Growing up in the USA, my country does to some degree stand by its old reputation as a ‘melting pot of ethnicities, cultures and religions’.  But one thing that seems to be ever-present is this sort of religion battle, especially seen out west in California, where there’s an abundance of different religions as well as cults.  My aunt Karen lives in the San Francisco bay area, I’ve visited her a handful of times, always an enjoyable trip.  But every time I visited California, the one thing I took notice of was what was happening along the city streets. Little portable tables set up in uniform rows, tightly packed next to each other, the people sitting behind them sometimes wearing shirts advertising their church or temple.  Laid out on the tables were books, pamphlets and sometimes a running video explaining who they were, what they were about, and how your life could be better if you joined their ‘mission’. Mission? What mission? I always asked myself that question… why do I have to join your mission so my life could be better?  Why can’t I be content in my own mission, even if that mission might not match up to yours?  Walking further down the street there was a table promoting Buddhism, along with a few men dressed in traditional Buddhist monk robes, dancing to a song in front of their display.  A few tables down from that I came upon a Christian Science (Scientology) table.  Scattered across it were pamphlets and books from L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology.  Those people were very aggressive in their approach, trying to get me to sit down and listen to their stories of how Scientology changed their lives for the better. I politely said no thanks and continued on my merry way.  A Judaism table, Christianity table and a Jehovah’s Witness table followed.  As I stood there in San Fransisco, staring at all these religious tables, I couldn’t help but look at these and think, All of you people are like hungry fishermen trying to hook and line some bait. They all wanted the same thing: followers; believers.  I found it to be like small children at recess, the more people you had on your team the cooler you were.  There was this certain competitiveness in the air, undeniable.

I was raised Catholic, keeping in the majority of most Italian-American families. I attended catholic school for a few years then transferred to public school in Green.  My parents put me and my brother in Sunday school, which I hated going to.  Even from an early age, I deeply appreciated my weekends, including the extra sleep I got, and despised waking up early.  My mom and dad felt like they were enriching me and my brother’s lives by giving us some religious education, but really looking back on it, I don’t feel like it made any impression on who I am today.  We went to church throughout my school career, elementary, middle and high school.  We weren’t one those families that went to church picnics, church bingo night or church potluck night; we weren’t part of that hyped up religious social net.  But the one thing I began to resent more and more during the 1.5 hour church session, was how the preacher never neglected to point out that, the people who lacked religion also lacked structure, happiness, morality and direction in their lives. He insinuated that a life without religion was an empty one, a lost one.  How so? I wondered.  How am I lost if I don’t have religion?  How do I lack morals if I don’t have a religion?  These things had increasingly less meaning in my mind.  I would sit there in the pew, look around at my fellow patrons repeating after the preacher, sitting, standing, repeating this zombie-like movement about a dozen times after each prayer was read.  I couldn’t help but think, you people are robots, holy crap (yes, pun intended).

If the suggested outcome of church was to leave there feeling more fulfilled, it didn’t do it for me.  I left there feeling more confused and analytical more than anything…thinking about what the hell that preacher meant when he suggested people like me, of a more agnostic nature, lead an empty, unhappy, misguided life because of a lack of religion, also with no moral compass.  Suggesting that people without a religion lacked a moral compass sounded like complete bullshit to me.  The preacher drew Jesus as the people’s conscience, and as following good Christian values, you had to conduct your life as so.  If you didn’t you were that much further away from eternity.  Church sometimes came off like an interrogation session.  Did you pray today?  Did you ask for forgiveness today?  Did you attend church this week?  Did you make time for God in some way, shape or form? These were the questions the preacher would ask.  And of course, I sat there in the pew, staring off into the stained glass window, distracted by the saturation of colors and wondered, what if I didn’t do any of these things? Why do I have to do these things? Who are you?

When I moved out of my dad’s house and into my first apartment, that’s when I started to deepen my sense of individuality.  He would ask me how my week went and if I had gone to church, my reply was always no.  Not because I was some kind of atheist or brainwashed by a cult, but because I just couldn’t get into the idea of organized religion.  It didn’t work for me.  I couldn’t understand having to go to an establishment with a large group of people, singing hymns, praying, sitting, standing, taking communion and making monetary donations. I felt like if I believed in some higher power, why couldn’t I do it on my own time, in my own way.  Why did I have to boast my worship to other people in a public establishment such as a church?  And most of all, how did I lack morals if I didn’t have the lord in my life?  I know right from wrong, and I can have integrity in my actions and carry on good deeds willfully in life, without doing it for the lord…I have my own conscience and my own sense of worth, I don’t have to prove my actions to some religious board of trustees.  How about I have my own moral compass.  The place I where I choose to worship, is the earth.  The songs I sing, are the songs that reflect different chapters of my life….