Growing up in two heavily religious countries, the concept of not having a religion was something demonic and unacceptable.
It’s not that atheists don’t exist in heavily religious countries, but most atheists hide their beliefs in fear of persecution.
From a very young age, I was exposed to the idea of God. I was told that there was a man in the sky who was watching over me and I had to be at my best behaviour at all times in order to have good things happen to me.
When I had to go through obstacles in life, I was told it was because “God” was “testing my faith” and that I had to accept everything and not question anything.
My abusive, alcoholic father and my never-present mother were all “tests from God” but nobody ever said that I had shitty parents. I had to respect them no matter what so that God wouldn’t punish me.
Back in the day, my father used to be what some call a religious fanatic who would never accept any negative comments about his religion and was ready to kill and die for it.
In fact, he had killed for it when he had to fight against religious persecution during a dark period for our people. They called him a hero, my mother and I knew better.
He later went on to become a drug addict and an alcoholic who died from an illness while I was about 10 years old. If only he knew his daughter would grow up to renounce the religion he held so dear to him, he would put a bullet through my head. After all, it wasn’t something he hadn’t done before.
I had been exposed to multiple religions all at once. As a child growing up in India, I went to a convent school that was run by nuns and took Bible studies, had Hindu neighbours and my mother practised Hinduism on a daily basis and by birth, I was a Sikh.
A few years after my father’s passing, my mother moved back to Malaysia, her home country that is also a predominantly Muslim nation. I was exposed to Islam and at the same time, I went to a Sikh majority school where I was exposed to my own religion.
I must say, they had me at first.
I became overly obsessed with practising religion the “right” way. So much so that I became this toxic person that judged and looked down upon anyone that didn’t have the same belief as me. It was a dangerous territory to be in. You could even call me a religious radical.
The turning point for me was when as a teenager, I was sexually assaulted by a priest in the temple I used to go to for religious studies.
It made me question everything. I thought if these so-called protectors of religion could do such a thing to me, how valid are the things that they say? What is the point of being religious if you can’t even be a decent human being at first?
As I began my unlearning, an atheist friend of mine asked me this one question that changed my life,
“Why does the fear of hell or negative karma dictate whether or not you do good deeds? Shouldn’t you be a good person because you WANT to be a good person and not because you fear God?”
I thought about that question for days.
I then turned to my adoptive mother who had spent years at that time being everything my biological (religious) parents had not been to me. I, on the other hand, had judged her for not being religious enough and would give her a tough time due to my dietary restrictions that were religion-imposed.
I thought, “If God doesn’t take this angel, who has gone through so much just to give me a better life, to “heaven” just because she doesn’t follow some man-made rules, then I don’t want to believe in such a weak God. I’d rather go to whatever “hell” she’s going to.”
From then on, I decided to focus on being a good person and do all I can in my power to be of use to the society than waste my energy following books that were written thousands of years ago by some delirious dude.
After all, anyone can write a book.