Our philosophy textbook prefaces the unit on human nature by explaining that our view of human nature has a big impact in how we live our lives. If we are skeptical of people’s intentions, not only will we interpret the actions of others through that lens, but we will also have a tendency to act warily and in our own self-interest. Religious belief is similar. I think our perspective of the world and therefore how we interact with it is often shaped by our experiences, and may have little to do with the overarching values of our religion. However, there’s a lot of things we don’t experience or understand, and religion tends to fill in those gaps.
In my case, religion has never had a big role to play in my life. My personal values were mostly shaped by my parents and my experiences, not my church. That being said, I grew up Christian Orthodox, and my family believed in God, sometimes prayed before bed, and occasionally attended church. However, it was something that was just there and it didn’t really add to my life besides being an explanation of what would happen after death (we would go to Heaven) and providing the comfort that there was someone watching over us, tuning into our needs.
As my parents and I spent more time alone in Canada (our family remained in Romania), we began to lose touch with our religious roots. Sometimes I think that the hustle and bustle of the Western world comes with its own Gods (an idea I somewhat stole from Neil Gaiman’s book “American Gods”). Today, I still turn to faith sometimes when I am going through a difficult time, when I’m feeling grateful, or when I’m hoping for something specific to happen in my life. However, I wouldn’t call my personal beliefs religious or Christian. The God that I pray to is less of a loving father than a vast and breathtaking entity that encompasses everything and is everywhere. I don’t quite know why I see it this way; perhaps it has to do with my love of science fiction and the magic I associate with looking up at a star-filled sky at night or doing my yoga practice. In any case, life for me is the present, and while it is nice to have an explanation for things beyond our control, it is somewhat humbling to simply accept that some things we may never know. Instead, I turn to things that make my body, mind and soul feel whole – like meditation, yoga, being in nature, connecting with other humans, and reminding myself to be grateful of the miracle that I am alive.
Speaking of being alive, I have noticed that more than anything else, death is what brings us back to religion. My uncle passed away of cancer when he was in his thirties, leaving behind three children (my cousins) and his widow (my aunt). It was a blow to the family. Being very young, I didn’t really understand it, but I did notice a change overcome my aunt and grandparents. They began going to church each Sunday, and my aunt and cousins went on many day-long trips to visit churches. Suddenly, their house was peppered with icons and religious symbols, and each Friday they avoided eating meat and dairy. Still, it was something I noticed but didn’t understand.
Four months ago, someone close to my family passed away from cancer. She was no older than my parents, and I’d grown up with her and her two daughters who were close to my age. I vividly remembered her kindness in life, and more recently, her debilitating struggle with a cancer that ate away at her body. For weeks after the visitation and funeral, it was like something had broken inside me. Or maybe something that had been broken had been viciously forced into place. Everything I saw and everyone I interacted with was a miracle and the smallest things choked me up in overwhelming gratitude.
Life is short, there are so many things to do, that there simply is no time to waste in negativity. Perhaps that’s the foundation for my religion.