“Are you religious?”

The question “Are you religious?” bothers me for a lot of reasons, most of them related to the assumptions people make about me the instant I respond.

1) In my experience, most people who phrase the question like this (to my face) associate “religion” with “Christianity.”

What I want to do is throw a neon sign in front of them declaring there are more religions than Christianity. (And I’m not talking about the different denominations within Christianity here.) The people who practice those religions matter. So do those who follow polytheistic religions or religions with no deities. Those who are agnostic. Those who are atheist.

I’ve seen others get written off as lost causes or somehow lesser because their form of religion, their brand of Christianity, whatever, didn’t stand up to snuff in the eyes of the speaker.

2) Non-Christians and “fellow” Christians alike often assume I’m going to put Christian-associated beliefs ahead of science.

The age of the Earth. The existence of global warming. The likelihood of life on other planets. Apparently I’m supposed to deny these and other concepts rooted in scientific fact if I take on a Christian label.

To the other Christians: what the hell kind of faith do you have if you must ignore physical laws to keep God in a box? Why can’t you change your perspective and consider the option that maybe God’s working with the laws that govern the universe? And why do you seem convinced that I’ll become “less” Christian because I’m a scientist?

And the occasional atheist or agnostic friend has assumed that I only follow science to pass classes or get my research done but don’t actually put much stock in the physics I’m studying. (I’m not kidding.) Because to be Christian means to be someone who can only have faith and thus can’t handle science. Because to be Christian is to be stupid, to ignore facts in favor of perceived fiction.

Said friends have written off those who follow other monotheistic religions–Judaism and Islam specifically–for the same reasons. Because you can’t simultaneously be a scientist or any other type of independently thinking human and also believe God exists.

3) I often disagree with the platforms of most politicians who claim to be Christian.

This has never been so apparent as right now when the GOP moron level is over 9000. Seriously, Ted Cruz, WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU. Thankfully President Obama knew exactly what to say to him. (Apparently Cruz is going to introduce a bill banning Muslim Syrians anyway. Maybe John Oliver can find some choice words for him too.)

4) I’m not straight.

I’ve wrestled with not being a typical girl for most of my life. Sure, growing up I had crushes on boys and figured I was normal enough for a while aside from hating pink and preferring guns + throwing balls to cooking + sewing + any activity that screamed femininity, but then puberty hit. In my teens, I denied I felt any sort of attraction to other women. That, combined with my overall lack of interest in physical intimacy beyond cuddling and kissing–I’d talk like I wanted it, but deep down I knew I was parroting words in order to fit in–made me feel broken and wrong.

It wasn’t long ago that I finally admitted that I’m bisexual. A more accurate label is biromantic demisexual, but “bisexual” is faster to say and requires less explaining (usually; I’ll save the bi erasure rant for another day). The #reliqueer conversations on Twitter are both uplifting and sanity-supporting. They helped me come to terms with myself as a queer person who holds religious beliefs. Because people associated with my religion are largely responsible for terrifying things like gay conversion therapy, which of course perpetuated the whole “I’m broken” train of thought.

(For the record, I’m also not out to more than a handful of people I know. My husband is the only family member who is aware.)

5) The attitude toward faith in literature, particularly in YA.

Shannon Hale posted a fabulous–and somewhat depressing–string of tweets today regarding the general reaction to any faith-related practice in YA novels. So many people have faith in some form of religion, so many kids and teens are trying to figure things out, yet we’re not giving them places to look for examples, mirrors to see that it’s okay to have faith, that they’re not stupid or weak or finding an easy way out.

I want to read more books that do this. I want to promote books that do this. I want new and established authors to write about this. (Personally, I’d love to incorporate religion into the YA contemporary idea currently developing in the back of my mind, but we’ll see if that happens.)

6) It’s uncomfortable for me to answer this question.

Some Christians are convinced that to be religious you need to go to church regularly and give money to charity and say your prayers a certain way etc. etc. I’m not saying any of these things are necessarily bad. But please don’t equate my “level” of Christianity to how frequently I sit in church on Sunday. I’m not religious because I think checking off a bunch of boxes will send me to heaven when I die. I’m religious because there’s something deeply, intensely personal about my faith. It’s something that informs the way I think, the way I interact with others, the way I see the world, and I hope it makes me a better person in the sense that I’m kinder to others and (ideally) to myself.

This doesn’t mean I approve of forcing beliefs down others’ throats. Whether you’re a religious person trying to convert someone or you’re an atheist demeaning people of faith because they have faith, others aren’t going to change their minds because you’re telling them they’re wrong, and they’re not going to gain any respect for you. I get angry when atheist friends constantly voice their anti-faith platforms on social media, and I get angry when religious friends constantly voice their religion-driven hatred of other lifestyles. Whether you’re one or the other doesn’t excuse your rudeness and your inability to have a conversation with people different from you.

My take? I’ll respect the people who, regardless of their faith or the lack thereof, come to the table with open hearts, open minds, and the ability to have honest discussions about religious and non-religious topics.

In the end, when people ask me the “Are you religious?” question, this is what I’d like to say:

I believe in loving people. I believe that loving people is tied to not just giving of myself but to listening to people, to doing my best to understand how they are different from me and how those differences can be good, positive, wonderful things. I believe in a God of love, and I’m doing a damn poor job of following my faith if I’m not loving and respecting others too, no matter how similar or different they are from me.

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the importance of community

The 2015 Pitch Wars agent round began yesterday. We mentees are quite active behind the scenes, whooping and hollering and jumping around whenever someone gets a request and supporting those who still have none. (The “Zero Requests Club” keeps shrinking!)

I’m not going to lie about the stress of these three days, but that further emphasizes the need for writers to be part of a community. To have fellow writers at different stages of their writing careers around to offer advice, to encourage, to be a listening ear, and to remind you of the facts when your anxiety threatens to blow every little thing out of proportion.

One of the best parts of Pitch Wars is gaining a mentor. Julie has been my rock solid anchor throughout this contest–corresponding a little before the picks, actually choosing me, and then whipping my MS into a far better version of itself–and she’s keeping me sane now. I know I can go to her for anything, big or small, and I’ll feel better as a result.

And chances are, if you’re talking to someone ahead of you on their writing journey, they’ve faced many of the same fears/concerns/questions you have right now. Don’t be afraid to ask.