In social justice spaces, religion can be a difficult topic. To some people, the word carries connotations of science denial, hetero/cissexism and misogyny. Too often religion has been the means by which the rights of marginalized groups were denied to them, even as laws and attitudes in secular society have changed.
Everyday Feminism, a web magazine, recently shared an article on how to live authentically as a queer Christian. Among responses of hope and joy, many comments from (presumably) atheist feminists all said the same thing: “Why bother?” And indeed, why would any person whose identity is criticized by a religion want any part of it? More generally, why would any feminist — pursuing the ultimate goal of liberation for all — want to take part in an institution that seems to always involve restrictions on how one is to live their life?
Religion’s root word literally means “re-connection,” and that’s the point of it all: One practices a religion (or several) to connect to something bigger than themselves. How each religion goes about making those connections is different, but it’s usually facilitated by some kind of ruleset. Do this daily; don’t eat that; cover this; read that. If one has lived their life under the thumb of unjust authority, it might feel easy to be turned off by the whole thing.
Not everyone feels that way, however. For example, the women behind Wrapunzel, a modesty and hair-covering community, don’t feel constrained by the Orthodox Jewish law that says they must cover their hair upon marriage. Instead, they find that it lets them be co-creators with God by daily engaging their creativity when wrapping their scarves, and that mindfully following the law brings the Divine into their lives and into the world. In the Orthodox law, these women find spiritual liberation.
I am a Christian, even though I could list the many reasons why I might be “better off” as something else; the Church has not always been kind to me. But over the years, I’ve found that when I actively practice my religion, I feel connected not only to God, but to nature and to my fellow human beings. I break out from the small world of my own selfishness and instead wake up to the sacredness of everything, and I become more generous and patient and grateful. With prayer, hymns and meditation, I can reach out to God and drag Her into my daily life. While I love and admire other traditions, Christianity is it for me. It’s how I connect to something bigger, over and over. In my Christianity, I’m free.
Religion has long been used as a weapon of the oppressor, and I don’t blame anyone for staying away. But for many of us, religion is not a question of “Why bother?” We dance, we pray, we kneel, we light candles and burn incense. Each in our own way, we find our peace. Through our rituals, rules and gods, we are liberated. That is why we stay.