Darius stood at the front of the lecture hall, the projector screen towering behind him as he looked out at the hundreds of young faces staring back at him expectantly. Each student sitting with their fingers poised over the keys to their laptops. Darius cleared his throat nervously. This was the first lecture he was speaking at and, despite Peyton’s assurances that he would do great, Darius was still terrified of sounding foolish.
“Good morning, everyone,” Darius finally said loudly. “This is Religious Studies and I’m Professor Freeman.”
Darius paused and let the name he had adopted upon regaining his humanity sink in. After a moment, he continued.
“In this class, we will be discussing the history and philosophy of many religions, including Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and many other ancient pagan religions. Before we get started, though, are there any questions?”
Darius expected no one to raise their hand, that everyone would be lost in their own thoughts as they counted the minutes before they could escape his boring, droning, voice, but to his surprise a hand in the front row rose up into the air.
“Yes?” Darius asked. “What’s your name?”
The young girl with the brown ponytail that seemed pulled far too tight lowered her hand.
Darius nodded. “Okay, Alisha. What’s your question?”
Alisha glanced around nervously, apparently hesitant to speak up.
“I was just wondering, sir,” she began. “With all the problems in the world, why is religion important? Why do we keep it around when people start wars and bomb schools over it? Shouldn’t the government just outlaw religion? At least, public displays of it, anyway. If no one was trying to change what other people believed, because they didn’t know, then wouldn’t the world be more peaceful?”
Darius felt every set of eyes in the room turn and lock onto him, waiting for his response. He thought for a moment, carefully considering Alisha’s question before answering.
“Would you say that it’s religion’s fault that women are often oppressed?” Darius asked.
Alisha, still hesitant to speak up, simply shrugged a little and then nodded. “Um, maybe. Yes?”
“Does anyone else agree?” Darius asked, louder, looking around the lecture hall. “Is religion to blame for terrorism? For segregation? Homophobia? Racism?”
Darius saw a few people nodding, while others simply shifted uncomfortably in their seats. Darius turned back to Alisha.
“Here’s a hypothetical question, Alisha,” Darius began. “Let’s say the young man sitting behind you took out a knife and stabbed you with it. Will you blame him? Or the knife?”
Alisha looked surprised and confused, as did the boy seated behind her.
“Um, I’d blame him,” Alisha replied, still confused. “I mean, he was the one who stabbed me. But what does that have to do with religion?”
“It’s the same concept if you think about it,” Darius replied, smirking. “The knife in our hypothetical situation was just a tool. And so is any religion. If wielded by the wrong people, yes, it can be dangerous, used to justify numerous acts of cruelty and oppression. People have, and do, use religion as a scapegoat for their own actions. But religion cannot be held accountable for how people use it. People interpret the texts, and then decide how to apply them. The texts were written by men, and then handed out as though God had faxed them to us. So to answer your question, no. The world would not be better off without religion, because if all religious institutions suddenly disbanded and declared themselves to be completely full of it, what then? The people who used religion to justify their cruelty would only find other means to defend what they do. The cruelty would remain, but the comfort that religion brings to just as many good people would be gone. The world has had to drastically reevaluate itself after those Angels attacked, but all the religious denominations have found solace and comfort in their faiths. What would the world be like right now if humanity had not had the guidance of religion to turn to?”
Alisha was nodding, but then the boy seated behind her raised his hand and asked a question of his own.
“So, which one’s right? I mean, we know Angels are real now, so we have a pretty good idea that God is real, too. So… Which religion has it right? And if God’s real, just how powerful is he? And where is he? Which religion is right?”
Darius smiled, a cheeky smile that looked like he had a secret he wasn’t about to share.
“All of them,” Darius replied. “Which is why we should study them. To get past the theology and find the history that’s hidden away within. And once we all understand each other’s faith, that’s when we can have the peace that Alisha was asking about. Now… Let’s get started.”