When I was a sophomore in high school, I was an Atheist. At least, that’s what I said. Let me back up a little and explain to you why I said this, and why I’m not sure if I ever really meant it.
From the day I was born, I had rarely known a Sunday morning not spent sitting in a pew at the Catholic Church in my hometown. Sure, I may have sat there quietly, looking like any other little girl in a Sunday dress, paired with those little white socks with the lace trim with matching, white Mary Jane shoes that every little girl’s mom made them wear. I may have looked like an angel, but if we rewind back to 9 a.m. that morning, you would see an entirely different scene. Imagine a little girl crying and yelling that she wasn’t going to church, fighting her mom as she tries to brush the little girl’s hair, and pulling out the barrettes when she finished. Yeah, that was me. From the ages of 3-12, the story was the same every Sunday. And it wasn’t because I hated church or anything, I just thought it was so boring. My own personal sort of torture required me to wear the aforementioned dress and sit still and be quiet for a whole hour. I was sure I would die from boredom.
But as I got older, especially in middle school and high school, I think it was all about being rebellious. My mom wanted me to go to church, and I convinced myself she was forcing me. At my age, I was “too cool” to hang out with my mom, especially at church. Maybe she could “force” me to go, but she could never make me be happy about it. Around the beginning of high school, I also started getting really into science. I took my first real biology course freshman year, and the next year, my first real chemistry course. I joined the science academic team at my school. At the time, I was dating a guy who was also on the science academic team, so by this point in my life, I was pretty sure I was a scientist.
The combination of my rebellious stage, passion for science and general naiveté led me to deep thoughts on religion and its plausibility. With a lot of influence from certain people in my life, I convinced myself that I was an Atheist. I told myself that there is no way God or heaven or angels are scientifically possible. I started reading about evolution all the time. I rolled my eyes at people who posted religious quotes on Facebook. I even got mad at my own family for their religious beliefs.
At the time, I thought I was pretty cool. I mean, how many people my age did I know that had the guts to say “God isn’t real”? And that was exactly the problem with my Atheism. I claimed to be an Atheist for all the wrong reasons. I thought it would make me cooler in the eyes of my friends at the time. I was rebelling against my mother. And, most of all, I thought that since I was a “scientist” I couldn’t believe in God; I thought I was “too smart” to believe in that kind of “magic”.
A year later, those influences who encouraged my “Atheism” left. I did a lot of “soul searching”, you could say. And, I came to some conclusions:
First, my mom wasn’t forcing me to go to church to be evil. She was trying to give me something that I was only beginning to understand, something special that I had never taken the time to appreciate. And second, just because you are a scientist, that doesn’t mean you can’t be religious. Church is not just a place where you go to read the same old stories from the Bible over and over, but I never knew that because I never took the time to listen. I went through a really hard place at the beginning of my junior year of high school. I don’t know what made me do it because I definitely wasn’t looking for some God that I didn’t even believe in (at the time) to save me. I thought I was too strong for that. I thought I didn’t need that in my life. But for some reason, one Sunday morning, I listened. And it wasn’t just Bible stories, or old prayers and chants. There was a message from the priest, the readings, the songs. I was surprised to find that it wasn’t what I had expected. I expected to hear some old guy telling me I had to believe these implausible things if I wanted to go to heaven. But I was wrong. The messages were about community, friendship, doing the right thing, and so many other things I believed in. I was at a point in my life where I had alienated all of my friends. I was lonely and sad. It felt so good to be a part of the parish community. Even though I wasn’t entirely sure at the time if I believed in God, I knew I believed in the principles of church: a sense of community, helping others, learning to be selfless, choosing happiness, and having faith that things would work out.
I made a last minute decision to get confirmed, which means becoming a full member of the Catholic Church. On my confirmation journey, I was required to go on a retreat. I met so many Catholic peers who had doubts just like me. I learned that Catholics have no conflict with evolution and that most don’t believe in full Creationism. One night of the retreat, I had the opportunity to go to confession, and I cried as I told the priest that I told people I was an Atheist in the past, and I wasn’t even entirely sure what I believed at the time. To my surprise, he did not reprimand me, but told me that it was okay, and even expected from someone my age. He said that I would find what I believed in time and that my confirmation journey would help me. After the retreat, I went home feeling pure and renewed. A feeling I had not felt in a long time.
So here I am today, three and a half years later, and a full member of the Catholic Church, and also a biochemistry major at a leading STEM school. I am no longer ashamed to say I do believe in God. Maybe it’s not the same God you believe in. I know that species evolve. I know that Earth is 4.5 billion years old. I don’t mean to offend anyone who doesn’t agree. I am a strong acceptor of science, but there are things that we still don’t know. For instance, at the beginning of everything, if all matter was concentrated at one point and began expanding outward to eventually form galaxies, planets, and even Earth, where did that matter come from, and why? So I have my own beliefs about all of that, and about what happens when we die. I’m not going to go into what those beliefs are. My point is, that everybody has a right to believe in whatever they feel is true and right. You shouldn’t change your beliefs just to rebel against someone else. You shouldn’t have to suppress your beliefs just to appear cool and smart in front of your friends. And you definitely shouldn’t force yourself to be an Atheist just because you are a scientist. If you really are an Atheist, that is perfectly fine. Everyone has a right to believe in their own convictions, and I will not pass judgement. Whether you go to church every Sunday or don’t believe in any of that stuff, I think the most important thing is staying to true to yourself, and valuing your own convictions no matter what anybody else thinks, or how society tries to make you feel. You have to find what’s right for you, and for me, that wasn’t Atheism, but it wasn’t believing everything the church said either. You have to believe what feels right, and whether or not that involves a God, I don’t think he or she is the type of person that would judge you for it.