It has become essential for me to remind every class i handle that in a Catholic university where they are, it is much easier to become an atheist or walk with a growing, nagging apathy in view of one’s faith. Predictably, there are some wide-eyed repose begging for further evidence-based, credible explanation. After all, majority of them are raised Catholic and formed in Catholic schools since childhood until college. In my presentation of the warrant to support my statement, i need not be explicit about the influence of the growing prefrontal cortex of their brain responsible for sound decisions and judgments. Needless will i mention the sway of the limbic system of their brain, the seat sensitive to rewards (most of them value study for the sake of grades) and is very active during their age (and for BMW-owning Monsignor Dakay and his ilks of luxury-living priests). But these information function from the backdrop. I need mention only two warrants: first, that college is a phase of explosive information and expanding knowledge that will stretch their imagination and understanding of reality, religion included; and second, that the Catholic environment of the University will make religious stuff over-familiar, at times will bore them towards indifference, bring them to the edge where hard questions about their faith are asked, or for the sake of convenience, they will dump their faith. So far, it’s never been hard to solicit nodding heads, again, either out of boredom, or a beckoning agreement. A nod has many synonyms, including dozing off.
But the word “over-familiar” has a catch, a bite, an agreeable pitch. After all, they have in their personal folders years of Catholic catechism, compulsory student masses, October rosaries or hours of community service. Most of them could only recall attending Sunday masses during their early years without any clue on what was going on in the altar. Then came the early teen years and Sunday mass attendance was carried out after an ounce of coercion from their parents. College obviously affords them with the space and time to be more on their own with their faith, or whatever superficial religious conditioning they have grown up with. Not surprisingly, most of them would like to claim there’s more religious freedom during this stage, though negatively in the sense of how they can articulate now about what’s wrong with the Church or with religions in general, college equipping them with arsenals of arguments they have inserted into their ‘faith folders’ after a conversation with an atheist or from their philosophy classes.
“For those who have decided to become an agnostic or atheist, by all means pursue your atheism. Read books on atheism. Be passionate about atheistic belief without being offensive. Argue well as an atheist. You are one of the smartest people in the world because you are asking.”
Then I would either smile or burst into laughter, without need of warrants. Then I would be thinking of them the whole term and beyond. I would imagine their faith-predicament, their suspension of belief, the entombment into darkness of everything religious they have learned for many years. I would imagine them sitting in one of the pews but marginalized by the very same rituals they have accustomed to, mentally asking irreverent questions like - is He really real in the bread? Or, why confess one’s sins to a human being? I would imagine their solitary lives of resistance from religious symbols, wrestling with religious signposts as basic as the Bible on their home altar, perhaps glancing with disdain at festivals and processions. It is life on the margin, easily marginalizable by the mainstream. Most of them, they would rather remain mute on the edges of establishment for fear of social stigma, or any of our Jewish version of stoning. It’s a phase of silent agony, sustained mostly by wobbly self-trust and a few loose mental arguments. Otherwise, it’s a period of darkness, some type of limit-experience the younger son in the parable found himself with: “but nobody gave him anything.” It is their Holy Saturday of faith “in the grave,” a divine truth that triumphalist Christianity has been in denial of, the denial more familiar to the victims of sexual abuse by clergies in their silent, godless agonies “in the grave”..