Faith can provide a wonderful sense of self, purpose, and joy for those who wholeheartedly believe in its message (whether it be Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, or just general spirituality). It can help to offer comfort to those in a world of mystery and provide a guiding light to those going through trying or complex times. Religion and faith can offer all these things, good things, but it can also offer a lot of harm when unchecked.

In my opinion, there is not a doubt in my mind that it is the parties of god(s), those who believe their actions are guided and inspired by divine command, that have caused the irreparable harm to millions of people and numerous societies throughout the history of humankind. The Crusades, the Pogroms, the continued persecution of the jews, modern-day Islamic terrorism, the Sudanese Civil War, the Lebanese Civil War, the Yugoslav Wars, the Chinese oppressive invasion of Tibet, the Catholic oppression of Vietnamese Buddhists, the Buddhist cleansing of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, the Pakistani-Indian Hindu-Muslim conflicts, and the Israeli-Palestine conflict have all originated and been maintained in large part by the religious powers that be. Here in the United States, we see smaller but no less serious cases of discrimination against those of different sexual orientations, religious backgrounds, and lifestyle choices.

I am not debating the inherent goodness or evilness of religion, that is to say, whether or not religion is true and if it is true if it is good. That is a topic for another day, though I am likely to disagree with the religious who maintain that it is true and good and necessary because I believe that it is not and have not been sufficiently convinced otherwise.

What I AM saying is this: your personal religious views must remain personal. They can be shared among those who share your views (i.e a church group or close family). However, they should not be preached at others who are not interested in your message or imposed upon an innocent bystander. There is this notion among many religious zealots and denominations that their message MUSt be spread by all means and that everyone must follow their specific religion because it's the "truth" or the "only path to salvation". Nonsense. Yet, this kind of irritable rubbish occurs on the daily. The Mormons, Muslims, Christians, and Scientologists have made it practically dogma at this point to nag others and evangelize the world over. Worse than that, they have formed themselves into various lobbying groups with the hopes of creating actual legally enforceable legislation that would target people of specific orientations or backgrounds or make certain services unavailable to those who want them. That is where it crosses the line.

You get to have your view of the world, but you don't get to make it law or make it my view too. Don't you like homosexuality? Don't marry a gay person. Don't like men in drag? Change the channel. Don't like abortions? Don't get one. Don't like seeing people of other backgrounds and livelihoods walking around in the same freedom as you? Tough. You get to live life on your terms, for the most part, and get to decide what you want to believe and deem good or evil. what you don't get to do is push that onto anyone else. It's the essence of the Golden Rule: "do unto others as you would have them do to yourself." You wouldn't want to be persecuted or legislated against simply because of your sexual orientation or religion, so how are you going to turn around and do the same exact thing to others and still think you're doing anything good and helpful.

Separation of church and state exists for a very good reason: so that the will of a particular religion (even if that religion is a majority) does not get unfairly pushed onto those who do not follow it. That was the whole reason why the Pilgrims fled England to the Americas, to flee from religious persecution. allowing these religious political lobbying groups to push forward religious based laws is nothing short of a full-blown breach of that separation, and its increasing encroachment on the secular governments of the world is paramount to the survival of free thought and liberty for all. we can see modern-day examples of religious totalitarian states, where the religion of the majority persecutes against those aren't members and dictates the terms of life to all its citizens. Look at North Korea, a country that religiously worships it's leaders and has no say in it because the leader is God. Or look at Saudi Arabia, a nation ruled firmly by Muslim kings and the leaders of Islam with an atrocious human rights record and no real freedom of press or speech. These nations have given almost complete control to the religious and it has spelled out disaster for those who are unbelievers or dissidents. Here in the United States and Europe, we get to enjoy the wonderful concept that is a separation of church and state and we get to decide how we want to live, regardless of who frowns upon our decisions because of their faith-based beliefs.

To close, I want to make it clear that it is absolutely a right and a privilege to live here in the West where we can hold varying ideas when it comes to politics, religion, culture, and what constitutes fashion (seriously, some people man. but hey, you go for it girl). This is part of what makes our society so progressive and diverse, so forward-thinking and innovative: tolerance and mutual respect; the ability to "live and let live" and truly allow each other to cohabitant while disagreeing and holding contrary beliefs, because at the end of the day the only person you can truly control is you and that's the way it should be. Finally in the words of the famous (or infamous, if you will) writer and speaker Christopher Hitchens, "I am perfectly happy for people to have these toys [religion] and to play with them at home and hug them to themselves and share them with other people who come around and play with the toys. They are not to make me play with these toys. I will not play with the toys. Don't bring the toys to my house. Don't say my children must play with the toys. Don't say my toys--might be a condom, here we go again-- are not allowed by their toys. I'm not going to have any of that. enough with clerical and religious bullying and intimidation."

So, with that, go be free and believe in whatever brings you happiness and wholeness. Take a look around and see if you are pushing anything unwanted onto others or trying to force a certain viewpoint or belief onto them. Try asking me if I'm interested in Jesus or the Republican Party before launching into "convert mode" or ask I'd like to discuss your religious or political views with an open mind, which I would be much more willing to do. Just don't come at me with it unprovoked or start up the conversion machine (whether it be to a religion, political view, or fashion trend) if I haven't expressed curiosity and especially not if I have said: "no, that you."