Where should I go in a time of need, when I feel completely helpless? It’s something I’ve considered a great deal since I was little, always planning and re-planning my future actions in case of a life emergency. I’ve been into plans and lists for a while.
For me, the answer to this question has always been a church or a similarly religious and meditative space. The religious tradition I’ve known closest in my twenty years is Christianity, but I’d be comforted in many equally inviting spiritual environments. This is not to say that I don’t trust my friends, family members, or any of the number of campus resources available to talk through hardships and provide mental balance; those are fantastic support systems to rely on.
But whenever there is a time where I feel very troubled or anxious at Stanford, my feet almost drag me to Memorial Church. Of the times I have been overwhelmed to the point of tears, I have most often been near Memorial Church, and there I have found comfort.
The sight of it clears my head; it’s something big and grand, a structure that has been there much longer than I’ve been alive. A quiet space where many others before me have sat and sorted through their own troubles again and again. A shared devotion to something, something beyond the concerns of problem sets, papers, club meetings and classes. These are some of the things that religion means to me.
And though I have a happy relationship with religion, pursuing it personally and academically, I can understand those who have only been hurt by it. I can understand that they need to stay as far away from religious doctrine as possible, and to make sense of the world in other ways. The oppressive nature of far too many fundamentalist beliefs does not offer understanding, but seems only to offer a salvation gained through hating the right people. These are decidedly not loving beliefs.
Some pretty cool people raised me, and made religion a choice – something that exists to see purpose and meaning in life, but that would never be forced on me. My impression of God as a calm and loving force was only improved when I finally told my mom I was dating a girl; she immediately replied by email, after a long conversation: “Much love to you and God bless, Sweetie. The One who sent you here must also be so proud that you are choosing the honest life. There is just no other way to do the service you were sent for.” I mean, how could I not continue to love and trust that God?
However, I also discuss my beliefs loosely as “religion and spirituality,” and while I know the Episcopalian faith best, I admit I have commitment issues with it. Being at Stanford, many people speak so eloquently about their belief systems that I want to know more. Judaism, Catholicism, Buddhism – religions small and large – offer insight and traditions that I wouldn’t want to ignore.
But then there are those people (I see you, White Plaza guy) who are so intensely alienating in their scriptural beliefs that I can understand why people throw their hands up and walk away from it all. And they are not alone. On Tuesday, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life posted its recent findings about religion in America: one in five adults have no religious affiliation, the largest percentage ever recorded. Additionally, one-third of adults under 30 have no religious affiliation. I feel a reprimand coming for us youngsters from the Republican Party (though this summer’s convention also proved that Democrats are firmly on Team God when the American public asks).
Of the adults who are unaffiliated with religion, about two-thirds say they believe in God. According to the Pew report, many say “religious organizations are too concerned with money and power, too focused on rules and too involved in politics.”
I can identify with such feelings, and see a comparison to registering as an independent voter. Whether it’s alienation from the options presented or the willful choice to exist as an independent entity, you are likely still pulling ideas from different parties, different religious traditions. No matter how aggravating they can be to an individual identity, both political parties and religious traditions have a collective knowledge and tradition. Even as I exist in the grey area of the unaffiliated with a belief in God, I know I won’t stay here forever. Life, however messy, seems to always require a degree of partisanship.
Contact Annie at firstname.lastname@example.org.