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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Complex people

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I’ve never understood why people judge each other, and why fighting hatred with more hatred ever seems like a good idea. I was raised Christian, Lutheran to be specific, but the role religion played in my childhood was far from simple. Which religion was “correct” was a discussion I heard throughout my childhood. Now, it’s important to know that my mom was raised Catholic, and my dad was raised Protestant. This might not seem like a big difference to most people, but for their families it was. My grandparents were very much against the idea of them getting married, and when they did, it initially caused a lot of conflict. When my parents decided to raise my brother and me Lutheran, my Catholic grandparents truly believed we would be going hell if we were not baptized Catholic. They brought my brother and I to mass whenever we stayed over at their house and would tell us all about the saints and other Catholic traditions. Even at a young age, I knew they feared for our souls, and my mom would often ask why they thought God, who was supposed to love all his creatures so much, would not invite most of them to Heaven after they died because they hadn’t prayed to the “right” God. She repeated this over and over again throughout the years, because my young mind could not understand why people cared what God other people prayed to in their heads. She would tell me that they truly meant well and did not think I was a bad person; they loved me so much and this was their weird, misguided way of showing it. It all went back to how they were raised. They were raised in families where religion was the guiding principle of their lives, and questioning the Bible at all was a sin. Both of my great-grandfathers converted to Catholicism to marry my great-grandmothers, because loving God was in some ways more important than loving other people. My Irish great-grandmother’s love for God was so strong, that I’ve heard my grandfather say she would have made an excellent nun. My grandparents grew up with this mindset, so it was only natural for them to have nine children, have containers of holy water lying around the house, and statues of saints in every room.

I know this all sounds very radical, but my experience with my mom’s family is not defined by religion. Sure, it does make me uncomfortable sometimes when I go to my mom’s side of the family, and all of my 40 plus family members gather together and say prayers I only half know. I hate having to stay seated during mass when everyone else goes up for communion, just because I’m not Catholic. However, my mom taught me that I can’t change how others view my beliefs, but I can decide to focus on the good rather than the bad. I am very close to my mom’s side of the family and her parents, and their religious views do not cloud my relationship with them. I know that I can’t change the way they think; the only thing I have control over is how I spend my time with them. When I was a teenager I used to argue with them and try to prove I was right, but now I know when to stop and simply enjoy the time I have left with these two wise, slightly eccentric, people who have been such important figures in my life. They are more than just their beliefs, because there is more to a person than the circumstances they were born into. When I think of my grandparents, I think about sitting by the pool on their old, creaky screen porch on furniture from the 80s. I think of wandering around the upstairs of their house with my cousins, looking through drawers full of knick-knacks. I think of eating cookies under the Christmas tree by the fire, waiting patiently for each of my younger cousins to open their presents before I can. And yes, by the pool there was a statue of St. Francis. The drawers in the many bedrooms upstairs were full of stuff because my grandparents had nine children, and I had to wait to open my presents because it is a Catholic tradition. The thing is, these memories, just like my grandparents, were not made worse by the fact that they were inextractable from religion. These memories would not be so important and unique to my childhood without these little touches of religion sprinkled in.

When I hear my classmates making snide remarks about how unintelligent religious people are, I cannot help but think of it as an indirect insult on some of my loved ones. At Carleton, I feel like we judge people too much for their beliefs. I understanding being angry at people for believing in something that is problematic, but I also feel that this anger is often unproductive. This is especially true when people are attacked here for simply being religious, even when they are trying to practice their religion in peace. I have never met someone here who has lectured me on their religious beliefs, nor do I know of anyone whose has had this experience. The arguments I have overheard about religion are generally one-sided, with those who are not religious questioning those who are. I completely understand challenging someone when prompted, but judging someone’s character based on their religious beliefs is close-minded and unfair. Just because someone is religious does not make them naive, nor does it mean they care what other people believe. Sure, there are some religious people who do think this way, but all belief systems have people who misinterpret their beliefs as an excuse to hate. Even the people who do judge others for their beliefs should not be defined by this one trait. It’s easy to call someone a bigot and not try to understand their complexity. There is so much more to a person than a single one of their identities, even though it can be difficult to see past a person whose identity makes them judge others. It was not easy for me to separate my grandparents Catholicism from them as people, but learning about their pasts and how it affects them as people has allowed me to understand why they are how they are. I’m not saying destructive viewpoints should never be challenged; they should when they are negatively affecting the rights of others. However, there is a way of doing this that, instead of demonizing the person, centers the conversation on the goal of understanding them. And if someone is quietly practicing their right to freedom of religion without hurting anyone, then caring about what they believe in really doesn’t make sense. We all enter the world as blank canvases, and our experiences form who we are. My grandparents went to college for practical reasons, not to figure out who they were as people and what they truly believe. As people who are given the privilege of developing our own identities, we should be wise enough to realize that most people are not given this opportunity. True intelligence, in my opinion, is knowing all that can be gained by listening to others, and all that can be lost by failing to do this.

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