No matter where you go, religion will be there

(Anthony Le | Daily Trojan)

Religion has played an ambiguous role in my life, more or less. Even in my immediate family, it’s a complicated topic. My dad’s side is Catholic and mom’s side is Buddhist. However, my parents themselves aren’t devout followers, so we almost never go to church — the last time was to attend my uncle’s wedding. At most, we visit a nearby Buddhist temple every other month to pray at the shrines and throw pennies at a bell for good luck (also as small donations). In other words, religion hasn’t played a huge part in my life — at least not directly.

In some ways, religion has been a constant force that I observe from halfway across the world on the news and in conversations with friends on a smaller scale. If you think about it, religion is inescapable. 

With some contemplation, I’ve concluded that one shouldn’t feel restricted by the permanence of religion. I mean, if you can’t get away from it, you might as well learn to coexist with it. Sometimes, religious viewpoints can seem irrational, especially if you think progressively. However, religious thought is generally well intended, and over time I’ve begun to appreciate it and have come to the belief that everyone should — even if you might not believe in it or agree with those following that faith. 

A deeply religious friend of mine once expressed that she is pro-life, but also believes that women should have control over their own bodies. I’ll admit it took me a second to process this, because to me, that was equivalent to saying she was a strict vegan but also believed in eating meat. But basically, she felt conflicted.

But, you see, as a Christian, she believes that passage into heaven is achieved by living as Jesus did, with good morals, which would include respecting the life and liberty of all beings. The issue is that in the case of banning abortion, life would be granted at the expense of liberty. 

Now you might argue that pro-life advocates generally attribute their stance to religious beliefs, and that’s true in my friend’s case.  But remember that virtually every text ever written can be interpreted in various ways — and with centuries of mistranslation, who knows what original religious texts may have said. Opinions on controversial topics (yes, even religion itself) are shaped by many variables in one’s life, so even if one consults a spiritual leader, their guidance is given based on that leader’s own personal understanding of the religious doctrine. Besides, just as it’s wrong to assume that an Asian peer is great at math because of his race (granted some branches openly preach against abortion) Christian pro-life advocates shouldn’t be assumed to hold their opinions because of their religion.

In the end, even the Bible doesn’t specify rules for multifaceted and controversial topics such as abortion. In my friend’s case, religion guided her to support the most moral outcomes, which were unfortunately contradictory. Ultimately, the side that she takes is based on her personal priorities and reasoning. 

Moral crises aside, I still believe that religion, when practiced as intended, has the power to uplift society. Of course, I can’t speak for all faiths, but in general, the idea of rewarding the good and punishing the bad is encouraged. Regardless of your faith, and even if you’re non-religious, we’ve all had this moral compass ingrained in our minds. The way I imagine it, religion is that small voice in everyone’s head that guides our judgment on ethics. With it, we’re encouraged to hold ourselves to a higher standard.

In contemplating my own beliefs and that of others, I prefer to view religion as a philosophy rather than faith. I may not spend Sunday mornings at church, fast for certain parts of the year or embark on pilgrimages, but I live with awareness of my actions. In this way, even agnostics and atheists can appreciate religion, because it’s no longer about worshiping. Rather, religion becomes a matter of living with a healthy conscience. 

Unfortunately, people of different religions often forget the core purpose of their belief system. Focused on serving a higher being, they begin to invalidate other religions, which makes religion a touchy subject when everyone is just trying to understand the meaning of their existence. Not to mention the fact that we all have the right to freedom of thought and religion as stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Nonetheless, many fall into the trap of using their religion as an excuse to impose their beliefs onto others. In one such case, the parent of a student attending West Potomac High School in Fairfax County, Virginia “threatened to go to the school board with a formal complaint,” because a teacher was explaining Hinduism in a public school. Even at the mention of another religion, people become defensive, which is the attitude that divides society. Moreover, Hinduism had been mentioned in a chapter about various religions, so the parent’s specific complaint about Hinduism was simply discriminatory. The teacher was simply teaching what all teachers should teach — history and cultures from multiple global perspectives. 

Every religion has its quirks, and unless its practices are hostile, appreciating them is a matter of being open-minded enough to see the good intentions. Besides, showing loyalty to your faith doesn’t have to be outwardly shown to be sincere. Practicing religion and preaching the ideals is helpful to all, but crossing that boundary to force your beliefs onto another is contrary to religion’s purpose. It sounds ironic, but those boundaries keep us together and foster a moral and inclusive environment. And quite frankly, do you think higher beings enjoy seeing their disciples get into heated arguments and burning bridges?

Regardless of your religious upbringing, remember that other religions preach the same core values. We are all working towards the same goal of improving society and that goal would be a lot easier to achieve if we are accepting of each other’s personal beliefs. So by all means, keep doing you, and remember to allow others to do the same.