Religion just a choice?

This morning I was browsing through one of those free newspapers you find at bus and train stations, and I came across a letter sent in by a reader. Said reader fulminated against protests lodged by political party SGP about the use of the lyrics of the Green Day song ‘Jesus of Suburbia’ in a secondary school exam. The SGP complained about those lyrics because they perceived them to be anti-Christian. That by way of providing context. The writer of the letter wrote that people of faith shouldn’t complain, because religion is ‘just a choice’ and ‘they shouldn’t bother other people with it’.

For the record, I don’t agree with the SGP position on this. But I also don’t agree with the letter writer. Religion or faith can’t be limited to ‘just a choice’, as if it is the same as the choice of what colour socks I’m going to wear on a given day. Because that is all that the word ‘choice’ entails: a conscious decision to do something or other some certain way.

When I look back at the road I’ve travelled in the past years, I can say it did start with a choice: not the choice of being Christian or not, but rather the choice of going to see what Mass was and to talk about it with people. From there it quickly developed into something far greater. My decision to let myself be baptised came from a growing conviction that it was the right thing to do: it was not about what I would like, but about what I thought I’d need. I said yes to that sacrament because I had grown to believe that it was something I needed to do to be able to live my life to the fullest.

In that way the ‘choice’ became the foundation to my entire life. It is far more than something that merely appeals to me; it is the framework, reference and source of who I try to be and do.

Saying then that religion is ‘just a choice’ completely misses the point. When I see, read or hear something that is an insult to my faith, it is also an insult to me, and I should be allowed to ‘bother others with it’. That is simply an element of human social conduct, and a tool that society uses to maintain cohesion: there are lines that must be drawn, otherwise society becomes a shapeless chaotic mass. Calling others out for their statements not only protects me from future insults, it also points others to the effects of what they’re saying.  And hopefully we can all learn from that.

The lyrics of the Green Day song, although making heavy use of religious imagery, are not an insult, but it’s easy to see how a superficial glance at the words may lead some to conclude otherwise.