As a little girl in India growing up in a Hindu household in the ’80s, I appreciated the beauty of Hindu symbolism; the ritual of lighting a lamp every evening at sundown so the goddess Lakshmi would bless the house; the sensory satisfaction of dipping my hands into a basket full of sweet-smelling rose petals; the delicious treats that festivals would bring. I looked forward to Deepavali—the festival of lights—every year, which arrived in a flurry of new clothes, sweets, and fireworks. I awoke on the morning of Krishna Jayanthi (Lord Krishna’s birth) and raced outside to see if He had come for his sweet butter balls. A part of me knew that my grandmother had drawn the outline of the tiny chubby feet with kolam (rice flour mixed with water and used in designs), and that it wasn’t really Lord Krishna, but it was fun, and I was a child. Yet, despite these dear memories and growing up in a country rooted in religion, I somehow grew up into an adult agnostic.
It wasn’t just at home. I went to a Christian school, and I made the nuns who taught me both annoyed and miserable by asking endless questions about Christianity. Why does God punish people, I asked, when he’s supposed to be loving and forgiving? When they tried to hurry past this question, I popped in another. How do you know God is a man, I demanded. When it was time for us to peruse the Old Testament, I was shocked at the various tales of genocide, murder and rape, and professed loudly that no God who loves people would ever ask them to commit these atrocities in His name. My teachers were all besides themselves with horror.
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