Am I Religious Enough?

I had just ended fourth grade when my parents decided to move our family to a new city. As a ten-year-old, the thought of moving across the country took up residence in my mind as a magical, gleaming adventure. The prospect of moving to a new school, making new friends, and fitting in only occupied a space in the very back of my mind, filed under “No Big Deal.” What really mattered was that things were changing. In every Disney Channel movie that I had seen, all of the best stories started with a moving van.

My parents decided to enroll my brother and I into a Catholic school at the beginning of our move, as they had heard from friends and family that the education in my city’s Catholic School Board was better than that of the Public Board. Soon, I was thrust into a school that at first did not seem much different from the one that I had once known, just with more religion classes and a prayer at the beginning of every morning. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know the four gospels; I had made a few friends and had managed to find my place within the fifth-grade social hierarchy.

Sixth grade was when things started to shift for me. One of my best friends, Amanda*, was very religious and invited me to attend the Friday night youth group that was held at her church. Not wanting to disappoint her, I agreed to go. At the beginning of the session, everything was fine. The younger kids ran wild through the empty church playing tag, while the older kids sat down in the paisley-printed, overstuffed chairs of the common room and played cards around a small wooden table. I was having a better time than I had expected, and I had even been introduced to some of Amanda’s friends, although I neglected to tell them, or anyone at the church, that I wasn’t a member of the Catholic club.

The youth group coordinator called a meeting to talk about the “topic of the day.” As we all sat in a group (some of us on the rough carpet, some of us in those crazy paisley chairs) and began to talk about God, I instantly felt left out in the same way that I did during religion class at school. Trapped, unknowledgeable, an outsider. At every mention of Jesus, and with every bible reference, I began to draw further into myself, and a feeling of dread began to take form in the pit of my stomach. Would these people still like me if they knew I wasn’t Catholic?  The discussion seemed to drag on for hours, and each time someone spoke and shared their opinion with the group, I felt as though I had nothing to say, nothing to contribute. At the end of the conversation, the youth group coordinator asked us to end with a prayer. Each child in the group made the sign of the cross while I tried my hardest to copy them and hope that I was doing it right. I listened silently, with closed lips pressed hard together, while everyone else mouthed the words to the prayer. In the space of an hour, I had gone from laughing with new friends to wondering if I would ever belong.

After that night, I continued to faithfully attend youth group every Friday. At this point, I hardly went because I wanted to, I went because it felt necessary. To be more clear, I felt like I needed to be Catholic. That first night at youth group had caused a flip in my mind; almost out of the blue, I thought that if I wanted teachers to like me, if I wanted more friends, if I wanted to be perfect, I would have to be Catholic. I remember spending evenings tirelessly researching books of the Bible, trying to memorize names and contents so I could participate in youth group discussions. I prayed most nights to a god who I had never truly known, and would sometimes lay in my room at night crying because I truly thought that if I wasn’t Catholic, I would go to hell. But all of this paled in comparison to the fact that I wholeheartedly believed I would never fit in unless my own religion coincided with that of my classmates. For almost a year, I was hopelessly grasping to become someone that I would never be, to be a part of a religion that deep down, I didn’t really understand, and didn’t actually want to join.

Around the summer before seventh grade, Amanda stopped going to youth group, and eventually, following her lead, I did too. There really is no climactic end to my “obsession” with being Catholic. The more months that were put between me and youth group, the weaker the desire to be anyone but myself became. I stopped asking myself whether I was religious enough, and started asking myself whether or not being religious was something that was right for me. I made my decision fairly quickly. I am not religious, and certainly not Catholic. 

Even though I don’t follow a religion myself, religion is something that continues to fascinate me to this day. I find myself completely astounded at the devotion and traditions that exist across all religions. Although I look back at my grade six views on religion with a touch of sadness, one good thing has come from it. I am still part of my city’s Catholic School Board, but at last, and not without struggle, I am completely content with my lack of religion.

By Kate Hunker

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