Letter: Losing My Religion?

Posted by Douglas PIlawa

Dear Editor,

This is a reflection on and response to last week's editorial concerning religion and its place on campus.

My first day of school at Skidmore College marked a moment in my education that was radically different than before. It was the first time I attended class in casual clothing - not a uniform. It was the first time I did not start a class with prayer. It was the first time that I did not have at least one nun as a teacher. Before Skidmore College, I attended a very strict, conservative school run by the sisters of Notre Dame. Not only was my schooling Catholic, but also, I was raised in a Polish-Catholic family. Even my town, Chesterland, Ohio, was focused around St. Anselm's Church. I have been baptized, received reconciliation, had my first communion, and I've been confirmed. I am a Catholic, and I will continue to be Catholic. 

Yet, as my freshman year progressed, I noticed certain remarks or generalizations regarding my faith. For example, a classic line I heard when explaining my educational background was, "Were you brainwashed?" Or even the more lewd and obscene comments like, "Did a priest molest you?" Obviously, the latter was said in a joking manner - though it still stung.

I could not decide if I should take offense to such ignorant, and stupid remarks. For the most part, I shut my mouth. What was becoming alarmingly clear was the misunderstanding of Catholicism - given its recent debacles concerning homosexuality, birth control, and molestation cases against priests. I personally believe it is this misunderstanding that allows people to easily dismiss a religion like Catholicism. I am lucky enough to have some sense of the history of the Church, and I have seen the good that religion can do. Yet, I would venture to guess that people (like those who made comments about my faith) only notice the Catholic Church when it makes the news. 

I often wonder how many people have actually read a good portion of the Bible. To most Catholics, it's not some enormous doctrinal text that illustrates the best way to go to heaven - it's more like a huge novel. Why else would we have a class at Skidmore called "The Bible as Literature," taught by Regina Janes? I'm sure she discusses the poetics of the Gospel of John, or the beauty of the Psalms. Pick up the Book of Revelations and get lost in the insanity of an apocalypse - it's like a scene out of a bad trip.

It's clear that religion is misunderstood at Skidmore College. And to be perfectly honest, I consider this lack of awareness to be a huge deficit to students. 

Almost every day in one of my classes here, religion becomes part of the discussion. I was actually one of the students in the John Donne class and it was my favorite course throughout my entire year abroad. My research paper was, "John Donne: Irreverent Poetry." It was an analysis of Donne's "apparent" irreverence in his work. It consisted of a historical outline of the Church in Donne's time, as well as how he implemented his own problems with the Church in his poetry. My religion helped me in that class. Even my thesis, the culmination of an English Major's work at Skidmore, was entitled "Catholicism and Ulysses: The Place of the Roman Catholic Church in 1904 Dublin." Once again, I researched the major events of the Catholic Church in the 19th and 20th centuries of Ireland, and examined how they manifest themselves in the novel. 

Right now, I'm taking Susannah Mintz's course on Milton - you can imagine how much fun I have in that class. What I am getting at is how much religion is a part of a Skidmore student's academic life. My studies in English and in French literature have shown me even more that religion is just as important to writers as Classics and History. More often than not, all three blend together - as they do in Milton's Lycidas.

I'm not suggesting that students should immediately research the history of all religions. What I am suggesting, however, is to understand that religion is extremely complex and extremely personal. I am a Catholic. But, I am liberal. I am pro-choice, and I accept homosexuality. I believe in evolution, and I believe in heaven. Like myself, many Catholics will tell you that, no matter what, it's the personal relationship with God that matters.  

Douglas Pilawa

Class of 2012

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