– by Lizzie Fewster
So far this series has only touched on Christianity, when I spoke to Ryan about his experiences ditching the religion in favour of a less restricted, judgement free life. Recently, though, I chatted with Zoya, who grew up in an Indian Muslim family. We talked about what it was like growing up surrounded by faith, the catalysts for her change in belief, as well as what ‘life after religion’ is like for her.
Zoya was raised in a “pretty devout” household, where daily prayers, reading the Quaran in Arabic, and visiting Mecca were the normal elements of a religious lifestyle. Until the age of fourteen, Zoya was a “staunch believer”. It was around this time, though, that she was introduced to progressive, left wing politics, and began reading about feminism. To add to this whirlpool of new ideas, Zoya also began reading the Quaran in English. “Being able to understand it made me realise how little I actually believed in it”, she says. This struck me as interesting. Obviously, it’s much harder to question something when we don’t understand it fully, but what does this mean for people whose parents chose their faith for them?
This problem of having to choose something in order for it to matter cast my mind back to a topic that came up in Religion and Philosophy class called theodicy. So theodicy, in it’s most basic text-book definition, is an attempt to understand why all knowing, all-loving, all-powerful good would allow the existence of so much evil in the world. I feel like this is an issue many people have grappled with, and it’s not uncommon to hear people say, “well, if God was real, he would fix poverty, right?”
The particular theodicy that came to mind in my talk with Zoya was Alvin Plantinga’s free will defence. To save you the blatantly confusing and dry details, it’s basically an argument that states it’s logically possible for God to create a world containing so much evil because, although God has created us as free creatures, he can’t determine what we do, otherwise, we’re not free at all, and we can’t choose what is right freely. So if we want any meaningful good action to happen, God has to allow people the choice to be total shit-heads, which explains most of the evil in the world.
This idea seems pretty logical, I’m sure most people would agree that if you’re forced into charity work at gunpoint, it doesn’t really count. So what about having your parents pick your religion for you? From a young age, can being taken to church, included in religious ceremonies such as mass or fasting, or even acting a certain way be considered as genuine, meaningful adherence to a religion? How aware and involved should we be in our decision to join a religion for it to be counted? It seems going by age is not a practical method, as for Zoya, it wasn’t until her teen years that she fully understood the Qu’aran and it’s teachings.
Zoya was eighteen when she revealed her atheism to her parents, and since then has had little contact with her family. She describes her life without religion as having “a lot more freedom… I don’t feel that niggling sense of unease I had when I wasn’t sure what I believed.”
So far I’ve spoken to two people who’ve grown up with their religion chosen for them, and at one point during their adolescences, they’ve decided they’ve had enough, and have opted for a religion-less life, which both Ryan and Zoya have described as being much freer. So what about those folk who did the opposite: starting from atheism and finding God along the way? Is it fair to say that these people, who actively chose to include themselves in a religion, have more meaningful spiritual lives?
Lizzie Fewster is Scissors Paper Pen’s current Writer in Residence. She is a seventeen-year-old year twelve student, who despite being an atheist, is passionate about religion, philosophy, and ethical studies. Book worm by day (and usually night), she spends her free time dreaming of her soon-to-be freedom from her current educational institution, and keenly awaits university life in Melbourne.