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?