificate stating the date of my dedication to the Lord.

There is a fundamental difference between my parents’ faith and mine. Their Christianity is not my Christianity. I was born in to it. They found it at the mature ages of 18 and 19, almost adults, able to make a decision about paths they wanted to follow. And they have done so unflinchingly, unwaveringly, without once looking back. I wish I had that privilege. I have known no other way.

What a difference teenage me was compared to my parents! I started telling people that I was ‘spiritual, not religious’. I can almost hear my father scoffing in the distance. “Either you’re in it entirely, or you’re out of it.” Don’t get me wrong. I believe in an almighty, benevolent God. I believe in miracles and angels; sins and demons. What I don’t believe in is the rigid set of rules and regulations that make you ‘Christian.’

I want to desire to go to church. I don’t want to feel like I should. At what point does religion start becoming less about faith and more about duty? Back in high school, I received one of the highest grades in a subject simply called ‘Bible Knowledge.’ Amidst the congratulatory wishes from friends and church elders, a solitary thought leeched itself into my mind. There’s nothing more to this than brainpower. It does not stem from the heart.

A close friend of mine recently admitted that he was bisexual. There was no sense of relief, no peace at making concrete something that would define him for a long time to come. He was shattered, scared. Born and raised in an orthodox Catholic family even more religious than mine, he quailed at the thought of telling his family. Does that make him a lesser child of God? I would be among the first to fiercely defend him if anyone questioned his morals. Does that make me a sinner by association?

However, there are times when I feel an outburst of passion and an all-abiding gratefulness for having Christianity in my life. When tears fill my eyes at the familiar lyrics of ‘Amazing Grace’. When I feel an ethereal peace settle over me in the tranquility of church.  When I open my Bible in times of need and a verse jumps out at me, implants itself in my heart and soul. “Yes, that is what God wants to say to me.” Isn’t that true faith? Beyond rites and community service and Sunday school sessions, is that not what religion is?

I can see the roads that lie in front of me. I can see the paths, I know where they will take me. But I do not want to make the choice.  I am a totally different kind of lost.

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2 thoughts on “Religion Realism

  1. Pingback: Why I pray | Converse with Kurti

  2. You have beautifully put into words something that is very difficult to say. I agree, completely, and I feel I am in a very similar position as you. Born into a Catholic family, my dad would make me repeat the psalms and prayers every night and every morning. And I felt this incredible sense of duty towards it, because if I didn’t, my dad would say “God gave you everything you have. Can’t you dedicate at least an hour of your time to Him?” So I felt extremely guilty, extremely forced to go to Church every Sunday… And then I began to question… What’s the meaning of prayer if it doesn’t come out of my heart? Simply repeating words that were written thousands of years ago doesn’t resonate within me… And what about these rules that don’t make sense to me? I am sorry, but I am not one to follow rules without understanding them. Why would God love homosexual people less? Why would He forbid women to be priestesses? Why is sex a bad thing? Whom do we hurt with it? I came to the conclusion that religion is a human thing, but God is not. God is holy and great, all-loving. But the rules that we have created to have some “order” (albeit a flawed one) are only human… earthly. I don’t think we should feel bad about having doubts. It is only human after all. And the fact that we concern ourselves with these doubts shows that we care. We dedicate time to it. Maybe we are lost, but we are looking for a way.

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