Basketball Was My First Religion
When I was young baseball was my favorite sport.
Then, Major League Baseball went on strike and the hometown basketball team, the Houston Rockets, won two NBA Championships. The switch in “favorite sport” loyalty was easy to make for a 7 year old.
Pretty soon a life-size Hakeem Olajuwon poster covered the wall in my bedroom. The top of his head partly on the ceiling. He was my favorite player. I wanted to grow to be 7 feet tall and be just like him.
He had a funny name and he did weird things. He would not eat anything for a whole month at the start of the basketball season. Take trips to pray in some faraway place called Mecca. He seemed very devout. And he seemed like a good guy. All-in-all, it just seemed so… respectable.
He was Muslim. A follower of Islam. He didn’t believe Jesus was the Son of God. Could he be wrong? Is he going to hell for believing such things?
The question tormented me. My childhood idol cannot be going to hell because of his beliefs.
So, I came up with a solution.
What if every religion was right? What if we all have our own Gods up in the clouds watching over us and we all get to go to different heavens when we die? Or its the same God and he just goes by different names for different religions but at the end of the day we are all actually correct in our beliefs? Either way, it didn’t matter. It was a brillant solution.
I told my mom about my ideas. She seemed to accept it. (What choice did she have? Tell me my favorite basketball player was going to hell?)
It was so great, I even considered using the idea to create a new religion and spreading the beliefs so everybody could go to heaven and be happily ever after!
The Crazy Bus Driver
In the midst of my religious tolerance development I had the privilege of attending a well-renowned magnet school for junior high. (Well-renowned meaning popular amongst Jews and Asians; so clearly only the best of the best could get in.)
The school was on the other side of town – closer to where most of the Jewish and Asian kids lived, as well as other various rich white people. So, that means I had the pleasure of taking the beautiful yellow schoolbus everyday for an hourlong commute each way. In 6th grade this was well and enjoyable because we had the best bus driver ever. But, that was his last year. He retired and we threw him a big party.
Then, 7th grade started and we were introduced to our new bus driver. Ms. Rogers.
She was a very profound lady. And very Christian.
You could not act up on her bus. If you did you were written up, reported to the Principal, and told to repent for your sins.
“You must repent! God knows what you did!” She would yell out the window even after dropping us off at our respective stops.
The words still haunt me.
We had one Jewish girl on our bus. Maybe she lived in our neighborhood because her Dad was Hispanic and Catholic, I’m not sure. Nobody has met with me yet to tell me which parts of Houston I’m allowed to buy a house in because of my ethnic and religious background, so I’m not quite sure what the exact process is there.
Anyway, her and I were good friends. We had gone to elementary school together as well. We were on the same Odyssey of the Mind team. (I forgot what OM is exactly – all I remember is I got Maurice Cheek‘s autograph at the competition. That was the highlight for me.)
One day, Ms. Rogers found out that this girl was Jewish and told her to change her ways or she will burn in hell for all eternity.
I’m not making this up. It went something like this, “God put me on this bus to show you the truth! To introduce you to Jesus! This is your chance to change your ways and accept Jesus or you WILL go to HELL!”
Even in 7th grade, even as Christian myself, I was shocked. Stunned. And, offended.
What grown woman tells a 7th grade child she’s going to hell because of her beliefs?
I remember questioning it all at the time. I also realized that clearly, people are silly.
I decided I didn’t need to listen to other people. I would find God for myself.
Always Curious, Always Learning, Always Improving
So, I set out to do that – I went from Catholic Confirmation, to a Bible Reading phase (“I’m going to read a passage every night. Even the boring family tree verses.”) to a Qu’ran skimming phase (I bought a translated version in high school, but I never really read any of it.) to the College Christian groups. (“I’m pretty sure Will only comes for the free food.”)
But, I never found what I was looking for. I only found people being fake to each other. People lying about contraception and science. Oh, and lying about other people.
And I saw religions doing crazy things.
Blowing up buildings and killing thousands in the name of Allah. Raping and slaughtering
savages other people in the name of Jesus.
And, I looked at the history of it all. The Holy Spirit didn’t spread shit. Conquistadors and English Pirates did. That’s why Americans are mostly Christian (and also mostly English and Spanish speaking), because our language and religion came from Europeans who conquered the new continent and got rid of the people and customs who were originally here.
I don’t know about you, but I find the whole idea of religion a bit of a contradiction. Let’s follow a peaceful and understanding man and try to be more like him. Okay, cool, that part sounds good and well. Now, let’s go and tell more people about this peaceful and understanding man, so they can follow him too. If they don’t listen to us, that’s cool – it just means we get to rape their women, kill their children, and enslave their men. Best fucking idea ever.
I remember back in high school one of our Science teachers showed us some statistics that showed that the more educated people become the less they believe in religion/God. I thought it was so sad at the time. But, now it all seems quite obvious. Religion is really just a symptom of a common human condition. Devoid of real information, we choose to just make shit up. Much like a child would. In that sense, not believing in something is really the bigger leap of faith.
So, rather than accept someone else’s words as blanket truths and be satisfied, I’ve chosen a path in my personal beliefs that is much like one I’ve chosen in all other aspects of my life. One to always be curious, always be learning, and always be improving. I guess you could say that’s my religion.
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