Why do you believe in God? This may seem like a silly question, but it was one that I was very used to hearing from my conglomerate of friends in high school. Most of the people I knew in school were atheistic or agnostic, and I was quite comfortable with the fact by then. They may not represent the “All-American” group of friends, but they were what I dealt with while growing up. To me, it seemed trivial that they didn’t believe in God. What, were the God police going to get them?
I was raised a Catholic. I would say I was born and raised a Catholic, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to be submersed in holy water the moment I came out of the womb. If only my mom had given birth in a church… That being said, the only religion I ever really knew for most of my childhood was Catholicism.
My family went to mass every week and I received the proper spiritual rites (like Reconciliation and First Communion). I even got to go to Religious Education classes weekly where they would tell us the dark, grotesque stories from the Bible in adorable kid-friendly form. I never imagined a story about a boy killing a man with a stone and a sling being cute, but there was something about vegetables in tunics that had me hooked. I was never taught of other religions and how they were wrong, but only that Catholicism is the one and only “right” religion. It was all I knew.
Given that my elementary school was literally across the street from the local Intel pre-fabrication facility, the kids I came to know at my school were from a myriad of social and cultural backgrounds. My exposure was focused even more once I was placed in the gifted math and logic programs at my school. While the school may have been predominately caucasian, I spent a lot of my day in the one classroom where I was a minority. It’s like my school used the gifted program to cram all the other cultures in one class and keep them away, except they misread my British heritage and threw me in with them too.
My point being that the people I came to befriend and spend my time with were either from completely different religions (like Hinduism and Buddhism) or neglected to believe in God or religions at all. This was an eye opening and somewhat unusual experience for me, as everyone I had ever really known was Catholic, and now here I was being questioned by a miniature Model UN. At first I was defensive, trying to protect the school of thought that my parents built, but eventually I had to consider: why was my way so right and their ways so wrong? Why do each of these belief systems have to be the exclusive religion of all of humankind? Maybe it has to do with the world not being big enough for more than one god, or at least 5000 (I’m looking at you, Hinduism). It brought me to think of the other religions, to consider what it was like to be like them.
I would often go to my friend Rishi’s house to hang out and play video games. His family was Hindi and I got to see this first hand when I came over. There were all sorts of carefully poised elephants, men with far too many arms to be practical, and other idols strewn around the house. At first they seemed odd to me, but then I realized the number of random crosses and other Christian paraphernalia that just sat around my house. They even spoke Hindu around the house, but it didn’t seem that odd to me. My dad speaks British to us in our household, it’s practically the same thing. To me, we both had nearly identical household situations, just a different religious base.
As I grew up, I heard more and more about the religious and cultural stubbornness that went on in America. I couldn’t relate to it at all as I had grown up with my mixture of cultures, and as a result I was baffled. How could people refuse to interact with certain people just for what they believed in? I didn’t get it. In fact, I still don’t. That’s why I feel like Christian America should put on their big kid underpants and get over this state of intolerance. They should learn to accept the vast diversity of religion that exists here, because it certainly isn’t going anywhere and discriminating against people for it won’t help anyone.
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