BRISTOL, Connecticut, U.S.A. — Chances are pretty good that I don’t believe in the same religion as you do.
I am not a Christian, or a Catholic, or anything else, for that matter.
I don’t really have a religion — that wasn’t the way I was raised. In fact, until I started going to school and mingling with other kids, I had never really heard of religion.
But since then, boy, have I been hearing a lot about it.
The first person I remember talking to me about God was some girl in my elementary school, who felt she ought to try to convert me.
“Do you believe in God?”
Now, I know my parents must have explained to me a bit about what religion and God were by then, because I remember knowing perfectly clearly that my family didn’t believe in God and I wasn’t ashamed to admit it.
Apparently I should have been — at least I guessed that was what the girl thought. She seemed pretty shocked, and then promptly told me I should believe in Him.
“Why?” I countered.
I’m not sure exactly what she said, but I remember something to the affect of, “Because if you die, God can save you.”
Of course she was young, and ignorant, but now that I’m older I still find this explanation disturbing. It scares me because, even though I know she was just a little girl and probably had a very dim understanding of spirituality, in my opinion there are some adults out there who don’t seem to get it.
I won’t pretend that I’m an expert on the subject; I am undoubtedly not. But from what I have heard about religion, I always thought it was supposed to involve love and caring for the human race, being a good person and doing what is right.
But over the years it’s become increasingly obvious that many people aren’t as concerned with those things as they are with other things — like assurance of getting a nice, cushy place in Heaven if they should happen to die.
It also seems to me that the image of being religious is far too important to some people — more important than being good and kind, for instance.
I remember one occasion recently when a group of classmates and I were having a discussion of some topic related to religion. I said something to one kid — I think maybe I asked whether or not he went to church. It must have offended him that I, an atheist, would have the gall to ask him such a question, because he said in a very huffy tone, “Well, at least I believe in something.”
Apparently that something didn’t include accepting what other people believe — or do not believe.
There have also been several people who have tried to convert me, or at least convince me that my beliefs are wrong.
“Do you celebrate Christmas?” is the question they most commonly ask when they discover I am not religious.
“Yes.” I respond, knowing what will come next.
“Well, Christmas is a Christian holiday.”
At this point I’d like to point out to them the similarities of Christmas and the Winter Solstice, and the many pagan aspects of the holiday. But usually they don’t want to listen, so it isn’t any use anyway.
Instead I explain that my family doesn’t celebrate Christmas because of the birth of Christ, but that it’s more of a celebration of family togetherness and love.
They usually don’t accept my explanation. To them, Christmas is about the Lord and Savior. Obviously, He is the only reason they celebrate the holiday — it has nothing whatsoever to do with family and love. See — it’s all about the image.
And they aren’t just worried about people who don’t practice a religion
— people with different religions also bother them.
For example, my history teacher told us the other day that he’d had a class who actually said they did not want to learn about the religion of Islam. And these were not ignorant little elementary school children — they were ignorant little high school children.
I can understand these students made the mistake of assuming the worst about the religion after September 11th. But that is what it was — a mistake.
The events of that horrible day have nothing to do with the Islam religion. These people would know that if they had chosen to learn about it rather than to remain ignorant; It had everything to do with hatred and bigotry — which is exactly what those students sitting in the history classroom that afternoon displayed.
Now please don’t read this and think I am an anti-religious person. The truth is that there are many religious people who are good and kind and truly believe in their religion. There are plenty of religious people who are perfectly accepting of other people’s beliefs. And to all those who fit that description, I’d like to say this: thank you.
But, unfortunately, it is equally true that there are many people — of all races, all religions, and all backgrounds — who are bigoted, hateful, and ignorant.
They may hide under white masks and robes, they may plan attacks on your country — or they may just be sitting in your classroom.
They may be anywhere — and everywhere.
Katie Jordan is a Reporter for Youth Journalism International.