Our generation is at an interesting point in history where a belief in science is more widely accepted than any deep religious belief. More often than not, people pick and choose which parts of religion to believe in, if any at all. This is not to say that our generation has no deep believers, because frankly many do still hold onto their faith. Moreover, just like at every other point in history, hardcore believers have a tendency to push their faith onto others who do not believe in the same thing. Forcing one’s religious beliefs onto an unwilling person is just as unjustifiable as religious discrimination. I believe that everyone has the right to believe in whatever they find to be true, without persecution or any outside beliefs being forced upon them.
When I got into high school I was unsure about my religious beliefs, mostly because I had never connected to any one religion on a deep level. I grew up bouncing from home to home, and very few of these homes shared the same beliefs. Because of this, I always felt that all religions were equally valid and I could not imagine someone being judged for their beliefs. The first time I was exposed to religious discrimination was when I was in high school. Though the high school I was attending was Catholic, most of the other students were, ironically, not religious or were non-Catholics. In fact, there were very few who did identify as Catholic.
There was one devoutly Catholic girl in my high school named Hannah Cho. Hannah was very vocal about her beliefs and her commitment to Catholicism, which was something I greatly admired; not because she was catholic, but because she was so staunch in her belief.
Unfortunately, others thought differently. One month during our gym class, Hannah had to sit out of the activities because she was fasting. She explained that she wasn’t going to eat anything for three days. I don’t remember exactly why she was fasting, other than that it had something to do with Catholicism. There was a group of students who were telling Hannah that “it was stupid to not eat” and that “her faith was unhealthy.” One student, whose name I don’t remember, told Hannah that she would be better off without her faith.
Defiantly, Hannah argued in favor of her position with so much passion that eventually the others left her alone. This moved me tremendously, so later that day I commended her on standing up for her beliefs. Immediately following that, she tried to convert me to Catholicism, which made me feel very uncomfortable. I explained to her that my path to faith could not be forced upon me, to which she responded with ridicule.
A few weeks later in our philosophy class, she displayed her faith again. The topic of sex was brought up in a class discussion. Hannah raised her hand and asked to address the entire class. When she stood up, she looked like a girl on a mission. She preached to us the Catholic stance on sex, which is that sex is only allowed after marriage, and that one may not divorce. She went on to explain that anyone who did not follow these commandments would be damned to hell. It goes without saying that the class immediately erupted into conflict, with a good portion of the class attacking Hannah and the rest enjoying the show. It felt like a war broke out. What struck me most were the final words Hannah said in class that day: “Don’t blame me when you’re all burning in hell for all eternity. I’m just trying to save your souls.”
It seemed to me that both parties were judging the other, not based on sex or race, but on religious belief. Groups of students were discriminating against Hannah because she was Catholic, while she tried to force her beliefs onto the rest of the students. Both parties seemed equally wrong to me. Hannah should have been able to practice her faith without judgment from her peers, but should have refrained from pushing her faith onto others.
It is because of this, and many other displays of religious discrimination, that I decided to never claim a religion as my own. I am a spiritual person, but I do not like the tendency to judge other religions and the expectation to convert others that seems pervasive amongst most mainstream religions.
The unfortunate part is that, given the social setting, the situation was much less intense than it could have been. Because we were at a Catholic high school, all the non-Catholics coming in knew that others would try to push the religion onto them. Since it was a school setting, there would be no violence due to these disagreement. Since the school was mostly non-Catholic, and it was very mixed, no one religious group could dominate. Unfortunately, this also meant that there were lots of clashing ideas and beliefs which caused some tension and discrimination.
This made me think of bigger issues surrounding religious disagreements, and how these occasionally escalate into wars. Looking back in history, there have been many wars in the name of religion, such as the Crusades, the conquest of Canaan, and the Muslim Conquests. Even today, there are wars in the name of religion such as the Israel-Palestine crisis, and the Syrian civil war. All these wars have other factors at their forefronts, but the basis of each of them is religion, whether in the form of discrimination or other underlying religious tensions.
Judging people based on their religion is as big an issue as racism, sexism, or any other way of discriminating against other people. I don’t believe that having a bumper sticker saying “Coexist” written in religious symbols is enough to combat this issue. In all honestly, I do not know what would help resolve this issue. The United States already has a separation of church and state, and the abolishment of religion altogether would be both hypocritical and a devastation to people of many faith. The only thing that can be done is to bring this issue to light, and to hope that someone with more wisdom and intelligence than me can come up with a solution.