I grew up in a typical Jewish household: Hebrew school on Sundays, Bat Mitzvah at age 13, secretly knowing Santa wasn’t real before it was cool. However, despite my Jewish upbringing, I never personally believed in God. It always created a slight paradox in my existence, because despite my personal skepticism, religion has always been something that I find fascinating. Questioning was always allowed in my household. Because of this, I always desired to learn about other people’s opinions on the nature of human existence, which gets pretty dicey when you realize you’ve been monologuing to the Dunkin’ Donuts lady about religious existentialism.
Alas, despite my nettlesome desire to discover the meaning of life, I never actually got around to experiencing other religions besides Judaism. I always felt like it would be too strange; I never wanted to cross a boundary and make others uncomfortable, so I never bothered.
But last week, my friend invited me to a jazz worship seminar. For the first time in my life, I decided I would enter a church. What did I have to lose?
Arriving at the church, I was taken aback by the raw beauty of it. Dark, high ceilings and scattered candles made this a picturesque scene. I was handed a prayer pamphlet and guided to my seat. At first I felt comfortable, but right as the passionate religious tunes were accompanied by soft jazz, I began to experience a hot sweat as I realized how out of place I was. I thought to myself: “They’ve sung these meaningful songs a million times, and here I am, all Larry David in an episode of ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm,’ waiting for myself to make a wrong move, to mess up someone else’s religious experience by accident.”
Surprisingly, I didn’t mess up at all. I even managed to end the service feeling at ease. Further, while leaving the church, I found myself with a greater understanding of why we should accept everyone’s belief systems (whether or not they happen to be your personal prerogative). I realized that none of us are better, smarter or wiser than the other. I may have grown up in a Jewish household, but that doesn’t mean that Judaism should be the only religion I know about. We should all be allowed to experience other religions, as long as our beliefs do not harm others, to believe in what we desire.
In a world so much hate, I think the act of visiting various churches, temples and mosques are activities that humanize us all. So many people today are quick to judge, to pass around toxic ideals that one religion is better than the other or that one is more genuine towards their belief in the divine. But if you think about it, subjugating people this way can never create societal unity. Of course, there are always extremists in every religion, but it’s incredibly toxic to write off an entire community because of a small sect of that community. If history has taught us anything, it’s that inclusiveness is a much better way to live than exiling an entire community, body or religion. Just as much as I wouldn’t want someone to judge me for not believing in God, it’s incredibly ridiculous for an atheist to disregard a religious person for believing in God. Same goes for a Christian disregarding a Muslim, or a Jew disregarding a Catholic. It’s downright too slippery a slope to follow.
Accepting otherness is especially pertinent considering the absolute insanity of this election year. It’s simply not OK to be unaware about the world around us. We all need to reprogram the ways that we relate towards religion, before harmful actions towards innocent people occur. As Maya Angelou said, “We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.” Instead of focusing on what makes us different, let’s practice inclusiveness. At the end of the day, I may be an atheist Jew who doesn’t know much about the world, but I do know this: predisposed notions can be harmful to society as a whole. I may never step foot in another church again, but at least I went. I think we should all try things that are a little alien to us. It’s how we continue to grow as multifaceted human beings.
The world isn’t as black and white as we think, but I wish more people could see that.