The Hopeful Agnostic: Finding My Faith

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Growing up, Monday nights always meant one thing: CCD class. I’d whine and drag my feet, annoyed that I had to go sit through an hour-long class at the Catholic school I didn’t go to.

In middle school, it became more of a social event. A lot of my friends were also “forced Catholics” in that they were made to attend these classes. In May of my freshman year in high school, I was finally confirmed into the Church, but I was pissed about it. (I had to miss an awards ceremony at school.)

My grandmother is an extremely devout Catholic. She had her kids dressed up and in the pews every Sunday, and she still sings in the choir at 77. I think my mom likes mass, but she rarely goes. My dad is Episcopalian, which is pretty close to Catholicism, but he’s not religious at all. There was really no motivation to go after I was confirmed, except for major holidays (Christmas, Easter). I would go months without thinking about church, and for a while I couldn’t remember the last time I had prayed.

Throughout high school, I never thought much about religion. My beliefs were never at the forefront of my mind, but if I had to put a word to it – I was agnostic. 9/11 happened when I was 12. A few people in my high school were shot, killed. I knew of lives that had spiraled out of control and saw the beginning of at least two wars. My friend’s mom, and my mom, were diagnosed with MS. With all the awful things in the world, I thought, how can there be a God? The more I thought about it, I had never felt a particular connection to Catholicism. I just always thought I was supposed to. I didn’t take the time to learn about the religion or about what I supposedly believed in. The older I got, the more practical I became. God makes no sense, I’d think. Religion is just a bunch of people trying to make themselves feel better. I wasn’t anti-religion or anti-God — I just couldn’t understand it.

When I applied to college, religion was never a factor for me. I wound up applying and getting into two Catholic schools, and somehow ended up attending one of those most well-known Catholic Jesuit universities in the country. I had absolutely no understanding of what a Jesuit was when I arrived on campus. I didn’t think much of it, though. Aside from our required two theology courses, you could take or leave religion on campus.

I still felt agnostic at school and it felt wrong. I knew of very few people who felt agnostic or atheist. For the most part, everyone believed in something and I couldn’t figure out why I had such a hard time deciding. I took a class my freshman year that incorporated both the theology and philosophy requirements of my school, and for the first time since childhood (and even then, it was the childrens’ version), I read the Bible. Passages stood out to me and I started to think about what religion really was – but still had no basis for anything.

Two years later, in the fall of 2009, I studied abroad in Italy. For someone who seemed to try to steer clear of her Catholic roots, I was certainly not doing a very good job. Some of my friends were more religious than I was, and I joined them for masses in the area. We went to some spoken in English for ex-pats. We went to some in Italian. We even went to mass at the Vatican. What I remember most, though, was a church in Parma that hung a rainbow flag on the front that read “Pace” (Peace).

The more I went to mass and traveled, the more I began to understand not only what CCD classes had tried to teach me in my more formative years, but what I was being taught at school – about a just society, loving one another because we are all God’s children, morals, peace. These were things I cared about and things I had grown up caring about. And these things were universal – from America to Italy, and all the other places I was fortunate enough to visit. I started to see the good in the world and understand that most of the time, it still outweighs the bad.

I started to go to mass on campus when I got back, and have been much more religious (no pun intended) about attending this semester. In a way, it’s time for personal reflection more than anything. I’m still discovering my faith, but I believe I’ll constantly be discovering it. It’s a constant struggle because I am against a lot of things the Catholic church practices – such as their stance on homosexuality and gay marriage, not ordaining women and their unwavering (and in my opinion, stupid) decision to oppose condoms and birth control. And those are struggles I deal with everyday in faith.

There’s a quote that I think most students at Jesuit or Catholic schools hear that has deeply affected my understanding of religion and God:

“Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in a love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the mornings, what you will do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.”
– Pedro Arrupe, S.J.

So now, I’m here. I believe in God, but my faith wavers. I’m okay with that, though. A struggle means I’m trying to understand and I would never want to follow this blindly. I don’t know of Gen Y being a generation of agnostics, but I definitely think we’re a generation of questioners – but that just means we’re more aware of ourselves, our places in the world and, in my case, for right now — more aware of God.

Brittany Lewis I'm a 2011 graduate of Boston College and the Columbia Publishing Course, and currently the Manager of Campus Development for I'm obsessed with independent book stores, traveling, and wine. When I'm not spending all of my money on these things, I spend my time running, reading, watching bad TV with my roommates, and exploring Boston. You can find me on twitter at @britmlewis.

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