In our society, there are many “judges” who are not qualified to operate in courts of law, but they are performing the roles nevertheless. Judgement greets us in the streets, our places of employment, places of worship and even in our homes.

One of the most sensitive and probing issues we are judged on concerns religious beliefs or lack thereof. The question, “Do you believe in God?” is one that many use to measure the virtuousness of others. In a largely religious society, any deviation from what is considered the “norm” or “righteous” or “true” can see one labelled as hopeless, a heathen and ultimately sentenced to the list of the condemned.

The experience that inspired this commentary reminded me about the obsession people have with the subject and how open-mindedness is a foreign concept to many or they simply cannot grasp it because they are locked into what they believe. The experience reminded me of how strangers who know nothing about your background or your values, can make assumptions about your character and damn you to hell.

A lady stamped my receipt, wished me the best for the holidays and questioned if I was going to church on Christmas morning. I told her that I do not go to church and the expression on her face was that of disbelief. (Later, as I evaluated the experience, I wondered why she would assume that I was a Christian. Why not assume that I was a Muslim, a Rastafarian, Hebrew Israelite or a Bahá’í?)

Disappointed by my answer, she proceeded to ask, “Do you believe in God?”

I could tell that she was judging and condemning me from the way she was looking at me. I quietly left and did not respond because frankly my belief or non-belief was none of her business.

It reminded me of another experience I had some years ago with an individual who saw me wearing an ankh and accused me of being evil and a worshipper of the devil.

The ankh is an Egyptian symbol that represents life. I remember the pride I felt after acquiring my first ankh, having done research on Ancient Kemet (Egypt) and then to have some ignorant, arrogant individual try to devalue the meaning of the symbol and attempt to diminish my person deeply disturbed me.

The question about belief in God is one that people should never feel compelled to answer. We are entitled to whatever we choose to believe or not. After all, we are speaking about “beliefs” and if we are truly honest, none of us can remember anything before we were born or know what lies beyond the grave for certain; we know there are cases where people claim to have been reincarnated. I have had déjà vu experiences many times. However, much of what we think we know is based on myths, assumptions and theories mixed with some actual history and truth. Therefore, people should be respected regardless of what religion they choose or not. Unfortunately, it is not always the case and often people reject what they have no knowledge about or label it “ungodly.”

Last year, for example, I stood on the road as I have been doing for years and observed the Diwali motorcade. I made a post thereafter on my Facebook page about how beautiful it was and someone commented, questioning how I could say something evil was beautiful. Of course, it upset me and the debate started, but after a few comments I grew weary and deleted the comments.

This is the society we live in. Unity and respect are only concepts for some. Some such people believe only they have the truth; only their religion is true; only their God is right.

Being “religious,” “spiritual,” “agnostic” or “atheist” is a personal choice and no one should be made to feel uncomfortable or attacked because of the path they choose. Because I grew up Christian and most of the people I would have known in my life are Christian, most of my experiences where the question of religion or spirituality are concerned have been with Christians. I divorced myself from religion in my early twenties because I did not feel connected to most of what I was taught. I did not see myself represented in the images or in the teachings and for me continuing my life that way would have been a torturous journey that would have stifled my creativity and, ultimately, my freedom.

However, maturity and knowledge have taught me to be tolerant and respectful of all peoples, regardless of their beliefs. The problem with many people who judge others based on their religious beliefs is that they subscribe to a script and often do not wish to question the script or to believe that there are other scripts that are also of value.

Thinking about this brought me to the point of asking another question: Why do people believe in God? Is it that there is something inherent in us that we must acknowledge something thought greater than ourselves? Is it that the Earth is so flawed that many of us would like to imagine that this is not all there is or ever will be? Is it the fear of dying and the need to believe that there is a chance to live again?

Whatever the reason, the mystery will always be who or what really is God. Man’s imagination has resulted in painted and sculpted images of thousands of “Gods” and the elevation of some human beings to the status of God. Therefore, man has largely created what God is perceived to be.

But what if we are confident or conscious enough to say that we know what God is; that we know that God is always with us, that it is the power inside of us, like the air we breathe and when we look in the mirror the truth stares back at us.

I leave you with a quote mentioned in the book ‘African Origins of the Major Western Religions’ by Josef A. A Ben-Jochannan, which was borrowed from the ‘The Kasidah of Haji Abu El-Yezdi,” translated into English by Sir Richard F. Burton: “All faith is false; all faith is true. Truth is the shattered mirrors strewn in myriad bits; while each believes his little bit, the whole to own.” And from Dr. Ben-Jochannan: ‘Truth is what one wants to believe and religion is the crutch to sustain such belief.”