I grew up in a family nearly without religion. It existed only on the periphery—in the wall hangings at my grandparents’ houses, the crucifix eternally dangling from my mom’s neck, the quick prayer said inconsistently and by rote at my grandparents’ before dinner. I can still say it now without any real thought:

“Bless us, oh Lord, and these Thy gifts that we are about to receive from Thy bounty, through Christ our Lord…”

…bracketed, of course, by the Sign of the Cross. All made without context, as meaningless a ritual for me as setting the table or waiting to be excused. Also notably absent from that prayer was the word “God.” It wasn’t a word that I heard at home (that “God” and “Lord” are essentially interchangeable was lost upon my young self).

This is how I found myself in the car during one morning commute, four or five years old and strapped into the passenger’s seat, turning to my mom and asking, “Mommy? What is God?”

I don’t remember this happening, but my mom does. For her, the question elicited a moment of panic. Sure, there were plenty of theological constructs she could have used, plenty of pieces of doctrine she could have rattled off. She could have personified him as a cosmic Elf on a Shelf, eternally watching. She could have characterized him as family—a Father to all. Instead she answered, white-knuckling a commute that had grown unexpectedly fraught:

“God is the little voice inside you that tells you what’s right and what’s wrong.”

And then she held her breath, hoping beyond hope that I’d accept that explanation. There were a few moments, and then, after having apparently given the matter some thought, I said, “Oh. Okay.”

She let out a sigh of relief. The commute continued.

Religion then merely danced around my periphery for the next half-dozen or so years. I noticed that, during the before-dinner prayer, my grandma and grandpa each made the Sign of the Cross differently from the other (a difference that did not help solidify my already-shaky concept of “right” and “left”). I remember visiting my grandpa’s sister in South Dakota when I was seven, and being quietly outraged that I wasn’t allowed to go up with everyone else for a snack. In trying to negotiate my outrage, my grandma tried to negotiate my outrage, she explained that she also wasn’t allowed to go up for a snack, either.

Astute readers—or those who share my particular cultural background—might have already guessed the difference. My grandpa and my mom’s family were Catholic (the giveaway, of course, being the exact wording of the prayer above). My grandma and her family were Greek Orthodox (the giveaway being the difference in the Sign of the Cross). I didn’t get it. My mom said that we were, technically, Catholic. My best friend then, a few months later, made a different distinction: that she was Christian, but since my family was Catholic, they weren’t Christian.

My mom said that she was wrong, and that she was being a jerk. I kind of agreed.

After my grandparents on my father’s side died, I began to be a little more interested in religion. I was about thirteen, and I felt like there had to be something. Or, rather, like my heart would break if there weren’t something. Since my only real conception of religion was Christianity, and my family was mostly nominally Catholic, I figured Catholicism—or, at least, some form of formalized Christianity—was the way to go.

I went to classes. I took Confirmation classes with people my own age. I went to other classes held at night. I liked some of the stories—I’d read the Bible cover to cover a few years prior, so I knew them pretty well; I thought they were great stories—but I struggled with the theology. I think I’d internalized what my mom had said ages ago—that God was the little voice inside me that told me what was right and what was wrong. This didn’t end up conflicting much with my CCD classes—they mostly steered away from concepts like sexuality and more towards concepts of being a generally decent human being—but it did present one colossal problem:

I couldn’t abide the concept of Hell.

Hell was so cosmically unfair to me. I could think of no mistake so grievous, no sin so unforgiveable, as to be worthy of eternal torment. I especially couldn’t wrap my mind around the concept of something as innocent as disbelief as being punished with pain and suffering. If this was the God of others’ conception, and he existed, then not only could I not follow him, but I was bound to actively resist him. Injustice is injustice, no matter how great the perpetrator, and no matter how hopeless the cause.

However, the concept of God as horrible dictator was (fortunately!) outweighed by the other to-me obvious conclusion: that this conception of God was inaccurate. And, because Christianity was, at least in its then-visible-to-me face, extremely Hell-focused, I determined that this was in fact the case. If the voice inside me and the voice at the pulpit disagreed vehemently, then I would go with the voice inside me.

