What I Learned Growing Up Without Religion
I never talk about religion.
I never used to talk about politics. But then that became impossible. And it made me start to examine the reason why I didn’t speak about certain subjects.
For me, it was about feeling uncomfortable. Or so I thought. The only thing I was ever uncomfortable about though, was being judged for my lack of knowledge. And truthfully, I lacked interest too.
I also enjoyed constructive debate. And what I found, in regard to politics and religion growing up, was that most debates were not constructive. They were one-sided. People voicing for their cause. And not listening.
But that was then. This is now.
And in some ways, things haven’t changed. Just go on Twitter and read the political discourse. Neither side in the Twittersphere is allowed to acquiesce or agree with one another. That is considered sacrilege in this political climate.
And as much as I won’t insert myself into the overall dialogue, I freely express my political opinions now. I don’t know how I couldn’t. And as I have opened this side up, I have started to explore the idea of religion, or lack thereof, again.
Growing Up Without Religion
I’m a Jew. Both my parents were Jewish. Both of their parents were Jewish. But I have been to temple maybe four times in my life. I didn’t have a bar mitzvah. My mom was as anti-religion as anyone. Not aggressively, but not a believer in any way in the benefits of religion. I am the same way.
My dad was more religiously affiliated. But I’m not sure he really believed. He felt that he should. So he did. But our entire conversation about having a bar mitzvah lasted one minute. He wasn’t a stickler. I am the same way with my kids.
Some may think I missed out on religious connection. But I didn’t. There was not one time in my life where I thought, I wish I knew more about my religion. Not after my mom died. Not after my dad died. Not after personal turmoil. I was fine growing up without religion.
Growing up without religion taught me to be a free universal thinker. There was no scripture to guide how I wanted to think or see the world. I’ve never even read the bible. It was assigned in 5th grade, but like with most other books at the time, I barely read it.
If you are judging me right now for being so areligious, that’s one of the main problems I find with all organized religion. Judgment. It’s not for me. Life is hard enough, especially when you are growing up. I don’t need fire and brimstone hovering over every decision I make.
Facing Religious Bigotry When You Are Areligious
The fact that I was areligious didn’t excuse me from bigotry. There was actually a time in high school when I was embarrassed about being Jewish. I used to always say I am a non-Jew Jew. Trying desperately to indicate my lack of religious affiliation. But when I said it I was trying to be less Jewish.
I don’t know why, but I did it. Even growing up in a progressive climate, I heard thousands of barbs about Jews. But I also heard disdain from other Jews who didn’t understand why I wasn’t more religious. I wanted to hide from that.
I couldn’t win.
To Jews I wasn’t acknowledging my heritage. Which was strange because I didn’t really even know my “heritage.” We celebrated Christmas in both households. It was as if my rejection of gefilte fish as a food was a rejection of the religion as a whole. Or my love of matzoh ball soup wasn’t valid because I thought Passover was boring AF.
But even as an areligious Jew growing up, I was consistently sprayed with shocking anti-Semitism. Maybe that’s what I was hiding from. No one knew I was Jewish. They said I didn’t have the “look.” So they would ask me if my Dad Jewed people down all the time. The funny thing is that my Dad did do that. But we called it dealmaking.
I remember being in line at Walgreens when I was in college in West Hartford, Connecticut in 1993. I was behind two guys and they were talking. I couldn’t help but overhear their ire. At Jews. For no reason at all. And for the first time I became proud of my affiliation. Even if I wasn’t interested in exploring it.
Becoming My Own Guide
I didn’t study actual philosophy until college, but growing up I developed a more philosophical view of the world without religion to guide me. I didn’t want a guide. And my parents were open to letting me figure out life the way I would.
Organized religion always disturbed me. At times, too much so. But I always thought it was counterintuitive to prescribe, from birth, how someone should act. And if they didn’t, it would be considered sinful. Or they would be shunned for using their own mind to think differently.
So I made my own life philosophy. It wasn’t written. It was learned on the fly. And adjustable. Because nothing was written in stone. And even those things that I thought were, were open to interpretation.
My philosophy is what led me to open up to religion. I still have no interest in participating in organized religion, but I don’t shy away from it. I can listen to what others gain from it without judging them. Just as I wish not to be judged for my opinions.
What I Learned Growing Up Without Religion
I learned to be a leader. I never wanted to be a follower. And that started with religion for me. I didn’t want someone to tell my how I was allowed to feel. Or live my life. Or think. Or what to believe. Because all of those things can change as we change.
I learned to be responsible. I couldn’t absolve myself by repenting. Or seek guidance from a book I didn’t understand. I relied on myself and my peers. We talked about things. And we changed our minds when we found out we were wrong about something.
I learned tolerance. Because I was never religiously grouped I never even understood a lack of tolerance for other people’s beliefs. I thought it was cool that different people had different religions. It just wasn’t for me. I was never fed information that would lead to me thinking someone was less than me.
Where I Stand With Religion
I don’t believe in organized religion. For me. That’s how I feel. I have nothing against others who love their religion. In an open dialogue I might have some questions, but it’s not my place to judge others for what they believe.
Religion is a very personal belief. And it can provide great solace for many people. But it doesn’t have to work for everyone. And everyone who doesn’t believe should not be cast off.
There are plenty of progressive religious institutions these days that are accepting of anyone who wants to participate. But there are still plenty of others who are not.
“My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.”
— Dalai Lama