This I Believe, by Shane Battis

I believe that although religious faiths can and have helped many people find inner peace and motivation throughout the globe, I view both my life and that of others from a purely secular perspective. Though my family on my mother’s side is staunchly Christian and my father’s agnostic, I was raised in a very neutral atmosphere as neither of my parents wanted to pressure my sister or myself into committing to beliefs we didn’t yet understand. Instead, they decided to let us figure it out on our own over time.

Growing up in Kennesaw, Georgia—like most other places—allotted me plenty of outlets to explore different faiths without pressure. Together, my sister and I listened in on sermons at our local church and partook in several youth group activities. Though the Christian community was receptive and everyone present appeared to be happy, I just didn’t feel like I had found a spiritual connection—the whole point of a faith. I decided that religion, or Christianity at least, simply wasn’t for me and that was and still is okay with me because I find that removing religion from my life doesn’t lead to me to cynicism or immorality. Rather, it has just locked my focus on the here and now. Without any expectation of an afterlife or rebirth, I feel the drive to be completely present in every waking moment and to live the way I know is right and can be proud of whether or not it aligns with beliefs of the many faiths throughout the world. Over the years, I have developed my own code of ethics I can call my personal creed. This is to be kind to those deserving, appreciate all the little joys in life as well as have patience with the annoyances, and hold myself to my responsibilities. Instead of seeking out religion for guidance in the face of moral ambiguity, I look inward for answers which has led me to even more self-discovery than I think I could ever have found in a temple.

I have heard criticisms from several different people that I’m missing out by living outside of religious communities and that atheism is all negativity. It is true that there is a plethora of individuals who are vengeful and unruly in their expressions thwarting those who think unlike themselves, but these are actions of individuals and cannot generalize an entire following. Personally, I don’t feel that being an atheist means embracing a culture of negativity, but simply stepping away from all religions passively and upholding secular ideals instead. By doing so, I am not trodding on other lifestyles; I’m just choosing an alternate one.

I don’t feel disheartened about my spirituality since I am still able to find purpose and love in a secular world. As far as I can tell, at the core of every religious faith and every practice and every prayer is the desire to feel a sense of belonging and direction as life can often be daunting without something steady to rely on. For this reason, I think everyone is entitled to believe in whatever makes them happy and atheism does so for me for several reasons. Firstly, I love that I have unlimited freedom to choose my virtues and fulfill them on my own conscience. Like so many other members of my generation, I strive to be a free thinking individual and by building my own pyramid of thoughts and convictions I am successful in that. It feels far more rewarding to me knowing that whenever I do something for the greater good I am doing it because I know it is right and not just because that’s what has been preached to me. This makes all my actions speak for who I am. Now I’d like to be clear in that I do not think religious people would be without a moral compass if they gave up their faith; their nature is innate and I admire their kindhearted spirits. What I’m saying is that I take pride in my personal brand of morality because I arrived at it independently and that these are simply two different routes leading to the same ultimate goal of finding humanity.

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img_3623Shane Battis is a journalism major in the Bob Sheiffer School of Journalism at TCU.

 

I Believe in Doors Closing, by Cara Doidge Kilgore

I believe in doors closing, or at least I do now. For a long time, I was embarrassed by how long it took me to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, wondering what people must think and why everyone else seems to have it figured out before me.

In high school, my friends made decisions about college months before graduation, while I signed my letter of intent and had to ship it overnight. By the end of my first semester of college in Washington, D.C., I found myself crying in a counselor’s office as I realized that the school wasn’t the right fit and I couldn’t believe a door was closing. I was terrified as I made the decision to leave.

I found myself at TCU as a sophomore, still scared I had made the wrong decision. I had to work to find my niche on campus, but a door finally opened and I found my place. I still remember the moment when I stood in Dr. Grant’s office while he signed the paper to allow me to change my major to religion. I felt for the first time like I had truly made the right decision. Maybe not on my first or even third door, but I finally found the right door. I thought I had finally figured it out.