The next dozen or so years were relatively apathetic. I moved more towards Neopaganism, though this was less out of actual belief and more out of a desire to find meaning in the concrete. Seasons are concrete and metaphorical and beautiful, so that worked. I viewed magic not as magic, but rather as a ritual of personal significance undergone merely to relax or focus one’s self. Lighting candles, setting out stones, visualizing one’s energy—all of that just was a way to find one’s own center, to find the quiet and the strength inside one’s self to better one’s own life—like meditation with props. But even that didn’t really fit, in no small part because it seemed most social pagans felt magic was more practical and real, and I felt that was absolutely ridiculous.

That brings us to here, really, and now. I’m not really anything. I understand things more now. I understand that the concept of salvation can be taken as metaphorical, and that the hell it snatches you from can be a hell of one’s own making. That the seasons can inspire awe in the natural without the supernatural. That things have the meaning that we ascribe to them, and that I am ill-equipped to judge the meanings of others’ personal faith. And what I have or haven’t found in my own personal theology or eschatology (or lack thereof) is, for the purposes of this conversation, irrelevant.

It still sticks with me, what my mother said and I forgot—that what matters is the voice inside us telling us what’s right and what’s wrong. That, more than anything, has guided me; it’s not a divine mandate, but rather my own morality. I try with everything I do to do what’s right. To help people when I can. To be compassionate. To not hurt. An’ ye harm none. Do unto others.

This hasn’t been easy. I’m anxious. I’m terrified of people. Confrontation is nearly anathema. And yet I find myself in confrontation at times—when I think that I’m right, when I think that other people will be hurt. I’m not good at—it leads to things like being berated well past the point of tears, or unwanted attention—but I try to do it. Maybe this is pride. Maybe this is something else. But my own voice—my own morality—moves me.

That voice is what I feel is missing in Trump. And the absence of such a voice is why I’ve felt as though I have to stand firmly against him, and—more importantly—why I have to challenge those who do.

I have struggled with this, because I love. I love people who voted for Trump. I can’t stop loving. I love people who have long since hated me. I can’t help it. If you have crossed my path, and I have cared for you before, then I care for you now, no matter how much I claim that I don’t. So when I challenge the votes and voices of those who voted for Trump, I feel the hurt that I cause. It wounds me.

I’ve tried these last few weeks to be less confrontational. I can’t keep it up. I can’t bite through my tongue. I can’t live with myself if I do. Faith and politics are the two things you’re not supposed to talk about at the dinner table. I am doing both.

Those of my friends and family who have voted for Trump—I deeply and sincerely implore you to look into your hearts, and then look into Trump. This is not a man of compassion. This is not a man who strives to help the hurt, to salve the wounded, to improve the world where he can. This is a man who lives for business. This is a man who measures success by his own benefit. This is a man who sees nothing wrong with cheating to get what he wants. He refuses to pay his own contractors while making his wealth from their contributions. He and his campaign staff demonize entire groups of people. He is loyal to nothing and no one. All you can hope is that what benefits you also benefits him. And even if it does—or you think it will—I ask you, please, to listen to me.

I believe that, at minimum, the next four years are going to hurt a lot of people. I think they are going to hurt those who are the most vulnerable, those who have already suffered or who are suffering, those who are sick or shot or hated or hungry or poor. Trump’s appointees have nigh-uniformly been of people who will either undermine the departments that they end, or will enable the expanded indifference to and suppression of the rights of individuals. None of them have given any indication that they care for anything beyond the dissolution of the parts of the federal government that attempt to either help individuals or safeguard the planet on which we live. Your individual gain is not worth the damage, both to others and to our world.

It. Is. Not. Worth. It.

If you can read this, then you are someone that I care about, that I love. If you voted for Trump, I hope for better from you. Please. Resist everything that’s coming. Look at him and tell me whether you see anything more than a narcissistic bully who has managed to con the world into the service of his own ego, and the governmental process into lining the pockets of the wealthy. Look into your hearts and find the compassion and wisdom that I know you possess, and promise me—or yourself—that you will shelter the vulnerable, that you will care for the sick, that you will provide for the poor when the time comes. And tell me—please, tell me, promise me, promise yourself—that you will stand against an overwhelming tide in defense of those people if and when it becomes necessary.

Because I haven’t these last weeks. I’ve been silent, and that’s not okay. My inner voice tells me it’s not okay. I haven’t been sleeping well, have been beyond the point of anxiety, and haven’t been able to functionally live with myself.

Sometimes, you have to shout. Have to be berated beyond the point of tears. Have to stand against injustice, no matter how great the perpetrator or hopeless the cause.

Please. Promise me.

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