Hope and Charity without Faith

I grew up without a church. I spent my childhood churchless, played soccer any day of the week, slept in on Sunday mornings and was perfectly happy. I attended church with my various friends – Catholic, Baptist, Methodist. They all ran together in a child's mind, and they all seemed rather pointless. Most of my church-going memories were concerned with sitting in hard pews, listening to a man talk about stuff I didn't understand, or, going to Sunday School where I cut out shapes on colorful paper while adults looked down on me as they asked if I had been "saved" yet. Neither experience particularly endeared church to me and I felt I was better off without these trappings and decorations of belief.

Because of my atheism, I can see the hypocrisies and fallibilities of religion, but I also understand the draw: to be a member of a tightly knit group who believes as you do. I alone am unbiased, but the price of this clear view has been ostracization and isolation.

The first time I can remember feeling left out of the religious world was when I was seven. I was attending a Catholic church service with one of my good friends. She had just had her First Communion and this particular Sunday was the first time she would be able to go up and receive the blood and flesh of Christ. As she got in line happily to go to the altar I was left standing in the pews with her 5-year-old sister. Reenactments of this episode continued until even the little joined the rest of the family. I was the sole person left, standing stiffly upright in the pews, watching everyone else partake in a ritual that defined their lives.

Although that was the first time I felt alone in my non-belief, it was not the last time. In sixth grade, my World Cultures class did a quick overview of religion. As an introduction to this, my teacher reeled off a list of contemporary religions; we were to line up for lunch accordingly. As she named Methodist, Baptist, and Episcopalian Churches many of the kids queued. Catholics and Unitarians accounted for a few more. There were two Jews and two Jehovah's Witnesses. Soon, I was the only one left still seated. My teacher looked at me, and then tried Buddhism and Islam. I just shook my head, aware of the stares of my classmates.

"Well then," my teacher snapped, "what are you?"

"Atheist," I said quietly and, noting the stares of my fellow students, elaborated, "I don't believe in God." There was a shocked silence, and then the flood broke.

"You're going to hell!"

"My mom says people like you are friends of the devil!"

"You're evil!"

"You're stupid!"

After that episode, I learned to keep my mouth shut on my religious preferences, and I vowed that if a circumstance like that ever came up again, I would blend in with the Methodists and Episcopalians.

I'm not trying to say that religion has no use. On the contrary, religion serves one of the most vital purposes in the world: it provides hope. Not only that, but it also bestows the framework for morality and decency: in Christianity, the Ten Commandments.

Religion has also given me some great conversations. Every time my dear friend, a Catholic, comes over we end up in a philosophical chat discussing the merits of each other's viewpoint. This is a strong basis for a friendly and intellectual argument given a certain level of knowledge. One of the many problems I have with religion is that most people today don't know anything about it.

When I was in eighth grade my English teacher required us to write a term paper over any subject we liked. I chose religion as mine and, being the ever-curious person I am, I decided to take a survey over how much my classmates knew. The results were intriguing. These thirteen- and fourteen-year-olds knew dismayingly little about their own, let alone any other, religion. 8 out of 22 students told me that Christianity existed before Judaism and 9 out of 22 could not define Judaism and out of the remaining 13 seven gave incorrect answers. This was the "smart" class and these were the same children who told me I was stupid when I informed them, two years before, that I did not believe in God.

So it is not religion itself that I object to: it is instead the belief that the only way to have morals is to follow the rules set down by a certain elite group of people (varying with each religion), it is the petty feuds between denominations and the politics involved with a simple instinct: that of belief.

There are times when I wish I could entrust my life to a higher being, but in the end I prefer my own view: that I control my life and there is nowhere to put the blame but myself. I still feel alone sometimes, and I still encounter disbelief and hostility when my lack of religion becomes apparent, but to each his own, and to me, mine.