A Little Religion

Queens, New York

Back in New York! I’m here for the week pet sitting for my brother and sister-in-law for a birthday trip they’re on in Puerto Rico. While here, I went down to Manhattan a few times to meet with friends, drink, play poker, and talk. Yesterday however, I went to a religious event for young people in the West Village and it got me philosophizing. 

For context, I’m not a religious person anymore. I grew up conservative Christian, but haven’t followed along for over half a decade. I’ll get into a little more detail in a second, but I want to give a little more context. I’m a very open person who wanted to try the Islamic month of Ramadan and read about the Quran while I was in Turkey. I also joined the Jewish fraternity in college and went to many events and talked with many people about religion. Mostly it stops here at Abrahamic religions, but I would be willing to learn more about others. 

So this religious event yesterday was Jewish, and my name is Elijah so I was able to be a part of the event without drawing attention to the fact that I’m not Jewish. There was a half hour class where the speaker gave advice on relationships and faith. I sat around feeling jealous of the Jewish community. Not the first time! One of my favorite parts of talking to Jewish people is the “Jewish Geography” topic where you talk about where each person is from and try to identify other people you may know in common. It shows how well connected the Jewish community can stay even across a ginormous country like ours.

Community is really the best part of a religion. People around you who accept you and know you and go through life with you. Community is a reason to get into religion and stay in religion. If I wasn’t disenfranchised by religion, I would think that it would still be a good idea to find a church in Philadelphia to find that community again. But then I thought about the difference between the friend who invited me to this event and myself — after all, we are both very social people so what about the community got me off of religion while keeping him in?

In 2015, when I moved from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, with my religious mother to Baltimore, Maryland, with my agnostic father, I still wanted to go to church. I loved my friends, I wanted to be in the faith. I went for a few weeks to a church and never got very attached to the community. It didn’t matter that it was a different denomination and very different political backdrop. It mattered that I couldn’t connect to people. That was never the same with my friend, who always had a religious environment and even going off to college had a supportive and fun environment that wanted him.

Apart from community, I also think that it’s good to have a moral compass and to not just figure out whether something is right or wrong by others based on how you feel at the time. But I’m not convinced that that’s where the church should come in. I want to share a quote from James Baldwin, civil rights author who saw the similarities between the oppressions by white people and the Christian church: “It is not too much to say that whoever wishes to become a truly moral human being (and let us not ask whether or not this is possible; I think we must believe that it is possible) must first divorce himself from all the prohibitions, crimes, and hypocrisies of the Christian church. If the concept of God has any validity or any use, it can only be to make us larger, freer, and more loving. If God cannot do this, then it is time we got rid of Him.” (Letter from a Region in my Mind, James Baldwin)

Still, I can see the benefits of a religion between community and a moral compass. It would be nice if you could have those without having to worry about the theistic and political aspects of following a religion… There might not ever be an update to this post, but if there ever is, I’ll let you know!

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