Too often, stereotypes flatten the concept of religion into a black-and-white charge that omits its nuances. For someone not from a religious context or exposed to religious culture, it’s easy to see a religion as nothing more than a set of notions regarding the existence of a deity, an afterlife, and/or a specific moral code.
However, religion far exceeds these pillars. For someone whose religion is a formative aspect of their experiences early in life, it’s an entire understanding of self, the world itself, and the code that informs decision making processes. It’s the color chart in the kindergarten classroom that calls the sky blue and the desk brown; it’s substance behind an affirmation; it’s the pathways that form when you first make someone cry and feel subsequent regret. Religion, for those born into a religious context, functions as the tools which are used to interpret the world. It’s often the only map they have, and therefore appears to be the only truth.
Growing up as an Evangelical Christian, my culture embedded religion so deeply into me that I didn’t realize I was religious until I left my Christian community. I grew up reading the Bible, praying, and going to church, but I didn’t think I was believing in a religion, I just thought I was believing in and experiencing what is real. We tried to understand the Bible to learn who Jesus was, what that meant for life on Earth, and what existence is after death — as if those were the right questions and the answers would be found by seeking truth at Church, through prayer, or from wiser Christians.
I didn’t consider myself religious or nonreligious, I just used the information I had to form conclusions about the world and lacked exposure to an alternative perspective. Sometimes I did question the narrative I was given, but my community had an answer for that — “It’s okay to have doubts, Paul had doubts, everyone has doubts, and that’s where the opportunity to have faith comes in.”
However, not every religious subculture creates an environment that shuts doors on interrogation. In fact, some contexts welcome questions. I sat down with my religiously exposed friends to discuss how their experiences growing up in religious contexts shaped their perspectives.
UW student Lindsay Somberg, who was raised in the Reform Judaism denomination, attended religious school from ages 5 to 16.
“My time at religious school was really informed by the rabbi that I had,” Somberg said. “One of the main pinnacles to his philosophy was to ask questions to held beliefs and to the Torah,”
Though Somberg’s experience with Jewish teachings welcomed challenges to its authority, she acknowledges its power in influencing her conception of identity and morality. This phenomenon — the way in which one’s environment comprises their perception — is not specific to religion, but exists in all belief systems, secular or not. This reality then raises a larger question, not about what someone believes, but regarding how willing or able a person is to recognize their own context as circumstantial, rather than steadfast, and then attempt to understand contexts.
My own admission that I was indeed part of a religion, the Evangelical Christian one, meant, by my understanding of the word religion which says there are thousands, forced me to acknowledge that everything I knew to be true wasn’t necessarily true but rather just one version of a structure with which to interpret reality. In short, because of how I grew up, in order to engage with other ways of thinking, I had to actively disregard something I had always known to be true. This moment might come earlier for some, but for me, it took moving away from home and my community.
Another friend of mine, Isaac Organista, doesn’t consider himself part of any organized religion but identifies as a Believer and understands religious bias as such.
“Religion itself is a cognitive bias, but how you perceive religion as a word and as an idea is also a cognitive bias,” Organista said.
It’s true, anyone’s primordial context, whether it be religious or not, acts as an inescapable bias influencing one’s perception of the world. However, an opportunity to understand oneself and others as a product of this notion arises here, thus allowing for a willingness to see through other lenses and find blemishes in our own. This article is the first of a series exploring how I, raised in Evangelicalism, am seeing Christianity’s reaction within our current societal climate.
Reach columnist Devon Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @devon_fleming18
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