I grew up in New England, an area of the country that––despite its Puritanical roots––is generally more atheist/agnostic now than anything else. I learned early on that religion makes the top of the list of taboo topics. Everyone is tolerant… as long as they don’t have to know about your faith or what it means to you or even why you bother with religion. I have been told to my face: “No offense, but I hate Christians.” During a presentation at a school assembly to raise money for a 30-hour famine, the presenters shared the Bible story about the loaves and the fish when Jesus fed 4,000 people. A boy sitting next to me (a friend) put his hands over his ears and repeated continuously “shut up” until it was over. (I was too afraid to say anything, but I will note now that this was our junior year of high school.)
We all do our best to avoid certain stereotypes. For me, that meant avoiding people thinking I’m overly Christian. Both my faith and religion are integral aspects of my life and person, but I never wanted to be seen as “a crazy evangelist” or “the good Christian girl.” I learned to not mention going to church every Sunday or doing anything with youth groups (which I mostly didn’t). I didn’t get to speak about spirituality or bring up my personal faith. It was taboo.
Fast forward three or four years, and none of this is true anymore. I spend more time with my friends from my Christian group (United Protestant Campus Ministries) than I do with friends from anywhere else. I am passionate about my faith, and I’m OK with other people knowing that about me. Part of that journey was learning to accept myself regardless of what others may say –– in other words, grow up. However, I also had to learn another important lesson about stereotypes.
Humans are, by nature, extremely judgmental. A stereotype can destroy in less than a second a reputation you may have taken years to build. Despite laws in the US designed to prevent religious discrimination, many people of faith still face this prejudice. Over the course of history, religion has been the source of thousands and millions of deaths, riots, protests, and wars. Regardless of their particular tenets, it is ironically the one thing even the most pious are willing to hurt another over––fighting for the right to, in the name of, or on account of some greater power. Although I personally may not be the most “qualified” person to address religious prejudice, there are countless others who can testify to the effects of these stereotypes today.
Catholicism–– Vincenzo Volpe
Vincenzo is a junior music major and biology minor, and an active member of Case’s Newman Catholic Ministries, among other groups. In his faith journey, Vincenzo has faced a lot of the same questions and controversies that many find so distasteful about Catholicism. Although he was born into the faith, Vincenzo has not had an easy journey, and fell away from Catholicism (and Christianity entirely) as he struggled with accepting himself and his sexuality during high school. Now in a very different place, Vincenzo says he chooses to be Catholic because he chooses to be happy. Despite being gay, he now understands that the Catholic church is full of misfits –– a place for any kind of person, anyone who loves God. Since returning to the Church, Vincenzo has been overwhelmed with love and support, particularly within the Catholic community he has found at Case. Although many question how it is possible to be gay and Catholic, for Vincenzo it is more a matter of faith. No one is perfect, and many people within the church struggle with their own questions of faith and identity: that is part of the journey that brings one closer to God. Vincenzo knows that his spirituality came first; his sexuality is merely how God made him. Regardless of the prevailing thought, Catholics are not all right-wing conservatives. In fact, Vincenzo and many of his friends are independent and centralist. In Vincenzo’s opinion, there will always be something to take away for everyone, regardless of whether personal beliefs differ from church teachings, and this is ultimately what matters the most.
Judaism–– Josh Lehrer
Josh is a senior psychology major, and participates in a number of campus events and groups including Hillel. His relationship with Judaism is not so much religious as cultural. However, his religion still plays a significant role in his life and identity. Josh is a Reformed Jew (a sector of Judaism), and a big facet of this is the idea of tikkun olam (“healing the world”). This plays out constantly in his everyday life as Josh pursues true social justice through various outlets. For him, many of the stereotypes go back to medieval Europe, before anti-Semitism was rampant against these “killers of Jesus.” In some respects, the stereotypes were potentially accurate–– certain last names are typically Jewish, and (historically, at least) Jews were money lenders. Yet some people can take this a bit too far. Josh was raised with the same ideals that his father was raised with in a working class family: He has learned the value of frugality. Of all widespread stereotypes, this one often irritates him the most because he actually fits into it––but not because he’s Jewish. In Josh’s experience, Jews are not deceitful, or communist, or people who keep to themselves. Many are not even against a two state solution to Israel. Every day, Jews encounter centuries of anti-Semitism, and it can be disconcerting to encounter ignorance in those who have never met a Jew or those who believe that the Holocaust never happened. However, Josh feels fortunate to have never faced anti-Semitism himself.
Hinduism–– Mahima Devarajan
Mahima is a junior biology major, and is the leader of the inactive Hindu student group, YUVA. This past semester she put new efforts into re-forming the organization, which she hopes will be able to fully start again next semester. Yet the sentiment Mahima has largely come across in these endeavors is that many students are very proud to be Indian, but not to be Hindu. In fact, many are embarrassed to admit they are Hindu, unless everyone else admits they are Hindu as well, and Mahima believes there is a stigma surrounding Hinduism within the Indian community on campus. Beyond her/Case’s community, Mahima has faced a lot of poor stereotypes from those who do not understand Hinduism. A number of people hold the misconception that Hinduism consists of idol-worshipping, repeating “OM” and praying to cows. These stereotypes stem from a general ignorance concerning Hinduism as a whole. Hinduism provides guidelines about how to live life through stories of multiple gods who are representations of the unfathomable mystery of the one true God. It is not idol-worship, but a path to understanding the relationship between God and humanity: a philosophy, more than a religion (N.B. this point is somewhat under debate by Hindus themselves). For Mahima, this philosophy has been a constant touchpoint for her own choices in life. Like in any religion, the religious texts of Hinduism are full of the essential questions of life and existence and with proper understanding and perspective, one can learn and come to see beyond the commons stereotypes that surround the religion.
This blog is written by me, Katie Buerger (unless noted otherwise) and maintained by UPCaM@Case. I am a current sophomore at CWRU, and have been an UPCaM member since my first year. Because I am Spiritual Potpourri’s exclusive writer, this means the opinions and perspectives given in blog posts are limited to my views. I think myself to be open-minded, but I am human. I do research my topics (all the sources are listed at the bottom of each post), but I ultimately can only write from my perspective as a Christian. I try to write to a general audience (not exclusively to Christians), but I do at times make assumptions about the knowledge of my readers. However, I would like to assert that my views are not representative of UPCaM’s or Christianity’s – they are mine alone.