"Is God Really Good?": Religion at Latin

Will Nuelle There was a day in the late fall where something unexpected happened at Gathering. That was the day that Richard, a new addition to the cafeteria staff, stood on the stage in his street clothes. I was admittedly surprised. Then a beat came on, and Richard, the African refugee whom I hardly knew, started singing “Is God really good? Yeah. Do you want to trust God? Yeah!” and I thought it was charming. How could you not? One can’t help but to feel proud for the guy; he’s found something that he really believes in, and that means a lot to him. But still, there was something uncomfortable for me about the performance. As the second chorus began, I zeroed in on what it was that made me uncomfortable. Richard had, completely innocently, asked the crowd to raise their hands in the air and sing the chorus to rap about God. It struck me, though, that everyone in the crowd seemed obliged to sing along because Richard had asked them to. That experience led me further into my thoughts about religion and particularly the state of religion at Latin. Richard, who doesn’t seem to have a harmful bone in his body, involuntarily opened a wound in the student body that many thought would never be slashed open. But it was, and it wasn’t Richard’s fault. It was our fault. We never aptly discuss religion, and now we were left with the consequence. It had become a topic that students often bypassed or spoken of only in a sense that carried little significance. I had heard many, “Oh, you’re Jewish? You had a bar mitzvah? Did you make a lot of money?” comments, and too few “Oh, you’re Jewish? Cool. How do you feel about the modern relevance of the Torah and how do you apply faith to your life?” comments. It had become taboo to talk earnestly about our faith and applications of it. That fact contributed to my uncertainty as Richard, who had quickly become a vital member of our community, and who avidly attended soccer games, and happily talked to kids in the lunch line, rapped “Is God really good?” to the entire school. He expected everyone to share his faith, to sing along, to find the same salvation in his God that he finds, but many were unsure. Never before at school had any of us been expected so earnestly to share faith with another person. Talking to freshman Michael Herman in the hockey locker room also strengthened this opinion. Michael is proudly religious. He so firmly believes in his own Christianity that he believes the word of the Bible is true in every sense, which something even the most frequently practicing Christians at our school might not believe.  He also believes that marriage is only between a man and a woman, a belief that might earn him a lot of disrespect within our Latin community. When he brings his personal views up, I do my best to argue my points against it, but it is his own belief and I try not to press the issue to hard. Michael and I often have religious conversations –sometimes turning into debates— in the hockey locker room (and although that’s probably not what most people expect the conversation in a hockey locker room to be, we have the discussion there nonetheless). I was born into Christian family that practices semi-frequently, but am now a self-proclaimed agnostotheist (I borrowed that word directly from Dan Savage’s Our Man of Perpetual Sorrow, for it was too good of a term to pass up), which would suggest that I am an atheist, but one who still has questions about religion. It’s much too early for me to abort ship, and renounce faith from my life, because I’ve heard that it’s a good something to have around as you get older. In 8th grade, I had an interesting experience. I was confirmed, but yet it wasn’t right. At the end of the year of confirmation –note: I did this at Fourth Presbyterian Church, which is shamelessly open-minded in the world of churches— we were asked to write a statement of faith. I kid you not, I included lines in the statement that said, “What I’m really trying to say is that my belief in God is inconclusive …  I don’t know what to make of Jesus, or the Holy Spirit.” They confirmed me despite my open statement that I did not necessarily believe in God. My doubts about God only increased from that moment on, and I think it’s part of my nature to question these types of things. Again in the fall, religion came up at gathering in the form of Ms. Arif’s hajj. She stood at the podium, reliving her hajj with us, detailing the ways in which she felt Allah’s presence. Like with Richard, it was hard not to be proud of her; seeing her feel such a strong connection with God is something that a lot of us had never experienced, which is what made listening about her journey inspirational, but also, in a way, not relatable. Once again, I asked myself the question: “What role does religion play at Latin?” I continued my religious and philosophical conversations with Michael, and they ended the same way every time. Michael thought that my opinions were “blasphemous.” I can’t say that I minded too much, after all I had been developing some very radical ideas about the nature of God and how humans acted and how humans were to act. Michael couldn’t stand listening to me share my opinion about things that contradicted so perpendicularly the ideals he had grown up believing. Occasionally, the entire locker room would join in on these debates, and so Michael and I let the conversation fall from our grasps in favor of letting our teammates share their opinions. I was surprised to see how many kids actively participated in these discussions, signifying to me that maybe these kids were desperate to share their respective schools of thought. Why did my friends feel a need to discuss such a heavy topic in perhaps the least apropos place of all? Because the conversation never arose anywhere else, especially not in Latin’s classrooms. Still, everyone secretly wanted to talk about it. That realization was recently confirmed when Michael told me that he had pursued the formation of a Young Christians’ Society at Latin. He was not given an outright “no,” but he was definitively told by a respected teacher that the club would not work well at Latin. I strongly disagree with that opinion, though, and think that a Young Christians’ Society –or other religiously affiliated groups aside from Jewish Student Alliance— would be particularly progressive for the Latin community. I hope Michael chooses to pursue this group, and also that he begins to feel comfortable to openly state his opinions about religion. The uncertainty about the role of religion in our student body emanates from, ironically, the open-mindedness of our community. Because there is such a general open-mindedness among students, no one intends to impose their opinions on anyone else. The result is that no one ever talks about it, and no one quite knows how to respond properly to it. Unlike a Catholic school, there isn’t an overwhelming number of kids who practice any certain religion. However, it seems that there is a general trend towards atheism. I can’t tell if that’s a reflection on the school, the kids, or our generation, but it’s certainly a reflection on someone. Many of my peers, like me, were born as Christians, Jews, or Muslims, but no longer practice, and “are having their doubts.” From what I have observed, I’d say that I feel the most clear-cut about my own atheism, meaning that there must be a lot of kids out there who are generally confused with themselves. I myself am confused, so I can’t imagine how those who spend less time thinking about this issue feel. Many at Latin feel strongly about free speech, so why would we let our uncertainties hinder us from talking openly about religion at Latin? I feel like there simply isn’t enough of it, and it’s a culture we can easily change before it is too late. Let’s reverse the taboo. Let’s talk about God, or Gods, or lack thereof—as long as we’re talking.]]>