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Honorable mention: People of color essay contest — Anousha Peters

Deconstructing religion’s monopoly on fulfillment and solidarity

By Anousha Peters

When I clap my hands in worship with hundreds of other people, I feel solidarity. When I clasp my hands in prayer, alone and on my knees, I feel fulfilled. But why are we told that these feelings can’t be found authentically outside religion? Somehow, religion has managed to monopolize the feelings of solidarity and fulfillment. Religion has convinced society that these feelings can only be achieved under the decrees of religion: that it is impossible to feel the same collective solidarity with a mass of people outside of a place of worship and that it is impossible to feel fulfilled in oneself without faith in some set of religious principles.

I rejected religion when I realized this was not at all true. I rejected religion when I realized solidarity and fulfillment could be found completely secularly: in serving with and for the people and communities around me, and in working to become a person I was proud of. In fact, these feel like much deeper and more meaningful avenues because they do not rely on immobile and irrefutable religious laws, decrees and standards. Instead, they rely on the thinking and knowledge of the people around me, they rely on collectivity, cooperation, self-reflection and critical thinking, all dynamic, open forces.

Religion has employed a remarkable public relations campaign in human history. It has convinced us that we will never feel cooperative, collective solidarity but in the face of god(s). I reject religion because I have felt such solidarity — indeed, even greater collective solidarity — when working with other people on a common project with the common aim of bettering our world for each other. Specifically, I have found religion’s monopolized solidarity while working in perhaps the least religious place: politics. What can be used to describe mass protests but solidarity? I find it far more inspiring to see hundreds of thousands of people rally with one another for material change, to better the world for one another, than to see hundreds of thousands of people prostrating themselves before the altar of a religious institution.

And what about fulfillment? Only faith in our specific god, religion claims, can grant you fulfillment. But I have felt, first-hand, that this is not true. My greatest fulfilment has come from critical self-reflection guided by the knowledge of those around me and my ever-changing goals and hopes for myself. The strict laws and decrees of the “righteous person” that religion provides pales in comparison to the inquisitive, dynamic, and critical goals that I can set for myself through honest self-reflection and the wisdom of those around me.

It is not that I haven’t ever felt solidarity or fulfillment in religious settings. I have. However, religion’s insistence that it, and it alone, holds the necessary conditions for my subjective experience of solidarity or fulfilment can only​​ be seen as a monopoly, a grab for power. It is vital that everyone, but especially people of color, work against this monopoly, and think critically, freely and cooperatively. I think it is imperative that people of color, as minorities, are able to imagine a future for ourselves outside of the binding laws that religion (and those in charge of religious institutions) have laid out for us. It is imperative that we break the monopoly on solidarity and fulfillment and find those for ourselves in self-reflection, constant learning, and collective action.

Anousha Peters

Anousha, 20, attends Columbia University, majoring in sociology. “I am a volunteer with Learn To Be tutoring and a volunteer with LEAH (Legal Empowerment & Advocacy Hub) for justice in my hometown, Gainesville, Fla.,” Anousha writes.