Losing My Religion

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Losing My Religion

Losing My Religion

Edit: Just to make sure there’s no misunderstanding…

1) I’m an atheist but I have nothing against religion, as long as it’s your values and you don’t try to convince me you’re right and I’m a sinner blah blah blah. And I’m not going to convince you that God doesn’t exist. I don’t know that. I just don’t believe, that’s all. Can we be friends now?

2) I do think religion brought a lot of good things (art, culture etc.) and I’m always curious about different religions. In fact, I wish I had known more when I studied literature, because there’re a lot of references to major religion.

3) I’m not anti-American and I’m not trying to say Europe way of dealing with religions is best. However, I must admit religion in North America is a fascinating subject for me: I’ve never seen so many religions and so many religious believers.

4) I truly don’t understand blind faith in whatever. You’ll have to explain that me.

On top of being a borderline Communist and a proud Socialist, I’m also an atheist. It’s basically a miracle I chose to live in North America… but I like paradoxes.

Although I’m fairly sure my parents were baptized (being an atheist just wasn’t an option a few decades ago in France), I never ever went to Church and no one in my family believes in God, whoever he is.

However, the city where I grew up was pretty Catholic. I started to notice it in Junior High: suddenly, all my friends attended catechism classes in order to have their First Communion. For a year, they would periodically skip school for a couple of day and come back with brand new watches and necklaces as Communion gifts. When we studied French literature, I could tell some students were much better at interpreting classical books’ religious background. I’d struggle: who is God’s son already? Which one died first? Clearly, some of us had had a religious upbringing but it was seen as a family legacy rather than a personal manifestation of faith.

In France, religion freedom is guaranteed by the Constitution and protected by the Republic but it’s a very private matter. Religious beliefs are not to be expressed in public. I’ve always assumed Chirac was Catholic, but for all I knew, he could be a Protestant, an Orthodox or a Buddhist—as a political figure, he just wasn’t allowed to bring up his religious beliefs. France is a secular state and prides itself for being so.

As a result, North America’s habit of expressing religious beliefs publicly is weird to most Europeans. In France, no one has ever seen the President pray or refer to religion in his speech… but Bush or Harper openly refers to the Bible.

When I first came to Canada I was shocked by the number of Churches, Temples, Synagogues etc. It also seemed that everyone started its own religion. I knew Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism—and that was about it. I was—and I still am—clueless about Pentecostalism, Anglicanism, Baptists, Methodists, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Pentecostal/Charismatic, Episcopalian/Anglican, Seventh-Day Adventist, Born Again etc. And what the hell is “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”? A bunch of people who believe they will eventually end up in Heaven because they have the longest religious group name ever???

France is also very paranoid about sects… although one could argue that religion is just a sect that has grown rich and powerful. An entire regulatory system to protect citizens against sects has been developed and many religious movements are just illegal (Church of Scientology…) or barely tolerated (Jehovah Witnesses). The joke in France is that whatever banned sect is sent to North America… thus Raelianism and the little Aliens, kicked out of France, are now living a happy life in Quebec.

The way people openly live their religion still amaze me. I’ve seen countless religious blogs on the web, I read a lot of “we’ll pray for you” kind of comments and I heard the Bible quoted more than once. Not that it bothers me. But it sounds strange to me.

However, I have very little sympathy for proselytism. I believe that everyone on earth rely on a set of values. These can be religious, familial, moral, ideological, social etc. Each individual possess a unique conception of them. That’s about it. Just leave people alone. What could be more pretentious than thinking one has the right set of values and need to spread them around the world? Methods of religious propagation are often anything but peaceful and yet a small number of self-called “superior” civilizations allowed themselves to dictate what was good and what was bad throughout history.

A question remains: why is North America so deeply religious? A continent so advanced technically speaking… yet, apparently, 1/3 of Americans say that they believe every word in the Bible is literally true, the literal handwriting of God (according to Susan Jacoby).

And why is religion important to you?

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About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

83 Comments

  1. tom sheepandgoats :

    Thanks for your patience and you respectful explanation. 😉

    I actually never had a bad experience with Jehovah Witnesses BTW !

    This is where we disagree : when you say the Gospels are to be offered to people. Now, I have to admit I’ve never read the Bible or the Gospels. I understand you, as a believer, you find them beautiful and meaningful. But I don’t think religion should be discuss with other too much.

