I tried to write this piece about religion three different times, and was never able to get it to where I wanted it. As I was perusing my old blog that hasn’t had a fresh story in over three years, I was thrilled to find that I had actually already written this article. Back when the world was not a muddled cacophony of everyone trying to yell louder than the person next to them, when I could still process my thoughts clearly and easily. While I cut some of the original content due to current relevance and added some blurbs, it is largely still the same piece.
Religions has always made me uneasy. Back in 2014, I decided it was time to flesh out why:
When I was little, I went to CCD class every Sunday, as well as Sunday Mass. I remember, before CCD had even started, going to Mass with my grandparents on Sundays and having no problem with it at all. All that really mattered was that I got to spend time with them, I didn’t much care where. But as the years progressed and CCD and Mass became obligatory, I started to actively think about what I was being forced to do. My mom told me I had to keep going to CCD at least until I reached the point that I would be confirmed. According to Wikipedia: “Confirmation is one of the seven sacraments through which Catholics pass in the process of their religious upbringing. According to Catholic doctrine, in this sacrament they receive the Holy Spirit and become adult members of the Catholic Church.” And, so, I completed confirmation and told my mom I did not want to continue with CCD or continue going to mass. When my mom told the education director at our church that I would not be returning she told her that, “Confirmation does not equal graduation!” To which my mom responded, “Well for Dani, it does.” I don’t know why I’ve remembered that for all these years.
I realized fairly early on that I did not buy most of what had been taught to me. I considered, and still do, the Bible to be a book like any other. Any historical tome is simply one side’s accounting of the events. The only people who ever actually got to publish anything back then were victors in some capacity. And the Bible, in my opinion, is no exception. I believe that Jesus was an actual man who existed, maybe he even had followers. I don’t know, because just like the rest of us, I was not there. Do I believe that his mother was a virgin? Um, no. I’ve had two children, I know what goes into making them. And, while the making of babies and childbirth IS miraculous, the actual science of it is not. Fertilization is pretty straight forward.
Religion in itself is not what scares me. It’s what people do in the name of religion that does, as well as the Faithful’s ability to turn a willfully blind eye to the atrocities committed by their churches. How many wars were stoked and fueled by the concepts of religious intolerance and freedoms? How many hate crimes have been committed against Muslims, gay men and women, people of color, and every other marginalized demographic in the name of religious intolerance? How many young children have been raped by Catholic priests, carrying that burden with them forever, while their attackers enjoy fresh victims when they are simply placed in a new parish, rather than punished for their crimes.
I will not tolerate their intolerance. I do not abide their battle cry of “protecting religious freedom” when the only freedom they are in danger of losing is the freedom of bigotry, hate, exclusion, abuse, and persecution. I do not buy their claims of faithfulness when they pick and choose which doctrine and commandments to follow and which to condemn as it suits their personal need. I do not condone climbing the ladder of success on the backs of the less fortunate.
I believe in science. I believe that it is entirely hypocritical to be perfectly content enjoying the bounties of science with cars, electronic devices, central heating and air, running water straight into homes, ergonomic chairs, and any other number of countless, everyday luxuries, while discrediting science in general as fake or trying to pass off personal belief as fact.
I do not believe that sex is in any way dirty. If somebody wants to get a little freaky in the bedroom with rope, whips, chains, whatever, it’s nobody’s business. If all parties are willing, able, and enjoying themselves, then that is all that really matters. Do I believe that you should wait until marriage to have sex? Absolutely not. I think that experimenting is completely natural. Sex is a big part of any successful relationship. It’s not the only part, nor is it the most important, but it matters, big time. So if you marry a person and have never had sex, then you find out that you don’t like it, or simply don’t like it with your partner, it can turn your relationship sour quick. I believe you should test drive a car before you buy it just as I believe you should have sex with your partner before you marry them. Nor do I believe unmarried people should have to be abstinent because, well, that’s just cruel.
This is also why I’m vehemently against “abstinence only education.” I’ve been a teenager, I know how they think. If you explicitly tell a teenager that they are not to do something because it’s bad, terrible, you’ll go to hell, etc… guess what they’re going to do? You guessed it, exactly what you tell them not to. And, so, instead of warning them just not to do it, let’s educate them on how to protect themselves. When I was 13 or 14 my mom sat me down and had “the talk.” I had been through sex-ed at school, but they really only touch on the bare bones of the subject. She told me that sex can be a beautiful thing, and that if you wait to experience it with somebody that loves you and you love back, it will be a great memory instead of a horrible one. She told me that she didn’t think I should wait until marriage. She also told me that if there came a point that I thought I was ready to have sex, if I told her, she would take me to a gynecologist and make sure to educate me on how best to protect myself.
From the onset, I have had an open dialogue with my mom. She knew pretty much everything that was going on in my teenage life because she made it clear that I would not be punished for being honest with her. Of course there were limits to that, and if I had needed it, she certainly would have inflicted some pain, but all in all, I was a pretty good kid. She did not alienate me or make me feel bad for making the decision to have sex with my boyfriend. When I told her I was thinking about it, she said “okay,” called the doctor, made an appointment and got me on birth control. She had instilled me a sense of self that knew that just whoring around was an injustice to myself as a person and as a woman. She never discouraged me from sex, just from meaningless sex, insisting it was always better if there was love behind it (and, in case you’re wondering, I had a couple of one-night stands, and she was 100% right, as per usual).
I have always felt incredibly lucky to have her as a mother. So many of my friends were appalled by the idea of talking to their moms about sex. They couldn’t imagine anything more mortifying. And I know for a fact that a lot of their moms thought mine was insane, perhaps even unfit. But, unlike them, she always knew what was going on in my life. She knew I was safe and educated about all of the consequence of sex, because she had seen to it. Just because you refuse to talk about something, doesn’t mean it will just go away. Unpleasant things are a part of life. You can either ignore them, or address the problem head on and avoid any further catastrophes. I wasn’t a teen mother, I never got any STDs, and I never felt bad about sex. And, while I’ve always had a pretty good head on my shoulders, the bulk of that is due to my mom.
I consider myself Agnostic, and no, that is not a lazy man’s Atheist. I don’t know if there is a God. I don’t know if there is a Heaven or Hell. I just don’t know. I think I believe in a higher power, but I don’t know who or what that it is. I believe in nature, I believe in karma. I believe in the golden rule, that you get back what you give. I believe that it is our moral obligation to tend to and nurture, the weak, the sick, the young, the elderly, animals, and the environment. I believe that we need to learn to respect our natural resources. I believe that if we tried to connect with one another on a humanistic level, rather than trying to preach everyone into submission, we would find that we are much more alike than we would care to admit.
The world, admittedly, is a scary, uncertain, fucked-up place. But if you can see past all of that, you will find the beauty in the most unexpected places. All you have to do is be open to it.
Dani Strehle, Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder, is hoping to reshape the narrative to leave behind a better world for her daughters, so that they may sustain, rather than battle and rebuild.