Then, I started social work graduate school and by October, I realized that I had made another mistake. I closed the door and left after a semester. I was embarrassed and desperate to hide this mistake, but relieved because it would have been a bigger mistake to stay. The following year, I started anew at Vanderbilt Divinity School and loved it. I still managed to close doors while I was there, but I started to realize that these doors being closed behind me were helping me find my path.

After graduating, I taught civics and world history. I loved discussing pivotal moments in history and how my students had a part to play in shaping their world, but I knew I hadn’t found the right door yet. In 2011, my husband and I moved to Chicago. I didn’t even know what doors to look for, and then my husband told me about a non-profit in town whose mission is to make interfaith cooperation a social norm.

It’s now been almost 3 years since I began working at Interfaith Youth Core and every day I have the privilege of doing work that I deeply believe in. It may have taken me a while, but I’ve finally realized there’s no need to be embarrassed. Parker Palmer wrote, “there is as much guidance in what does not and cannot happen in my life as there is in what can and does — maybe more.” On paper, I’m still a mess and I know there are doors yet to be closed, but I finally know that’s okay. This is why I believe in doors closing.

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GA TIB BOOK Cara Doidge KilgoreCara Doidge Kilgore holds a Master of Theological Studies from Vanderbilt Divinity School and earned her B.A. in religious studies with a minor in social work from Texas Christian University, class of 2004. She works for Interfaith Youth Core and manages their Interfaith Leadership Institutes and the operations of the Better Together campaign, a national network of student-led interfaith action on college campuses. Cara lives in Chicago with her husband, Billy, toddler whirlwind, Henry, and canine whirlwind, Jolene.

I believe in Tolerance and Understanding

Author: Corey Landers, TCU Student, Marketing Major, Published Fall 2012

My life was changed the day I first moved. I had been living in Louisiana for practically my entire life when my father told the family that he was being transferred overseas to Great Britain. We moved to a small village called Lea that was just two hours away from London, and I went to school surrounded by people who had funny accents and strange habits. We also went to a different church, an Anglican one I suppose, but honestly I could barely tell the difference then from the Methodist church we had attended in Louisiana.

Church was never a big part of my family’s life. We arbitrarily went from Methodism to Anglicanism simply because it was convenient (the Anglican Church was right down the street). And when we then moved to London itself, we stopped attending church for a year because we could barely find a school for my sister and I, let alone a place of worship. But none of this was a big deal because religion and spirituality never really entered my life in England.

It only became an issue when I moved to Texas. I started noticing how deeply people held their religious beliefs, and how open they were to talking about them. All through high school I was surrounded by people who would mention God or Jesus whenever they got the chance, and I always got offended by it. I just always believed that religion was a private matter, and definitely not something you just openly talked about in class. And when I got to college things just got worse. Now I was living with people of all different faiths and ideologies, and so naturally clashes occurred between the intolerant people.

I hate intolerance. Living in England taught me that people can be different from me, but still be great once you get to know them, and so when the intolerant people in my dorm would go about preaching their beliefs I just couldn’t believe it. Did they not realize how rude they were being? Did they not understand how offensive they were? After a few heated arguments, I realized that the people who are the most intolerant happen to be the most ignorant of other people’s beliefs. These people practically refuse to accept that their religion maybe isn’t the only correct belief out there, so they attack anything they don’t understand.

I believe in understanding. I believe in empathy. I believe in tolerance and freedom. But I also know that some do not. I know that some refuse to learn about “the heathens”, that some hate those that are different simply because they are different. And I know I can’t do anything to change that mindset. So instead I choose to take the higher path, to not hate them because of their hate, their ignorance. I believe in empathy, they believe in intolerance. But I hope that just as racism has slowly began to die away, so too will the last vestiges of all intolerance. I hope I am not wrong.