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Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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Crime log: Subject barred after shoplifting at bookstore
By Max Porter, Contributing News Editor • February 26, 2024

Perspective: Reexamining religion at GW

The last time I stepped foot inside of a Catholic church was for my grandfather’s funeral.

I was 18 years old at the time, a senior in high school. My family solemnly flew down to North Carolina together for the service, where Barattas scattered across various parts of the country gathered to mourn and celebrate my papa’s life at St. Vincent De Paul Church.

For more than an hour, I went through the Catholic motions, performing traditional prayers and rituals like the Sign of the Cross, the Blood of Christ and the Apostles Creed. Nothing makes a former Catholic with religious guilt sweat like stepping inside a church only to attend the funeral of a deceased loved one.

Despite the Catholic guilt that my soul is still steeped in, I’ve been teetering on the edge of atheism since my middle school years. Surprisingly, though, college has made me somewhat of an agnostic. And for a stubborn, prideful woman like myself, that’s a fairly large religious concession.

My parents never strongly pushed religion on me or my siblings, and I am grateful for that independence. Granted, from ages 5-10, I was strangely devoted to the Catholic faith, attending Mass every Sunday morning even completing the children’s religious schooling called Confraternity of Christian Doctrine back in its heyday. I suppose my dad’s side of the family, Italian Americans who hung beaded rosaries from their car mirrors and folded their hands in prayer at the dinner table before homemade pasta suppers, had rubbed off on me.

As a young, anxious girl, I imagine that kneeling quietly in those pews in my hometown church was a lot like meditation. But I grew up, and I sought definitive, concrete answers based on science and reasoning rather than blind devotion and living life on a literal wing and a prayer. More than that, I wanted that scientific, rational world I followed to be loving, compassionate and accepting. I found the version of Catholicism that I was exposed to be the exact opposite: stale, conservative, cold.

Before my papa’s funeral, I hadn’t crossed the threshold of a church since the summer of 2017, when my mom marched my siblings and me out of a Catholic Mass, silently stirring with anger at the priest’s deeply conservative statements about what it meant to be a true, American family. It was long before 2017, however, that I stopped believing in God. By questioning the world around me, I started to see in color. Religion remained in black and white.

After that last Mass, I had fully turned away from the Catholic Church and religion completely and didn’t expect myself to look back.

But about a year ago today, I started casually reexamining my faith.

Religion is everywhere around me at GW. It’s in my classrooms, in my sorority house, in my conversations. These discussions I find myself in about religion in college are nuanced: sometimes positive, sometimes negative and always thought-provoking. I’ve talked with friends about how their faith informs their culture. I’ve learned about religious customs I had no idea existed. I’ve listened to strangers on campus speak on how their connection with their God or Gods have impacted their lives, for better and worse.

GW and Foggy Bottom brims with religious activists handing out pamphlets on the streets, scrawled messages of faith on the side of electrical boxes, shared meals sponsored by various pious organizations and almost every type of religious engagement in between.

This renewed exposure to religion, full of new and different perspectives about faith so long after my previous church-going days, has led me to ask myself two questions: What does religion mean to an atheist, and who is God to a skeptic?

I’m still trying to figure out those answers for myself, but I’ve seen what religion can be for others. For many of my friends Catholic, Muslim, Protestant, Jewish it’s their community, even if I never found that experience in my religious involvements. For them, their faith is bigger than just a traditional obligation or belief. It’s their culture. It signifies a sense of belonging, and it’s even led them to seek safety and security in a found family here on campus.

As backward as this might sound, this article isn’t about religion, necessarily. It’s about how students’ dedication to their faiths in the face of whatever the world might throw at them has led me to think more critically, more openly, about my journey with religion.

I still don’t believe in God, not in the traditional sense. I don’t see myself joining a new religion or renewing my connection with an old one for that matter. But I think now I truly can see others through their faith and see myself more clearly by truly seeing them. Perhaps I consider myself agnostic out of acceptance rather than atheist out of spite.

Paige Baratta, a sophomore majoring in political science, is the editorials assistant.

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