Dear Reader,

California colleges are battlefields for student minds.

Students’ hearts yearn for the truth, but where will they find it?

Our reporter, Mary Rose, will chronicle this battle. She will visit a California college each week and ask students about God, good, and evil.

Below is the first installment of California Catholic Daily’s new feature, “Inquiring Minds.”

  • Gerardo, sociology major
  • UC Santa Barbara in front of UCSB Library
  • December 3

Do you consider yourself religious?

Gerardo: No.

Were you ever religious?

Gerardo: Yes. I was raised Catholic.

What changed?

Gerardo: I began to question my religion.

What did you question?

Gerardo: A lot of things. And the more questions I had, the less answers I was getting, so it made me question it even more. It led me to do my own research and ask even more questions.

Where did you look for answers?

Gerardo: I started at the church because I figured that that would be the best route, but being a kid, I was turned away, saying, “You can’t ask those questions.” I went to family members who were involved in the church, and then eventually going up. I never got – I did get to the priest. I was confessing and I did bring up some questions and was told, “Those are questions you don’t ask.” That made it really hard to follow something blindly, where it was, “What do you mean, we can’t ask questions?” I always ask questions. I’ve always been very curious about just everything in general. I was, in a way, being shunned away without them really acknowledging it. So then I began to not only just question my religion, but religion in general. Although, now as an adult I see the positive impact that religion has, I shy away from religion because of the negative connotation that comes with religion. I do get that there’s a lot of positive things that come from it, but it just feels hypocritical to follow something that also has so much negativity that comes with it – and hypocrisy that comes with the religion – that it didn’t feel right for me, so I distanced myself from religion in general.

You mentioned hypocrisy – what hypocrisy are you referring to?

Gerardo: You can start with the Catholic religion and their hiding of all of the – I mean everything that we hear in the media, which is probably a bad thing to say, but – of all of the sexual harassment claims that are being, in a way, just thrown under a rug. And the fact that the Catholic religion hasn’t been able to embrace this as an actual issue, because it’s an issue that has been happening for far too long. That part was what began to make me question the validity of religion. Just the fact that they couldn’t even embrace this mistake that has been happening.

It wasn’t specifically [the sex abuse scandals], like I said, it was a lot of things, that’s just the first thing that came to mind right now, because it’s one of the biggest things that most people know, or most people have started to discuss. But I wouldn’t be able to say that it was just one specific thing. It was definitely a list of different things that I’m not going to go into because I don’t remember. [Women having no role in the hierarchy] also played a very important role in [my leaving the church].

Our readers will find this fascinating.

Gerardo: Because they want to retain people.

Yes, because many of their family members have left the Church and they want to know why – because they believe their family members will be happier in the Church.

Gerardo: That’s kind of the approach that I had when discussing this with my parents because my parents still practice Catholicism, so it was a weird round of: I know this is something that I don’t feel comfortable doing, but I know that by me not doing this, I’m hurting them, because your child is now in a way going to go to hell, right, because he’s not – right? So that was difficult, having to confront that with my parents, like, “Look, I get it that you feel that this is the way to a happier life, but I felt that there were other ways that didn’t necessarily have to -” like, we can all practice good moral character without being assigned to a specific religion. Like, there’s so many religions and most religions are just like, “We are THE religion,” and I didn’t like that, because I feel we can’t say that there is one religion. I wouldn’t feel comfortable saying that there is one religion. In essence, religion has a lot of good traits about it, like they teach good moral lessons – I don’t know, I’m not very well versed in this, but, I felt like I was making my own personal decision by trying to distance myself, by trying to just follow what I felt was being a good person, without having to relate with anyone, just focusing on myself. I can be as good of a person I can, I don’t have to worry about what everyone else is doing.

Do you believe in any sort of higher power?

Gerardo: I’ve struggled a lot with that question. I’ve gone back and forth. I think at this point I wouldn’t feel comfortable saying whether yes or no. It’s something that I wouldn’t know how to answer.

