Reading is My Religion, Literally
I know what you're thinking. You're thinking I used "literally" in that superfluous hipster way and that reading isn't really my religion, but you'd be wrong.
I'm not religious in any traditional sense, but I do consider myself spiritual. Most people you hear say they're "spiritual but not religious" practice yoga, or regularly have their energy meridians unclogged through reiki, or have to have their chakras aligned. None of that really works for me, but I've found something that does, and I've been practicing it for as long as I can remember.
The beautiful thing about having a spiritual practice is that it can be anything--spirituality is what you make it. Your spiritual practice is something you love that makes you a better person and unburdens your mind. For me, reading is my spiritual practice.
When I was a little girl I used to work with my grandmother in her garden. She was always happiest in her garden--singing as she tended the flowers, bumbling around the yard with a noticeable vibrance. One day she said to me, "You know, I feel closest to God when I'm right here in this garden." The comment surprised me since my grandmother is a devout Catholic. After I thought it over, my nine-year-old self asked her, "Then why do you go to mass? Why not just work in your garden?" She told me that choosing gardening over going church wasn't an option, but I couldn't see why not. But that was what her god told her was so.
I've known I was an Atheist since I was a kid, but I tried to fight it for most of my life since I grew up in a religious family and in a religious community and feared that I would be ostracized if anyone found out. In my attempts to understand the truths of my life, I asked myself for reasons why I shouldn't be an Atheist and one of those reasons was my love of reading. There's really no basis for me being a reader--I don't come from an educated family, my mother keeps no books in the house, and my grandmother is the only reader in the family, though I wouldn't call her a voracious reader.
How did I become a book nerd extraordinaire? I still can't explain it. Maybe it was a kids' TV show or a teacher's influence--something that implanted itself in my brain so long ago that I don't remember, and something so surreptitiously all-consuming that it made itself a part of me without my knowledge. I can't say for sure. All I know is that, because there's no rational explanation, I can be 99% without belief, but not quite 100%.
At what point does a spiritual practice become a religion? Is it when I know without a doubt that I would walk through a fire to save books from burning? Is it when I know I would sacrifice my life to save the last copy of some culturally and historically significant work? Is it when I know I would defy authority if it meant preserving access to literature? If yes, then you can say reading is my religion.
Because reading is my religion, I get to worship at what I believe is the altar of the greatest human achievement. When I come across a sentence so beautiful that I'm rapt at attention or when I read a paragraph articulating a feeling I have always known, but could not explain, I experience a reverence more keen than any I have ever felt in any formal religious setting. To me, literature is the triumph of humanity--the ability to build worlds that may not exist, the know-how to empathize so deeply with another so as to bring an imaginary character to life, the power to connect with others through story and make them feel like they're not alone, and the talent to render emotions so deep as to reduce a reader to tears. That is beauty. THAT is what you expect from a religion.
There's nothing wrong with having a established religion as a religion or a spiritual practice, and I have to respect anyone who loves their spiritual practice as ardently as I love mine. But as I know from being Atheist in a religious community, being liberal in a conservative community, and being bisexual in a straight world: one size does not fill all. The world has room for all kinds.
I worship at the altar of literature. Religious people have their holy text, but I've got an entire genre--fiction. Sure, you can say that if fiction is my religion, I'm crazy because I believe in something that isn't real. But am I any more crazy than any person who takes their religious text literally? Between talking donkeys, virgin births, resurrections of the dead, and a dude in the sky who watches everything everyone everywhere does, I don't think religious texts should be deciding what's real and what's not.
The fact is that people have been using books as a conduit to worship who and what they believe in for millennia, so I feel that by worshipping at the altar of literature, I'm just following in that tradition. Sure, people can call me crazy--just as anyone who doesn't share a worldview with someone else thinks that person is crazy. Around and around we go.
I may be crazy, but I'm not any crazier than anyone else with a religion, and I'm okay with that. I feel closest to God, the Universe, and other people when I read. So I immerse myself in books and become one with a long history of eloquent words strung together to move hearts, minds, and sometimes souls.