A friend of mine recently posted on Facebook something to the extent of “there are just as many religions as there are people.” As one who is fascinated with religion and has had a very unique experience and relationship with it, I couldn’t agree more.
Naturally, there were a number of snotty comments who interpreted my friend’s status as something insulting toward religion, and they cheered in agreement and shared their sassy, supportive viewpoints. It is possible my friend did mean something negative by the status, but I don’t care. I still strongly agree that religion – or, let’s be safe and say “spirituality” – is highly unique for each individual.
The secret to keeping young, critically thinking people involved in religion is to admit that all religion is open for interpretation. With the exception of the few who devoutly deny any sort of spirituality, we all have some sort of not-so-easy-to-define sense of the Force. Maybe that sense manifests itself as Christianity, or maybe it manifests itself as non-deist Buddhism. Whether you believe in ghosts, saints, transubstantiation, Obi Wan, or King Triton, none of it is really that different.
I’m no scholar on religion, but I do know some things. Either that or I think I know some things. But that’s not important right now.
I’ve come to conclude that many people in my demographic really, truly annoy me when they open their mouths and something about religion comes out (it saddens me that I still hear some people my age differentiate between “Catholic” and “Christian,” for example).
I hate it when they say they think religion is bad. I can only assume what they mean is organized religion. Not even just that, but the organized Christian religion. And not just that still. But hyper-conservative, ignorant, in-your-face, organized Christian religion. Hell, they might even just be thinking of Westboro. And saying “I think Westboro is bad” is a universally agreeable statement, unless you’re a member of Westboro yourself.
Perhaps these young people had a bad experience at a church camp. Or perhaps their parents were ignorant nutcases that kicked them out of their home when they found out their child was gay. I feel incredibly sorry for these terrible experiences, but they do not represent the bulk of religion. Nor Christianity, for that matter.
I have this friend named Danielle. Danielle is from what you might think of as a conservative, Christian background. She is pro-life, she does not share the same opinion as I do about the Affordable Care Act, and she is the youth minister at a church in Alabama. Danielle is not an asshole, but she did come from a different place than me. Danielle, in my opinion, is doing Christianity right. She is a wonderful example of someone with a very strong faith, who does not shove it down your throat. She would, however, be glad to talk to you about how you can become active in the church.
Not all people who admit they’re Christian – or even religious – are nutcases. In fact, I’d argue that most of them are of perfectly sound mind. Danielle isn’t a nutcase, and her deep spirituality isn’t that different from one who regularly smokes pot and contemplates whatever is out there that is greater than ourselves.
Sometimes, douchebags use religion as a pathetic excuse to be douchebags. But, sometimes, religion is used to do incredible good for the world. Saying religion is bad or good is over simplifying. Because there are as many different religions as there are people.
I think that, in order for young people and religion to harmoniously bond, two things need to happen: young people need to open their minds, and (organized) religion needs to allow for wiggle room. Both need to welcome doubt and questioning.