When I entered class, I didn’t expect you to say something so personal. When you told us we would discuss a poem based on a racially-charged murder, I knew that we were going to be in for a difficult discussion about race. I was prepared for that. I set my personal feelings aside because I knew that people are suffering, and it’s my job to listen to their stories. I was prepared for that.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the comments you made about religion. They made me so angry that didn’t even realize what you were saying until after you said it. You said that religious people aren’t motivated to make systematic change against injustices here on earth because they’re too focused on Heaven.
As a practicing Catholic who has an anxiety disorder, I was hurt by your words. I felt like I got slapped in the face.
With all due respect, you don’t know my story, and you don’t know me. If it wasn’t for my faith in God, my anxiety disorder would have overtaken me years ago. It’s precisely because of my faith that I, along with millions of other religious people, work hard to bring systematic change. We don’t do it for fame or money; we do it because our religions call us to do so.
Here’s another thing you don’t know: Because I am a deeply religious person who happens to have an anxiety disorder, I have faced a lot of harsh judgement simply by being myself. Throughout my entire life, people have made me feel like I was a freak. I have had people stare at me when I pray in public. I have had people ask me if there’s a difference between transubstantiation and cannibalism. I have even had people tell me that I am wrong for believing what I believe in. Every time I received judgement about my anxiety or my religion, it chipped away at my self-esteem. It’s taken a lot of therapy for me to rebuild my self-esteem, but fear still strikes me when people tell me things like you did.
I wish you would have thought about what you said more carefully. Not only do I struggle with an anxiety disorder, but I’m still in the process of building my self-esteem. I have struggled in the past with feeling ashamed of myself. And like it or not, religion makes up a lot of people’s identities, mine included. By saying that religion is what’s wrong with the world, you imply that people like me are what’s wrong with the world. Not only is that a dangerous generalization, it’s a hurtful and offensive one too.
At one point, your comments would’ve hurt me so badly that it might have caused a relapse. At one point, I would have tried to convince myself that you were right and I was wrong. At one point, your words would have convinced me that I’m a bad person.
But I’m stronger now. My self-esteem is higher. And I stick up for myself, hence why I’m writing this letter today. Yes, your words still hurt, and I was angry, but I know that you’re wrong.
I am religious, and I am a good person. I have done loads of service projects. When I was fourteen years old, I taught girls in foster care how to knit. When I was eighteen, I wrote a book for general education teachers so that they know how to accommodate students with disabilities in their classrooms. When I was nineteen, I spent over a year working with kids who have been impacted by domestic violence. When I was 20, I raised enough money to buy 40 duffel bags to give to kids in foster care. And currently, I’m knitting blankets to donate to kids who are in the hospital. I’ve done all of this and more because of my religion.
These examples might not be the systemic change that you’re looking for, but it’s a start. If everyone did just a few small acts, imagine how different the world would be.
I’m not looking for an apology, and I’m not looking to shame you. I just want you to know that your words have power, especially since you are in a position of authority. I want you to know how dangerous generalizations are. And I want you to know that your words will not stop me from being me.