Even though I am technically Jewish, born to two Jewish parents, I am not religious at all, nor was I raised religiously. We celebrated Jewish holidays more for the festive, fun, family atmosphere than out of any adherence to a certain faith. The only time we went to Temple was for other people’s weddings or Bar Mitzvahs. On really rare occasions my parents would take us to Temple on Children’s Night, because all kids would receive crayons and coloring books during the Rabbi’s sermon, but my parents would park us in the back row, far away from the guy in the front who was rambling on about something I never understood. The Rabbi would ask us if we wanted to move closer to the front as there were often 30 rows of empty chairs between us and the dais. We declined. It would only interfere with our quiet coloring. Basically, we were there for the coloring book and the free cookies and challah bread after the service.
I had friends who were religious. My best friend, Frances, apparently belonged to a very religious Christian household. Whenever one of her family members would leave the house they had to say, “Goodbye, I love you, and Mary and Jesus too” or something like that. When I spent the night at her house, her mother made me say prayers. I thought it was cute, but I had no idea who this God person was that I was supposedly talking to. This was also a violent family. The son was a vandal and arsonist, setting fire to the hill behind his house. I watched from afar as his father whipped him with a belt to teach him a lesson. Frances was often dragged by her hair down the stairs by her brother. The father was a lawyer and was often called upon to keep his own son out of jail.
I remember one time my babysitter took us to her catechism class. We got to paint pine cones and dip them in glitter. I think we were making a Christmas tree ornament, but alas, no tree graced our home. In fact, during Christmas break from school my sister and I would often lament that all the stores were closed because of those Christians. We were the ones going to the movie theatre and eating Chinese food on Christmas.
I got a vague understanding of who this God person was when my friends would talk about him. They all seemed to think it was cool that we didn’t have to go to Church on Sunday, as they mostly thought it just wrecked their Sunday morning. I remember asking my Christian friends why they believed there was a guy sitting on a throne up in the sky. None of them gave me a particularly compelling answer. Most said, “Because the bible tells me so” or “My parents told me there is a God so there must be.”
I am really grateful that I had parents who were not religious. I never had to break free of religious indoctrination. I never feared God or loved him. I never feared going to Hell, which to me was this fictitious prison that bad Christians got sent to if they angered God. Sometimes I was told that God was a loving God and sometimes he was furiously angry, wiping out entire civilizations on a whim. The story was very confusing. Being non-religious, I never felt like I was missing out on anything important. It all seemed so silly to me to believe in some invisible guy who was constantly watching you to make sure you were good. I thought that job belonged to Santa Claus.
As I got older, some of my friends told me they feared for my soul because I wasn’t baptized. They told me I was automatically going to go to Hell because I was not a Christian and did not believe in Jesus. Honestly, that seemed sort of stupid to me. I recall saying to one of them, “So if I am really loving and kind and good but not baptized, I go to Hell? And someone else can be a murderer or pedophile and as long as he believes in Jesus, he gets to go to Heaven?” They told me yes. I’m sure it’s not as easy as that, right? I said to these friends, “Why would you want to believe in a God that punished the good and let the bad into Heaven?” They told me believing was not a choice but a commandment. None of it made sense to me.
There was one thing I liked about religion. Community. There were a lot of Christians who seemed very kind and loving. These were usually old ladies and they ran the church parking lot sales. I met many Christians who were so kind, compassionate and caring. People in the church took care of each other. Families looked out for one another. I thought that was kind of cool. I asked my parents what would happen to us if we were ever destitute and poor and didn’t have the Church to take care of us. They told me I didn’t need to worry about that, as we did quite well financially. So I stopped worrying.
By the time I got to high school I assumed I was just an atheist. I didn’t believe in God and that was the end of my story, or so I thought. I found myself praying to God when I was in trouble. I found myself making deals with Him all the time. I hoped I was wrong about God because it sure felt comforting to think there was a kindly old guy looking out for me from above. I couldn’t rationally convince myself that He existed, but when you’re in trouble, you’ll reach for any hand that might pull you out! Still, I never saw any evidence that He existed. I figured if he was really there and all powerful like people said, that he surely knew I didn’t believe in Him and if He had an issue with it I was sure He would take it up with me personally.
I like how my mom puts it, “I don’t believe in God but I’m afraid to say that out loud in case He gets mad at me.” Lordy.
As I matured I realized that religion is man’s way of trying to interpret the divine presence inside all of us, of trying to make sense of the memories we retain even after the veil is drawn and we are left here, seemingly disconnected from Source. I reconnected with Source on my own. I explored the divine inside of me and found God staring back. I began to remember where I came from, where we ALL come from. And I began to see how we are all connected, simply projections of Source incarnated into outwardly disparate bodies. I didn’t have this realization in a church, and I didn’t read about it in a book. I felt it. I remembered it. I stopped cutting myself off from Source and Source came back to me.
Today I know there is a God, but God is not some man sitting on a throne pointing his finger at us in judgment. God is what’s gazing back at you when you look in the mirror. Which aspect of Him are you? Are you His compassion? His love? Or are you His anger? His judgment? His intolerance?
I’m glad I grew up without a religion. It left me free to find God on my own, in my own way, and in my own time. I doubt I will ever be religious. I find it unnecessary. God is either in your heart or not there at all. You either carry Him with you all the time, or cut yourself off from Him. Have you found the divine presence yet? Can you remember where you came from and where you will return? Does God reside in your church, or in a book, or is he sitting quietly in your heart, waiting for you to notice Him?