Do you think you’ll continue to investigate and struggle with the possibility of a higher power?

Gerardo: It’s not something that I’m postponing because I’m busy, it’s just something that I haven’t felt the need to go do. I feel like as long as I’m practicing being a good person myself, I haven’t had a need to go out and search for answers in terms of there being a higher being or not. But I’m not going to say that I’m just going to just shy away from religion forever. I feel like we’re constantly learning and if, one day, I feel like I affiliate with a religion then so be it. At the moment, I haven’t found one that I’ve felt fits me very personally, so the door is open, but I don’t know.

  • Diana, Chicano Studies major
  • UC Santa Barbara outside Campbell Arts & Lectures Hall 
  • December 3

Do you consider yourself religious?

Diana: No.

Did you ever consider yourself religious?

Diana: Yes, when I was younger.

What changed?

Diana: My dad and I talked a lot about religion and like how religion impacted different communities, and for us it wasn’t very helpful… so I’m kind of like eh. [shrug]

Did you practice a religion with your family?

Diana: Yes.

Was it difficult for your family when you stopped practicing their religion?

Diana: No, because my family isn’t as religious. My grandparents are, but we’re not. We kind of lost contact with the religion so we don’t – I feel like we value family more than anything. My mom and dad still practice it a little bit. We don’t go to church. We didn’t really go to church before and we still don’t, so, it was kind of weird. But we did have religious, like cultural ceremonies and stuff. Like we had some compensadas. For nine days we celebrated, we did a rosary and we talked about the birth of Christ and stuff like that, but we don’t do that anymore.

Do you now see Christ as just a historical figure?

Diana: I feel like he’s – I believe in God, I just don’t believe in him in the way the Bible or the Church tells you to believe in Him. I have my own relationship with God. I just think He’s there, He doesn’t really – I feel that He’s merciful and He won’t send you to hell for like small little things like not getting baptized or not getting married or something like that, not doing final rites. I feel like as long as you’re a good person, He’ll – He’s kind of a support system, not really like [judgmental] – yeah.

How do you measure “being a good person”?

Diana: For me, it’s helping those around you, being an ethical person, having morals, having values. For me, family is the most important thing in the world. I don’t know if I’m a good person, but I like to think I am.

Don’t you think the teachings of the Catholic Church sustain families?

Diana: Yes, but in other ways they exploited different communities and things like that and I feel like they did help some communities, like with the civil war in [Central America] they had like refugees and stuff, they brought refugees into America and I think that was really good, but before that, they used to side with like the people in power and the wealthier people. The shift was important but I just, it does sustain family, but I feel like it’s kind of [destructive] at the same time.

But do you think some of those moral rules are important to God?

Diana: Yes.

Not getting married was one of your examples. Don’t you think that a child born to parents who aren’t married will have a rougher time with their family, or that an unmarried pregnant woman is more likely to feel like she’s in a situation where she has to abort her baby?

Diana: But I feel like that also doesn’t depend on religion. That’s the personal values. That depends on the person, really, because my parents aren’t married and my dad isn’t religious, but he basically left his whole family and left – he had an education – he left all that to come here to support me and my siblings. So I have a different perspective.

What do you think is important for religious students to know about non-religious students?

Diana: Sometimes some people who are very religious look down on people who aren’t. I feel like maybe be a little more conscious of that. Some people don’t have the same values and that doesn’t make them any less of a person. My personal experience is that I’ve had a lot of people like, “Oh, you don’t believe in God, let me civilize you,” or something like that. That kind of situation. So it’s weird.

Would you ever consider studying different religions to see if they have anything to add to your relationship with God?

Diana: Yeah, I would be willing to learn about it. It’s not like I’m against it entirely. I like to learn about different things and look at different perspectives. I’ll learn about it.

“Inquiring Minds” is a California Catholic Daily exclusive by Mary Rose.