Around a year ago I finally decided to make the switch from Friendster.com and join the Myspace.com bandwagon. As I was filling out the personal information section with the usual generic categories of height and build, I got to one that made me stop and think. Religion. Well, that`s straightforward enough. Answering should be just as simple, but instead, the question led to numerous discussions with friends and family on the subject.
Of course, I know that I was brought up in the Lutheran Church. I was baptized, went to church every Sunday with my family, and had my Confirmation when I was 15 years old. It would make sense for me to click the "Christian" option and move on, as Lutheranism is a branch of Christianity, but I was hesitant. As I've gotten older, I have come to realize that there is a stigma attached to labelling oneself religious. It exists not only with Christianity, but also many other religions. Unfortunately, there seems to be a vast misunderstanding in today's youth culture surrounding the meaning of religion.
Of course, there are hundreds of different types of religion. No one can possibly know every aspect of all of them, but there are a few dominant ones that receive far more attention, thereby inadvertently setting the standard for society's perception of the lot. Catholicism, for example, has especially been in the spotlight recently with the death of Pope John Paul II, and as a result, so have many of the Church's archaic and conservative doctrines. Because Catholicism is the most prominent sect of Christianity, many people mistake the two as one and the same. Suddenly, all of Christianity is considered square and outdated. Kids are fed up with hearing about this sort of "religion" nonsense, and many have decided to ignore it or denounce it altogether.
Alright, so to avoid the issue, I can click on the convenient "I'll let you knowÖ" option. Fair enough for the Myspace.com questionnaire, but I was unsettled by the cop-out. When asked in casual conversation the question, "are you religious?" I ought to be able to have enough backbone, not to mention faith, to say "yes." However, I realize that with most of my 20 something punk rock friends I'm going to be met with one of two responses:
The first possibility is pity. These people will attribute my affirmative answer to the fact that I was raised with religion; that because I was young, I had been forced to adhere to some ancient, conservative doctrine that I wisely later denounced. The second reaction is surprise. Astonishment, not at finding out something new about me, but at discovering that I may not be as chill as I had initially seemed. Essentially, a reaction of, "Wow, I didn't know you bought into that b.s. That's too bad."
To avoid all of this, I thought about how else I could label myself in order to make my religious stance clearer. Yes, I was raised in the Lutheran Church, but it was pretty relaxed. People should make an effort to live their lives in accordance with the Ten Commandments, but more importantly simply treat others how you would want to be treated. Beyond that, no behaviour was ever specifically condemned, no strict rules necessary for salvation dictated. What I got out of it was a very poetic appreciation of the Bible, a nice calendar of Christian holidays, and above all, a "love your neighbour as yourself" mentality. So what`s wrong with that? It wasn`t until I was older that I developed my own concept of who or what God is. That`s extremely personal. Sci-fi junkies believe in the Force. I also believe in an energy that binds all humankind together, but I call it God.
It seems to be a lost cause though. Religion has become undoubtedly linked with politics. To many, Christianity`s figurehead is the Pope. Of course, as a religious figurehead, the Pope is irrelevant to me. He`s Catholic, I`m not. As a political figurehead, however, he has quite a bit of influence. He sets the standard for a billion Catholics in the world. It just so happened that Pope John Paul II was conservative and believed in traditional Catholic doctrine which involved condemning different groups of people and certain behaviours. Most religious people in North America aren`t like that. Because of that one man`s media exposure and far-reaching voice, however, an association is made between religion and this oldschool mentality. Pope John Paul was certainly a beloved man, but I was kind of hoping that his successor would be more liberal. The younger generations are beginning to get the impression that religion is equivocal to condemnation and lack of freedom- an overbearing parent telling you to turn your music down and forbidding you to go to the school dance.
Okay. I believe in God in a poetic and spiritual sense, and have an appreciation of the Church for it`s sense of family and traditions, but denounce the political aspect that is unfortunately often connected with it. I considered calling myself "spiritual" as opposed to "religious" as a means of cutting out the political stigma but realized I would rather come across as a conservative religious freak than a gullible and flighty hippy.
I was stumped. I realized, however, that the problem doesn`t lie with me. Religion isn`t supposed to be political, it`s supposed to be personal. Likewise, it`s not supposed to be easily defined. It`s about your own beliefs and your faith in them. Therefore, they`re supposed to be different for everyone because each person`s relationship with God, or the Force, or whatever, is unique. My concern is that a vast majority of young people today don`t understand that.
For many kids now, Trent Reznor, the voice of profound pessimism in the 90`s, was right: "God is dead, and no one cares." But while some people might take that literally and feel pretty good about denouncing this outdated establishment, they`re missing the bigger picture. I find that most people do indeed have religion in their lives, it just never occurred to them to label it as such. Whether it`s belief in The Force, Karma, Fate, or God, or even faith in the goodness of humanity, religion is still rocking it. In my opinion, Reznor`s statement is referring to politics disguised as religion. He`s conveying that the Church`s antiquated scare-tactics won`t work on our generation and it`s time for things to change. As far as I`m concerned, I hope he`s right. Unfortunately, it seems that much of youth culture is too apathetic and sick of the b.s. to recognize the difference.
So as it stands in my Myspace.com profile for now: Religion? "I`ll let you knowÖ"
Writer: Karyn Gray