The word ‘grow’ has positive connotations in most languages and ‘to grow’ almost always refers to maturity and the attainment of knowledge. So, it can be claimed that growth is a good thing that should be encouraged and accepted.
But within religion, I would argue this is not always the case. Nationality is another aspect of personal identity similar to religion. But due to globalization, the idea of changing nationalities is becoming widely accepted. A person can be born in Germany, move to South Africa, study abroad in Brazil and finally settle in chilly Iceland, and people will view this person and their passport with awe and respect. They may have changed their national identity many times, but without any real negative impact to their overall feeling of value within their social community.
Now look at religion—here is a distinctiveness of self some philosophers call “the highest identity.” Many people who possess this way of identifying themselves would call it their most important identity. And rightfully so, for religion is claimed to be the only identity one can possess that will save them a seat in some afterlife. But religion is a selfish identity—unlike nationality, which was forced to be shared after Columbus sailed the ocean blue and discovered the world was wide and ready to be filled with people.
Religion does not like it when you try to leave, whether at all or to a different religious identity. But what about growth? I would argue growth has a major role in all identities and almost most crucially within our religious one. How does growth fit into religion? Well, think about it: a typical child grows up experiencing mainly one or possibly two religions from the main influencers in their lives: their parents. They therefore generally spend the first at least ten if not up to 15 years of their lives under the umbrella identity of their family’s religion. And this is in no way bad. In order to grow and explore in a field one must first be introduced to it and who better than ones’ own parents.
But as I have grown into my high school and especially college years, I have found the often commonplace dichotomy of fellow students trying to appease their parents while also trying to learn more about the world around them. A person could grow up in the religion of their parents and be perfectly happy with the place and purpose this religion gives them in this world and the next, and that is wonderful. But for many people I know, and including myself, as we grow older our perspectives about the world, our place in it and more importantly our role in relation to the people around us, changes. As children, the world is simpler and relationships and obligations are more direct. But with time and maturing, things can become convoluted.
What happens when a person wakes up one day and realizes the answers they have been using since birth to comfort themselves about why the world works the way it does, why people get hurt, why their loved ones die and what happens after death are no longer sufficient? I remember standing in a church, listening to the words of a man I barely knew in front of me who was aggressively telling me how to live my life, and thinking he had no conception of what life was like for me. And I was so disappointed. Here was a man, supposedly filled with the direct words of God, dictating rules that were outdated from a time when men still stoned women for glancing at another man. I realized I had been blindly following the words of the two people I trust most in this world, my parents, and had been unable to see the hypocrisy and judgement all around me.
In college I grew religiously in my opinions. I ventured out from under the shade of my family’s religion and started to think of myself and my place in this world, and especially why I am here, in new ways. But that is a hard thing to do. Many people view the leaving of one religious identity for another or to simply explore them all (as I would like to) as a sign of selfishness.
I once heard someone say people who leave their religion are trying to find a new religion that doesn’t make them feel as bad about themselves. This person meant that in a negative light, as in people should feel bad about themselves so that they are motivated to find and seek favor with God by confessing their sins and striving to be better. But what if I want a religious identity that does not make me feel bad simply because I want to not be constantly put down, not feel judged and not feel unworthy every time I walk into a church? Why can’t religion be an identity of joy and acceptance that doesn’t motivate people by concocting stories of imminent punishment that will take them if they don’t repent (and pay their tithes)?
Growth in religion should be accepted in every form, whether that means growing within one religion, growing apart from religion completely or growing from one religion to another or even many. From the acceptance of one’s main support system, their family, for their exploration of self can come true reflection and true inner peace. Religion is just another aspect of diversity we have to allow to be a fluid identity that can grow and change as we and our perspectives of self change as well.