    I’m sure you’re a nice person and you seem very tolerant. I don’t think you’d “push” ideas into people’s head. But other may and have in the past – that bothers me a lot.

    I’m pro-choice for basically everything and it bothers me when I see people who make a point to convert me or other to something. It starts with casual talk, and then come “if you don’t believe in XZ you’re a bad person”, and it ends up dividing people even more. Every religion, every cult think they know better.

    Just curious : how do you feel about the fact the Jehovah Witnesses are labelled as a sect in France (and maybe elsewhere ? Not sure…)

  2. ann michele : Thank you so much for your insight – I appreciate your patience !

    I don’t mind other religion than the “main” ones (Judaism, Islam and Christianity – to name the 3 I know best). Sect, not a sect… that’s none of my business. Who am I to judge anyway !

    If you think religion made you a better person, it’s great. We all need some inspiration. I guess mine is traveling : I believe traveling made me a better person, it open my mind and it’s hard to believe the usual stereotypes after traveling the world.

    I did check your blog and you do look happy 😉 As I said, I try not to believe stereotypes so I must admit I didn’t know much about LDS but I wouldn’t think you’re bad 😉

    I like learning new things, so now I know a bit more about your religion and I’m glad I do.

    i’m tired of people not getting it with americans…..our country was based on faith – from the very beginning. read the constitution and you will find a lot about

    G O D.

    I know American history a bit and I know the first settlers left Europe because of religious disagreement. But that was quite a while ago and I’m not sure whether it’s the main reason for today’s faith renewal.

    If you see it from Europe, from Asia, from South Pacific, you can tell is USA is a very religious country. Surprising for foreigners like me given that :

    1) There’s no state religion (unlike let’s say Saudi Arabia)
    2) The USA are very advanced technologically speaking and it can sometimes be difficult to mix sciences and religion
    3) The USA is also (maybe wrongly ?) well-known to be materialistic. Something again that doesn’t always mixes well with religion.

    Let’s be a bit cynical for two seconds and assume religion is like a product. There are a lot of religions in the USA as I mentioned before : so obviously, there’s a market for it, which allow them to develop and to grow. So why would Americans be better consumers of religion than Spanish, French etc. ?

    Yes, my question was partially answered I guess 😉

    oh and one more thing……the missionaries of our church actually do A LOT to help people….they don’t just walk around proselyting…there is much more to what they do than that. i can tell you that because my husband works with them and helps coordinate what they do…

    I’m sure some do and that individually, missionary are good people. I was just speaking historically speaking – I’m sorry, but in quite a few country, results have been disastrous for the local population.

  3. Well, most of the religions are tolerant to eachother, but then, there are some major and minor issues regarding certain religions. There have been issues even between different sects of the same religion. Secularism does come at a price…

  4. tom sheepandgoats on

    It’s true. Every religious person has their own brand to advertise, and it can get frurstrating to the one in the middle. But the world is a marketplace of ideas. That’s just the way it is. Religion is a large componant, but by no means the only one. Politics & social policy can be and are argued ad infinitum. Then, of course (I would agree with your assessment, even if a.m. does not: (which she may) the U.S. is a very materialistic country) there’s the ever-present salesperson trying to get into your wallet and sell you this or that. Even stuff that used to be automatic is now made an issue and one is subjected to eternal sales pitches regarding selection of utilities and telephone and so forth.

    This is a world of ideas. Ever more so as societies become more complex. The trick is to do what you have done. Learn to be gracious and curious, but know how and when to draw a line. At least Jehovah’s Witnesses mean a person no harm, which is more than can be said for many strangers who may approach you.

    As for France, that situation you likely know better than I. Opposition to our work is common in some third world and totalitarian countries (for example, Eritrea: ) but it is not usually so in the developed world. I understand France has imposed a 60% tax on all activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses, (and them alone, I think) which has never been paid and is subject of endless appeal and which, if I’m not mistaken, is being presented by JWs to the European Court. But I don’t know the details.

  5. Zhu,

    In relation to France’s treatment of Jehovah’s Witnesses…

    It is very unjustified and actually motivated in most part by a few politicians who are acting our personal vendettas, mainly because they are Catholics or atheists.

    The higher courts of France and the European Union continue to uphold the rights of Jehovah’s Witnesses even though they are trampled on by these same people continuously.

