By Jasmine, the Turbaned Humanist —
This isn’t my first time leaving religion. Growing up, I was raised in the black Protestant church, later to join the (mostly white) Evangelical movement. My Christian worldview became further solidified when I became enrolled at a private Christian school in the 8th grade and was surrounded by people who thought the same way I did.
But it wasn’t too long before I started to question what I had been taught, and with the help of the internet, lost my faith in Christianity as well as God. I stayed in the closet about this, though, afraid of what the repercussions might be. During my senior year of high school, I found my belief in God again. But this time, it wasn’t in Christianity. No, this time it was in a religion known as Sikhism.
For those who are unfamiliar with this tradition, Sikhism (properly called Sikhi) is a panentheistic religion founded in the region of Punjab by a man named Guru Nanak. Guru Nanak taught that in order to connect with Ik Oankar (the One Divine) humanity must meditate on and realize the true, non-dualistic essence of God. He also established langar (the free community kitchen that every Sikh place of worship has), preached against the Hindu caste system, stopped the mistreatment of women, and wrote hymns in praise of the Divine.
After his retirement, he passed on his spiritual and political authority to his disciple now known as Guru Angad. This process would continue until the lifetime of the tenth and final human Guru, Guru Gobind Singh. Guru Gobind Singh is most known for two things: 1) the establishment of the body of initiated Sikhs known as the Khalsa and 2) passing on guruship to the current and eternal Guru of the Sikhs, the Shri Guru Granth Sahib (the Sikh scriptures). Sikh history and theology are so extensive that I cannot cover everything in one article, but feel free to research it for yourself.
When I chose to accept the Sikh faith, I felt like I was on cloud nine. Like I, out of all the 7 billion people on earth, was lucky enough to find the truth. Once I moved to college, I embraced the faith more and garnered up enough courage to tell those Christians around me. Their response was shocking but not unexpected. Most unfollowed me on social media, never to talk to me again. Some tried to evangelize to me, but after realizing I wasn’t going to change, gave up. And one older friend had to be threatened with a restraining order in order to stop her crusade. In summary, I can say that because I no longer held the same beliefs as others, I lost most of my community.
Fast forward to 2019, and here we are again. Except this time, I’m not leaving Christianity. I’m leaving Sikhism.
So, what would make me leave this progressive faith? It’s quite simple. To be a Sikh requires that you have belief in the Divine and that you accept the holy scriptures as your Guru. Not only do I not hold faith in the Divine (or anything else spiritual for that matter), I could not justify to myself some of the contradictory ideas I found in the Guru Granth Sahib.
For example, in Christianity, God sets up mankind (who He so loves) to fail from the beginning. If that hadn’t been his intention, then you tell me why he placed the tree of the knowledge of good and evil smack dab in the Garden of Eden (versus any other place on the Earth)? And on top of that, he knew it would happen since he’s supposedly omniscient. In Sikhism, the One is your “father”, your “mother”, your “brother” and your “friend”. And it’s the main goal of a Sikh to destroy dualistic thinking and unite him or herself with It. But the One separates people from itself and the One attaches people to duality. Yes, that is in Gurbani. A Sikh might blow this off and say, “It’s all a part of the divine will and you just have to accept it!” I say, that if that’s how a friend treats another friend, that’s not a true friend. There are more examples I could give, but this isn’t that type of article (#DeedBeforeCreed).When it comes to those Sikhs close to me (or at least those I have regular communication with), they already knew that I wasn’t a Sikh anymore. In fact, I hadn’t been for a couple of weeks. It’s just that nobody on social media seemed to notice (even though I had been writing about potentially leaving for the last two months). Or maybe, nobody thought it would happen. That was, until I wrote, edited, and published a blog post proclaiming that I was no longer a Sikh. Then, the reaction came.
Whenever someone comes out as no longer ascribing to a certain tradition or no longer holding a belief, people take it personally. I thought this wouldn’t be the case with Sikhs (who are way more open-minded than most other religious folks), but I was wrong. Well, at least when it came to the Punjabis. The Sikh converts I knew (past and present), gave me 100% support. Probably because most could at least somewhat relate to what I was going through. But when it came to my brown brothers and sisters, I got everything from 100% support to 100% opposition. And like the Christians, people began to unfollow me on social media, probably never to speak to me again. A few tried to challenge me, but after realizing I wasn’t going to play their game, gave up and left. And thankfully, I haven’t had to threaten anyone with a restraining order, but this is because most people are talking behind me instead of to me.
Over the next few days, I wondered why I was getting this sort of response. In my mind I thought, “Aren’t these the same Sikhs who espouse belief in freedom of religion/thought and Oneness? Aren’t these the same people that see everyone (regardless of belief or nonbelief) as a part of Ik Oankar and Hukam (the divine will)?” Even Guru Arjun (the 5th Guru) said,
No one is my enemy, and no one is a stranger. I get along with everyone.
Whatever God does, I accept that as good. This is the sublime wisdom I have obtained from the Holy.
– Guru Arjun, Ang 1299
That’s when I realized that in the eyes of most adherents, I was a part of the One until I became a “none”. And even though I had not criticized Sikhism, for me to simply leave the faith was criticism enough for people.
So for those who are leaving their faith communities, here is my piece of advice for you. Before you come out publicly, take time to become a part of another community outside of your faith. I wish I had thought about this before coming out publicly as no longer religious. For some people, the moment you come out is the moment you also lose your previous community. It could be a drastic, overnight lost or it could fade away over a period of time. Either way, before coming out, find a community that resonates with you. Decide what it is that you want from this community and become involved in it. By doing this, you’ll have the support you need as you gradually leave your previous community.
In conclusion, being a humanist has brought more good out of me then going to the Gurdwara or meditating has in the last three years. This might tick off a few people, but it’s true. I no longer look at a person suffering and say, “He must have done something bad in his past life.” But instead, I look at a person suffering empathetically and see if I can reduce his/her suffering. Because as far as I’m concerned, this is the only life we can be 100% sure that we have, so we should work together and make it as comfortable as possible.
I don’t care if you’re religious or not, or if you hold the same beliefs as me or not. I will still be your friend. Because unlike religion (which creates unnecessary division), I see you for what you are: a person. So challo. This time I’m going to build up my community, but not by making the same mistake again. And what mistake is that might you ask? If you want to find genuine connections with people, never base your friendships solely on the fact that you share the same faith (or lack thereof).
What really matters is that you base your relationships with people on what matters most — the heart.