Growing up in a non-secular country like Ireland, religion was something you grew up with, no matter your own personal beliefs. I went to a Protestant primary school as a Catholic, and I was met with a double-whammy of religion lessons, as I had to stay back once a week to complete the necessary learning and lessons from a religion teacher in the neighbouring Catholic school that qualified me to put on a mini wedding dress and eat some dry wafer. No questions asked. Nobody asked me if I wanted to take First Communion, if I understood what it really meant. Because most people never ask what religion really means. We go by what we are told, and what we are taught in school.
What we are taught in school is incredibly one-sided, I have learned recently. Think back to when your religion classes, in Primary or Secondary school. Think about the stories that were taught to you. For the most part, what we learned came from other people’s mouths. Be it a teacher at the top of a classroom, or a priest at the altar, we are told what to believe. At a young age, we are inquisitive. But there was always a sense of authority about religious stories. They were taught not with force, but intent, for lack of a better word. Questions were rarely asked in my class. What you were told was what happened. And being young and foolish, I believed what I was told was the whole story.
Fast forward ten years or so and I find myself reading the Bible for the first time. Sitting at my desk, flicking through the pages of Genesis, I have to stop halfway through it and try wipe the look of disbelief off my face. The story of creation was almost strange to me. It certainly wasn’t what was taught to me in school. I never questioned what was told to me, I assumed what I was told was what was in the Bible. But there is so much more.
In the Bible, I did not find the God I thought I knew and believed in. I did not find the comforting story of Noah and his Ark. What I found was a lot more sinister.
In school we were never taught the darker side of these stories. This in turn leads us to have a certain view of a story, or of Jesus himself. Religion is, paradoxically both accepted and taboo at the same time. It is everywhere, but dare to question or disregard something religious and you’re asking for trouble. The Bible is so much more than a book. For some people, it’s their life. It’s their belief system. This made those first few classes discussing the Bible in college all the more awkward, with people wary to say what they actually thought for fear of offending someone.
If you only know Taylor Swift’s biggest hits, can you really call yourself a fan? If you only know the words to her songs from hearing them on the radio, and not from buying and listening to her CD yourself, are you a true fan? The die-hard fans who know all songs and their back story would say no. Those who only know her big songs would argue otherwise. The die-hard fans know everything about Taylor, and like her and what she stands for her as a person. The other might like her songs, but find her annoying. You can apply the same principle to religion. There are those who know the teachings of the Bible, the prayers, and believe in it whole-heartedly. Then are those who only know the greatest hits; those who go to Mass at Christmas, who get married in a Church but only know three prayers from their school days. Do we need to know everything about God, about Taylor, to be considered a fan? Should we need to know everything?
I never questioned what I was told. I never read the Bible. I based my beliefs on the words and the stories I heard at school, in Mass, from priests, and from the things that happened in my life. Because I used God as a comfort blanket. If I said enough Hail Marys before I went to bed, then surely everything will be okay the next day. I recited those words, and many others without actually listening to what I was saying, and without asking if I knew what they meant. I placed my beliefs in something without question.
As I got older, those beliefs turned into a source of comfort. It comforted me to think there was something greater than me, somewhere, who had some control over my life. It helped in times of grief, uniting our family together as we said countless Hail Mary’s around my Nana. Perhaps the thought that we are all alone in this world, in control of everything that happens and have the responsibility to nurture or destroy what we have, is frightening. Perhaps I will still believe in a higher being, but just maybe not the one I grew up with.
Reading the Bible was not an easy experience. I wouldn’t classify myself as a devout Christian; I knew some prayers and can count the amount of times I go to Mass on my right hand. But I still had a firm belief … in something. Reading the Bible challenged that. The God that I thought was mine, was nowhere to be found. The religion that I belong to, for many years now, was not what I thought. And that’s a tough pill to swallow. I could not agree with the teachings I found in what I read. I could not stop myself from reading in disbelief. I could not believe that what I thought I believed in, was so different from the fundamental teachings.
I know, and understand, that religion is, in some ways, subjective. It can mean many things to many different people. And I respect that. For me, it was a comfort blanket, more than way of living. I brought religion into my life in times of need, when I needed extra help, when I was desperate, and it did help me at times. Now that I know some of the actual teachings, I’m not sure whether I can use it as a comfort anymore, and that upsets me. To have something you grew up with, something that was a part of you deconstructed under your own eyes is disconcerting.
I don’t know what I believe in now. I like to think there is a higher power than us, that we’re not alone. But I didn’t find that in the Bible. While some do, I couldn’t see it and I’m not going to force myself to be a follower of something I don’t agree with. So where does that leave me now?