I Have A Religion And It’s Called Being A Good Person

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In 1994, Bjork was interviewed for an article titled “Bjork on the Wild Side” When asked who she prays to, she replied:

“I’ve got my own religion… Iceland sets a world-record… When we were asked what we believe, 90% said, ‘ourselves.’ I think I’m in that group. If I get into trouble, there’s no God or Allah to sort me out. I have to do it myself.”

That’s the only idea of religion I can identify with. My mother is a roman catholic and my father, an atheist. While she looks for meaning in a withered flower, he attempts to explain phenomena with logic and applied science. I fall somewhere in between.

As an infant, I was baptized into the church. Baptism, the Catholic rite of cleansing “original sin,” ensures a child will not be sent to hell in case it gets sick and dies or is eaten by wolves. This allowed me to be enrolled in the church’s private school when I began kinder garden. In a wooden trunk stowed in my parents’ basement is an illustration I drew of god from that time. It depicts an all-seeing bearded man resting lazily in the clouds, picking his teeth with a lightning bolt. A robin’s egg tear rolls down his cheek. At five, I imaged god as a sad man, bored with the illusion of all he had created.

At the age of seven, I made my first communion, the second rite of initiation to the church. I remember the event itself much more hazily than I remember the party afterward. My late grandmother gifted me with a beautiful black rosary, tucked neatly in a white satin snap case. As we left the party, she pulled me into the banquet hall away from other guests and said, “remember, darling: god sees all and says nothing.” That was my concept of the big man upstairs for years afterward.

Catholic children undergo the sacrament of confirmation during their eighth grade year. Confirmation is the third and final rite of initiation into the church and is regarded as the perfection of baptism. A bishop lies his hands on your shoulders and entrusts you with the “power of the spirit,” and a new name is chosen by the confirmed — usually the name of a saint to serve as a guide. While doing community service, a requirement to prepare to be confirmed, I was pulled into a bathroom and molested by a man who worked at the church. I stabbed him. The head priest of our church, afraid of bad publicity, refused to testify on my behalf at trial, resulting in a restraining order for the man and 500 hours of community service. Between court dates, I was still obliged to be confirmed, and chose the name “Marie,” symbolic of “martyr.” Upon graduation, I deemed myself an atheist.

You don’t acknowledge a god, or the lack of one, until there’s blood on your hands.

I attended a public high school in a new town. I had become withdrawn and mildly depressed, cloaking myself in black. I listened to a lot of punk rock, hardcore and black metal, relating to the content within the songs because I could not relate to those around me. There was not, and never has been, an “in-between” period of my life, and so I blatantly regarded all things religious as blasphemy. I did not have many friends and so I took my grandmother’s advice to heart and learned to observe as a fly on the wall: seeing all and saying nothing. I developed an eating disorder, a habit that, in a nutshell, allowed me to regulate what came in and went out of my life. I did not pay attention to lessons, opting to write in a blue notebook during class instead. I did not flunk out of school; I excelled, and graduated a year early. I did not attend the ceremony, and picked up my diploma in the office a week later.

The waters calmed once high school ended. I worked full time and saved money until I was accepted into art school a year later. High school had taught me the skill of reinvention, and I chose to be a new person again. Bored with angst and all I had created, I gave popularity a shot and made friends easily. I participated in school endeavors, writing articles for the college newspaper and managing a student band, while holding down two paid internships and a part-time job. By senior year, my advisor had chosen me, along with four others, as featured students for the department’s website. Upon graduation I had the world at my fingertips.

And then I understood that happiness is a choice.
And thus I understood the God complex in all of us.

When I tore down others and their ideas, I was left as bloody pulp. Where I was supportive, I was supported, for success lies only in our ideas of the world around us. I became curious because something had happened. A switch was flipped and I began wondering: had someone looked out for me? I searched for answers in cluttered bookstores, in religious texts and science and psychology publications and in conversations with strangers. Meanwhile, it became clear that I could have anything I wanted if I believed I deserved it — such things as satisfying relationships, passionate sex, paid acting gigs, trips to exotic places, and most importantly, sound physical and mental health.

Answers did not come except for the conclusions I drew for myself. I had heard the crying of my own heart and had no choice but to listen, for fear it would break again. Things that were previously unattainable were always far-reaching, fixed in some distant point in the future, so I came to believe that time is not linear, but a cycle, with patterns repeating themselves until they are corrected. I used to want to know it all, but now I just want to know.

And I believe in god again but it is a god in me, not a figure that is omnipotent or slapping me with hell-bound postage when I take what I need when I need it. My only rules are to never lie, cheat or steal. I am aware of the potential struggle in everyone. I watch others in an attempt to take what I can learn, duly trying to refrain from judgment. I observe, but hardly object. I am nice to the waiter, smile at the woman who tenders cash at the gas station, and give my best effort when I am asked for help. I do not interfere where I am not invited, because you can never carry someone’s burden just as someone cannot carry yours.

If you should struggle, look inward and adjust your beliefs to what rings true for you. Allow your curiosities to become your prerogative and indulge them when you are so inclined, as long as it does not harm someone else. Choose your company wisely, and if you should steal, steal away from those that do not support your highest idea of yourself. When something no longer serves you, let go.

Most importantly, know you don’t need anyone to save you. TC Mark

Ashlee Schultz

Ashlee Schultz believes in the power of a positive mindset. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee.

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