I am an anthropology major and I have studied religion in various contexts since my freshman year of college.
In this, I've learned that religion is not always the same as I thought it would be.
I had problems with accepting what religion was for me. I used to believe religions were only for one purpose — to profess faith in a god or multitude of gods, and to spread their word to the broader population.
I was raised Catholic, and went through the whole process. I was confirmed my sophomore year.
But shortly thereafter, it felt that because of the Catholic Church's policies on gay marriage, condom usage and "just war," I couldn't agree that, holistically, my religion was reasonable.
I wondered, especially on the last point, about how a church who claimed to be for peace and against violence could live with itself in supporting violent actions across the world.
And this doubt doubled down when I read about the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition and the conquest of the "New World," done in the name of "our savior Jesus Christ."
Christopher Columbus, famously, committed major acts of genocide when he, under the charge of the Spanish flag and the Catholic Church, proclaimed what he "discovered" as his own, and was happy to murder anyone or anything in his way.
The writings of his accompanying priest, Father Bartolomé de las Casas, indicate just how horrid the church was in the practice of European imperialism.
This bothered me to a great degree, and I could not conceivably live as a Catholic with this knowledge.
I inevitably strayed from my faith, and became something of an atheist-agnostic.
In a process that seemingly every late-teenager and early-twenty-something goes through, I explored other thought patterns and beliefs.
I realized many religions were of oppression, and found myself beyond the construct of belief.
Through the studies of anthropologists, as well as structural-functional analysis borrowed from sociologists, I now view religions, that I do not practice, as still beneficial.
I, today, instead of focusing on “telling the word” of some text, try to focus on the benefits of religion. For me, the kindness of human beings does not need to be separately categorized as “grace” that is divinely inspired. It could just be “humanity.”
And I find this through the complex organization of religious groups. Most groups develop secondary benefits for its people, from mass feasting events to free counseling services to regular social events.
Similarly, I found the analysis I first thought was true — that the church destroyed the cultures of others — was incomplete.
In the Latino iterations of the Catholic Church, for example, the "Lady of Guadalupe" that serves as a center cultural symbol, was likely a form of syncretism.
Because the Spanish replaced the Aztec's "mother earth" god Tonantzin with icons of Virgin Mary, they were synthesized into a new third form, the "Lady of Guadalupe." Through that symbol many of the oral tradition stories and cultural stories of the Aztec deity still live on today.
Instead of completely eradicating the previous tradition in replacing events, blended versions that appeal to more people provided shared purpose for all.
I hope that we evaluate religions holistically instead of simply dismiss them all as "stupid" or "dysfunctional."
I agree, there is often a series of difficult-to-accept elements in every religion or culture, but sometimes its secondary or tertiary functions make it tolerable.
We can't truly agree on what is "right" versus "wrong," and religion and large cultural functions try to bring us together to understand some aspect of that morality.
I personally still maintain some of the Catholic faith's cultural practices — such as the tradition of giving something up during Lent or exchanging presents on Christmas — and think that those secondary elements are things worth keeping.
I hope we, as people, can start to accept other culture's celebrations. Some events of other cultures and faiths — such as the Hindu festival of Holi — amaze us because it celebrates the vibrancy of our lives.
We should bring about the positive aspects of the world, and make our societies a better place.