Adelyn Yeoh, The Malaysian Insider
For the last couple of years, I have had an obsession about God and our fragile existence.
At this point, I want to make the distinction between faith and religion. Faith is the act of believing and religion is the institution through which faith sometimes operates through. Faith can operate without religion.
You could say that my obsession with these issues have been long and drawn out. I was a tween when I listened to a sermon advising us to continually thank God and to have conversations with God throughout the day. As an impressionable youngling, I took that advice to heart and pledged to follow it. God was always on my mind.
Then came an age where I wanted to do more for my faith; it seemed natural to want to devote time to it. So I got more involved, doing more things in school for fellowship, for God.
That was when the questioning set in. All my life I attended Christian mission schools where Christian fellowship was strong. Hence, school was the place I had most contact with religion, as my family was not the religious sort to begin with.
There were numerous things that did not sit right with me; things that did not seem just or fair, despite what religion claimed. Teachers would often use God as their trump card to get students to do their bidding. Other times, peers of mine would be denied the opportunity to bear leadership positions because they were from a different religious denomination.
Outside the classroom, the bickering continued. Religion is used as an additional divisive tool, not just by politicians but also by the average Joe. Overeager evangelical actions carried out by the average person working in the name of faith, despite having good intentions, often upset other parties. The reason for this is often because the evangelist has a presupposed notion of superiority. To put it simply, this is like me saying that oranges are the best fruits and you saying that apples are the best fruits, constantly disagreeing when such things should be subjective.
Therefore, the superiority seemed baseless and that sparked the beginning of my questioning which spanned the last few years. It first began with questioning the institution and, subsequently, the very fabric of faith itself.
The reason that I bring this up is because I don’t think my situation is all that uncommon. I think that any logical person would eventually realise these inherent flaws.
Leaving faith for those who have had faith before is harder than it looks. It takes a lot of strength and courage to actively renounce what was previously held true. Those of us who were born into circumstances without the exposure of faith do not actively go through the same kind of personal costs as those who have had an exposure to faith.
For these reasons, it is therefore much more difficult to leave a faith, especially in a country like Malaysia where unbelief is not even a recognised option, and is taboo even. In this country, unquestioning belief is the default. Our society’s denial of unbelief is perhaps the central reason why atheism is viewed with such antagonism. The face of atheism is the Hitchenses and Dawkinses of the world, which is not a very flattering or accurate depiction of atheists.
How do you force belief? You either buy it or you don’t. And if you don’t, how can you force a person to believe, especially if they have lost it?
You basically can’t. But this doesn’t mean that those who have lost it don’t recognise the tremendous power that faith has — its potential for community building, for hope, for strength during trying times. Recognising this, unbelief too can be compatible with all the positive attributes of faith within a society. As such, unbelievers should not be treated with antagonism and, instead, room should be created to acknowledge this set of people.
Adelyn is an undergraduate student in Mount Holyoke College, USA, where she is pursuing International Relations and Mathematics. She also writes for CEKU at http://www.ceku.org.