Religious guidance: community or cult?

People often assume that my faith is Muslim because of my first name. When they become aware of my unidealistic juggling of different faiths as a child, they then go on to assume that I have somehow grown to be an overly religious person who despises anyone who takes the Lord’s name in vain, or a free-sailing hippy whose spirituality flows with any religion.

My relationship with religion has always been a complex one because of how it was imposed on me. Religion had always been something that was paramount to my immediate family, so much so that they sampled different faiths and practices possibly hoping to find something that they could relate to. At one particular time in my life I remember being both Hindu and Christian at the same time.

I remember me and my sisters, as children, partaking in Jhandi ceremonies on some Saturdays with both my mother and father and then the following day being made to attend church with our Godmother. I don’t know if this had any significance for my parents, but I always remember thinking of religion as just one big melting pot where communities comes together to strengthen their faith and to lean on each other. Perhaps they were just providing options to us, so we could go on to make our own decisions later on in life. There were no questions as to whether we understood what was going on. Neither were we asked if we genuinely believed anything that was preached to us. The focus was primarily on the community feeling that religion offers.

Years later, as an adult I decided to stay with the Christian faith mainly because I was comforted by the fact that the teachings were in English and my Godmothers, who both served as spiritual guardians, had a balanced and realistic view of how one should approach religion. They weren’t radical Christian extremists as many seem to be today. Together they were the appropriate mix of open-mindedness and conservativeness. They never sidelined me because of my thoughts on abortion, my provocative clothing at times, or for being an ally of the LBGT community. Though their opposing views were sounded it was never done in a way to make me feel unworthy of God’s love. Never did they use it as tool to drive me out of the religious community. My personal pledge of allegiance to the Anglican Christian faith didn’t and still doesn’t feel cult-like because of their guidance; this is because religion wasn’t being made out to be an ultimatum for me.

This week I came across a live video by a popular Linden preacher, Pastor Nigel London on Facebook. In summary the Pastor basically crucified the President for being an Anglican Christian and openly stating that he is willingly to be accepting of the LBGTQ community. The Pastor questioned the President’s sincerity to his faith, if he didn’t lead according to the teaching of his personal beliefs.

Pastor London isn’t the first religious person who has used religion to try and control people to the extent where it would be harmful to themselves or even others. I remember once listening to T D Jakes—a personal favourite of mine—and hearing him say that when you have problems you should muster them up inside and wait for God to see you through them. He went on to say that people are on all sorts of pills to make them feel happy but it’s only God who can deliver you. My heart broke for those who were Christians and felt as if they were betraying their faith because they needed to take antidepressants. It must have been torture for anyone living with a mental illness, looking for a sense of community and being made to feel not strong enough to belong.

Then there are those religious leaders and congregational members who police mode of dress for church. In my former church in Guyana, Sunday service was like a Vogue runway; women gossiped in undertones about those who weren’t as neatly or elaborately clad and glared when I wore trousers to church. This takes away from spirituality, it takes away from people wanting to believe that there is someone out there who loves us unconditionally. While this topic of discourse is controversial for some, for me it’s simple: being judgemental and being a Christian don’t mesh.

A blurred line seems to exist where some people fail to recognize their obsession with following the word while destroying the spirit of community that should come with being a part of a religious group. I don’t agree with my parents a great deal, but they have raised me to be tolerant of different religions and beliefs; sharing in such a vast variety of faiths was an excellent choice for me personally. It has allowed me to see religion as a compassionate tool that foster friendships and bonds regardless of clothes, class, colour or creed.

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