My Religious Pilgrimage: An Agnostic’s Reflection on Eight Years of Jesuit Catholic Education

by Anthony Cossette

 

A casual browse through the Wikipedia page for the “existence of God” shows a plethora of arguments both for and against what one may call “God,” mainly in the theistic conception of the term in addition to others like the deistic and pantheistic. These entail conclusions that are neatly fitted into positions such as theism, positive atheism, negative atheism, strong agnosticism, weak agnosticism, and a whole host of other specious and unnecessary “isms.” My conclusion is that it would be incredibly presumptuous of anyone to pigeonhole me into any of those categories. Here I will explain why.

I’ve been educated at Catholic schools my whole life, from pre-school and kindergarten all the way to the present. As I am on the cusp now of graduating from a distinguished Jesuit Catholic institution at the collegiate level, I feel the pervasive need to reflect on my experiences and how I arrived here at this moment in time with no regrets about coming to Boston College, despite my current status as a non-Catholic and religious skeptic.

 

To begin with, even though I grew up in a predominantly Catholic household, went to Mass on Sundays as a child with my family, and underwent the necessary sacraments, I always had this strange feeling that I was just simply “going through the motions,” so to speak, without asking the essential “Why?” question. As I grew older and more independent in mind and spirit, it dawned on me that my reasons at the time for believing in God and partaking in the Catholic rituals were wrong; to me, it just appeared to be customary and socially acceptable to do so in the surface-level thinking my adolescent teenage mind was engaged in. Thus, one could say that I actually never left the Catholic faith since I was not authentically “in it” in the first place. Once I realized all of this in conjunction with my in-depth readings into science and philosophy, I knew I had to take a step back and continue to explore and meet people of all faiths and lack thereof, becoming a kind of “religious pilgrim” in the process and trying to seek out what time-honored truths in different faiths are the most readily applicable in practice.

 

In the meantime, I must admit that I was introduced to the more radical so-called “New Atheist” movement as I was led astray by the likes of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and the late Christopher Hitchens, often semi-facetiously referred to as the “Four Horsemen of the Anti-Apocalypse.” Some of their arguments against religion and God seemed compelling to me, but I still had to account for why the Western tradition, steeped in Christianity over two thousand long years of history, still had to have at least some meaning and value to me, rather than the little to no value that the atheists suggest they possess. Religious education is not at all dogmatic in some ways, yet at the same time does not verge toward the abyss of skepticism that can pose some dangerous problems in our current civilization. The holistic education that I have received at Boston College has struck the right balance in educating not only our minds and bodies but also our “souls,” whatever that means to most people. As a psychology major and philosophy minor, I like to equate the word “soul” with the term “consciousness.” Thus one could say that throughout my high school and college careers, the Jesuits have impressed upon me the importance of cultivating the inner self, or consciousness, to the maximum. Indeed, I feel like my consciousness has widened over the course of my Catholic education to the point where I consider my religious teachers as indispensable in assisting me with the development of my innermost self, perhaps even in the spiritual sense.

 

While some of the rituals of Catholicism may be necessary, according to the believer, I do not think they are sufficient for living the true values of the Catholic faith as I conceive them, which all culminate in the principle of “love in action.” Notwithstanding these differences, my religious and spiritual beliefs are provisional and are a continuous attempt to work out the multifarious complexities of the human experience. I must go out of my way to ensure I am not perceived as an enemy to religion and a one-sided thinker, which I manifestly am not. With that I would like to reaffirm the inestimable virtues and values of Catholic education in an increasingly secular and pluralistic society. I have cherished my Boston College education and I would not trade it for anything else in the world.

 

So what is my current stance on the “God” question? The great theologian and Doctor of the Church Thomas Aquinas remarked that it is more important to love God than to know Him. If this is true, how does one come to love God? My answer: loving and being a steward of all of His Creation, especially human beings.

 

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