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By Brianna Deigan, Communications Intern
July 29, 2015
Religion can be one of the most difficult of our individual intersectionalities to express and understand. Unlike race, gender, or physical ability, it is not a quality that can be easily judged and labeled by the rest of society with a quick glance. Even for individuals who do visibly express their religious orientation, we each have a unique faith journey and perspective that will only ever be truly understood by ourselves. In my case, it was a journey of leaving the faith I was raised to follow, and discovering what I believed to be true on my own.
As an infant, I was baptized into the Lutheran faith, and as a child, I was brought to church every Sunday. Although I identified as Christian, my mind was in a constant state of confusion. Even as a child, I silently questioned the lessons that were taught to me. As I matured, I came to the realization that these lingering inquiries were more substantial than the mere occasional doubt. I questioned everything that built the foundation for the faith I was claiming to believe. After inner reflection, I came to terms with the fact that this disbelief of mine was no phase, but instead characteristic of my entire life thus far. As a child, I recall pretending to pray and believing that was what everyone else was doing too. The Bible, Jesus, God, heaven, and hell: I viewed these as stories to inspire moralities within us. I could not accept them as the truth.
Admitting this to myself was difficult. If not Christian, what am I? Atheist? Agnostic? Although I had heard of the terms, I wasn’t ready to full on embrace that identity. Atheism is typically considered to be the disbelief of a god. Agnosticism, on the other hand, is generally accepted to be the absence of knowledge of whether or not a god exists: they do not claim either. The pressure to choose was only heightened by the stigmas of being close-minded and immoral that are often associated with disbelief. It is dumbfounding to me as to why these stereotypes exist: the choice to not believe in a god is no more or less close-minded than to believe that there is a god. In addition, morality is not something that has to be instilled through faith, but can be achieved through many aspects of life. Nonetheless, these negative stigmas still exist, as they do for all faiths, only adding to the deeming nature of claiming a religious identity. Any identity for that matter. Which raises the question: why identify ourselves?
Placing ourselves in a rigidly-defined box of “who we are” is not fair to ourselves, and is hardly accurate at all. Throughout our lives, adjectives are constantly being added to the identity we all are given: a human being. Our identities then continue to evolve as we are labeled according gender, age, race, ethnicity, culture, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, political beliefs, social class, education level, occupation, and physical/mental ability, whether society or us assign them to us. Yet even then, these words are but a measly effort to describe who we, in fact, are. Each one of these adjectives used to describe us intersect with each other and every experience we have. They are our intersectionalities. It is why each of our experiences are so unique from anyone else’s. We are never just a “man” or “woman,” “this” or “that”, but everything combined. This idea can be seen throughout history as people continually fight for their rights. For example, although men are considered to have always had the advantages in American society, the same cannot be said for men who are not white, heterosexual, wealthy, Christian, or educated.
These underlying differences that exist between every human being make it easy to view the world from an “us” versus “them” perspective. It is this perspective that breeds the fear of the unknown and hatred for what is not understood. Interfaith and multicultural dialogue, interactions, and experiences are key to creating a worldwide understanding of each other and defeating negative prejudices. In this way, our eyes can be opened to the similarities that exist within our complexities. No, this is not an easy task. However, in the wise words of Theodore Roosevelt, “nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty.” My challenge to everyone would be to question yourself, question your beliefs, and question the labels used to create barriers among us. We as individuals are never done growing into ourselves, wherever that path may take us.