I find myself again thinking and therefore writing about my Catholic, conservative upbringing in Westchester, New York. My house was in Croton-On-Hudson, a town wholly different from Croton Harmon (they were not on the Hudson River), and my grammar school, Saint Augustine’s, was located in Ossining-On-Hudson — again, wholly different from Ossining in the same way.
My humble house stood in a woodland suburbia, eight minutes from the bridge that connected Croton Harmon and Ossining-on-Hudson. St. Augustine’s was the first property visible from the bridge, and to this day the school is perched over the river. The sight from the bridge as the morning’s first light illuminated the building was one of the first beautiful things I ever saw.
My mother and stepfather — religious, Catholic and proud — were giddy to make the obvious comment: “Isn’t God’s creation beautiful?”
Their rhetorical question, however, did not pierce my mind; I became irreligious at a young age, and maintained that atheism coupled with an increasingly outward aggression towards Catholicism throughout my formidable years.
It’s been five years since I lived on the Hudson River and seven years since I went to a church service that wasn’t celebrating Jesus’ birth or resurrection. Hell, I’ve since been to temple more than church, thanks to my friends’ bar and bat mitzvahs. To my parents’ credit, I did spend those irreligious years in an all-boys Catholic school, but my time was generally spent antagonizing religious teachers and falling asleep during prayer services.
Yet, a year and a half into my time at Yale, I have come to the conclusion that religious people, the righteous and the virtuous, tend to be better than the faithless.
My definition of a religious person is not the once-a-week service patron — the kids, like me, who practiced their faith as a forced habit. While those who participated in this past Wednesday’s ashes don’t all fall under this category, many who flaunt their faith on their forehead do. Rather, I am defending the people who, in the words of Jesus, “close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.”
While I have long cherished the studies of ethics and moral philosophy as the means by which we find objective truths about what is good, it is clear that the philosophers who chased these truths seldom followed their teachings. Plato promulgated wisdom but was foolish and proud enough to secure his own death. Nietzsche, who described alcohol as one of the great narcotics of Europe (along with Christianity), tended to dip into the bottle on occasion.
Yet it is in the religious that you find people who apply actions to their thoughts and beliefs. Those who believe sex before marriage is sin are personally illiberal, and the social statutes of many Judeo-Christian beliefs — positions against gay sex, abortion and so on — are, in this writer’s opinion, explicitly deplorable. Despite this, truly religious people believe we have all been graced by god, that every person is not only equal but made in the image of an omnipotent and omniscient being. The truly religious at least aim to practice temperance, frugality, outward kindness, selflessness and duty, among a slew of other positive behaviors instituted by the various mainstream faiths and churches. They are dependable, they are good friends and they put the happiness of others — generally — before their own.
This isn’t to defend the historical or current political actions and affiliations of most modern faiths. Those who pervert and disregard the original teachings of their various holy books fall into my previous category — those who use their righteousness to put down others in varying degrees of seriousness, at many times to the extent of fatal gravity. Yet, in surveying my twenty years without faith in the direct face of the faithful, I can’t help but know that there is a reason people are part of a church. It is yet another institutional means by which people discipline themselves, and in doing so give themselves up to a greater good. While this is just the tip of the conversation, my surface-scratching attempt to accept the benefits of organized religion, I can’t help but salute the people who take the leap into faith hoping for self-betterment and eternal happiness.
Of course, the obvious question: Nick, why aren’t you religious? The simple answer: I don’t believe in god, which I’ve been told is key to faith.
Wishing you well on your religious journey (or not),
Nick Tabio | firstname.lastname@example.org .