How the role of culture in my life shaped my religious beliefs

BY SIDDHI SHAH '19 

“You are too smart to be religious,” someone told me when I was in the prime of my teenage years. To the rebellious young girl in me, this remark felt like a challenge, as though a choice had to be made between appearing intelligent and believing in a higher power. 

It might be the religion I was brought up in, Hinduism, or others who had influenced me culturally, Islam and Christianity, but for the next few years, I used all the logic in me to disprove every “supernatural” claim made by institutional religions. The moment anyone preached their religion to me, I was armed with my “logical” facts backed by science to prove to them just how implausible their ideals were. 

Don’t get me wrong. I am not one of your run-of-the-mill science-loving, logic-practicing atheists who does not believe in God. I have no issues believing that the Doctor from Doctor Who is right around the corner in his TARDIS waiting to whisk me away to space adventures. So apparently, logic is not the reason for my disbelief in God. So did a temple-going young girl like me just wake up one day and decide to make a 180? 

It would seem not. A recent study released by the Pew Research Center shows a modest decline in the number of millennials who believe in God, pray regularly and consider religion an important part of their life. Is our generational move away from societal norms also leading to a cultural move away from structured religion, or has the increase in technological advancement forced us to pay more attention to science? Personally, I would gladly indulge in believing the latter, however, some of the most revolutionary scientists believed in God. From Einstein to Pascal to Faraday, making groundbreaking scientific discoveries did not stop every scientist from going to church. 

Despite being surrounded by intelligent religious people, like my sometimes-church-going Christian friend, Kate, the idea of being religious still seems unachievable to me. Would my A’s drop to B’s the moment I prayed to god? Probably not. Can I believe that if I ran into the wall between platform 9 and platform 10 on King’s Cross Station, I would be on platform 9? Absolutely. 

Like every other Mount Holyoke student, I had to think about gender at least once in my bid to solve this puzzle. Does my gender affect my personal religious views at all? Turns out, no. On the contrary, another Pew Research Center study has shown that women are much more likely to be religious than men. Since I’m a woman, this all rings a resounding “no” to my hypothesis that I’m not religious because of my gender identity. 

The last solution that came to my mind was that maybe it was my third culture upbringing that turned me into an atheist. Being brought up by Indian parentswithin an Islamic country, in the city of Dubai, while living on a daily diet of western culture will do wonders for an already confused young girl. However, like my previously unsuccessful attempts to make sense of my beliefs, this hypothesis also turned out to be false because my sister, who was born under the exact same conditions, still believes in God. 

After more deliberation and Google searching, I came to a conclusion. The answer is all of the above. I am a sci-fi believing woman of a new generation who is the product of a globalized culture. I am a part of a generation which pushes personal boundaries and challenges older traditions to create their own. So perhaps, it’s not just that I don’t believe in religion because I don’t believe God exists, but because I’d rather believe in Dumbledore. 

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