I have grown up in an entirely non-religious existence. With a Catholic father and a Jewish mother, I was raised in a decidedly secular home, which my parents felt was the best compromise (although neither of them were religious in the first place). I’ve only been to church or synagogue for weddings, funerals, or bar mitzvahs, and have felt uncomfortable at each one whenever others go up to take communion or recite prayers. As a kid, I missed out on many biblical references that my classmates seemed to understand, to the point where I remember asking an elementary school friend who Adam and Eve were.
When I enrolled in a Judaic class this semester, it was largely for two reasons: I wanted to learn more about Judaism, and I needed the humanities credit. During the first week of class, we were assigned to read Genesis. We went on to read many other biblical texts throughout the semester, and as I read, I began to find the answers to all my childhood questions. The casual references I had been confused by were starting to make sense; the reading became less of a religious experience to me and more of an educational one. I was finally beginning to understand the power of religion, which was something I could never wrap my head around as a child when seeing the outcomes of “holy wars” and religious controversies on the news.
Beyond simply understanding certain references I had heard my whole life, I began to understand the importance of religion. Having grown up in what could be called an agnostic or even atheist household, I was never taught to pray to God or look to him in times of need or grief. Having been to my fair share of funerals, I never quite understood how praying after the death of a loved one could make the situation better. But reading these biblical texts and then learning about the contexts in which they were read helped me better understand how faith is supposed to work. Stories of Jews in the Holocaust holding Seder dinners, even when they knew they would be murdered if they were caught, fascinated me. How could you believe in something that much?
This is where my story strays from the enlightened tone of many other stories of religious exploration. After reading the Bible for the first time, I did not experience a religious awakening or any feeling that I had finally found this muted part of myself. I did, however, begin to understand the religious people in my life. Inside the walls of an Atheist childhood, it had been understood in my family that when something bad happens, you look to yourself to make it better – not God. This mindset, although not entirely unwise, implied that those who did look to God in times of need were somehow weak or foolish. I do not resent my parents for not raising me with any type of religion, but I do wish that I had been exposed to the positive and valuable parts of religion at an age younger than twenty. If you are in a similar situation, and have never explored any religion for yourself, you should. This isn’t coming from someone trying to convert you or handing out church flyers, but someone who believes there is a valuable lesson to be learned from exploring this area of humanity. I have come to have such respect for those who devote themselves to their faith, those who choose not to believe, and everyone in between – which is a much greater lesson than I could ever have hoped to learn.
Images courtesy of: We Know Your Dreams, The Vermilion, and The Odyssey