Despite criticism, members of Congress are planning to introduce legislation this week supporting Bush”s proposal to allow financing for religious charities.
The social programs this would support include child welfare, job training and hunger relief. Though it seems a clear breach of the separation of church and state, the programs would supposedly exclude prayer and worship. Would they even prove beneficial? Would we, as college students, turn to religion for financial help instead of to the government if we needed it? I think the answer is largely “no,” because many college students are apathetic regarding religion. I am no exception.
I first became skeptical of my religion, Catholicism, when I was 16-years-old, at my Confirmation retreat. Part of the day included writing questions regarding Catholicism and putting them into a hat for our parish”s monsignor to answer. I was interested to hear how the church viewed my parents” recent divorce. My friend Melissa wanted to know if Catholicism viewed oral sex as sex. In other words, was she still a virgin according to God? Monsignor Gill dodged the juicy questions and said an all-encompassing, “sex is not evil.” This was not good enough for Melissa or me, so we made a deal: She would ask my question aloud if I would ask hers. Monsignor Gill answered Melissa by calling divorce “a touchy subject.” At this point I was so irked by his evasion of our issues that I indignantly raised my hand and in a clearly annunciated, evenly toned voice asked him what the church thinks of oral sex. He just stared at me, eyes agog.
After this day, which was supposed to clarify what it means to be a Catholic, I thought to myself: “If I am supposed to seek answers to ethical questions through my church, why, when asked directly, won”t the church answer?”
I took this skepticism with me to college, where it festered into something of a denunciation of religion. It makes perfect sense in college one learns to look at things critically, forming an argument using empirical, logical evidence. And my religion, which had been a given since childhood, was not checking out empirically.
I thought back to the visits I took growing up to see my relatives in New York, where we all gathered around, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and said the rosary every night in Italian. When I was young I said the rosary reverently with closed eyes, trying simultaneously to pronounce the Italian words right and feel close to God. It seemed ironic to me later that I had spent time praying without thinking, without even understanding what I was saying. So I gave up my religion freshman year.
Three years later, something is missing. I realized this on the plane ride back to Ann Arbor last August as I was thinking about my little sister and brother.
Brigitte was going to be driving soon Alex was starting high school. I started growing paranoid about them, imagining them getting into car accidents and other horrible things. I caught myself like this worrying like a grandmother at 21 years of age and I wondered why. After some thought I recalled that throughout my life, whenever I worried about something, I would pray and consider the matter settled, up to God and out of my hands. Without that step worrying had no end, no closure.
So I have been trying to get back into religion. I have been praying again. And this past Thanksgiving in New York I was not critical regarding the rosary. I sat back and said it, mumbling along next to my English-speaking cousins, exchanging winks with them when we mispronounced the words.
As college students, we tend to place more importance on reason and logic than on faith. Those in need may rely on faith in a way that perhaps we can”t understand. The New York Times reported that in several recent studies, churches and other religion-based charities were identified as among the most effective institutions now helping the poor. Supposing a solid wall remains wedged between religion and state, I think faith-based initiatives could be beneficial after all. The poor may have an easier time accepting help from something they associate with family and peace than from the government.
Gina Hamdey”s column runs every other Tuesday. Give her feedback at www.michigandaily.com/forum or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.