What's God got to do with it?

Religion can define and affect a person in so many ways, as it did for me; but there came a point when I stopped and pondered on how far I can let religion rule my everyday life. My Catholic education began when I was four years old. While going through elementary and high school, I went to church once a week, taking some sort of religion-based class every year. My religious education included knowing about morality, values and what being a “good person” meant in the eyes of God and Jesus Christ.

This was ongoing for 13 years--almost half of my life--until I ended the religious aspects subjected towards my lifestyle. Now, at the age of 27, I can confidently say that all those years of religious education and guidance were completely unnecessary in helping me become the person that I am today.

However, I used to enjoy being religious. When I did go to church, I was an active participant in every aspect of the proceedings, including singing in the church choir.

Prayer was also a regular part of my life. I asked God to protect my family, friends, and myself--as well as everyone else in the world who needed a helping hand.

But something happened in my second year of confirmation class at St. Monica High School, and the enjoyment vanished.

We were given a homework assignment that consisted of over 100 questions that was due in a few months. One of the questions was to find out where my local priest lived, write down the location, and find out some general information about that priest. It was at that moment that I wondered what that question had to do with religion and being closer to God, which is why I was putting myself through confirmation in the first place.

The entire assignment was bogus, causing me to stop going to confirmation class altogether.

Then, in my senior year, I went to Kairos, a retreat that was supposed to bring those who attended closer to God. For me, God was never a part of it. All the retreat did was give me a chance to connect with classmates I wouldn’t have associated with otherwise.

After I graduated high school, religion came to be less and less important in my life. I made it a point to question everything about religion and to do research--not only on Catholicism--but the Judeo-Christian movement as a whole. The more I searched, the less I felt that I needed it as a part of my life, and I disconnected myself from it.

My main issues with religion were all the rules and restrictions that seemed to be inescapable. Does God really care if you have sex before marriage? Or keep kosher? Or if you’re attracted to members of the same sex? There has to be more important things for God to worry about than these trivialities. These are aspects of life that we should be deciding on by ourselves, without the aid of religion.

I have friends who are gay and they’re some of the greatest people I know. I love me some bacon, which is the furthest thing from kosher. And as far as I’m concerned, falling in love with that special someone can’t happen until you’ve had sex. I hope to be married someday and that can’t happen if I’m not in love with the person. So, something’s got to give, and these decisions should be only ours to make.

These issues are not based on faith, nor are they conducive to strengthening one’s personal relationship with God or Jesus. They are merely traditional practices and attitudes that should be treated more as harmless personal preferences, rather than damning life choices that will land someone in “Hell.”

The other misnomer is the notion that morality and values are formed because of a religious foundation. The most classic example of this is the “Ten Commandments,” which teach you not to steal, kill, commit adultery and so on. I used to follow the Commandments, and while I wasn’t perfect, I genuinely did my best.

But when you think about it--with the exception of the commandments specifically mentioning God--they’re all common sense things, practices we should know as we grow up. “Thou shall not kill; thou shall not steal.”  This is a common sense thing any moral , decent person easily understands.

A person doesn’t need to go to church, pray, or even believe in a higher power to understand that it’s morally wrong to do those things. A person can learn to be moral and virtuous without the aid of religion.

Even the comprehension of gray-area commandments such as, “honor your father and mother,” or “thou shall not commit adultery,” come with experience more than anything else.

How are you supposed to know that it’s wrong to cheat on someone unless you have actually cheated or been cheated on, and experienced the immense feeling of guilt that leads you to never do it again? Real life lessons come through making mistakes, not by reading religious books.

Don’t get me wrong. Religion definitely has all the right intentions. It gives people a sense of direction in their lives, helps them feel better about the concept of death, and it’s a genuine opportunity to relate to those with the same belief structures.

But when you start letting all the little rules and restrictions take away your inherent right to learn from your mistakes, that’s where the problems arise.

If it wasn’t for me deciding to experience my life on my own terms, without the constraints of religion, I wouldn’t have had the experiences that made me who I am today.

Some experiences were difficult, and I made many mistakes along the way, but they are my experiences that I will remember for life.

I would rather go through life learning from my own mistakes, instead of constantly worrying about what God, Jesus and the rest of my religious community might think of me when I make a mistake.

Life is too short for that kind of rationale.