Hint: Don’t do the latter.
The late Thich Nhat Hanh once said, “Sharing does not mean wanting others to abandon their own spiritual roots and embrace your faith. That would be cruel.”
The challenge is that there are some religions that cling to the notion that their views are absolute; the one “truth” in a sea of false ones or misconceptions. It’s a dangerous type of viewpoint that leads (and has led) to acts of alienation, assimilation, violence, and war. Christianity isn’t the only one, but it’s the one I’m personally familiar with, so I’ll be talking about it here.
As a happy, curious non-theistic individual living in an environment predominantly driven by Christian views, I often find myself cornered in religious conversations. Many Christians hold the belief – or conviction – that it’s their moral duty to sway others to their religion. However, in the midst of their determination to save the people of the world from themselves, they often miss how much they alienate them.
I’ve never felt happier than when I finally let go of the Christian faith and embraced my own journey as merely a human navigating this wondrous, mysterious thing called life. This doesn’t mean I believe my views are superior to those of different faiths, and I am well aware that my views are not for everyone. I would never try to sway a person away from their particular religion – not even Christianity, despite my numerous disagreements with it. No matter the beliefs or background, I try my best to find common ground in the views of others while listening to their stories.
But all too often, I find my willingness to provide space for others’ beliefs is not reciprocated. I flinch when people project their god and their views upon me. Whether it’s the petty discrimination of condemning my choice to get a tattoo or blaming my grappling with feelings of anxiety and stress as a “lack of faith”, I am constantly reminded that these people have no room for beliefs outside of their own. I am an outsider – a “lost sheep” in their eyes. At best, this is met with unnecessary (and inappropriate) sympathy. At worst, condemnation.
Yet in their blindness, they miss how full and rich and fulfilled my life is in the absence of their beliefs. They fail to see the wood for the trees, and that our paths ultimately lead to the same place of peace.
I have not committed a crime by placing ink in my skin. If my body is a temple, I merely changed the wallpaper.
I am not lost because I have a therapist and am learning ways to better handle anxiety and stress. I’m someone breaking a cycle of behaviors that no longer serve me.
I do not lack morality or hope, and I do not fear death. My lack of faith in any god is not a lack of experience or understanding. “When you truly experience God, you would understand,” they say. Yet I have heavily explored the path of Christianity, have felt the experience they call God, and still came to the conclusion that Christianity – and religion in general – was not right for me.
My abandonment of religion was an evolution in my spiritual journey, not a detour away from it. Spiritual beliefs are personal, and because they are personal, they’re bound to differ tremendously from one person to another. For many, one’s spiritual beliefs are a singular source of hope and purpose. To try to force another person to abandon their own and adopt yours is an attempt to rob them of authentic hope and purpose.
I still don’t know what to say when faced with situations where others project their beliefs upon me – whether it’s condemnation or an attempt at “calling out God’s hand in my life”. Often I keep silent or chuckle with good humor, though these moments happen at an uncomfortable frequency. The unspoken message I receive is that I should embrace their god or play along.
But in my head, I sing, “They don’t speak for me at all.”