Religion is amazing, all-encompassing, and frankly, weird.

I mean, let’s think about it for a hot second. Really think about it. Almost everyone belongs to a religion. They’re like clubs at a high school – they add to who you are, what people think of you. Your image. And each religion is practically the same thing, with a few differences, of course. (I see them as minor, but again, back to the high school motif, some people don’t – the “cool kids” wearing dark eyeshadow are “edgy, NOT goth”; ie, Christians worshipping their god are obviously much different from Jews, who also happen to be worshipping that god.)

I mean it when I say that I believe that all religions are practically the same – let me explain. I know that each one is different, but they’re not thaaat different in my mind, and here’s why: Let’s take a trip through time, to thousands of years ago. Human civilizations are starting to form. Certain tribes/towns have figured out the handy-dandy practice of agriculture, and that, hey, if we plant this seed here, we’ll get more food in a few weeks/months! Yay! Early science! So those towns that now have a steady source of food (the farming ones) don’t have to worry about starving anymore, at least for the time being. And this is where life gets interesting – these early people earn the ability to think. To really think, to ponder what life is all about and why we are here and what’s that big bright ball in the sky that dictates when it’s hot outside and when it’s not, yada yada yada. So soon enough, people are going to start to wonder why they are alive; who or what put them on this earth and what their purpose is – and that, my friends, is the basis of all religion, in my mind; the question, “Why are we here?”

Why ARE we here? According to the Jews and the Christians and the Catholics; Adam and Eve, and before that, an almighty god who sculpted the universe and the Earth. Buddhism never claimed that the world, sun, moon, stars, wind, water, days and nights were created by a powerful god; Buddhists believe that the world was not created once upon a time, but that the world has been created millions of times every second and will continue to do so. According to the Quranic narrative, reported in the second chapter named Baqara and elaborated elsewhere in the text, man came into being after Allah consulted with his angels about his selection for the position of khalifa (viceregency) of Allah on earth.

But each religion has a base in why humanity walks the Earth. Religions have sprouted from those who had the time to think, to ponder their world and the universe in all of its immense and mysterious glory. So are we so different after all?

More similarities: many religions (if not all) include powerful, guiding figures – God/Allah, Jesus, the Buddha, etc. These are figures whom which humanity looks up to, praises, and worships; figures whom most of us have never met, but who live on in our rich cultures, stories, biblical/religious texts, and history books. I am a jew, and God plays a role in my life, but I have never met him or her. I do not know if God even has a gender, where God lives, or what he/she does. God is someone I know very well, yet I don’t know at all, and he or she has made such an impact on me without ever having laid a finger on my head.

As a jewish teenage girl and BBG who attends a jewish sleep-away camp each summer, I am uniquely immersed in my religion. I attended Hebrew school from first grade until my bat mitzvah, and I never really felt connected to Judaism throughout all those years. However, since joining BBYO and attending summer camp for the last 6 years (wow!), I feel as if I have strengthened my connection to God. God, who I don’t know exists, yet somehow keeps me going. (I guess that’s another similarity between religions; they all operate on principles that nobody can really prove to be anything but stories. They are well-named as faiths, as one must have faith in the books and stories they hear in order to believe in a religion.) I used to mumble that I was jewish, embarrassed of being different; now, I proudly wear a hamsa around my neck every day. I pray when I am nervous, and I feel safe when I am surrounded by people doing the same, by people of my faith. Where there is faith, there is hope.

I guess that’s what religions really are to me: hope. Islam is not terrorism. Judaism is not greed. Christianity is not homophobia. It makes me so unbelievably angry when people place others in a box, based on their beliefs. Based on a stereotype perpetuated by ignorant attitudes, prejudiced relatives, and the media. Some of the most accepting people I know are devout Christians, and some of the most selfless and giving people I know are Jewish mensches. And this one needs to be repeated endlessly, especially given our current American president and a common but damaging prejudice from around the world: Islam is peaceful. Terrorists can be Islamic, but Islam is not terrorism. Islam is NOT terrorism. Islam and hate are not correlated, terrorists and hate ARE. There is a difference. Islam, Judaism, and Christianity are hope. Buddhism is hope. We have religions, because early peoples needed something to believe in. While we don’t know if God exists, even after plentiful modern scientific research, most of the world still looks up to a higher power, don’t they? Religion is hope, and it works. It works for a reason, because people need something to believe in; something to be faithful to, something to blame their problems on, someone to follow. That is religion.

I am a Jew, and my religion means something to me. I am proud to be a young jewish girl. My cousins are Christian, and proudly attend church on the regular. I know people from school who practice Islam; they are devout, kind, and proud. And we all believe in something or another that we don’t know for a fact exists. And we all look up to a higher power. And we all believe in something. And we all have faith. We all hope.

It’s a little bit weird, but it’s everywhere and all-encompassing. And I think that that, that human ability to think and to dream and to believe and to hope, that is amazing.

Yours truly,

Mia

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