    For example, Catherine Picard, a Socialist politician in France, has just been ordered to pay damages to Jehovah’s Witnesses due to defamation by her “anti-cult” organisation. The French court ruled that Catherine Picard had “in excessive fashion and by a tendentious presentation thrown discredit upon the Jehovah’s Witnesses and . . . given her excessive statements utterly devoid of good faith had gone beyond the limits of acceptable free opinion.”

    A Jehovah’s Witness, who was a lawyer, was disbarred and subjected to a tax audit by the French government and had a lawsuit brought against him by Picard’s anti-cult organisation. He has just been vindicated by the European Court of Human Rights that recognised that France has violated freedom of expression rules, and the country has been ordered to pay damages to him. ALso, the lawsuit against him has been thrown out.

    You can get more information on human rights abuses by France and other countries against Jehovah’s Witnesses and other persons at http://www.hrwf.net or http://www.forum18.org.

    I had always grown up fond of France, thinking it was one place in the world were people who were different or had unorthodox ideas would be tolerated. By to my suprise, it actually seems that even the United States is more open-minded and tolerant than France. Which makes me sad because I am otherwise a fan of French food, art and culture.

  6. tom sheepandgoats on

    Ooh! ooh! I just thought of something I can ask a person who comes from France!

    My all time favorite novels are of the Maigret series by Simenon. For the most part the setting is Paris 50-70 years ago. I can’t get enough of these and have, I think, read all the ones that have been translated into English. In spite of being murder stories, there is a joyous quality to them, and they are laced with gentle humor. Very strange, because family-wise Maigret seems the mirror opposite of the author, and one almost gets the sense that writing the stories was a sort of “therapy.”

    But my question: do the novels accurately reflect French society? They give the impression that French men do nothing but drink and keep mistresses. Now, I note that Simenon himself was….ah…um….that is to say….well, he’d known (Biblical usage) more than one woman in his day. 10,000, if his own estimate is to be believed. So….did his…um…excessive nature color his view of French society? Or is it really that way?

    Okay…enough titilation! Now we’ll grind our nose into something more pedantic!

    You said: Just curious : how do you feel about the fact the Jehovah Witnesses are labelled as a sect in France (and maybe elsewhere ? Not sure…)

    The words sect and cult actually have meaning, but as used today, they usually just reflect how much the user dislikes a religion.

    In Bible times, the whole of Chistianity was labeled by Jewish mainstream society as a “sect.”

    When the apostle Paul (a Christian, but former Jew) landed in Rome, he entered a synagogue and wondered if anyone had heard of him and what he represented….

    They said to him: “Neither have we received letters concerning you from Judea, nor has anyone of the brothers that has arrived reported or spoken anything wicked about you. But we think it proper to hear from you what your thoughts are, for truly as regards this sect it is known to us that everywhere it is spoken against.” Acts 28:21,22

    And Roman officials were inclined to call Christianity a “cult.”

  7. Wow!! I have so enjoyed reading this post and all the comments. In fact, I stopped here because I’d been tagged for excellence in blogging and needed someone to tag. You are definitely it with this post!!

    Just to add a few of my comments. I am LDS and I am practicing though for a time I wasn’t. It was during that time that I had to figure out if I was doing it for me or for my parents. I grew up in Utah and unfortunately there are many people there who live a culture which may be based on the religion but isn’t true to the religion. I detested the hypocrisy. Then I made friends with a Baptist and found out that he had experienced almost the exact same thing that I had in the rural predominantly Baptist community he grew up in.

    After that I realized that many people don’t really live their religion (referring to the teachings of the religion usually contain in the form of sacred writings or scriptures). They live what is culturally acceptable in their community. So, in the community where I grew up it was culturally acceptable to shun anyone who didn’t belong to the LDS church even if that person was a member of your family (this is just an example from my own experience). So much for Jesus’ teaching “Love one another”.

    I’m not entirely sure that North America is truly religious. I think a lot of it is cultural and culture has a long life. So, yes our culture is still strongly influenced by the Puritans who originally came here seeking religious freedom. Honestly, I am immediately distrustful of anyone who has to “proclaim” their religiousness. I do think there are a lot of sincere people who should have every right to express their beliefs. I hope that I am one of those people (sincere I mean). Unfortunately, there are people who are not sincere and give religion in general a bad reputation (some people may disagree with me but I feel our president is giving religion a bad reputation).

