Religious plurality at Georgetown inspires contemplation

April 26, 2012

At Georgetown, religion is everywhere. And for me, whose only religious experience pre-college was a third-grade Christmas gift exchange in which I gave a teacher a Barbie I didn’t like, a Jesuit university was quite the jump. And while my Catholic friends here might remind me that this is “barely Catholic” in comparison to their private high schools, I feel the strength of faith everywhere I go.

When I first matriculated at Georgetown, I could not have anticipated the impact that faith would have on my time here. The majority of my friends were Catholic, or had some other Christian denomination in which they had been immersed for their entire lives, and they were all very open and seemingly devoted in their respective faiths. My first semester here, I spent time avoiding the religion conversation; I felt like I was somehow less developed than my classmates because I had never spent time addressing the question.

As spring semester of my freshman year rolled around, I enrolled in Problem of God with a Jesuit professor. Less because of interest and more because one of my friends had preregistered for it, but I was getting the requirement out of the way. However, it quickly became my favorite class, and doubtlessly due to Father Fields’s brilliance. I looked forward to listening to my classmates, and watching enriching discussions unfold.

That was the best part of class—arguing, questioning, and forcing myself to delve deeper into the problem of God. My peers and professor were receptive to my ideas and constructive in their responses. The inclusive class was novel for me; I had never experienced such a thorough and open evaluation of faith. My classmates surprised me daily with their insights, their logic complementing that of Plato and St. Augustine.
But as I waded deeper into the conversation, it started to sneak into my life outside of class. I couldn’t get past reasoning my way through class, playing devil’s advocate if you will, and as we continued to raise questions about religious philosophy we only made our way to more questions. And then we’d move on.

Not answering these questions, these pressing questions, frustrated me. I didn’t understand how my classmates, who seemed to blindly follow this faith without reason, could move on so seamlessly!

I couldn’t help but feel deficient, like I was lacking some essential component of being a Georgetown student—you know, understanding the purpose of life and all. I decided to go to Fr. Field’s office hours to see if I could talk my way through some of the topics I was grappling with.
By some inexplicable force of who knows what, I started bawling in office hours. Not tearing up, but bawling.  Yet the conversation couldn’t have been more valuable; I was put at ease by his calming presence and repeated offers of cups of Earl Grey. While I didn’t get concrete answers for all of my questions, that was my turnaround point. Talking with him made me realize that my questions were examples of my faith, and that my need for answers only affirmed what I had believed all along.

Mind you, I can’t tell you what that is, but I know it’s something. In late-night talks, I’ve tried to articulate my problems with Catholicism, and it always comes down to reason. I’ve come to realize that I won’t be able to reason my way past portions of all recognized denominations, and that I’m just fine with that. I believe in something, and it’s helped me get through some tough times and self-evaluations.

Recently, a friend of mine from home died in a car crash. I immediately found myself seeking refuge in the meditative homilies at Dahlgren and Copley Crypt. I realized I was reiterating the words of the priests to my friends from home, in some attempt to make sense of the terrible accident.

Despite my lack of affiliation with the church, the faith community here welcomed me with open arms. The most incredible thing is that it’s not all one faith. It’s a mosaic of faiths, backgrounds, and experiences, all trying to answer some higher calling.

With this faithful community of Jesuits, atheists, and everything in between, I’ve been able to deal with some pretty difficult transitions. While I could chalk it up to my turn-around experience in office hours, I’d rather attribute it to the Georgetown community, which helped me to believe that I believe. For me, that reaffirms that Georgetown is the inclusive and fostering religious community that I was promised in NSO as a naïve freshman. And I got a hell of a lot more out of it than a checked requirement box on MyDegree.

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