I am a practicing Roman Catholic. I am also a practicing Brown student. These identities are not incompatible, despite what many students on College Hill might have you believe. However, my fellow students rarely make it easy for me to practice my faith on campus, nor do they even understand why I would choose to do so.
Most Brown students are open-minded, adventurous learners who are curious and thoughtful. But after three years on campus, my fellow students' ideas on religion still confuse me. Why is it that so many Brown students are not only non-religious but also disrespectful or distrustful of students who participate in religious activities on campus?
It is not surprising that in a time when many Americans are not followers of a religious faith, many Brown students are also not religious. It is surprising, however, that there is an apparent exception to the rule that Brown students should not be religious: being Jewish.
Most incoming students quickly learn where to find Hillel, and many students attend at least one event there, even if it's not religious in nature. I long ago lost track of the number of times I mentioned my Catholicism to another student, only to be asked, "Is there even a church near here?" Apparently they have failed to realize that students of many different faiths go to worship in Manning Chapel on the Main Green each week.
Through my own experiences with the Brown Band and the Ultimate Frisbee teams, I have found that many student groups on campus make efforts to accommodate Jewish students involved and readily accept their plans to attend services or go home for religious holidays. Compare this to the incredulous questions I receive, like "Are you really fasting for Ash Wednesday?"
I'd just like to ask my fellow students why it is acceptable to be a practicing Jew, while Christians aren't taken seriously. Perhaps because Judaism has such an active cultural life, non-religious students seem to write off Jewish students as "only culturally" Jewish, implying that they just stay involved in their faith for the family ties or the traditional celebrations.
There are several reasons why students might be so disrespectful of the religious among us. Multiple students have told me how they find religion to be anti-intellectual — the "opiate of the masses." Those who are politically and socially liberal might assume that anyone who practices a religious faith is automatically conservative or unforgiving.
I've never met a Brown student who was a member of a religion that didn't fully endorse and embrace the idea of forgiveness — both by God and by other humans. And to believe that faithful students are simply following their parents or are uniformly accepting what they've been told is to dismiss us as not capable of the same caliber of thought as other Brown students. Why would we blindly follow our parents' religious choices if we didn't find something compelling and necessary in them?
I would hope that a truly open-minded person could understand that every student who chooses to be religious has different and sincere reasons and motivations for his or her faith, and that we are thoughtful students not only in our academic work, but also in our personal choices.
Furthermore, students need look no further than Professor Ken Miller's 2000 book, "Finding Darwin's God," to see that religion and science can be simultaneously understood. Based on my conversations with a number of Brown students, I don't think Professor Miller is the only one with these ideas; plenty of Catholics on campus study evolutionary biology, and all the students of other religious faiths I've spoken to have fully grasped and appreciated scientific fundamentals. After all, if we didn't want to understand a wide variety of academic issues, why would we have chosen to be at Brown?
The assumption that all persons of religious faith are conservative is simply not true. Sure, many Christians are pro-life and support conservative candidates, but I think most Brown students are forgetting the strong ideas of social justice entrenched in many religions. Christianity teaches us to love our neighbors as ourselves and to give everything we can to help those who have less. If those aren't liberal ideas, I don't know what are.
I don't expect that Brown students will all suddenly become religious, nor am I asking them to. I'm simply hoping that we don't blow off thoughtful discussions and don't ignore religious students. Maybe then we can all feel freer to express our religious choices and our open-minded campus can claim to being truly accepting. It's always been cool to be non-religious at Brown; would it be all right for the class of 2013 to feel comfortable being religious, too?
Kate Fritzsche '10 is an applied math-economics concentrator from Kennebunk, Maine. She can be reached at katherine_fritzsche(at)brown.edu.