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That's my religion
Maybe I should just say that I believe in the power of Love

By Arezou Raeisghasem
June 7, 2002
The Iranian

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 truth?

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
With me

That I can no longer call myself
A man, a woman, an angel,
Or even pure

Love has
Befriended Hafiz so completely
It has turned to ash
And freed

Of every concept and image
My mind has ever known.

Translated by Daniel Ladinsky

Comment for The Iranian letters section
Comment to
Arezou Raeisghasem

By Arezou Raeisghasem

All I really need
is to be quiet, sit still, and read some Hafiz
By Arezou Raeisghasem

Not lost, forever
By Arezou Raeisghasem


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