Practicing no religion is a right, too

Social Double-take

“I’m sorry to say this, but on this track, you’re condemned to eternal wrath in hell.”

OK. Not the most pleasant thing anyone has said to me. And certainly not what I was expecting to hear when I went over to Free Speech Movement Cafe that day for some sunshine and a latte to accompany my hopelessness in getting this column started. But once these words were said to me, I sat there thinking, “Why me?” By now, I’m a pro in avoiding every single religious preacher while walking through Sproul. Yet I still managed to find myself in this conversation about my inevitable doom in a fiery pit of torture. I mean, I could have been in hell right then and there.

I think I seemed pretty average that day, just on my laptop working like everybody else around me. I don’t know, maybe I looked like I was in dire need of some saving. Whatever it was, two men felt that I was the perfect person to take their “quick survey” about religion. I guess I was naive to think it would actually be a quick survey. At first, they inquired about my religious identification, spirituality, my knowledge of the Bible and of Jesus Christ, whether I thought God existed and so on. I answered all of the questions, emphasizing that I had never been religious and that while I knew the content and messages of the Bible, I didn’t know many specific details and that I certainly didn’t live for God. Before I knew it, this survey had turned into a full-fledged attempt to convince me of the one and only truth that was Christianity. “What will it take to convince you that the Bible is the truth?”

Oh, boy. This was not what I had signed up for. Look, I’m all for free speech — I mean, I go to UC Berkeley for crying out loud. It’s an individual’s constitutional right to proclaim what he or she believes to be the truth. And I understand that, for some, it is part of their faith to try to salvage others from condemnation, to help them find God and experience his almighty love and guidance. I could tell that these two genuinely wanted me to reach an eternal life in heaven, instead of staying on my apparent path to the “down under.”

But someone should have warned these guys that I’m probably any Christian witness’s worst nightmare. I’ve been nonreligious all my life, having grown up in a nonreligious family. Call me an atheist, agnostic or whatever.

I personally don’t label myself as anything — I’m simply indifferent toward religion. So when people approach me and try to convince me that God loves me more than I could imagine and that I should be repenting my sins and living for him, I’ll stand there unwavering in my stance — or lack thereof. I respect an individual’s right to believe in whatever. But can a girl get some respect for her right to not have a religious belief? Does a religious duty to spread the message of God overwhelmingly trump that right? Should I merely accept it when I’m told that I can’t live a truly moral life without God and the Bible and that I’m going to hell for living the way I live?

I’m not trying to say every Christian is like my questioners, nor am I trying to say I feel attacked in any way by these subtle attempts to convert me. I’m expressing my concerns with those who, because of their faith, label me as “unsaved,” or even worse, “lost.” I told the two men that I am, in fact, not lost and that I feel I can lead a good, moral life without religion. They continued to tell me how I chose my entrance to hell, muttering the aforementioned words at the beginning of this column. It was fascinating how many times they brought up hell. My supposed afterlife in hell was stressed more than any other concept of Christianity during this conversation, almost as if they were trying to scare me into seeking God. But the truth is that I just don’t ever think about the possibility of eternal salvation or eternal wrath. I choose not to, and that’s my right. Personally, I could think of a million things that I should worry about during my actual life before I could even begin thinking about what happens after it. This seemed an outrageous mindset to those two men, as I’m sure it may for many, but eventually, they reluctantly accepted my indifference.

Before they left, one of the men said to me, “My grandfather felt the same way as you do and rejected God. But at the age of 70, he became a Christian. Maybe you’ll do the same.” Maybe he’s right. Maybe one day when I’m old and near death, looking back on my life, I’ll remember all of the bad things I’ve done and decide to repent in a suddenly onset fear of hell. But I think I’ll be OK, and, for now, I feel strongly in my right to be nonreligious.

Or maybe I am going to hell. Who knows.

Hailey Yook writes the Monday column on contemporary social issues. Contact her at [email protected].