Yes, I’m one of them. I’m one of the immigrants who came to this country and stayed. I didn’t speak a word of your language when I came. I was ignorant of your customs and traditions. Mostly we were the same – I was raised a Catholic, and Christianity was the main religion here, so even though I wasn’t religious whenever anyone asked it wasn’t a bother to reply.
It’s funny. The first time someone asked me about my religion was when I moved to St Thomas. “Are you Jewish?” asked the boy next to me. “No,” I said. “Oh. Too bad,” he replied. I was stumped. Religion had never seemed important to me. You either went to church or you didn’t. What was this Jewish stuff? It bothered me. “Too bad,” he’d said. I cornered him and asked him why he’d said that. “Because, I’m Jewish, so I have to marry a Jewish girl,” he told me. “We’re only 14! What are you talking about marriage for?” I asked, stunned. He just shrugged. “So I don’t waste my time.”
Well, Holy Shit, as the wise men say. I was flummoxed. Here was a guy telling me he wasn’t even going to waste time with me because I wasn’t Jewish? That was my introduction to segregation. It was the first time I’d actually been separated from another human not by sex, not by age, not by language or race – but by something invisible and imaginary – religion. It’s instinctive to feel different from someone because of your sex.. Age too – it’s something obvious. And language is a barrier, and like it or not, physical differences and handicaps make people feel different. But all those things are unimportant because none of those things dictate your behavior. You can be 8 and 88, and still have lots in common. You can be black, white, red, yellow, green, purple, pink and cream colored and in a wheelchair and still feel the same about things. You may not speak the same language, but you can understand each other. We are different but still the same species; and mostly we know it. But toss religion in the mix and see what happens.
All of a sudden there are laws you have to follow that have nothing to do with the laws of the land. You can’t eat pork. You have to fast certain months. You can’t mix boys and girls. You can’t drink alcohol. You can’t eat meat on Friday. You can’t show your face in mixed company. That wouldn’t be so bad – but religion has decided that women (and dogs and pigs…) are unclean, inferior- and somehow we’ve been brainwashed into believing in religion, so now every single major religion in the world discriminates against women.
At the time, when I was 14, I didn’t realize all that. I just felt as if I’d been locked out of a room in a very large house. As if, in that house, there were places I suddenly couldn’t visit. Doors slamming in my face. Not that I wanted to marry that person, or even date him.
I never forgot that first, invisible door slamming in my face. Other doors, made of money, or education either slammed shut or stayed open – but they were mostly doors I could do something about. But other doors will never open. Every day I see people letting some sort of invisible being dictate their behavior. Women wear scarves on their heads to show they’re pious – as if a God would care what a person wore.
I thought religion was all about being nice to each other. I have a feeling it was supposed to help everyone get along, but it ended up being about who could look the most pious and wear the most boring clothes. It became all about controlling women; who they married, what they wore, how they acted, and their reproductive rights.
I truly don’t think God, if there even is a God, cares one whit about what you wear, who you don’t or do marry, who you sleep with, who you date, how much you smoke, drink, how often you get stoned – if you are nice. If you care about others. If you help others. If you are a good human being, you can walk your dog naked while smoking a joint, eating a pork sandwich, and God will just wish that you were a vegetarian because he loves pigs as much as he loves you, but otherwise he could care less. I’ll tell you a secret: if we all died tomorrow – blew ourselves up – he’d just dust off the planet and start again from scratch. And next time, there probably won’t be humans on the planet. We have no respect for each other – we just want to kill each other because it’s easier than explaining why the doors are slamming shut.