Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
I was “born again” as agnostic in 10th grade. This shift in my religious beliefs posed a challenge to everyone around me. I grew up in a Catholic household. I live in the Bible belt. I attend an Episcopal school. I went to Christian camps every summer. Revealing myself as agnostic was nothing less than an act of social suicide.
Maybe it shouldn’t have been a surprise to me or those around me that I was agnostic. I had always asked questions about religion and God. I questioned the school priests during Godly Play (a religion class for kindergarteners) about the actions of those in the Bible. I cornered my camp counselors with inquiries about the meaning of life, what morality means, why misery exists, and why aliens haven’t contacted us yet. Despite the earnest replies I received, I always left these conversations dissatisfied. Then in 9th grade, two of my closest friends came out as atheists (giving me a preview of the negative response my classmates would have to anyone who challenged a belief in God). I was very intrigued by their decision. I interrogated them day in and day out about why they did what they did and especially what led them to the decision. At the same time I was having all these conversations, I was researching, investigating, and debating the beliefs of the world’s great religions including Judaism, Buddhism, and Hinduism.
My questions and explorations seemed innocent to all involved, but on a deeper level I was contemplating my own religious status. As I reflected on my beliefs and compared them to those of my atheist friends and those of all major religions, I found that I believed bits and pieces from many religions. I believed in the golden rule AND karma AND Buddhist teachings. I also found that I disagreed with some aspect of each religion and that I wasn’t completely convinced by the existence of God. I shocked myself with these realizations and I admit that initially I was terrified that I was rejecting everything I had believed and had been taught. It took time for me to accept that I could be a moral and good person to all I come across and influence the world in a positive manner without believing in God or being religious.
For a while, no one but me was aware that I was agnostic. However, a few months into tenth grade, while I was debating the morality of stem cell research with a Christian friend, he asked how I call myself a Christian and have the opinions I had. At that point, I simply stated that I wasn’t a Christian; I was agnostic. Not surprisingly, my new status spread like wildfire within my small school.
While the social repercussions for my declaration have not been as dramatic as those for my atheist friends, I have been shunned by many acquaintances and have lost several friends. Yet, I am content with my decision to declare myself and if I were to go back, I would change nothing. In the most basic terms, being agnostic is nothing more than being someone who does not believe in a god or refute the possibility of the existence of a god. And that is who I am. Over the last several years, I have found answers to many of my questions, but still more questions have arisen. And as for the social suicide, I actually discovered my truest friends in the process. I will take real friends over false popularity any day.