I wasn’t aware of the stigma regarding being religious, nor would I ever ‘conceal’ my faith from someone until I came to university. I was born into a Catholic family and have chosen to continue practising the faith as I enter adulthood. I have come to realise that being religious at my age is difficult: certain stereotypes associated with religion are still prominent, yet mindfulness, which is not far removed from religion, is widely accepted. So, why do some view religion so negatively? I want to be open about my faith and dismiss unfair stigmas in the hope of helping people understand and accept that practising my faith is positive.
Be careful, or she’ll try to convert you!
The main assumption I have found is that many people presume that because I am Catholic, I must be homophobic. While this may be true for some, it is certainly not applicable to the whole and is certainly not the definition of what a Catholic is. I could write a whole article on what defines a Catholic, but I believe a key attitude of Catholics is that they welcome, value, and respect every individual person, no matter who they are. (They strive to be a ‘Good Samaritan’.) In my opinion, the Bible was written by men for men, quotes like “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” (Leviticus 18:22) are not the literal word of God, and as such, many Catholics do not agree with this passage. Perhaps it’s due to a lack of education, but religion is sometimes seen as personal and not to be questioned; thus, these stereotypes are persisting much longer than they should have.
I tend to find that such assumptions are made by individuals who aren’t well-informed about religion. I spoke to members of the Jewish Society, who reinforced this suggestion. One told me that she finds that people who are more religious try to hide it amongst liberals. She said, “Trying to explain ‘why’ I have my views, for example ‘I’ll only marry a Jewish man’ to a non-religious person is difficult. They think I am close-minded.” Last year she was in a relationship with a man who wasn’t practising Judaism, and his friends warned him to “be careful, or she’ll try to convert you!” Experiences like these create an ‘us and them’ narrative because many don’t understand my faith and think of me as separate. I want you to ask and understand, and it’s good for me to question my own faith; questioning enables understanding. But there is a difference between questioning and judging me.
Believing in God is seen as a ‘taboo’ and going to church ‘isn’t cool’; these judgemental opinions make me reluctant to tell people I’m religious
Another problem I’ve found is I am sometimes made to feel embarrassed about my religion. For example, when meeting a lecturer about a query on a certain topic, I used my own faith as an example of the case study at hand. The lecturer then began to quiz me about my beliefs – it felt like he was trying to trap me into a corner of admitting my beliefs were stupid. He said to me, “No offence intended, but I think the whole thing [Catholicism] is stupidity!” I felt he was being incredibly unreasonable, particularly because it wasn’t relevant to my query. Believing in God is seen as a ‘taboo’ and going to church ‘isn’t cool’; these judgemental opinions make me reluctant to tell people I’m religious, yet mindfulness that originates from religious practice is accepted?
Universities, as well as society in general, are in an age where mindfulness is encouraged, it’s cool to meditate and take care of your mental health, but when it is a type of worship, it’s ridiculed. It seems it isn’t understood amongst the university just how important faith is for some people. Another student told me Warwick doesn’t talk to us about the problems or stigmas we must face. It wouldn’t cross many minds that religious people feel like this since it’s not seen as such a prominent issue. Perhaps this is because religion is seen as a personal thing, but I hope I have shown that this is not exclusively the case and that religion is something open and can be explored by everyone. Many faiths are practised at the University of Warwick, some very different to my own, but I respect them and would never criticise them or force my faith upon others. A diverse community should be celebrated, and this includes celebrating other’s faiths. At Warwick, faith is ‘tolerated’ but not celebrated; it is present but far removed from the importance of belonging to the university.