The trouble with religion / by vanessa

This morning Ryan and I were listening to the Moth Radio Hour on our way to the Hollywood farmers market, because white people. We stayed in the car to hear a Jewish woman hilariously recount the story of intentionally raising her son without religion, ("Yom Kippur is the best day of the year for theatre tickets!"), only for him to insist on an orthodox wedding. You had to be there. For a fleeting moment, I wanted to be Jewish. But then I remembered that religion gives me PTSD.

I was raised Jehovah's Witness. My mom tells me I can't technically be an apostate, despite my repeated vocal disrespect for the faith, because I wasn't actually baptized. I find this wholly disappointing. And then she begs me to stop "slandering Jehovah," but I can't help myself. It's the worst.

While in my early years, I eagerly studied to be the first one to answer the Watchtower questions in Bible study, as a teenager I felt so isolated and different. I get why Mormons had to claim a state: the rest of the world thinks it's weird to sling religion to random strangers polite enough to answer the door. People are loath to buy candy bars and wrapping paper from a kid standing on their doorstep, let alone a new faith.

I suppose I also hold it at least partially responsible for the distance in our family. We are not close. While celebrating doesn't entail connection, I suspect that not celebrating at least makes finding connection more work. Growing up, we spent Christmases at the movie theatre (with the Jews!), but the absence of celebrating holidays and birthdays left a gaping hole in our collective fiber. There are not memories of the things that build a shared experience: off-tune caroling around the earth stove, barbecues under the fireworks and arguing over who gets the last of the mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving. Instead, we lived in a world pretending that what the rest of the world was enjoying didn't exist. On holidays no one spoke of the obvious.

Yet it's a religion that casts itself as The Truth. (Literally, this how they call themselves.) By logical extension, anything else you end up believing or even exploring is FALSE. Try walking away from eighteen years of that indoctrination. Even after all of this time, I still feel its grip in subtle ways: the reluctance to upset my aunt who still believes, the knowledge that my grandmother who passed more than two decades ago would be disappointed, the wincing, still, felt from referring to them as "they."

For years I've wanted to write about the complexity of feelings growing up Jehovah's Witness, but the words have escaped me. Then last year Ryan and I went to see The Book of Mormon. And through the genius of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, I think I've finally found the words: Hasa Diga Eebowai.