    I personally love reading the bible because it has some really wonderful ideas. The important thing here is that you take the book as a whole. Any single idea can be misinterpreted particularly when taken out of context. I think this is what many religious fanatics have done.

    I also enjoy reading the writings on Gandhi and Buddha (I plan to read the Quran but right now it’s third or fourth on my list of books to read). I believe that there are certain principles which are true and if you allow those principles to guide your life you will have a better life. These true principles are things like “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Imagine what a wonderful world we would live in if everyone actually did as that one statement suggests. This particular statement comes from the bible but there are similar ideas in every one of the major religions.

    Angela May’s last blog post..Back from Blogging Hiatus

  8. Actually I never heard a Canadian politician talk about God before Harper.

    The question to me is not why North Americans are so religious but why Europeans are not. Actually living here in Quebec I feel like part of a fringe group for actually going to church on Sundays.

  9. Has Unitarian Universalism been mentioned? I have not searched the replies. Anyway, that’s what I am, or rather that’s the church I go to. And I like the UUs. In fact I’ve been one all my life. They’re good well meaning people and are supposed to accept everyone, which they usually do. That includes atheists and agnostics of course. Hey, type UUA into Google and take a look at the UUA website. It’s great! And here’s the news aggregator: UU Updates.

    Mardés last great read…LATE BREAKING NEWS!

  10. In Canada, we actually consider ourselves to be pretty secular, too. Harper surprised just about everyone with his “family values” and religion, since no one really talked about that much in Canada. Religion is a lot more present in Canada, but then, we also have a lot of religions. We’ve had plenty of debates about it, too. Should you wear a helmet when you drive a motorcycle? How would you? Is it legal to carry around a knife with religious connotations?

    In my Poli Sci class, we also discussed religion and looked at states such as France, Belgium, the Netherlands and one more (I’m blanking on which one) regarding laws on religious freedom. The anti-headscarf laws were such a surprise to many Canadians.

    And the annoying religious telemarketers bother everyone. When my dad first came to Canada, he didn’t know what they were doing, so he made tea and talked to them for two hours. Heh. P:

    • I can just imagine your Dad inviting Jehovah Witnesses and Mormons 😆

      I agree with you: Canada is quite secular. Well, much more than the U.S.A, for sure. But France is really tough on secularism that’s why the role of religion here surprised me a lot.

      Are you studying at the U of O? I’m taking political science courses there.

  11. Actually I believe a lot of architecture is based on religion, just look at old castles and towers in Europe and how they were inspired from church architecture.
    many palaces in turkey, the Arab world even Spain are inspired by mosques so religion did have a role in art.
    even the pyramids of Giza were considered some sort of temples. so many things that constitute civilizations today(buildings, culinary habits…etc), were built on religious foundations!!

  12. Your question about why is North America religous has to do with the founding of the US. Many of the initial people who settled this continent move from Europe because of their religious beliefs which they were persecuted for. They were mostly protestant who initially settled in Holland before coming to America (specifically the Plymouth Colony). These people opposed state interference in religious matters, and founded their own churches, educational establishments, and communities. They lived in their beliefs.

    The link below gives a good overview of the religious history.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_Dissenters

    • Thank you for your input! The way you explain it, it makes a lot of sense. I’m going to have a look at the Wikipedia page.

  13. Such an interesting post, so glad you posted this on your 7 Links Project. I don’t find Canadians to be all that religious, but I was shocked when I lived in the US about how open Americans were about their religion and how often the subject came up. I rarely get asked about my religion in Germany either, which I like as it’s not something I openly want to discuss with people I don’t know very well. I do agree there are a LOT of different sects in Canada though and I still couldn’t tell how how a lot of them differed from each other.

    • You’re right, Canadians aren’t as religious as Americans… but still way more religious (at least openly religious) than most French! It really surprised me when I first came here. Even simple things like saying “God bless” were strange to me.

  14. bonjour je et bonne année 2013 zhu c’est vraiment interissant de connaitre une canadiene et une française à la fois bont je me presente d’abort mon nom est chokri et je suis tunisien j’aime bient duscuter avec toi et avec d’autres pour mieux connaitre le canada bon je m’excuse s’est tar et demain je travaille mais se que tu a ecri est vraiment interissant et j’aime bien commenté mais ça sera demain .encore je m’excuse “chokri”

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