That's my religion
Maybe I should just say that I believe in the power of Love
By Arezou Raeisghasem
June 7, 2002
There is a question which I never know how to answer, one that I think about
often. No matter how many times people ask me, I can never think of a thorough response
that can express my true feelings on the subject of religion, without sounding defensive
or insulting. When someone asks me what religion I belong to, the first thing that
pops into my head is to tell the truth, I don't believe in religion.
Yet, I think about it from the other persons perspective and I fear that they
think I am some kind of heathen that worships the devil with animal sacrifices in
some dreary basement. I usually end up saying I don't practice any religion, but
then I am asked, "What religion were you born into?"
Now, maybe I'm crazy but I have never really understood this question. How is
it possible to be "born" into a religion? Isn't religion a faith that you
possess in your heart, a way of life, a system of values by which you live? How is
that possible at the time of birth? Begzarim...
Okay my answer: I was "born" a Muslim. This gives a whole other impression
of me which is completely inaccurate because although I was "born" Muslim,
my family moved to the United States when I was 3-years old.
My first experiences with religion were fighting with my parents about having
to put on panty hose (I hated those things!) to go to a Southern Baptist Church on
Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights. To this day, friends and family in Iran still
call my father Haj Aga and my mother Haj Khanoom, they were "devout" Muslims
back in the day and as good Muslims (who wanted to show off their wealth and prestige)
they made a pilgrimage to Mecca.
If any one of those people knew that only a few years later both my mother and
father "accepted Jesus Christ in their heart" and were baptized to proclaim
their new found faith in public, they would not believe it. My father has always
told me to assimilate with grace into whatever situation I find myself in. Whether
right or wrong, as the saying goes, when in Paris, do as the Parisians do.
Meanwhile, I am part of a society in which everyone claims to be one thing, but
acts completely opposite. When I was in Iran I would ask questions like, Why are
you Muslim? What makes you Muslim? And usually the answer was "uhhh, well...
ummm... I was born Muslim." Yeah, so? What does that mean exactly? Iran is a
place where people have to live dual lives, the public and private spheres are so
different from each other. For me it is hard to understand, however. I suppose for
them it is a way of life.
I have an uncle whose employers are very religious,
so, at work he comes off as a very religious man, he takes his breaks for namaz,
he does all the things his employers expect of a devout Muslim. As soon as he gets
home says hello to his highly liberated wife who has been arrested a few times because
she refuses to not wear red toe nail polish and has his nightly glass of whiskey.
He is deathly afraid that one of his co-workers or bosses will see him out with
his family, take one look at his wife wearing her orange lipstick (what's up with
that?), and know that he is putting up a front at work.
Maybe that is why, for me, religion is arbitrary. Does it really matter if you
are a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, a Buddhist, or even an atheist, as long as you
have a good heart and try to add something positive to humanity through your existence
on this earth?
In my opinion, religion is nothing but a culture in which someone feels comfortable
in. If you are born into a Hindu family, you might be more comfortable with that
culture, and therefore identify yourself with that religion.
More than anything else, what makes me shun religion is the way in which people
throughout history have used it to justify greed, malice, and hatred. Killing has
nothing to do with God; it has nothing to do with religion; it is only about power
and greed. How dare anyone use God to not only justify but condone and praise the
horrific things done in the name of religion?
Personally, I am most familiar with the Christian religion. From what I gather,
I am a sinful, unworthy, unholy, and undeserving spec of dust who only through the
grace of Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for my sins, am I given a chance to
be forgiven for the horrible person that I am because of the original sin that Adam
and Eve committed by eating fruit from the forbidden tree.
If I accept the holy spirit into my heart, I will be
forgiven for being such a horrible sinner and God will forgo his wrath on my soul
and I will be saved. Give me a break. I do a pretty good job of being hard on myself
without religion having to tell me those things.
I mean, I regularly think I am a worthless piece of crap who can't do anything
right, but isn't religion supposed to help me not think that about myself?
Shouldn't that be the point of religion? To me, this sounds like a very revengeful
and hateful God who is very concerned about his own ego.
Maybe I'm way off here, but isn't God supposed to be above all that? If God is
so loving and wonderful, why would he even be angry, or have wrath? What's with the
eternal damnation and revenge when God is allegedly a loving God? It is about fear.
If religion didn't have the power of fear, it could not control its followers,
and it would not exist. "If you don't follow our rules, God will punish you."
It has worked for centuries, in every country, with every religion, and it will continue
to work until people understand that God is Love, and fear is but a mortal reality.
So now we are back to my original question?what to say when people ask what religion
I am? Do I say?I don't believe in religion, religion is arbitrary, it is just culture,
religion is about control of the masses, or that religion tells you what other people
think and demands that you accept their truths instead of seeking to find your own
Maybe I should just say that I believe in the power of Love, in whatever way each
person chooses to express it. That's my religion.
So much from God
That I can no longer
A Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim,
A Buddhist, a Jew.
The Truth has shared so much of Itself
That I can no longer call myself
A man, a woman, an angel,
Or even pure
Befriended Hafiz so completely
It has turned to ash
Of every concept and image
My mind has ever known.
Translated by Daniel Ladinsky