They say life doesn't come with an instruction manual but if you're Christian, that's not entirely true. The Bible tells you exactly how to think and behave and what happens if you don't abide by those rules. I had never met a devout Christian who wasn't a black and white thinker. A person who didn't believe that there was room for discussion or a gray area when it came to religion. For a while, I thought like that too.
I was raised Catholic, a branch of Christianity, and although my family stopped going to mass while I was still a child, I attended church regularly.
My choice to attend was not my own. It was mandatory for most students who attended religious schools. In my first elementary school, a Baptist institution, all students had to memorize a new Bible passage every day. Anyone who didn't was given detention instead of recess as punishment. The school expected students and faculty to strictly uphold traditional Christian values and beliefs. Shortly after news got out that the staff was still using outdated discipline techniques like hitting kids with behavioral problems, my parents swiftly transferred me to a Catholic elementary school followed by a Catholic high school.
I was never super religious but I prayed, participated during Mass, went to confession, and got anxiety anytime I passed a church and forgot to make the sign of the cross. That changed during my junior year of high school aka rebellious teen years. I was old enough to see the news of the sexual misconduct allegations that plagued the church and the murky history of a particular Pope. Equipped with this information, I was no longer willing to be a blind follower. Especially when I felt the leaders of the church weren't living up to the same standards they held for lay people.
I didn't want to be a Catholic, Baptist or anything else under the umbrella of Christianity. I felt liberated and soon found myself exploring other religions and schools of philosophy until I eventually declared myself an atheist.
When I became an adult that religious freedom caused me to feel utterly lost. I hated to admit it but I missed the church community, the peace reading the Bible gave me, the inspiring sermons, and the overall sense of faith. Around this period, my family had found their way back to a non-denominational church that was more liberal compared to what we had been used to. I gave it a chance but was turned off. I noticed that much like my previous sect, this group wasn't without flaws. There were disagreements between the leadership team and the churchgoers that reminded me why I left in the first place. It was and still is a lovely community with great people but my bias skewed my judgment.
It wasn't until I saw a tweet from a writer whose work I admired, that I finally realized where I went wrong:
Najma Sharif, a talented writer, is an outspoken and proud Black Muslim women. Her ability to critique things like the antiquated views on gender roles in religion while still maintaining unwavering faith inspired me to reconsider my hang ups with Catholicism and organized religion.
It may sound silly but those tweets helped me rebuild my own personal relationship with God while I worked through my issues with Catholic leaders and parishioners. Instead of equating the leaders and parishioners with the religion and even God itself, I'm reintroducing myself to my religion and examining it with an open mind.
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