If you’re reading this, I’m sorry you had to find out this way.
Christianity was something that was always present in my life, but it made me feel like an outsider. It felt like a rigidly foreign concept that I could never genuinely grasp or make a sincere connection with because of the impossible standards it set for me before I even knew who I was as a person.
There's this story about my family when they were lost at sea. In the midst of a war with nowhere to go, with no help in sight; my Grandmother closed her eyes and prayed. She’s never prayed before that moment. I don’t even think she knew what Christianity was, but there she stood on a boat in the middle of ocean, praying. Eventually, they made it to safety and the rest was history.
Stories like that made me wish I could believe in a higher power, in a creator who lent a hand during times of despair. I was born into a Christian household. I went with the flow to fit in. To see if religion could be as transformative of an experience for me as it was for so many others in my community. If anything, it had the opposite effect: it was oppressive.
As an adult today, I value open-minded critical thinking and inclusiveness among communities of intersectional identities above everything else. This does not mean religion can’t contribute to these values, but whatever religion my circles were practicing at the time; it did not create a space that was conducive to cultivating these values.
Every Sunday, we attended morning service and then Sunday school with the other youths afterwards. I never liked waking up that early, but it wasn’t always nails on a chalkboard agonizing. I enjoyed the social aspect of church. Observing people with similar interests congregating together to passionately discuss said interests. It was like a big book club (if the book was the bible). I loved interacting with other people my own age especially at a time when I was searching for more Asian American faces to identify with. I’m happy to say I still keep in touch with some of these folks and they’re still great contributors to society.
During a routine Sunday school lecture, the topic of marriage equality came up. This was some time in the mid-2000s. Gay marriage was a hot button issue, and it was something that was considered “morally corrupt” by many within the church. Our youth pastor preached that it was unnatural and that anyone who was tempted into that lifestyle could potentially be damned to hell. A teenager in our youth group spoke up and asked, “Doesn’t God love everyone though?”
The youth pastor hesitantly replied, “Yes, but there are certain guidelines to being a Christian.”
She pondered and calmly stated, “But if God loved everyone, then why does he impose so many rules on us?”
That teenage girl got the best of our youth pastor that day and I walked away with an invigoratingly refreshing perspective that was so radically different from the one that was hammered into my consciousness. Could there be something else out there for me? In the many mornings spent at Sunday school, I never spoke a word. It wasn’t an environment that made me feel safe to speak my mind or encouraged me to exercise critical thinking outside of the parameters of such strict religious practices.
In times of darkness, I grew colder and more resentful towards the idea of Christianity and it caused me to become more distant from my family. I didn’t want to hurt them by saying what was really on my mind, but I couldn’t lie to myself anymore either. I couldn’t sit there at the dinner table while everyone was praying and put my head down like it was a naturally empowering act for me. I couldn’t go around telling my friends that they’re good people as long as they believed in my religion and my religion only, especially since my network of friends grew more and more diverse.
As a subscriber to the power of knowledge and education, I seek to absorb as much information as I could about the world through a healthy variety of voices other than the ones I’ve become accustomed to. I learned a lot about religion this year. I attended a conference with the Dalai Lama. I interviewed a Sikh American college professor and a couple of American Muslim comic book creators. I wrote for a progressive Asian American Christian magazine. My mind and my heart have never been more open.
I am in no way anti-religion. Religion is a beautiful concept that has brought much healing, meaning, and vibrancy to many peoples’ lives and I don’t want to take that away. As I become more comfortable with my agnostic identity, I want to promote intelligent exchanges of ideas as much as I want to promote religious tolerance. I don't want to believe that my family bolted their war torn country to escape persecution only so that they could in turn persecute others. There is no reason why our ideas and our faiths cannot coexist. If anything, they often intersect.
I came out to a friend recently, who is hyper religious, that I no longer identified as a Christian. Unfortunately, their response had nothing to do with me as a person, my experience, or what my thoughts and emotions were in processing that conclusion. They just coldly asked, “But what about your soul?” It hurts to think that no matter how much good I do in the world, there will always be people in my life who truly believe that I am beyond saving. Simply because I won’t submit. Simply because I am true to myself.
If you’re still reading this, let me tell you something. I only have one belief, and that is the belief in humanity.
Life is precious as it is temporary. No one should be allowed to police each other’s values. As long as we’re not hurting each other and we’re promoting love and progress, it's not necessary to impose a universal rule book on how we carry out that love. I believe I can one day die happily knowing that I left an important mark on the world and that I have served a purpose that was bigger than me.
This is where my “soul” lies.