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Locked into Faith
“Hey Bob! I’m so glad you could make it!”
I walked through the large wooden doors and into a thin hallway crowded with people.
“Bobeeeeeeeeeee!” My little cousin Breanna came running up to me, huge grin on her face and crucifix earrings bouncing with her hair. “Yay! You’re here! We are starting super soon and you are going to be on my team! Hurry up and register, the prayer group starts in, like, two seconds!”
Last New Year’s Eve I spent the night with my cousins at a church-run Youth Lock In. I spent the night locked in a building with about forty very religious teenagers and ten very religious adults. I am not a religious person.
How was I supposed to get ready for something when I had no idea what to expect when I got there? Was I supposed to dress for church? I had been once or twice but I most certainly did not appreciate the idea of skirts and uncomfortable shoes. Eventually I settled for dressing casually and hoped that I wasn’t supposed to be in some kind of formal monkey-suit. Furthermore, how was I supposed to act? What should I say if questions about faith were to come up? Before leaving for the community center I spent some time just thinking about what I would say to avoid or to politely duck out of conversations of religion. I even thought what would happen if I did end up in a situation where I was stuck discussing religion. How did I go about telling a group of Born-Again, Fundamentalist Christians that I was a full-on Atheist? I didn’t know how to say that I didn’t have anything against Christianity; I just didn’t believe in it.
When I got there I was surprised. There were no khakis, no collared shirts and no monkey-suits. Nobody was gathered into a circle singing hymns. What I saw were normal teenagers doing normal teenager things. I could hear the squeaking of sneakers on the basketball court floor. I could see kids laughing and playing card games, melted into mildew-covered couches with rude remarks written on the seams. I saw a group of boys wearing Star Wars t-shirts and pretending they knew how to play pool, slouching around the table and acting cocky whenever they happened to get a badly aimed ball into one of the pockets. However, when we began the actual games, the differences became more evident.
We started with a prayer for safety. The entire flock gathered into a circle, grasping hands and touching shoulders as they went. It felt so wrong for me to be there. I felt I was intruding on something sacred. When we were told to hold hands with our neighbors, I didn’t know what to do. Would it be wrong to bow my head and pretend to be speaking to a divine being while truly counting the number of people wearing converse? I felt like a faulty link in the chain of faith that the congregation was attempting to create. With the people on either side of me bowing their heads and muttering thanks and prayers, I didn’t know what to do. I stood awkwardly, hands sweating, eyes open glancing around at the people around me. It seemed to be forever before the prayer was through. Heads began to bob back up and the announcer took his microphone in hand and began announcing what would be going on that night. Everything continued normally as if nothing had happened, and of course for them, nothing had. For me it was as if I were on a different planet. I didn’t understand it at all. I didn’t even know what to think of the people. Being immersed in something so alien was strange and surprisingly interesting.
Unfortunately, the thing that sticks in my mind more than the fun and games, however, was the preaching. Proselytize: v. to try to convert somebody to a religious faith or political doctrine. I had thought that ‘proselytize’ was just another vocabulary would that I would never use again. However, this is exactly what happened that night. At about 6:30 that morning everybody was losing steam. The planned games had all been used up a lot faster than anyone thought they would and yawns were spreading like the flu through the community center. At 6:45 we were asked to all come upstairs and sit down in front of the fold out stage in the gym. Andy Glover, my cousin, was presiding over everything and he took the microphone and began to speak.
“I want each and every one of you to bow your heads for just a minute and think,” His voice rang out overly loud through the loud speakers and I looked at the floor, trying to blend in with everyone else. “Think about where your life would be were it not for our Lord. Think where you would be now had the Lord God not given His own son, Jesus Christ, for our sins.”
Where would I be? I would be right here, where I am right now, sitting cross legged and counting the cracks between the floorboards.
What he said in this speech made me more uncomfortable than any praying or discussion of faith could, and yet somehow I felt myself grow more and more interested. The discussion was about who Jesus was and I started out listening. Everything that he preached was so different from what I had grown up believing. My viewpoint changed when I listened to this. I do not believe in a God. That has not changed. But I do believe in the power of Faith and I respect the people who do follow in a religion. I was raised to make my own choices and learn from what I live. I learned that the leaves fall off trees in the fall because of ultra-violet lights and the heliocentric theory tells us that we are not the center of the universe, the sun is. I have been raised to make my own decisions and nothing I have seen has lead me to believe in a God. My Atheist views will never change but I am prepared to live with and love people who believe different things than I. Religion is not something that should separate people. It should ultimately bring people together, either through similarities or differences of faith.