There are more than 4,000 religions in the world. A few of them are well-known while others are practiced by only a specific group of people. I grew up believing in one of them. Since as a child, we were thought to believe that there was an invisible man in the sky. That he is watching our every move, our decisions, and every step we take. I believed in him for so long, never questioned his existence, never wondered why my Muslim classmates referred to him as Allah and not God. That was until I started reading the bible with critical eyes and saw the absurdities and hypocrisies that our parents and teachers taught us to believe.
I wondered: “If God knew everything, why did he have to test Abraham and ask him to kill his only child. If he was omnipresent, why did he not stop the serpent from tempting Eve to eat the forbidden fruit? If he was all-powerful, why did he have to sacrifice his only son so he can forgive the sins of men? If he was a loving God, why did he have to commit genocide to cleanse the world of evil?” These were the questions that ran through my mind while I was reading the bible, free from the influences of a Christian teacher that will try to rationalize senseless genocide. I read through the old and new testament. I questioned every story, every parable, and every verse.
When I started questioning the existence of God, I harbored a wave of anger inside my heart. Realizing that my parents and teachers taught me to believe a thousand-year-old text filled with nonsense and plot holes. I felt betrayed as if I discovered a long-time friend has been lying to me the whole time. How can I believe in a God that commands his faithful to murder his children? How can I cherish a supposedly loving father if he made a bet with the devil and let the latter murder the wife and children of his follower? How can I look forward to heaven when the man who raped my sister can go down on his knees, beg for forgiveness, and then be allowed to enter the kingdom of God... I was filled with these types of questions in my head, all of them coming to me like a flood. I was trying so hard not to drown and to make sense of my beliefs.
I spent some of my college days talking with like-minded individuals from different religions. We would talk about the similarities of certain stories present in many religious texts. I would take my time listening to their insights and applying them on my own. I also talked to more religious students, peeking inside their minds, trying to figure out how they can remain faithful to an invisible man in the sky. I was a man with a mission. At first, I was trying to convert others. I was telling them about the inaccuracies in the bible and how absurd it is to believe all those stories. They just gave me a nod or smiled at me with a confused look. The idea of God not existing was too foreign for them. Yet I was filled with passion, I felt that I was doing them a service by telling them my truth.
When we had our Christian Education class, I listened to our professor, especially when he is talking about theological ideas and using sources outside the bible. It made me realize that religion was evolving as time passed by. Religious scholars would come up with new ideas or a new interpretation of a bible verse. I realized how religion is trying to fit into the modern world by incorporating religious philosophy into modern issues. A good example is how Pope Francis is preaching the acceptance of gay relationships. Religious apologists prosecute gay couples since it is a sin in the eyes of the Lord as stated in the bible. Pope Francis, however, accepts gay union and believes that as long as they seek a relationship with God, people should not judge them.
As I continue refining my viewpoint and learning about more religions and faith, I found peace. The more I learned about the beliefs of others and the unique religious journeys certain individuals experienced, the more I understood the viewpoints of those who remain faithful to what I believed to be an indifferent God. I saw Pope Francis as a wise religious leader for not following a thousand-year-old book by the letter. I welcomed the peaceful spiritual ways of Buddhism by reading about the philosophies of Siddharta Gautama. I understood the passionate faith shown by Muslims. I gained wisdom from the stories of Greek and Roman Gods. Egyptian mythology taught me how most religions are connected. The feeling of betrayal in my heart faded and turned into understanding. The hatred that wanted me to change the ideas of others turned into contentment. I grew wiser and more open-minded. I understood the importance of belief for others.
I understood that to some, the existence of a God is what gives their lives meaning. It is the pursuit of the kingdom of heaven that leads their everyday decision. Their fear of burning in an eternal flame of punishment stops them from committing harm to others. Attempting to take this away from them could cause them to stray away from a life of righteousness. Though I can differentiate right from wrong through my moral compass, some individuals need the motivation of heaven and hell.
In the past, I used to identify myself as an atheist. A person who does not believe in any God. But as I grow wiser and older, I learned of humility. I understood that my beliefs or nonbeliefs should be mine alone. Though we know that beyond the vastness of our skies lies an endless void of space, we are still unsure what lies beyond that void. Perhaps there is nothing beyond but more space or maybe that is where the Gods occupy themselves away from their creations.
Gods for me now aren’t holy figures that judge whether I go to a paradise or hell. They are not saviors that will carry me away in their chariot when the end comes. To me, they are a tool to guide people into a righteous and more humane path. Not many are lucky to have a strong moral compass that lets them know what is right and wrong. I am not even sure if my moral compass is accurate. All I know is that I should refrain from harming others so that I can live a peaceful and worry-free life.
For others, the teachings of their Gods determine what is good and what is bad. A holy book can tell a person to commit mass murder in honor of their deity. It can also counsel a person to accept his prodigal son with welcoming arms. The Gods and religions are necessary tools to keep peace and order among men. They have good effects that benefit everyone yet they also have horrible teachings that can result in the demise of others. This is why having religious figures like the Pope is an important aspect of most religions. They can act as a conduit between new religious ideas and old-age beliefs. Learning to accept this gave me a unique perspective that allowed me to find peace when all I had was internal turmoil. The Gods and religion are a symbol of what humans strive to achieve. An all-powerful protector and a promise of eternal life.