Tell Us: What's the Biggest Religious Choice You've Made?

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Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

One of the most fun parts of writing about religion is having an excuse to ask people about their religious upbringing and beliefs about God at cocktail parties. (And people sometimes even invite me back!) Almost invariably, everyone always seems to have a story: a vivid memory of church from childhood; some holdover attachment to a ritual like wearing a yarmulke, even though religious observance isn’t that appealing; an encounter with a nun that left a lasting impression.

A lot of these stories hinge on choices people have either made or will soon face. We just launched a series about how young people make religious choices, and we’re interested to know: What’s the biggest religious choice you’ve had to make? Converting to another religion? Switching churches? Ditching religion, or finding it? Deciding to choose love over religious or familial expectations?

We’re mostly looking for stories from people under 40 or so. But hey, we’re all young at heart, or something, so if you don’t quite meet that threshold and you have a story about watching younger generations go through decisions, or choices you made when you were younger that ended up being consequential later on, we welcome them. All religions and non-religions are invited. Keep ‘em relatively short, and tell us why this moment mattered: How did it shape your life, or your family’s life? Hit us up:

Meanwhile, to kick us off, here are a few reader comments on my intro piece to the series, debating how the spread of and ease of access to information is facilitating new religious choices. This comment was the most up-voted by readers:

Contemporary religious superstitions are taking their last gasp of air and will soon find themselves keeping company with other ancient beliefs we now refer to as mythology. The strength of religions has always arisen from their ability to control the information, and in turn, the message. Without countervailing arguments, religions have made believers out of non-believers and kept the faithful content.

But those days are over. The digital/information age has ushered in the unlimited and immediate access to reliable information. At the click of a mouse, one can learn the intricate details of the theory of evolution or fact check outrageous religious claims. The curtain has been lifted exposing religions’ logical inconsistencies. While “faith” was enough to satisfy the curiosities of primitive Iron Age civilizations, today’s generation demands facts. And that is something religions can never deliver.

So prepare to celebrate the death of religion, as it will finally free our civilization and allow it to move forward, unhindered by the dogmatic and irrational beliefs of ancient superstitious cultures.

The frameworks of old/new, ancient/modern, faith/facts all seem connected here—the implication is that religion, even when it’s practiced today, is a throwback to an earlier way of thinking, constructing communities, and mediating power. The “newer” way of thinking, presumably, is reason rather than superstition.

I’m skeptical of this framing: that empirical facts are the only valid units of knowledge; that religious belief is synonymous with superstition; and that the arc of the universe bends toward secularity. Demographic projections suggest the opposite, actually: The world will likely be more religious 50 years from now, not less.

This reader also pushed back on the first one:

I think your faith in the information age may be misplaced. There is just as much misinformation as information out there. The internet is rife with conspiracy, propaganda, marketing, bias, and lies. Not everyone is intelligent or diligent enough to sort through it all properly. Just watch some Russian state-backed media sometime. Rather than uniting us in truth, the information age might fracture us into a kaleidoscope of mutually exclusive versions of unreality. (Thomas Merton was a prophet decades ahead of his time.)

Bonus points to this reader for the Merton reference—and to anyone who cites his or her favorite contemplative monk as part of their religious-choice story.