Prompt: What are my religious views and why?
About twenty years ago, my brothers and I attended a vacation bible school at a local church. Neither of my parents were particularly religious. My mom certainly insisted that she believed in God, but at least at that time in my life she was far from a practicing Christian. My dad was often hostile to religion and religious types, but he certainly had a deep appreciation for the lessons of obedience and unquestioning loyalty pervasive in Christian doctrine at the time.
Even at that young age, I had a deep skepticism of religion in general and Christianity.
“Mom, how do we know any of this actually happened?”
“Because sweetie, the Bible says so.”
“But how do we know the Bible is real?”
“Because the Bible is the word of God.”
“But how do we know that? Couldn’t it just be made up?”
I never received a satisfactory answer. And so, I floated through that bible camp, suspicious of the teachings but happy enough to pelt my younger brothers with Jesus-endorsed water balloons in between recitations of the Ten Commandments.
Flash forward about eight years. By this time in my life, I had become positively anti-religion. As a curious often-depressed teenager growing up in a deeply unhappy conservative family, I dismissed the entire notion of religion as insanity.
For some context, I grew up smack dab in the middle of the Bush-era, when the religious right was at the peak of its power. Christianity at that time stood in stark contrast to all that I valued. Where I sought knowledge through science and discovery pastors loudly dismissed climate change as a hoax and stem cells as the devil’s work. Where I sought the love and compassion that was missing from my life, Christians brought all of God’s might to bear against the freedom and happiness of Muslims, Christians, atheists, and liberals. Where I sought honesty, sincerity, and truth, I was greeted with hollow hypocrisy and empty pretense.
To exacerbate matters, I was deeply and fundamentally unhappy with my existence and identity at that moment in time. Although I excelled academically, I was a constant source of scorn and disappointment to my father. Constantly berated, belittled, and beaten down, my only escape was often in school work. My self-esteem was rock-bottom, which made it difficult to make friends. This lack of companionship further fueled my bitterness and hostility creating a never-ending cycle of loneliness. I saw the negative in everything I encountered in the world and couldn’t help but ask a simple question. If God exists, why does he allow such suffering into the world?
As I entered college and began to experience freedom and happiness for the first time since I was a young child, my attitude towards religion began to soften. Confronted with my own mortality, I attempted to reconcile my firmly held belief in science with the potential for an afterlife. I sought out logical proofs of God’s existence, but was once again left as unsatisfied as a Mormon housewife after her weekly love-making session. And yet a part of me began to recognize that perhaps not everything in the world can be reduced to logic. Wisdom, love, fulfillment . . . none of the things could be modeled mathematically and yet all play a vital role in the human experience.
Next came law school. Spiritual concerns took a back seat as I came closer and closer to securing a job in Big Law and a six-figure salary. Success, or at least my conception of it at the time, was finally within my grasp. My arrogance reached its peak and I devolved into my worst habits. I didn’t take my studies seriously, overly-confident after years of coasting through school with a bare minimum of effort. And then, I crashed and burned.
First came the grades. I didn’t fail, but I certainly didn’t meet the expectations of excellence that I set for myself. I began questioning my own intelligence and quickly spiraled into a loop of anxiety. As my anxiety took over, my procrastination only expanded. My entire identity had been constructed around my intelligence and academic success. If I didn’t have that anymore, then what did I have?
Unsurprisingly, my crippling anxiety and lack of preparation manifested in my inability to get a Big Law position that I had so desperately craved. For the next two years, I spent most of my time locked away inside of my apartment on the Upper West Side. Surrounded by people on every side, I felt both suffocated and utterly alone. I was a failure, and no matter how hard I tried to shake that notion, it was engrained deep inside of me like the splinter in my buttocks after I talked back to Papa as a child.
After graduating, I returned home to California. After procrastinating for months, studying for two weeks, and then passing the bar exam, I managed to land my first job as a lawyer. I worked remotely for a law firm making decent money, but soon my insecurities and anxieties once again caught up with me. I desperately sought validation through toxic relationships which ultimately weighed me down like a fat kid in a row boat.
Soon, I was unable to even muster enough strength to get out of bed. I slept upwards of 16-hours a day, sinking into the warm numbness of my bed to escape reality. By September, I was fired.
Over the next couple of months, I mustered what energy I could to apply for new jobs. But like a fisherman without bate , the bites didn’t come. My alcohol and marijuana use, already elevated, reached new highs as my motivation plummeted. My situation seemed inescapable. I felt doomed to a miserable existence, uncapable of love, attention, or praise.
And then, on Christmas Eve, I almost killed myself. If I had access to a gun at that time, I’m sure I would have. But then, at my lowest point, I decided to surrender. I prayed to God for the first time in my adult life. I asked for guidance, for light, and for purpose. Suddenly, miraculously, the storm passed. I gathered myself, went to our family get-together, and resolved to make changes in my life.
Since that moment of despair and enlightenment, I have experienced tremendous personal growth. I have reconnected with my passion for service and have found a career to match that passion. I have made time for the loved ones in my life who had supported me for so long but who I had neglected like a frat bro ignores the burning sensation when he pees. Most importantly, I have found humility, and through that humility I have reconnected with my inner strength and discovered true self-love and confidence.
I am still not a Christian, nor do I expect I ever will be. But I do believe that Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, and other world religions have much to offer us and recognize the power in connection, kindness, and hope. I see the world though a new perspective, and though I occasionally stumble, I remain committed to no longer allowing fear and anxiety control my life. For that, I have God to thank.